Alaska

Posted on 12. Jul, 2013 by in Alaska, News

June 14th I left for Alaska with Wendy Everett for two weeks on a bouldering trip. The first week was to be spent filming a movie about the new development up there with filmmakers Jared Lavacque and Chris Alstrin. The second week we had the freedom to do what we wanted to do and I was most interested in continuing to find and develop new climbing up in that amazing venue.

IMG_3378 Denali, the highest point in North America

A number of factors are in play with a trip like this, and I must emphasize that while there is a desire to think that the next incredible new bouldering in the world is in Alaska, I can say unquestionably (from what I have seen) it is not. Hatcher Pass is not the best, not the most amazing, and not worthy of THE ALL CAPS, ALL EXCLAMATION POINT!!! status/update/blog post perhaps you are expecting, or would like to read. South Africa, Fontainebleau, Switzerland, Australia, even Colorado are all superior. Then why go? And why go back? And why do I consider going back again and again? Mostly because I just love being in Alaska. It is an incredibly wild place, with nearly infinite nooks and crannies to explore, it is lush and green, with raging rivers and enormous glaciers, and monstrously sized animals which roam the land. Climbing or not, no other place feels as comforting, as amazing, as beautiful and as wild as Alaska. It’s easy for many climbers to let specific names and numbers of problems dictate where and when they go, but being in a place that makes me happy is at the top of my list. Often those things coincide (general happiness and the best boulders in the world), but not so perfectly in Alaska. The scenery and ambience ARE absolutely incredible, and it also so happens that there is some pretty decent bouldering there, a lot of it, and a lot to develop. So I go.

Now before I really delve into the details of the trip, I would like to write about a number of things which make Alaska more challenging, and will help to paint a better picture of what it’s like to be there.

IMG_3541 Crossing a swollen river at Hatcher Pass

The weather: The weather in Alaska is extremely variable, although most of the time it leans towards wet. Two years ago I went to Alaska with Brian Capps from the middle of July to the beginning of August and we battled the rain for two weeks. We realized our mistake this year and went at the time with the most consistent weather, early June. July is the rainiest month, and August and September are bad as well. For example, Denali (the highest mountain in North America, which is less than 100 miles from where we were climbing) can be seen through the clouds on average 4 days in June and 1 day in July. The rain can be downright miserable. Two years ago I was very close on an awesome project with four days left in the trip and just got rained out of trying it again. Having soaking wet shoes literally every day, while not the end of the world, gets old after 10 consecutive days. Not only that but it is rarely crisp, cold, and dry. Trying to climb hard and manage the weather is certainly a challenge on its own. This makes camping on a two week trip for example quite challenging. The rain also makes for difficult river crossings, which prevented us from going to several places this year.

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Grizzly track we saw on a hike

The bears: There are grizzly bears that live in Hatcher Pass, and in fact near projects I’ve been interested in trying. I’ve bought and carried bear spray with me both times I’ve gone to spend time there. I’ve seen bear tracks in the boulders, photos on the internet of bears at Hatcher Pass, and saw a note at a trailhead from someone who had seen a bear just down the trail. They are unpredictable and dangerous animals. I have very little fear of black bears (in fact I’ve even been charged by a black bear in the Flatirons) yet my fear of grizzlies is real and ever present when I am bushwhacking through Alaska looking for new boulders.

The cost of being a tourist: Everything for a tourist in Alaska is expensive. Rental cars are typically double of what you would pay in the lower 48 and there is really no getting around that. Additionally, if you don’t rent an SUV you can’t drive up the Archangel road, so you’ll be tacking on a 45 minute uphill hike every day. That is a 45 minute approach added to the 5- 100 min approach to the boulders. That is if they’ve opened the gate when you show up. The road was gated for our first three days this year which forced us to tack on 3.9 miles with multiple crash pads just to the trailhead to begin hiking to the boulders. Once the road did open its condition was deteriorating every day and if it’s not been fixed recently then it would be not driveable in a high clearance two wheel drive SUV. Perhaps you’re sick of the rain and incessant mosquitos after a week of tromping around with soaking wet shoes and pants and you’re into finding a hotel (most of which will be booked), it will be nearly impossible to find something for less than $100 a night. Most of the the time climbers visit places in the off-season and renting a hotel isn’t much of an issue in places like Joe’s Valley, or Wyoming in the winter. But Alaska’s best bouldering season is also tourist season so expect to pay a lot for lodging or food.

IMG_4107 Project near Hatcher Pass

The rock: The rock near Hatcher Pass is good, black and white speckled granite. It is not the fine grained banded gneiss of RMNP or Brione, or the smooth polished granite of Yosemite. It is similar to if not better than Mount Evans. And most importantly it forms holds in the overhangs. Think Bierstadt at Area A. But it is rough and does limit the amount of time one can spend climbing. Also, it is almost certain one will experience the moss top-out. There is so much beautiful thick moss on top of the boulders that the locals have wisely decided to leave most of it to help minimize impact. This makes for tricky topouts, massive cleaning efforts (just to make enough space to topout) and situations where you will most likely grab moss to finish a problem.

