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[TR] Alaska Ice - Many 2/7/2014

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Trip: Alaska Ice - Many


Date: 2/7/2014


Trip Report:


Its awesome having a partner that all you have to do is mention a climbing trip and they are in! Not sure how it came up but I mentioned to Josh that I’d like to go back to Alaska and do some ice climbing and he said he was in (knowing little to nothing about it).


Searching the forums I found out that they planned to resurrect the Valdez Ice Fest over President’s Day weekend. I told Josh I’d like to try and attend to see some old friends, he said no problem and the only thing left was to decide if we wanted to head up the weekend before or stay the week after. We chose the weekend before, as we would get more days of climbing in. With a plan of climbing around the Anchorage area for 5-7 days then head to Valdez for the fest.


As usual with every trip I plan to Anchorage to climb, it warms up right before I get there. This time much more than usual, basically everything was melted out or inaccessible around Anchorage and Valdez wasn’t fairing much better. Then came the “damalanch” that blocked the road to Valdez.


A week before we left we questioned canceling the trip and heading to Bozeman or Ouray, as either was about a 16-hour drive. Luckily temps dropped over most of Alaska. I got mixed reports, but figured we could salvage some ice climbing even if it meant staying in a lodge and spending more money.


Day 1: I met Josh at the airport around 6:45pm after cutting out of work early for our flight to Anchorage via Seattle. We landed in Anchorage around 3:00am and caught a shuttle to the hotel for some much needed rest. Unfortunately the rental car counters in Anchorage close at midnight and don’t open until 5:30.



Day 2: We got moving around 8:00, dressed and packed to climb, then took the shuttle back the airport to pick up our rental car. A quick stop for breakfast (unfortunately my favorite bagel shop had closed) put us heading towards Eklutna Canyon around 10:45.


Getting out of the car at Thunderbird Trailhead was a shock for two guys living in California! The car thermometer read +11. We slipped and slid our way up the trail, as river access wasn’t a viable option due to the warm temps. Finally getting down to the river going across the ice was a little unnerving at first and any noise made our hearts drop. Hiking up canyon there were climbs in that I had never noticed before. I decided I’d take Josh to one of the most climbed waterfalls in Alaska for his first climb up there. RIPPLE (WI3, 60m) was about the thinnest I’d ever seen it but had plenty of ice to climb. We had made a deal on a previous trip that I would get the first lead of this one, but after thinking about it I gave it to Josh as I’d led it every time I’d climbed it. Pretty uneventful and a good first climb of the trip.



Me at the base of Ripple


We then moved up canyon to ANNIE GREENSPRINGS (WI3, 20m). Again Josh took the lead and enjoyed the steep ice saying, “I think this is the steepest ice I’ve ever led”. After I followed we rapped and Josh asked me if I wanted to lead it, of course I said sure and got my first lead of the trip (dropping a screw along the way).


We then headed down canyon planning on hopping on TJ SWANN and found a party on a climb I’d never seen before, they said it was called ASTROTURF. There was a party on TJ so we continued down canyon to another climb I’d never seen called CHAM RIPPLE (WI3, 25m). I asked Josh if I could have the lead as I’d never climbed it before and he obliged. It was a fun lower angled curtain up to a steep pillar. I got to the top and set a top rope. We each did several laps and decided to head out.



Josh and Cham Ripple


We debated if we should just hike the trail out or attempt to head down river and climb out on MAD DOG (WI3-4, 25m). We decided we would give Mad Dog a try and would just walk back to the trail if the river wouldn’t let us get to it or if it was too thin to lead. After navigating a couple open pools and my foot punching through the ice we made it to Mad Dog. It was pretty hacked out but leadable. I dropped my pack and set up another top rope and lowered back down. We ran 3-5 laps on it, playing on the mixed ground on the left for some of it. We then grabbed our packs and climbed out and headed to the car. After driving into Anchorage we got our room on Elmendorf, cleaned up, and went to get the best pizza and beer in the world at the Moose’s Tooth!!!



A hacked up Mad Dog


Day 3: Despite bad reports we tried to get into Hunter Creek. We only got about ¼ mile before realizing our hopes didn’t meet reality and headed to the Beer Climbs. When we got there, there were a couple people climbing on the right (fun) side of Henry's (WI2/3, 50m) and a team roping up on BLITZ. We asked the party on Henry’s if they cared if we climbed the left side, they said no problem so I headed up, hoping that the party on Blitz would be done about the same time we were. Embarrassing as it was I dropped another screw on some way too easy ice and uneventful besides that. After rapping, the other party was still on Blitz so Josh took the sharp end for another lap on Henry’s. Again we rapped and found they had only made it up half the climb and seemed like they were more into talking to each other than climbing.



