After I spent my B-Day in the desert climbing wide crags with my new Grandstones, it was time for me to head up North for the big mountains. HA!!!! Alaska, the land of 24 hours of day light in the Summer time.
Most of the year I work as a Mountain Guide and this Summer I had the chance to be a guide for and Denali expedition. The team , 2 guides and 3 climbers. The conditions were great and the mountain give us the chance to climb it in 18 hard and long days. We all had the chance to make it to the top of the mountain and the coolest part was one of our climbers became the second oldest person to Summit the mountain. AL a 73 year-old strong man, who was a great inspiration for all of us, was a terrific person to climb the highest Mountain in North American with.
After that excellent working adventure, I had some days to rest and recover in Talkeetna and start thinking about my next adventure.
After one day of rest, my phone rang and it was my good friend Joel who was heading to where I was. I met him at the pub in Talkeetna and after couple beers, we had a plan!!!!!! We are going to the Pika Glacier in the Little Switzerland area.
Our objective: to check out a new rock-alpine area, and if conditions permit try to climb 2 new routes - one on the North Central pillar in the Crown Jewel and the other on the South face of the Dragons Spire. They both are rock routes with mixed (snow/ice) in some spots they are good size walls, about 300 to 400 meters tall.
Before we headed out, we had to organize all our gear, lots of it! We need rock gear, including aid gear, ice, snow gear and all our camping stuff too. The crux of all this, is that we need to fit all this stuff in a little 308 cessna plane to take us to the glacier.
Once it was all organized it was time for us to find a pilot crazy enough to take us there. The word on the street was that the snow is a little to deep to land there, so not too many pilots want to go there, and that we may run into the problem of getting stuck out there. After looking around we finally got a hold of our friend and pilot Jock. Jock is an Alaskan veteran who has been flying on the range for over 20 years, he works for Hudson Air Service and he is the only one who is psyched to take us there and not charge us a fortune.
After loading 200 pounds of gear in the little plane, Jock, Joel, and myself are getting ready to fly in.
The flight was great, you fly at mid height from the mountains. Basically the mountains are higher than you. After 45 min of flying we are ready to land. We can hear in our head phones Jock telling us that the landing is going to be hectic and that's where I got pretty gripped. He leveled the plane, the ground is coming fast, we touched the snow and it felt as if I was in a 4x4 wheel adventure, everything was shaking pretty good and we came to a stop I looked to Jock, he smiled to me and he said we are here!!!!!
I was super psyched to be there, I got out of the plane, my legs were shaking from the airplane ride. We unloaded the plane, Jock took off, and there we were in an awesome place all by ourselves.
Set up camp and no wasting time we head out for a reconocense mission to our first objective.
We had to skin for 30 min in a pretty good sized glacier to the base of the formation to check out all the options. We find a pretty cool looking broken crack system that hopefully is going to take us to the top. One other thing that we found out is that we have some snow above us and the temperature was a little warm to be exposed under that snow, so we decide to change our schedule. Sleep in the day and climb at night since in AK it doesn't really get dark in the Summer.
With that in mind we head back to camp and get ready for our first adventure, our departure time is going to be 8 pm. The sun is up, blue sky and we are ready to head for our mission.
After 30 minutes of skiing and crossing the pika glacier we are at the base. We spot a good looking crack system that little water is running down on, and I'm leading the first block of the wall. The first crux was putting my shoes on. We had to cross a moraine to get to the rock, so we are in a little uncomfortable stance. I took off my boots, put on my Anasazi Velcros and there I went.
The very first pitch was a mid 5.11 good finger crack which went up 50+ meters, and then the crack system was no more and I encountered a very blank face. I tension traversed left, NADA!!! Tension traverse right, NADA!!!! Not really any more cracks to connect and by that time my arms were soaked. BUMMER MAN, we aborted that mission. It was all good, my friend Joel said we can try tomorrow our other objective to see if we have better luck!!!!
Next day, or I should say night, we head for our next objective the Central North Pillar of Crown Jewel. Departure time, 10 pm, we got to the base at 11:10 pm. This time we were more prepared with pitons, hooks, aiders, cams, ice axe, ice screws, you name it, we had it all!
We were in front of the wall about 200 meters, super psyched. I looked at Joel and I said, "Lets do it man." He smiled at me, and the next thing we hear is the craziest sound of a good size avalanche coming down the exact place we wanted to be. I looked up, my heart stopped for about 3 seconds. I looked back to Joel, smiling he tells me, "WELL THAT'S THAT FOR THIS MISSION." We realize then, even changing schedules it was still too warm for that area at that time. Little bummed, we head back to camp and we decided that it is was better for us to check around and climb routes that were in better conditions, with-out any hanging snow above us. So, we decided to climb The Throne, via the lost marsupial route, a 5.8 M4 steep ridge climb.
Went to the base, stepped out of our skis, put on rock shoes and start simul climbing. The climbing was so fun that even the snow parts we did in our rock shoes. It was pretty funny. Rock shoes and ice axes. We got to the ridge, put on boots and crampons and finished the route about 3:20 am.
After that we had just a few hours to get some rest and get ready for Jock to pick us up. The plane came and before we knew it, the trip was over.
It was a great time with a great friend, in a new place for us and in one of the most vast alpine climbing ranges in the World, the Alaska Range.