All that being said, we arrived on Friday night, flying in over the massive Wrangell-St. Elias range to an incredible sunset and perfectly clear weather and motivation was high…

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4 Responses to “Alaska”

  1. Mike Records

    12. Jul, 2013

    Love the pictures! Like you said, Alaska is an amazingly beautiful place, but it sure takes patience and can be darn expensive!

  2. Michael Rathke

    14. Jul, 2013

    A couple friends from the church and I wanted to go on a trip to climb in Ohio. We decided to go to the Red River Gorge instead because there is really good climbing there.

    A drive that I used to do in 7 hours from East Lansing ended up being 10 hours because we enjoyed taking our time to get there. We easily pitched a tent after walking 10 yards from the new parking lot at Miguels Pizza and Climb shop. It was about 4am and we fell asleep right away after Cory jokingly said hey do you guys want to wake up at 8am?
    I woke up at about 8:30am and it was a nice beautiful sunny day but my old tent that I got for 5 bucks brand new at the thrift store was soaking wet from the dew. If I had only spent an extra 25 bucks I could have Cory’s tent with better water protection. The tent didnt bug me one bit but Manny did later complain about water droplets hitting his face.
    We decided to go to an area called the Bruise Brothers Wall but got stopped in our tracks from another wall called the Land Before Time wall. Manny decided to do some bouldering and cut open his arm similarly deep to what Jimmy Webb did when he visited RMNP not too long ago.
    However; the would was only an inch long and we just closed up the wound and taped it up with some climbing tape. Cory and I onsighted everything at the Land Before Time wall from left to right, but we fell on the very last climb Saber Tooth 5.10c. Not even interested in Red pointing such a sharp climb, we moved on to the Bruise brothers wall but Manny wanted to go to the car to check out his wound. He went and cleaned it off and it was healing nicely after checking and retaping it. We were shocked at how fast it was healing so we were very relieved because that fall he took while bouldering really tested our faith and ability to do things correctly without the need of a hospital. Praise God for climbing tape!
    We all headed down to the Bruise Brothers wall and rewarmed up on an 8 next to Red River Outdoors 5.10a and then did the 10 as well. They were both typical red river gorge climbs with large holds and very gritty sandstone. We moved onto a 5.11a that I dont know the name to and Cory made quick work of it sending it first go with style! I was up and new that after about doing 10 climbs that this probably wasnt going to happen considering the fact that I am pretty out of shape. So I gave it a go and did the 5.7 face with ease. I wasnt tired at all after I clipped the first bolt on the very steep over hang but I came back to rest on the face some to give it a run for its money. After resting for a few minutes on the face I pulled passed the first bolt on the roof and couldnt clip the 2nd bolt because I was just too tired from all the climbs we had already done so I called it a day after hang dogging my way up the rest of the climb which was a challenge!
    Cory then went over and climbed a 5.10d and had a little bit of a tricky time pulling the crux but finished with ease and Manny was mentioning his arm hurt so we tried to pack up and check on it. We ended up using one of the emergency station radio’s because we really werent sure about Manny’s wound and it was oosing out clear liquid from the tape. Rick (the owner of the land we were on) answered and he picked us up to clean off the wound at his house. We took off the tape and were very relieved to see the wound had a layer of skin already developing and it was completely shut still which we didnt think was the case at all. The owners suggested that we get it stitched up but we all believed it was totally fine as the tape had done exactly what some stitches would do. Manny took off the tape completely and they just put some cause around the wound after cleaning it off with peroxide.
    We then went back to Miguels and had Pizza and a nice nights rest.
    After waking up, Manny said that his arm didnt hurt at all anymore so that was a huge relief to us and his injury wasnt a concern for the rest of the trip. We ended the day with some bouldering at Sky Bridge on a beautiful traverse that ends going up with two huge moves on massive jugs. Cory pulled the first ascent and because of my lack of endurance for this trip, I am going to have to down climb Dougs as much as possible atleast every time I am out at the Ledges.
    We did some swimming afterwards and because we were right by the road side boulder I decided to fulfill Cory’s wish to continue his rampage. The whole backside of the boulder was soaked as usual so doing the bulldog was out of the question. Cory ended up climbing everything on the right side of the boulder and I just flailed on what I couldnt do in my four finger shoes dinking around. So we got a couple pictures with Miguel and hit the road. I cant believe how far it is to drive 7 hours. Wow, never again! That was just crazy and my old life is in the passed, I am happy to retire and just climb at the ledges only.

  3. Jabroni

    29. Jul, 2013

    Aren’t black bears actually more dangerous than grizzlies in terms of numbers they kill? It seems funny/odd to say you’re not afraid of black bears at all!

  4. B3

    29. Jul, 2013

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_bear_attacks_in_North_America

    That’s not what Wikipedia says. I have a number of encounters with Black Bears, in Great Smoky Mountains NP, Ontario Canada, RMNP, Flatirons, Alaska etc and I’ve even been charged by a black bear, but they have all been easily scared off. Clearly they can be dangerous, but they seem must less of a threat than grizzlies based on things people have said, books I’ve read and information on the internet.

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