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Alaska VI

Posted on 11. Aug, 2013 by in Alaska

Worked from the previous days of climbing, Wendy and I were looking forward to spending some time playing tourist. We decided to head out on Prince William Sound to soak up some ocean scenery, tidewater glaciers and hopefully see some interesting wildlife.

It was another beautifully sunny day and the mountains were stunning. Icebergs and sea otters parted as our small boat made its way across the glassy, turquoise waters of the sea green sea. I can’t think of a much better way to rest my skin and muscles, and rejuvenate my brain. Here are some pics from the day:

IMG_3720 Yale Glacier, 20 miles long, in Prince William Sound

IMG_3924 Serpentine Glacier, Prince William Sound

IMG_4330 Icebergs and glacier

IMG_4247 The Ocean

The following day was back to Hatcher Pass, and with filming finished I finally had the freedom to find some new boulders. The first place I wanted to explore was a large talus field opposite the Fairangel arete. Only a few problems had been climbed by the locals, but the majority of the things I found previously were unclimbed. The development of this talus pile would hopefully produce any number of classic new lines and I was anxious to get started.

I walked into the left side of the pile, heading in the direction of some new rock and it wasn’t long before I started to discover much more than I had previously thought was there. Soon my new brush was dusting chalk on all kinds of overhanging rock. I couldn’t believe how many new hard projects were suddenly starting to take shape. I find that when the creativity begins to flow it seems to feed off itself, and the discovery one new and worthy line often leads to the discovery of several.

IMG_4361 V12 compression project

IMG_4364 A nice overhanging face I didn’t have time to even clean.

IMG_4365 Project, 8B?

Not moments after I had this small epiphany, realizing that the talus would produce a number of classic lines, and again I would have more to try and climb that I could even begin to throw myself at on this trip, Wendy asked me to look down. There, in the snow, directly underneath the project I had just brushed was an obvious and clear set of grizzly tracks. My heart skipped a beat.

IMG_4360 Grizzly print underneath my project!

IMG_4362 Grizzly tracks

The warm weather was steadily melting the snow and these clear prints had to have been made very recently. My desire to start developing was very strong, but it was foolish to let that desire supersede our safety. Being in jumbled talus with a huge pad on my back is not the scenario in which I would prefer to see a grizzly. We slowly backed away, keeping a vigilant watch on the rest of rocks. “Perhaps it was just passing through”, I thought, “and we could stay here”, trying to justify my desire to climb all these amazing projects. We walked around a ways, but after stopping to look at another boulder we both heard what sounded like a large animal moving a very large rock in a deep cave. It was an organic sound, not that of melting or shifting snow and ice, and I was not about to hang around and find out there actually was a bear in the hole and we left the talus field as quickly and safely as we could.

I go to Alaska because of the level of adventure. I go wanting to see a bear. I think they are incredible creatures and it adds greatly to my experience knowing they are around. Armed as I was with bear spray, I was also not psyched that we were being prevented from developing one of the best and most easily accessible rock piles in the area. Such is the nature of nature, and the difficulty of developing boulders in such a wild place.

“We are all put to the test sometimes, but it never comes in the form or at the point we would prefer, does it?”

Suddenly I was more tired than I had hoped and, feeling somewhat defeated, we walked back up the Fairangel Gulley. My efforts were lackluster on the arete project and I was starting to doubt that I could climb it on this trip. One rest day wasn’t enough, and I was still worked. It was hot, motivation was somewhat low, and I was genuinely bummed about being pushed out of the talus. Not one to give up easily (or ever really) I was still determined to find new rock. Thankfully Hatcher Pass has loads of it and we went up the next valley over, hiked up past the last established problem into some new terrain.

To find good new rock anywhere is a difficult process. You have to be motivated and have good vision and an open mind, you have to have done your research to know where to look, and you have to be willing enough to hike farther than anyone has yet previously, often off-trail through thick forest or brush. This is the experience I am looking for and with nearly unlimited daylight I was determined to see more. This time of year it really didn’t get dark at all and I used all of the daylight as much as possible, going to bed after midnight and waking up at 6AM to start the day. I found myself wishing it would be light as long as possible as it tends to feel like I have more than 24 hours in a day, which I love. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon some excellent new lines.

IMG_4369 A difficult slimper line in the V11-V13 range

IMG_4372 A large boulder with a number of quality projects

We hiked well up the valley and it was downright shocking to see the difference in snow from two years ago. A number of outstanding boulders at the shore of the lake I had previously discovered were totally buried.

IMG_4373 Lake shore, late June 2013

IMG_2325-1024x546 Lake shore, late July 2011

IMG_4239 V13/V14 Project

The best line I found was up above the lake, on a talus bench. It was a steep cave with flat underclings, edges and slopers coming out the overhang. I decided it would be a great line to try to climb (at least from a stand start) if I ran out of time to finish the Fairangel project. I cleaned it up, and prepped it for another day. Wendy and I were exhausted, and we decided to take another rest day in hopes to heal up for the end days of the trip.

Rest days for me are rarely totally restful. Antsy to keep moving we decided to hike 4.3 miles to the Harding Ice Field, in Kenai Fjords National Park. In today’s age of over used hyperbole it’s difficult to convey how impressive this feature is so I’ll stick to the numbers. The Harding Icefield covers 300 square miles alone, but if you include all of the 40 glaciers it feeds, that number increases to 1,100 square miles. It is an ocean of ice as far as the eye can see and it wasn’t crossed by people until 1968. It was an incredible hike, one that I was admittedly a little reluctant to participate in, as my legs were worked and a general fatigue had started to set in. But as is so often the case, the reward of completing the hike was well worth it, and we were treated to some of the most spectacular views we had seen all trip. The light was incredible and the “magic hour” stretched on for hours. The Alaskan scenery continued to dominate everything I have previously seen, and I was loving it.

IMG_4148 A man walks out on the ice field, putting the size of the Alaskan wilderness into perspective

IMG_4124 Cracks in the glacier

IMG_4131 Glacial ice is blue and the cracks are smooth reminiscent of southern sandstone

IMG_4098 Crevasse

IMG_4426

4 Responses to “Alaska VI”

  1. Crafty

    12. Aug, 2013

    Awesome photos Jamie!

  2. Todd

    25. Aug, 2013

    Hey Jamie,
    Yesterday I sent the compression line you thought might be in the v12 range (the first pic). It’s probably in the low 11 range, but one of the best I’ve climbed in quite a while. Not quite 5 star, but really good. David’s been really wanting to put stuff up in that talus field, but it’s been raining so much the top-outs are horrendous. It seems like most of those boulders drain down onto the face you want to climb, so they’re always wet and nasty and don’t dry out for days….. We’ve still managed to put up about 15 new ones in that area.

  3. B3

    26. Aug, 2013

    Nice effort! That grade was only an estimate, I never actually pulled on the problem, so it could have been V8 for all I know. I think there are going to be a lot of great problems and it’s nice to hear you guys have put some effort into those boulders. Sorry about the rain, that can certainly be frustrating.

  4. […] Keenen went exploring down in a pit, I got to work fine cleaning a line out of the cave that Jamie had scoped out (the first pic of a boulder), and Jeff and I had also looked at but written off as too hard back […]

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