Sunday, December 2, 2007

Trials and tribulations on the walls of Yukla

For the past two years, much of my alpine climbing attention has been focused on a stunning 7,535' peak in Eagle River called Yukla Peak. Over the course of five separate trips into the Icicle Valley, I have attempted three different unclimbed routes on the northwest face. In January 2o06, John Kelley and I went in and attempted the central chimney. We got high on route, but didn't bring bivy gear and lost motivation after getting to a vertical powder snow wall high up above minimal protection. We spent the next several hours rappelling to our high camp and bailed that next day.The line ended up being climbed several months later by John Kelley and Josh Varney. They named the route "The History of Things to Come."

The next year I returned once again with John Kelley, to try one of the other two unclimbed routes on the face. We ended up climbing "Gank'd and Slayed," (American Alpine Journal 2007) the right trending snow and ice couloir that is also mixed with several narrow chimneys. During the next three days we climbed virgin terrain up to M6, AI6, with several a2 moves on the first pitch.

Pitch one began with a AI3 ramp leading to a vertical/slightly overhanging rock headwall. Here, I encountered a rappel anchor left by a previous party.
Not feeling the stoke on it after an attempt, John gave it a try and decided to aid through it with a few birdbeaks and pins. The rope came tight and I followed, then led up through a narrowing chimney system to a crud filled gash, which ended in a slabby rock with a left and right option. With a big runout in the snowy chimney, I hammered a spectre into some frozen moss and then climbed up the right slab. Typical Chugach rock yielded nothing but seamed out cracks and downsloping features. Dead-ended, there was nothing left to do but tediously downclimb and go left. This provided better holds and higher up I could see a good place for an anchor. After setting up the anchor, John came up, then we rappelled down and to the right, then cut a small bivy platform the size of a beach towel. This was one of those times where mental fortitude took over, pushing my physical comfort and ability through a harder situation than I was comfortable with. Using Steve House's mantra of 'failing up,' I pushed through and surpassed my own limitations.

The morning couldn't have come soon enough. We brewed up then got going. John led off through a mbelayed from an ice bulge. The next several leads were great fun cruiser alpine ice, grade 3/4.

We thought we'd be off the route with the last pitch of day 2, which John led. It ended up being a 50' steep WI/AI6 drip that overhung at the top with a 'snicey' finish.
A 200' traverse put us over a hanging snowfield and we dug a comfy snowcave.
One more WI3 pitch in the morning and we unroped, then walked over and topped out on P. 6000'.and oderate dihedral, then

Fast forward to October 2007. Josh Varney and I spent two consecutive weekends in the Icicle Valley. After realizing we didn't have enough time to make a legitimate attempt on the unclimbed left ramp, we stashed our gear at the boulder bivy, then went home. The next weekend, we came back with more time and light packs. After picking up our gear at the
ree days we h a left boulder, we then continued up to the snow cone at the base of the route, where we cut a ledge and set up the Bibler.

The next morning was cold and clear, unfortunately, eight inches of snow fell the previous night. Determined, we decided to give it a shot regardless. After soloing up several steps of grade III alpine ice, we set up an anchor. Just then a powder slough came down. Then another. Then another. Each one got progressively bigger and chunkier. The last one knocked us off our feet, directly onto the hanging belay. We quickly rappelled and escaped.

November 29th and we're back out for another attempt. A perfect forecast lies ahead. Five days of moderate temps and bluebird skies. Josh and I make fast time up the valley, then bivy at the boulder. The next morning we wake early and reach the first pitch of our hopeful new route. We knew this would be the crux
of the route. The ramp is about 75+ degrees and is made up of seamless, featureless rock covered with about one inch of ice. Josh took the first lead, clipping a pair of screws we had left last time when we rapped off in haste. After placing a nut, he traversed left. It wasn't long before he deemed the route too dangerous to try, potentially even impossible with the use of aid. I belayed him back down and we bailed.