Another party on the right side of Henry's


We collected our gear and headed to PILSNER PILLAR (WI4/5, 50m). Josh got introduced to Devil’s Club on the hike in and wasn’t happy. The Pillar was a little more than we wanted to lead so Josh led up this fun little flow that went up a slot to the left of the Pillar. We set a top rope and rapped, kicking hard on the way down to make sure it would say put on the climb. We each did several laps on either side of it with Josh playing on the mixed lines more than me. It was some steep ice, that’s for sure. Afterwards sushi at Dish in Anchorage.



The route we climbed to gain access to Pilsner



Pilsner Pillar



Josh on Pilsner



Day 4: We got up fairly early and stopped by the Alaska Railroad office to pick up our permits for climbing on their property. These permits are required and please don’t climb on railroad property without one as this is a great privilege that can be revoked. After another quick breakfast we headed down towards Portage hoping we would be able to climb something along Turnagain Arm. Unfortunately there was just enough ice for Josh to see how much potential there is, but nothing climbable, so we continued down to the Portage River area to get on the Five Fingers.



Five Fingers area



Portage area got noticeably more snow than Anchorage and finding the climbs and a parking area were a little difficult as I’d only been there once before. After parking along side the road we trudged through knee/thigh deep snow to the base of the RING FINGER (WI2/3). It didn’t look that interesting so we moved left to do THE PINKIE (WI2/3, 20m) and Josh led it. It had several areas of wet crappy ice and snow covered ice with water running behind it, but was still a fun climb on top rope for me, not sure how Josh felt about it on lead. We cleaned about a pound of tat from the anchor and left a new cord when we rapped.


We then moved right to FIRST FINGER (WI2/3, 50m). We ended up getting to the climb about 60’ higher than the base so instead of rapping down for some easy ice Josh decided to head up from where we were. It was a little nerve-racking watching him traverse out over the snow-covered rock with no pro, but fun solid climbing after that. On the rap down we grabbed our packs and headed for the right side of the base where we took cover from the snow in the trees for a bit and warmed up. I then led up the right side to a near vertical pillar and nervously started climbing. Topping out and having to get to the anchors finding nowhere for pro and needing to cross snow covered rock/moss was not what I was hoping for, but oh well.



Josh coming up the right side of First Finger



View from on top of the Fingers


At dinner we talked about what the rest of the trip would hold. Up to that point we planned on spending some time at a friends cabin near Caribou Creek and climb until Friday then head to Valdez. The high for that area was forecast to be -9, yes that’s a high of –9. Being Californianized the previous two and a half years that didn’t sound like fun, so we opted to go straight to Valdez. As climbing in Valdez was what we both really wanted to do from the beginning.



Day 5: We left Anchorage and head to Valdez stopping in Caribou Creek to climb KID'S CORNER (WI3). Leaving the car was hard at -1 and a slight breeze. We dropped down to the river and started hiking upstream with a constant breeze with some stronger gusts. When we tucked into the trees that led to the base of Kid’s the wind disappeared and felt noticeably warmer. Having climbed Kid’s every time I’d been to Anchorage I let Josh lead all three pitches. I absolutely love this climb!! It follows a slot canyon up three distinct pitches with mellow walking/scrambling in between. It reminds me of a miniature Cody, WY; or at least what I would expect Cody to be like from the pictures. It was also my first “true” ice climb as all I’d climbed before were small flows on Kodiak. Man how ones perceptive change! We continued on to Valdez getting there just before dark allowing us to see the cleared Damalanch and all the ice in and around Keystone Canyon, both were impressive!!



Me gearing up at the base of Kids



Josh leading the last pitch of Kid's into the sun and wind.



