Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I've put off writing about this for as long as I can.
On August 24th, 2010, Seth Holden died in a plane crash with Brandon Reilly. He had texted me earlier in the evening, saying he'd climbed Summit Peak in Girdwood with our friend Ben. He seemed really excited about it and in the later photos, it was apparent he had enjoyed it greatly. When the plane crashed at around 7:45 PM, the late August sunset painted the sky in a spectrum of oranges and reds, pinks and purples. It was beautiful.

Seth was many things to me. He was my most continuous climbing partner. I looked up to him in certain aspects, from his nonchalant attitude to his work ethic and quiet demeanor. His impeccable outdoor knowledge spanned the spectrum from climbing and skiing to hunting, fishing and extreme survival skills. When I first met Seth, I was far from calling myself a climber. Seth had already climbed Denali, completed numerous big wall routes in Yosemite, endured week-long ski winter traverses, scaled volcanoes in South America, alpine routes in Chamonix, the Ruth Gorge, Cascades, Chugach and beyond. I finally mustered up the courage one day to invite him on a climb of North Suicide, a mere winter peak bagging trip for him but a test-piece for me at the time. It was fun then, over the next few years to gage my increasing skills next to Seth. As I gained experience I began to see myself as Seth's equal on the rope and that brought me endless amounts of pride.

Seth and I went on to share five serious trips to the Alaska Range in three years. Together we attempted the Mooses Tooth, a bold winter ascent of Peak 11.300 and three trips to the Revelation Mountains. It was in our cherished Revelations where Seth and I melded the best. Here, in a remote and mostly uncharted range, we stood under tremendous unclimbed peaks. Here we were reliant solely upon each other. It was in the Revelations where I think we both shared some of the happiest moments of our lives. Seth and I completed two first ascents and attempted countless others.
On the last climb we ever did together, we attempted the South Ridge of the Angel in the Revelations. The route had been attempted 43 years earlier by Dave Roberts, but remained unclimbed. We trained together, analyzed grainy black and white photographs, memorized it's lone trip report and kept each other motivated. When we finally got on the Angel in early June of 2010, we had already waited for 12 days to fly into the range and had been swatted back on another of our obsessions, the unclimbed Mount Mausolus. But, on this day, Seth and I both found that rare type of perfection that a climber always seeks. We had perfect weather and a beautiful, complex route ahead of us. We climbed fast and with a zeal that I have experienced on only a handful of occasions. We made it half way up the route in about six hours, but had to turn for lack of appropriate gear for a small section of aid. We intended to get back on the route the following day, but it quickly became apparent that we were out of time, since our runway was becoming spotted with rocks as the snow melted in front of our eyes. With much disappointment, we looked up at the ridge from our base camp with a promise to complete it as soon as possible. I still remember how Seth hooted and screamed in elation, something very surprising coming from a usual quiet person. I smile still, knowing that we both agreed that it was the single best day of climbing either of us had ever had. I feel lucky to have shared that time with Seth.
Seth was a fighter and survivor. A close friend said “if you just gave Seth a chance he could survive anything.” Sadly on this occasion, he didn't even have a fighting chance.

I miss the way he tossed his head back when he laughed. I miss the times we spent sitting under massive unclimbed mountains, pondering their seemingly impenetrable defenses. I miss scouring over maps and photos, plotting our next adventure which was never far off whether it be in the Chugach mountains, Yosemite valley or the Alaska range. I miss the comfort of knowing that he was keeping me safe. Most of all though, I just miss my friend. Seth was the best partner I've ever had. How do you replace something like that? I really, really miss him, and will carry his memory with me forever.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Revelations Climbing Video

Here is a short little video I put together from my helmet cam footage from the Revelations. This is from our attempt on the south ridge of the Angel. Seth and I made fast time up the ridge, climbing above 8,000' on the mountain in about six hours. We hit a massive gendarme with a thin seam that would require aiding. We lacked enough small gear to get through it so we descended with the intention of getting right back on the route.

Insanely hot conditions were melting out the glacier (and the runway for the pilot) at an incredible rate. It no longer even froze at night. Tragically we were had to cut our trip short due to the disappearing runway, and we did not get to complete the route.

I guess that means we get to go back next year...


You may watch it in a larger format here:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reoccurring Revelations and Reconnoiterings

A beautiful pinnacle just above basecamp.

