Alaska III

Posted on 28. Jul, 2013 by in Alaska

Tuesday we began filming for the movie. It was again surprisingly warm, which was a trend that would continue almost the entire time we spent in Alaska. Highs in Anchorage were unseasonably near 90, which made conditions fairly poor near Hatcher Pass. The elevation in Archangel Valley, where most of the bouldering is, sits at around 3200 ft (which in Alaska is above the tree line), and with the ever present sun bearing down, we tried to chase shade all day. The goal was to film as many problems as we could, and I tried some new ones and repeated some old ones.

IMG_3526Archangel Valley

It’s always fun to go back and climb on things you’ve done before to gauge where you are physically. Unfortunately, I am not in the kind of shape I was in a few years ago, in Switzerland in 2008 or South Africa 2010. There was a time when I could climb V11 consistently in a day and V13 in a few days was sometimes a reality. But I haven’t been there in a few years due to a number of factors, mostly having to do with my commitment to work and school. I’m still very motivated, and by the end of the trip could start to feel some of that old strength return, but for now my level is a notch lower.

I warmed up by trying a problem put up on our last trip by Brian Capps, Sweet Home Alaska V9, but couldn’t manage it in the heat. It wasn’t an incredibly motivating way to start the day, but sometimes that’s just how it goes. Trying to escape the heat, we walked over to the shade and I stepped it down a notch and repeated the classic Muffin Man V8 a few times for the camera.

IMG_4116 Kynan works the Muffin Man V8

One of the best and most accessible projects at Hatcher Pass is just to the right of the Muffin Man. We tried The Muffin Man Project briefly two years ago and local Todd Helgeson has done all the moves. It is in the V13 range and will be a classic power problem when finished. This is probably the first project I would take someone like Daniel Woods to and I would expect him to flash it due to its straightforward nature or climb it in a few tries. The weather was too warm this day to use up skin on a project I felt I had little chance to climb, but I hope to return for longer sometime and this would be one to try.

We moved on to a project I thought I could climb, which was the Fairangel Arete. On the way I ran up a nice V8 for the video Psycho Ex which sits in a beautiful meadow near Fairangel Creek. I also stopped to check out an awesome arete project in the V14 range, although I couldn’t exactly decide on a sequence. This is a great problem that a world class climber could do with some effort, and the approach is only 20 minutes.

IMG_4137 V14 project

A word about this project, and the future of Alaska bouldering. I think this project is representative of what’s up here or what could be here. A classic V14 100yds from where a grizzly walked (more on that later), on great rock, with a topout that needs serious cleaning, and a landing that needs to get fixed. Alaska and Hatcher Pass more specifically will really come into its own as a destination if and when these problems start to get filled in. When all is said and done (if it ever really is), there will be many hard and high-quality boulders to come try and Alaska will be worth a trip for the very adventurous boulderer.

Although it’s difficult to predict how the perceptions of the climbing community will change over time, there are a few things that really keep Hatcher Pass from being a world class destination right now: concentration, the level of adventure (road, hiking, moss, weather, river crossings, grizzly bears) and the rock quality.

In regards to the concentration, it is pretty good, but pales in comparison to areas like Fontainebleau or any of the big 4 in Switzerland (Cresciano, Chironico, Magic Wood, Brione).

In regards to the adventure, I go to Alaska specifically because of the adventure level and the outstanding scenery. After listening to the amount of complaining from many visiting pro climbers about the rain in Australia, I’m guessing they wouldn’t be psyched about the much intensified level of adventure in Hatcher Pass.

And finally, in regards to the rock. It varies from decent to nearly outstanding (similar to Chironico, which if you’ll remember I ranked as the worst of the best in Switzerland). The rock in Hatcher Pass is better than the well known Colorado area Lincoln Lake, it’s just that Colorado has Lincoln Lake, and the rest of Mt. Evans, and RMNP, Wild Basin, Elkland, Boulder Canyon, etc, all within an hours drive of Boulder, in addition to its well publicized, year-round good weather and thus it becomes a destination for a world traveler. I do think Alaska is worth a visit, just don’t go expecting endless, sunny, dry, bug-free climbing days, short approaches and tons of established climbs to test your skills against.

Back to the rest of the day. We continued up the very steep way to the Fairangel Arete where I made some good links and felt very hopeful that I could do it in a few more days. The arete is what younger climbers, if in my position, would call their “anti-style” but that is a term I really don’t care for. I understand that some things play to my strengths and others play against my weaknesses, but I work hard to climb things that don’t fit me all the time. I wouldn’t consider those things my “anti-style”. I just think bouldering is difficult and there are many ways it can be difficult. If I am having trouble with a certain move, or style, then the onus falls on me to change my style and get better, not the other way around. A boulder problem doesn’t fit my specific body type or style? I find that is always the case in some sense, so it is then really never the case (it’s just the way it is) and I must improve. I have many times sought out problems that force me to radically adapt, because in that adaptation a learning process occurs which is interesting to me. Most recently Both Sides of the Spectrum, Radiant, Dead Can’t Dance, and Lactation Station exemplify problems that were particularly challenging for me, and now hopefully the Fairangel Arete. Being that it would be an FA makes it all the more appealing.

As the sun finally started to stall, and the cooler temperatures sunk into the valleys, I felt motivated to keep climbing and so we marched back 30 minutes to a project from last year, The Barstool Project

IMG_4126. Barstool Bear V10 FA

It felt much better in the dry conditions this year and I did the first move in a few tries. Confident I could climb it quickly I tried from the start but failed to climb the ending “V4” more than 5 times from the start. I finally figured out a huge jump move to the lip and finished the day on a high note by climbing the FA of Barstool Bear a classic and subtly powerful arete, which should be in the video.

I was worked from a huge day of climbing but ready and motivated for more the next day, as we would be joined by a big crew from Anchorage and on the hunt for some new boulders!!


2 Responses to “Alaska III”

  1. Praxeology

    29. Jul, 2013

    Enjoying reading about your trip Jamie. I also enjoy the more obscure, somewhat unpopular bouldering areas myself. Having lived and bouldered in Utah and the Salt Lake area the majority of my life, I have always been drawn to areas that most climbers would consider less than stellar. I have found that I enjoy the experience and adventure as much as I do the actual climbing. I have made the drive a couple of times this summer to a new area in the Uintah mountain range, and while the quantity and quality may not hold anything to Joe’s or LLC, the experiences and setting has been simply amazing and that is really what is important to me. Take care.

  2. B3

    29. Jul, 2013

    Thanks for the kind words. Alaska is really good, I’m not trying to sell it short, it’s just not on par with Switzerland, Font, or Rocklands and I want to clearly convey that. But yes, it doesn’t always have to be the most amazing thing ever for me to have a worthwhile experience.

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