Bridalveil Falls from the road with Glass Onion on the right



Keystone Greensteps from the road





Day 6: We woke up to cold temps and high winds, so we decided to go to an area called Hole in the Wall. The wind was blowing so hard when we left the car I jokingly make the comment that “I hope the car is still here when we get back” having two tires on ice and two on gravel. We ended up making a wrong turn and hiked up a trail a little too far before realizing it and dropping back down to the river bed and following it to the climbs. Once the climbs came into sight the wind died down and both of us were focused on SKI RACE (WI3, 100m). We geared up and I took the first lead, stretching out the rope to a full 60m. Josh followed and moved the belay up to the left to get out of the fall line. Once on route we decided that we would do the right side, which is actually another climb, called SECOND COMING (WI4, 100m). I took of climbing up some cool formations to the pillar. I climbed about halfway up the pillar to a platform that formed back behind the formation. I sunk a 16cm screw, threw on a double runner and a screamer, and continued up. The whole time thinking, “this is WI3?? Holy shit, if this is what WI3 is in Valdez I’ll never climb 4 or 5 around here!” This is a thought that stayed with me right up until I looked up the climbs to write this report. Josh followed and when he got to the top I asked him if he thought I dodged a bullet climbing the top half of the pillar. His answer was a resounding YES. When we threw our ropes they got tangled behind the pillar in a cave near the platform and Josh had to climb into the cave to untangle them. We threw in a V-thread and continued down.



Josh on the approach to Second Coming/Dire Srtaits



Josh at the belay



Me leading out from the belay


Josh went to look at DIRE STRAITS (WI4+, 50m) and was contemplating climbing it when he realized only one of his ice tools were on his harness. Not wanting to climb the committing pillar again we both prayed that he lost it in the cave. With three tools between us and the cave over 60m from the ground our only option was for the leader to take both tools and the follower only having one, so Josh headed up. Climbing the bottom half with one tool was kind of fun, actually. I got to the V-thread/anchor and swapped gear to let Josh continue up. Luckily he found his ice tool in the cave and rapped on a V-thread to the belay and on to the ground.


After that unplanned climb we decided to pass on Dire Straits and climbed some no name WI3ish climb up a gully with no anchor noticeable around the top.



A windy walk back to the car


Day 7: Looking at the weather that morning the winds were still blowing so we wanted to say out of Keystone Canyon. We decided to head to Sheep Creek to see what was there. The approach was easy and we decided to give a climb a try that had a big section of beautiful blue ice about half way up. We climbed up the bank of the creek and up to a rock outcropping to the right of the climb. We unpacked and geared up. Wanting to lead the beautiful blue ice above I let Josh have the first lead. Thinking he would take the easiest line up I was surprised when he got me on belay and I got out from behind the rock. He went straight up a thin curtain/pillar with little to no protection. I was a little nervous following it, I couldn’t imagine leading it.


We swapped leads and I headed up climbing over several steep steps. I got to thinking I was going to get to the base of the section I wanted to lead and would run out of rope. I got close to it, but not quite to the base of it and got to looking at where Josh could get to while bringing him up. When he got to the belay he realized he would get the “good” section, he offered it to me and I told him he earned it after leading the first pitch.


We figured he would get to the top of that section, if not just shy of the top. He headed up and stayed towards the left. Josh ran out of rope just over half way up it and set a belay. I took the fourth pitch and crossed moved up and right, both of us thinking I’d get to the top of the climb. I ended up on some old hollow ice that was left from before the warm spell. Wondering if it would collapse beneath me I tiptoed past it to the new solid ice. Just after climbing up the steep section I looked over my shoulder and took in the view, something I had neglected to do earlier on the climb. Absolutely beautiful!


I belayed just below a Y in the ice and brought Josh up. I gave him what little gear I had and told him it was his choice which way to go. He picked the right side because it had fewer alders in it, though it was a little steeper. With four long pitches below us and 7 days of hard climbing behind us it took both of us longer to finish that last pitch than it should of. Three 60m repels got us to our packs.


Once in cell range we looked up the name of the climb SPRING LOADED (WI5, 375m). No wonder we were so tired!



Me and Spring Loaded. We basically went strait up from where I am standing.



Me leading the 4th pitch of Spring Loaded



View from the top


Day 8: Rest day. Hahaha yea right! We did plan on making this a rest day, as we were still tired from the day/week before. We drove out to Keystone Canyon and found the wind to be a little much in the morning but suppose to die down later in the day. So we drove back to town and hiked into Mineral Creek hoping to get on some of those routes out of the wind. After hiking about two miles we realized there was nowhere to cross the creek. We discussed our options, climb some short low angle ice on our side of the creek or head somewhere else. We decided to head back out to Keystone and see how the winds were. They were still blowing but we hoped that a climb called P.O.S. (WI3, 25m) would provide some climbing protected from the wind. Getting out of the car the winds were blowing every bit of 40mph, but as we approached the climb we got into a small-protected area at the base. Josh asked if I wanted the lead, as he knew this was the climb that I had my only lead fall on several years ago. Saying I needed redemption he talked me into it. I set up a top rope and we each did several laps on progressively steeper ice.