Another spring has begun, another trip to the rugged Revelation mountains has come to an end. Seth and I ran into more problems this year than we had in previous trips, but overall everything went smooth.

After waiting to fly in for five days in Anchorage, Seth and I finally got in the air with Joe Schoester of Sportsman Air Service. As we flew in, Andrew McClain and friends were flying out after spending nearly two weeks skiing steep couloirs in the tightly contoured range.

Weather was marginal for our chosen destination and, intent on staying to our fixed plan, we spent the next SEVEN DAYS waiting at Rob Jones' lodge on the Big River. We made no fewer than three attempts to land on a small pocket glacier, thwarted by high winds, low visibility, flat light and a malfunctioning Super Cub. YIKES! Perhaps I was just having to cash in on a little weather karma I've built up over the last few years.

We had plenty of time in the first week to become quite good at Sudoku.

We FINALLY made it out after a total of 12 days of waiting, and none too soon! Our chosen preliminary objective was a massive horrific 4,300-foot face on an unclimbed 9,000-foot peak. We spent the first several days at camp contemplating the route, conditions and our sanity. This peak was M-E-A-N! To our best knowledge, this peak had only been attempted once in the mid 1990s. No one had ever even seen the peak from our chosen side. It has been described as a "hopeless labyrinth" and "perhaps the toughest climb in the range." From the looks of it both descriptions were spot on.

A view of our first objective from camp. Our main route is hidden from view.

The mercury skyrocketed in the day, causing massive melt-freeze cycles and cataclysmic avalanches throughout the late morning to late evening. Our supposed route could indeed be classified as a "death line." We stopped counting after 250 avalanches ripped down every part of the mountain in one afternoon. A crescendo of rockfall and roaring snow echoed off the valley's surrounding walls.

On one of the last nights where it actually dropped below freezing, we climbed 2,000-feet up the face before calling it. A narrow slot with great looking climbing arched above to the summit, but the mountain was simply too active. Anything that came off the upper slopes would barrage us without fail. It seemed we were just a few days too late in the season.

Seth climbing up the lower couloir of the west face of the unclimbed 9000-foot peak.

With that we shipped out to the main spine of the Revelations, landing at about 5,300-feet on the narrow rock infested glacier. We set our sites immediately to the unclimbed south ridge of the Angel. In 1967, Dave Roberts attempted the ridge, stopping some 700-feet below the summit. Food was running low and the glacier was melting faster than a snow cone in the Sahara.

The first morning we skied up to the base of the Angel, then scouted some other monoliths farther down glacier. By 6:30 the next morning we were kicking steps up to the Angel.

The climbing on the Angel could only be described as jaw-droppingly sublime. I led the first block of pitches, where we simulclimbed roughly 600-feet of terrain up to 5.8. An amazing little 5.8 chimney led to the first major gendarme which was passed by lowering off a hex. Several more great 5.7/5.8 moves led to another shorter simulclimbing block. The climbing was continuously incredible, the coarse alpine granite was perfect. Hoots and hollers echoed off a 7,900-foot peak called the Hydra as we continued up. Seven hours in, we came to a large drop-off and a pinnacle leading to a massive gendarme at about 8,100-feet. It looked doable but not without a little bit of aid.

Drenched with sweat due to the heat and with a long and complicated descent ahead of us, we decided to cash in for the night and start our rappels. We were eager to get back to camp and give it another shot with a few more key pieces of gear.

After some downclimbing and a rather heinous series of eight rappels over rope-eating flakes, we touched down on the glacier. Our descent went down the ridge before dropping into a slot we called the Black Gully. For the first time on the mountain we encountered poor rock that made rappel anchors hard to come by.

Seth Rappelling off of the Angel.

It remained extremely warm after that and never really dipped below freezing again. Destitute but determined to nab a first ascent of something, we attempted a route on the unclimbed South Horseman, only to get turned by nasty snow, ice and rockfall conditions. Next we faintly tried a route on an unclimbed 8,100-foot peak by the terrifying Golgotha. That too ended in deep snow avalanche-threatening snow. Later on in the day we returned to see that a natural slide had wiped out our tracks up the first few hundred feet of the route we had climbed.

The mountains seemed to be telling us we weren't welcome anymore and our food was down to almost nothing. What small patches of snow had served as our pilot's runway a week ago were melting out to blue ice and rocks by the hour.

