Alaska V

Posted on 01. Aug, 2013 by in Alaska

We woke once again to wonderful weather after having been in Alaska for a week. The objective for the day was Byron Glacier, about an hour outside of Anchorage, near Portage Lake. I had visited Portage Lake on my first trip to Alaska and couldn’t help but notice a bunch of boulders along the flank of nearby Portage Glacier. It was a place I had wanted to return to then, and when I visited in 2011 it was a place I suggested we hike, but due to its distance from Hatcher Pass, I never made it out there.

Local David Funatake did. David (as well as Chris Barnett) is a very motivated local and has spent a lot of his recent energy developing the bouldering at Byron. It’s a relatively easy trip from Anchorage for him and it’s one he’s made many times. David led the way for the tour, and it surprisingly ended up being one of my favorite days in Alaska. The scenery at Byron is outstanding. In fact outstanding is an understatement because it is the prettiest place I have ever bouldered. Having visited many of the major bouldering areas in the States, it’s so refreshing to see something new and amazing. I was psyched.

IMG_4199 The approach

As we walked up a massive snowfield, in the shadow of enormous Byron Glacier, (which was plastered to the side of the mountain), giant free standing boulders appeared, and I ran around giddy with excitement. The rock here has excellent texture, and is fortunately featured with flat edges and rounded slopers. The lines are big, and there were a number of obvious projects to try right from the get go.

The first and most obvious project was an amazing line straight out the middle of the biggest boulder I saw. The beta was not obvious and I chalked and tried a number of different sequences. The style was very much like that of RMNP or Switzerland and I was very motivated to try and climb the line in a day. It was a great session on a classic boulder.

IMG_4203 Working an amazing project at Byron Glacier

I would estimate the difficulty to be in the V12 range and it would be one of the first things I would put effort into on a return trip. I hadn’t heard much good about Byron before I went, but as always I feel the need to look for myself. The left arete, which was nearly climbed on a previous trip by Todd Helgeson, is also a project and will be a stellar V9 or V10 when finished.

Once I decided the face was too difficult for the day, we made our way back down valley to another project. There was only one really worthwhile project on the “Arkenstone Boulder” and it seemed really doable. We had plenty of pads, lots of motivation, and a sequence was quickly conjured. I snuck my way up the impressive line for the FA of Smaug V8. It’s probably the best FA I’ve climbed in Alaska and I was very thankful David and the rest of the crew were so willing to let me try the line. It’s a classic boulder and I was very psyched to be able to add such a nice line to a beautiful area. Chris got the FA on film.

IMG_4218David Funatake attempts Smaug V8

We finished out the day with David repeating a very unique and classic dihedral he had put up recently. We all walked out with smiles on our faces after a long day in the Chugach Mountains, followed by an outstanding meal in Girdwood and one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.

IMG_3619Sunset along the Turnagain Arm

The next two days were devoted towards getting the necessary shots for filming. We went to the classic and oldest area at Hatcher Pass, The Diamond. Todd repeated Sweet Home Alaska V9 quickly and I followed suit. SHA is a classic problem for Hatcher Pass. It is tall, has great rock and really nice movement. The landing is a bit jumbled but with some extra pads from the crew it was no problem. I also climbed some nice established lines I hadn’t done before, including EBM V8 and Honky Tonk Badonkadonk, a nice, crimpy V10 established by Todd. Todd also nearly repeated Honky Tonk Direct V11, which I believe is the hardest problem currently established at Hatcher Pass.

IMG_4244 Hatcher Pass

A word about Mr. Helgeson: Todd has been bouldering in and around Hatcher Pass for over 10 years, and his dedication to the area is commendable. If it’s not evident through the sheer number of days he’s spent there or the quantity of problems he’s established, it comes across in his recently published guidebook, Alaska Bouldering Guide. The guidebook is a necessary resource to anyone visiting the state and looking to get in some bouldering and I would highly recommend picking one up here, or at a local shop when you arrive. It is informative and very clear, and we used it on a number of days when Todd wasn’t available to show us around. We found the problems quickly every time. In addition to developing hundreds of problems at Hatcher Pass, running AKclimber.com, being a husband and father of three kids, holding down a full time job, Todd is one of the nicest and most welcoming climbers I’ve ever met. He showed us around, was full of interesting information about the area, and was generous to a fault. He made our trip much easier and more enjoyable. Todd is also renting pads to traveling climbers. Having extra pads in Alaska is a must, and the extra baggage fees can be exorbitant. Just like Chaos Canyon or Mt. Evans, many of the landings on some of the amazing problems (like Sweet Home Alaska) are uneven and jumbled. Having the reassurance of extra padding is nearly invaluable. Look up Todd if you happen to find yourself headed north.

After three days in a row of intense climbing we were looking for a break. At this point I’ve spent much of my life traveling, and of all the places I’ve ever been, Alaska rest days might just be the best. Not a bad thing to look forward to.

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