Once we climbed every line possible we headed down the road and met Nick the one planner that didn’t pull the plug on the ice fest. He was belaying someone on top rope up the first pitch of BRIDALVEIL FALLS (WI5, 185m) and welcomed us to use any of the anchors that he set up the night before. Josh led up to the anchor and set another top rope. We climbed several laps on each rope meeting other locals as they showed up.


That was a lot of climbing for a rest day!



One of the may flows in Mineral Creek


Day 9: We woke up early and headed out to Keystone to get on HUNG JURY (WI4, 55m). A climb I’ve wanted to get on since the first time I saw it several years ago, but didn’t feel like I could climb it. The wind was blowing pretty good as we walked across the river to the climb. The “bells” are much more impressive standing under them than they are from the road. Josh gave me the lead; probably because I talked about wanting to climb it from the first day I met him. It was an amazing climb. There was only one spot where I was concerned, I swung my tool into the top of one of the bells and heard a hallow cracking sound. All I could think was who would get hurt more, me falling on lead if it fell off, or Josh standing somewhere below me. I gently crossed over it, leaving it attached and continued to the top.



Hung Jury from the road



Hung Jury from the base


Once down we joined the group at Bridalveil for multiple laps on the first pitch for us. Several acting tired after a couple laps and asking how many we had done, only to look at us funny when we both said 10-12.


DAY 10: We wanted to climb something new and then join the festivities in Keystone later in the day so we decided to head to Bear Creek and climb RAIN CHECK (WI4, 90m). I wasn’t feeling great, so I was more than happy to let Josh take the lead. He headed up and with about 15m of rope left I started to get hit with light sluff. It lasted about 20 seconds and continually got stronger, it ended up pushing our packs down the hill a bit and burying me to just above the knee. Glad I had my parka on with my hood up or I would have been frozen. I asked if he was OK and he said yes and he was off belay. I headed up the steep shitty ice and got to the belay and took all the gear, neither one of us all to eager to continue. I made about two moves off the belay and decided it just wasn’t my day and we headed to the fest at Bridalveil. I think I only climbed one or two laps while Josh played on a mixed section for a lap or two.


Nick had an Alaskan size bonfire going on that just got bigger through the night. So big we ended up in t-shirts for part of it.



Rain Check


DAY 11: It was the last day of the fest and planned as a dry tooling day at Tunnel Wall. When we arrived someone was leading a route on the right side of the wall. We all stood in the parking area with our parkas on watching and cheering him on. He got to the top and set up a top rope and several headed up to the base of the wall, some starting up a new line, others just hanging out. When I finally headed up I could see that the wall was much steeper than it looked from below and decided I wouldn’t be trying it anytime soon. Josh patently waited for a free rope that never came and we decided to hit the road for the 5-6 hour drive back to Anchorage.


We hit the Moose’s Tooth one last time and headed to the airport for a shower at the USO and to catch our flight. Our flight left Anchorage at around 2:00am that night and got into Sacramento around 8:00, early enough for me to catch a couple hours sleep before heading to work.



Thanks to Ginny and Becky for letting us head to the Last Frontier for 10 days of climbing. We ended up climbing somewhere around 5200 vertical feet of ice in those 10 days. Another special thanks to Nick who not only kept everyone up to date on the conditions in Valdez, but threw one hell of a party and ice fest. I already have plans to attend next year’s fest!!



Gear Notes:

11 screws got us up everything we climbed


If you can get a copy of the books "Fat City and Urban Ice" and "Black Ice and Blue Gold" you would have info for a lifetimes worth of climbs. If you can't get a copy alaskaiceclimbing.com has most of the climbs on it with condition updates in the forum section.


Approach Notes:

Alaska Airlines and Dollar Rent-a-car

Edited by climbingcoastie

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Thanks for the detailed TR. Spent a couple of winters in Prince William Sound but never had any time off in Valdez to play. Looks like I missed out!

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Nice work! Glad the ice came back in time for you. I imagine you're glad you didn't listen to the naysayers who told you not to come. FYI... about 20 years ago a leader collapsed a bell on Hung Jury which fell on the belayer. Leader broke an ankle - the belayer broke a bunch of ribs and collapsed a lung but both lived.

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Thanks! Yea, me too. I'd really of liked to get into Hunter Creek, but we made the best of it. I think next year we will probably head straight to Valdez. There is just so much ice in that area.


I'm surprised that's all that happened to those guys! That would be a lot of ice coming down.

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