Saturday, May 29, 2010

Alaska Range

Sometimes climbing trips go exactly as planned; most of the time, however, there are a variety of mishaps that always seem to make the climbing trip more than memorable. That was the case for this trip to Alaska. After planning and training for this trip for over 6 months, it was inevitable that things wouldn't go as planned. In the end though, it was a great learning experience and a fun trip.
Jonathan and I flew into Kahiltna Base Camp on May 19 with hopes to climb the southwest ridge of Mt. Frances and the west ridge of Mt. Hunter. After socializing with fellow climbers, we learned that the snowpack in the range had been a little funky this year. Not willing to go completely on hearsay, we still opted to give Mt. Frances a try. We woke up at midnight due to warm conditions and started up the ridge. The climbing was fun and the cruxes were pretty easy and straightforward. After climbing above the third tower, with only one more tower to go, the struggles began. Since Alaska had a pretty light snowpack this season, what was normally straightforward neve was scary, facets on top of unprotected slabs. I lead out for 200 feet through scary mixed climbing, sparse protection, and thin snow. The next pitch brought more of the same, although this time there was no gear for protection. Although disappointed, both Jonathan and I opted to retreat. We descended the route and made our way back to camp.

The next day brought more sunshine but Jonathan woke up sicker than ever with some sort of lung infection. It didn't look like he was going to be able to climb for awhile and I couldn't help but feel a little irritated and frustrated, while also feeling sympathy for my friend being sick on the glacier. We rested for several days and I took advantage of the beautiful weather to work on my tan (hehe) and go rock climbing on the base of Mt. Frances.
On Monday, we teamed up with Loren, a solid Montana alpinist to climb a newer route called Bacon and Eggs, also dubbed the mini-mini moonflower. It is always nice to climb an alpine route with three people, where you have two people at belays sharing the work, socializing, taking photos and hanging out. We started up with the attitude of just being psyched to climb and not caring how far we got on the route. Nine pitches later, we were at the top of the route and super impressed with the quality of the climbing. The climbing was characterized by continuous alpine ice 3 to 4 up a narrow chimney system. Seven v-threads later, we were back on the ground and ready for the ski back to camp.

Two days later, Jonathan and I headed up the mini moonflower, another long ice climb up one of the gulleys on Mt. Hunters northeast ridge. The first pitch of the bergshrun was steep and then the climbing mellowed off to 65 degree ice for what seemed like forever. For myself, it was a serious calf burner and was not all the fun or interesting to me. For the record, I am not much of an ice climber and tend to do the majority of my ice climbing in the alpine. While more responsible individuals usually hone their technique at the crag, I have just jumped right into ice climbing when out climbing alpine routes. In fact, this is the first time I have placed screws all year! I wouldn't necessarily recommend this training method. Needless to say, we only climbed about 1200 feet before we both decided that we weren't that psyched or inspired to continue.

We skied back to camp just in time to receive a refreshing glass of lemonade from Lisa and word that we could catch a plane back to Talkeetna within a half hour. With burgers and beers already on our mind we quickly took down our camp and eagerly awaited our flight back to civilization.

Until next time Alaska Range…

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