With the wind out of our sails, we eventually decided just to pack it up and go home. We discussed climbing Yukla by the standard Twincicle Pass route, but vowed to finally summit via a technical route instead of a walk up. For some reason, my quads had been cramping all weekend, so deciding to get out was probably for the best anyway.
We brought down all of our gear, and for the time being, we will focus our alpine attention on other mountains in the Chugach.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mooses Tooth

May 2007

Day Five in Talkeetna. Seth and I were running low on ideas to stale off boredom and frustration.

-Walk over to TAT and check conditions - Check
-Lay around downtown, gawk at tourists - Check
-Go to the river, skip rocks - Check
-Trespass on railroad tracks - Check
-Walk back to TAT, check conditions again - Check
-Take a nap - Check
-Climb a tree - Check
-Beer at West Rib - Check
-Pet Stubbs - Check

Time was running out. In five days, I had a date with the Wrangell-Saint Elias. 16,471' Mount Bona waited, and I couldn't miss that trip. This trip was a free bonus offered to me just days before. Bona was a commitment.

Day Six: Paul Roderick called early. "Conditions look good, let's go!" he said.
We quickly sprint to TAT, haul our heavy bags to the tarmack (for the God-knows-how-manyeth-time) only to be told that the Root Canal had just socked in again.
Disappointed, we slink away and repeat day five's events again.


Day Seven dawns clear and stable. T-minus four days until Bona. With a clear window, we plan to get in and get out in three days. Another party waits to be taken out later in the week so I should be OK. We rush to the TAT tarmack for what we hope is the last time.
The Turbo Otter is quickly loaded up.


"Hmmm...what if I get stuck in there?
What if I am unable to make the Bona trip?"
Questions, doubt and a little fear of letting down my friends popped into my head as Talkeetna grew smaller under the plane.

The massive Ruth Glacier came into view as we left the lush green spruce covered landscape.

The four dead presidents (Church, Wake, Grosverner, and Bradley) came into view. London Tower, the Werewolf, the Broken Tooth loomed on my right.

Zooming around the Broken Tooth, we dove into the Root Canal. Paul eyed the landing site and dropped several weighted trash bags to mark the spot.
We veered around the Incisor and the golden granite of the Mooses Tooth met the untracked snow of the Root Canal glacier.

Skis touched glacier and we quickly came to a stop.
People out. Gear out. Thanks and a "see ya' later!" Then Paul was gone.
We set up camp and enjoyed the evening. The climbing should have started right away.

Snow. Weather. Fear.
"I won't be able to climb. I might not get out in time. I might miss Bona."

The next day dawned clear once again, but I knew the truth. I knew the snow would be back by mid-afternoon.

After hoofing up the Incisor and checking out the entire Ruth, we returned to camp, just as a massive serac broke from the hanging glacier on the Bear Tooth.

1PM and the snow began to fall. It didn't take long for a game of hearts to get going. While fun, climbing would have been better. The Ham and Eggs couloir roared and rumbled as rock, ice and snow avalanched down the narrow slot.

After that night, it was apparent that there would be no chance for both Mooses Tooth and Bona, so I had to decide. My commitment was bound to Bona, so I was forced to leave. Early the next morning, Paul graciously made a quick landing in the Root after dropping off some climbers in the Gorge. After picking up several nice folks at the Mountain House, we were Talkeetna bound.

It was hard to leave, but ultimately I feel I made the right choice. My three friends sat out a big storm and another foot of snow. They didn't even get on the route until four days later. Hitting the col after c. 18 hours of climbing, they were pelted with constant light sluffs and chunks. "The conditions weren't that great," they said. Apparently that was an understatement.

If there is one good thing to rejoice about, it is that my photographer friend who invited me on the trip didn't get the images he needed. The word: we should be going back this May. This time with more than 48 hours invitation. This time with more planning.

In the end, I made it to the summit of Mount Bona. The Alaska Range and Wrangell-Saint Elias are without a doubt two of the most amazing mountainous areas on the planet.