Quite bummed about not getting to have another serious crack at the Angel, we packed up our stuff. The next day we hiked 18-miles down the Revelation Glacier to the Big River and Rob Jones' lodge.

A C-130 on a pleasure cruise down the Revelation Glacier

While we had to walk away empty handed this time, I feel we made some really good choices in tough situations.

However, in Dave Robert's book On the Ridge Between Life and Death he says:
From the vantage point of middle-aged nostalgia for meteoric youth, it is hard to congratulate yourself for prudence rather than for boldness. I still think Matt and I made the right decision on August 28, 1967. Yet of all the regrets I have about my years in the mountains, in terms of sheer simple “what-might-have-been” - even more than the pang of not accompanying Rick and Art to the top of Kichatna Spire – letting the Angel slip through our fingers when we were within 700 feet of the summit on a perfect day still stings the sharpest.

Throughout the entire walk out, on the flight back to Anchorage and especially now, situated in the many comforts of urban life I can say only one thing. I know exactly how he feels! We will be back soon.

More pictures available here

Thanks to the McNeill-Nott Award and Alpine Adventure Grant for making this trip possible!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Urban climbing

The past few weeks have been very busy. I've been working almost every day and have had little time to venture into the mountains.

Still, we have been preparing for our trip and are hoping to leave this Wednesday. It's down the to final hour!

It was quite impressive to see this video of some Brits making a daunting first ascent. It was very inspiring and I'm already scoping an almost certain virgin line up Spenard Avenue.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Skiing the North Face of Pioneer

Pioneer Peak in late spring conditions

For years I have wanted to climb Pioneer Peak's North Face, which rises 6300' directly from the road. Not only is the approach...wait...cut that. There is no approach. Repeat: there is NO approach. Cross the road, start climbing...approach done. Did I mention that there is NO approach?!?!?!

There seems to be a short window every April where avalanche conditions are stable and the snow is firm enough to climb and occasionally ski.
I had heard of many different ways of it being climbed. Some people told of pitching out ice lines, others brought a rope but only used it in a few spots, others brought an ice axe and nothing else.

Driving by it two weeks ago I knew I had to climb it this year. Plus, it would be great training for the upcoming trip to the Revelations. It just had to settle for another week or so and it would be primo!

Then I saw that Ryan Hokanson had skied it solo in an afternoon. The thought of skiing it had never really appeared as a feasible option in my head, but...I'm not afraid to jump off into the deep end right off the bat.

It turns out Pioneer is loaded with much more snow than usual and it was in great skiing conditions. So after a few repetitions of liquid courage one night, I decided I had to do it! A friend of a friend named Eric from Crested Butte, Colorado would be my partner in crime. Eric is a rippin' tele-skier who has packed a shit ton of skiing into a two-week vacation to Alaska. I figured Pioneer Peak would be the perfect send-off.

On Friday we drove out under absolutely stellar blue skies, moderate temps and high hopes. It was surprising to instantly see that we were not alone on the North Face. We quickly saw that not one but TWO parties were ahead of us. Lucky us...we had a great skin track and boot pack all the way up!

We passed the first team after an off-route double-black diamond alder schwack suffer-fest that only Alaska could deliver. Not only were there other teams on the route, but low and behold, I knew both of them. Brian and Joe made it to about 3500' before turning, but it was great to see them up there. We eyed the other team ahead of us, kicking a stairway to the summit.

Kevin rocking upper couloir

Eric and Cody contemplate the drop-in

When we got to the summit, low and behold, we knew the other dudes. It was Cody and Kevin, Small world! We enjoyed beautiful views all the way around then watched as Kevin started the ski train down the initial 55-degree couloir. We skied off the summit (mostly side slipping the first icy chute) then cut great turns all the way down the snowfield into the sun. Several rocky cliffs were navigated and we skied the final 3000' avalanche chute down to the car. Then we made the long walk across the street to our car and hit up some delicious burgers at the Longbranch Saloon.

Replicating Ryan Hokanson's signature top of the couloir shot!

Eric staring down a 6000' descent

All smiles!

A Longbranch burger never tasted so good!

Needless to say, it was probably one of the best ski runs I've ever done and I think Eric would agree!

Thanks to Ryan Hokanson for the stoke and Kevin and Cody for the stairway to the top!

More pics: HERE!

Monday, April 5, 2010


In preparation for our upcoming trip to the Revelations this spring, I have been practicing the process of self-visualization. It has been very interesting to work out, repeat and refine this mental rehearsal process.

I remember my step-dad talking to me about self-visualization when I played baseball as a kid. He tried to get me to rehearse the process of watching the pitch, following the ball and connecting all the way through with my bat. While I was never a great batter, I always found the process to be very intriguing.

Years ago when I first started learning about alpine climbing I picked up Mark Twight's book, Extreme Alpinism. He dedicates a portion of the book to visualization. In it he says "visualization presupposes a belief in your ability to achieve a goal."

Trying to read and understand an unknown mountain, route or path is in some ways an aspect of visualization but I think it falls more under the category of planning.
Our upcoming expedition into the Revelations is stacked with some pretty heavy objectives. Seth and I have been putting our time in under the weights and we feel physically strong. For the past month though, I have been trying to perform a daily ritual of self-visualization of our intended climbing route, from start to finish.

Usually well before work, while enjoying a morning cup of coffee i will put on some non-distracting music and lay on the couch. Then I close my eyes and focus purely on the climb and the mountain. I try to visualize and feel everything...the cold, my breathing, the weight of my pack, snow crystals forming on my face. I try and imagine timeframes for different fast will I be able to get to the first alcove if the snow is firm and fast? What if it is deep? How will that change our outcome? Where will the cruxes be and how will I feel when I get to them? Then I try to visualize myself climbing fast, strong and confidently, observing from both the first and third person perspectives. In my head I can look down from half way up a mountain that I have never even touched.

In my self-visualization process (which can range from five minutes to well over an hour), I try to focus only on success. I do not stop until I have successfully completed a positive visualization.

In my head I have already climbed our intended route a thousand times. I can close my eyes and see a burned in picture of our route. I remember where critical rocks and snow gullies are. I feel 'more' comfortable with our mission.

That said, I still have fear and apprehension. I dream about our climb all the time. There is definitely something to be said about the practice of self-visualization. While it didn't make me hit a baseball any better as a kid, I am quite confident that it has prepared me to approach our upcoming climb with more familiarity and a measure of mental fortitude that I have not had on previous endeavors. Some of these times have suddenly become so intense that they feel like a vivid dream. It has been a unique approach to climbing that I've never explored before. I have no doubt that it will make me more comfortable, familiar and most of all, confident on our upcoming climbs in the Revelations.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring Ain't Far Away!

Spring ain't far away. And that can mean only one thing...climbing in "The Range!"

The whole intense training aspect of climbing has always been something I've more or less taken lightly. A little weight lifting here, some mountain hiking there, throw in some overnight climbs, lots of ice climbing and pulling on plastic and that's about it.

As I progress as a climber (see: get beat like a redheaded stepchild in Yosemite, snow turtle up 11,300 in a winter snow pack, and wish I had a little more endurance on day three)...I start to see the importance of a higher level of intensity training.

Lucky me! This year a trainer from the Alaska Rock Gym started doing a type of mountain training class twice a week. Now I've done plenty of Mountain Athlete's workouts before, the high intensity circuit training meant to tax the body. It's a lot of mid-to-high rep, high set work outs done in a mostly rapid time frame. See: you end up throwing up in your mouth on occasion.

The difference between my own personal workouts and the ones put on by Mike Barcom of ARG is huge. See: I'm lazy and weights are heavy. If I do the workout on my own it's easy to take an extra 10-15 seconds and catch a few breaths. When Mike is coaching and you're trying to keep up with some guy next to you, you get a momentum that is hard (for me anyways) to achieve solo.

So it's been about five weeks since I've started the group workouts and I can confidently say that I am feeling significantly stronger. In the next five weeks I will step it up significantly, throwing in more and more cardio before tapering off. After all, We fly out to the Revelations in a mere six weeks.

On that note...

I am absolutely stoked out of my frickin' mind to announce that Seth and I just received the 2010 McNeill-Nott Award. The committee awarded us a grant in the ungodly generous amount of $2000. Words cannot even begin to express our gratitude!

Without the support of grant programs like this and others, all under the American Alpine Club, there is no way we would be able to afford to pursue our dreams in remote areas.

For more information on the grant programs offered by the American Alpine Club, please visit their website: American Alpine Club Grant Program.