March 19, 2018

In Memoriam: Ryan Johnson

My dear friend Ryan Johnson passed away with Marc Andre LeClerc while descending after completing a cutting edge first ascent on the North face of Main Tower in the Mendenhall Towers last week. It was really tough week being there in Juneau with our mutual friends and Ryan's family but I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

Ryan and Marc Andre's final new route ascends the central ice line up the center of the concave wall to the right of the central buttress, the central buttress being 'Rain, Heavy at Times' (24p 5.10d). Photo Kieran Brownie/Paul McSorley.

Ryan Johnson was a unique and talented individual who cared immensely about his family and community from Juneau to the climbing community at large. During the course of his career as an climber, he accomplished hundreds of technical first ascents in the Juneau area from difficult waterfall ice and mixed climbs to first free ascents and challenging alpine climbs in Alaska and around the world. He put as much passion into fatherhood as he did into his climbing, and loved his 
son Milo more than anything else.

Ryan and Milo in Juneau. Photo: Unknown

Ryan was a visionary and a dreamer with the motivation, skills, and dedication needed to accomplish what many others considered difficult, impossible, or inadvisable feats. He and Marc Andre LeClerc’s final first ascent, an ephemeral patchwork of ice and mixed terrain climbing through a granite bigwall on the north face of the Main Tower in the Mendenhalls, is just one of many outstanding accomplishments in his career as an alpine athlete. Ryan was one of the most motivated winter climbers in Alaska’s history, and undoubtedly one of the more talented alpinists in North America.

Ryan with Tim Banfield during the first ascent of Bathtime with Toaster (400m WI5) in Suicide basin, 2012.
After climbing the Cassin, onsighting M10 and completing a variety of testpiece ice and mixed lines as a young nomad, Ryan began a lifestyle based around difficult physical work in the mining industry where he built a reputation for being the little guy who could outwork the big guys. He grew tired of this lifestyle though it made him a great living and allowed him to travel extensively. It was just too tough to maintain climbing specific fitness and the mental edge needed to climb cutting edge routes. He made a decision to dedicate his life to developing a local climbing community in Juneau, and expanding the range of his first ascent activity in the nearby mountains while planning for far off Himalayan projects. As a result, Ryan has played mentor to countless up and coming Juneau area climbers, expanding the paradigm of what they thought was possible.

His local testpieces in the Mendenhalls include Balancing Act (450m 5.11c), the first free ascent of the South Buttress of Main Tower (600m 5.11a), Fall Line (1100m AI3 M5), The Great White Conqueror (750m, a sandbagged AI4 M5 A1), and his final first ascent (unknown difficulty) with Marc Andre LeClerc climbing right up the guts of the North face of Main Tower. Local ice testpieces he has completed over the past few years include: Tideline (420m WI6) in Tracy Arm, Milagro De Plata (330m WI6) at Bart Lake, two monstrous ice lines that set the standard for multi-pitch ice in Alaska. Even closer to home, he sent Bathtime with Toaster (400m WI5) and Path of the Fallen (310m WI5) in the nearby Suicide basin. Ryan has also climbed in places like Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, and China climbing on peaks like Pumori and completing the first ascent of Mr Casual (600m AI5R) on the Ochre Walls in Kyrgyzstan, also putting in a strong effort on the world’s most coveted big wall ice line on Kyzyl Asker. This demanding line was finally climbed in 2016 in ideal conditions by Ines Papert and Luka Lindic after over 15 attempts by some of the strongest alpinists in the world.

At one of many shoddy bivies in Kyrgyzstan and China back in 2012. This just before completing the first ascent of Mr Casual (600m AI5R) on the Ochre Walls.

Over the past few years Ryan has focused his energy wholeheartedly on being a compassionate father to his son Milo and building his career as an alpinist with great intention. He opened Tongass Fitness and offered online coaching to aspiring alpinists to supplement his income as a carpenter. He and close friends built a ‘frozen dojo’ to assist them in staying in rock climbing shape throughout the dreary Juneau winters. This has assisted some of his close local friends in pulling off high-end free climbs in contiguous United States in short travel windows from home. Ryan kept a low profile, and always meant to get around to documenting the hundreds of ice and mixed first ascents he completed in the Juneau area in minimalist fashion, a project that may yet become a community effort.

Ryan below the imposing Suicide wall, the day before his first ascent of Path of the Fallen (310m WI5).

Ryan was a wonderful climbing partner, a thoughtful and compassionate friend. He was always there for me when it counted, whether it be to shield me from falling ice, suffer together through interminable open bivies, as my best man, and as a coach through some of the tough decisions of early fatherhood. There are a variety of standout experiences we have shared, but my experience is not unique. Many people name of him as their best friend due to his openness and encouraging nature.

From Ryan’s Writing:

“There is a moment early in the morning where I've found myself high on a snow covered ridge having just pulled over the top of a face or skinning to a fresh line. I am with a good friend and there is less ahead than there is behind and a new day is dawning. The air is filled with potential energy; who knows what the day has in store? This is my favorite moment in life. I reach an awareness that I have only found in the mountains with good friends.”

His family, friends, and the climbing community lost a caring and driven human being, and he will be dearly missed.

November 30, 2017

Firn Line Podcast: Mindful Mountaineer

Hey all! Its been a while since I posted anything proper, and I have a huge backlog of photos from a variety of sporting action since I last shared action shots in July 2016. Hope to get things uploaded once I have picked out the gems.

This post is pretty much just a heads up about a cool opportunity I got through participating in Evan Phillips' Firn Line podcast to share about a few of the climbs I have done in Alaska, with a bit of contextual background as to how I ended up doing some of the fun climbs I've gotten on in Alaska.

Evan Phillips is a talented musician and long time climber who has recently been pouring a bunch effort into developing a totally unique podcast that incorporates his thoughtful approach to life and a bunch of his music.

Evan seemed most interested in exploring topics related to a solo climb I did on Mount Hayes Southeast face back in 2013 in less than ideal environmental conditions, as well as free soloing in general.

Here is a link to the podcast if you're interested in checking it out.

There are a whole bunch of awesome episodes. So far my favorites have been Charlie Sassara and Carl Tobin.

Enjoy, and I hope things are freezing up wherever you live.

October 22, 2017

November 29, 2016

July 26, 2016

Winter - Early Summer Adventures

Since I got back from the Kyrgyzstan and China expedition Benjamin Erdmann and I went on last Fall, I have been mostly hanging local and doing kinds of exploring and adventure activism like finding new boulders, cleaning problems, climbing them, searching for new crags with the potential for decent quality climbing, skiing a lot, climbing a little, trail running, pushing myself on my downhill bike and downhill longboard. Also, started a private practice to provide responsive and creative mental health services I called Behind the Sun Therapeutics, LLC that has been up and running since May 15th here in downtown Seward.

I've been happy to stay local lately because there is just so much to find with the right pair of eyes and a pair of legs that can cover distance and vert in the local backcountry. This post is just to share some of the moments along the way since last Fall, and to share some perspective on just a few of the awesome opportunities that can be had if you're willing to put in the time.

Among other lines, this canyon is home to the Rhinestone Wizard (350m WI5), climbed last winter during a decent if spotty ice year with Aaron Thrasher and Elliot Gaddy. This year, it was warm and wet and recreation ended up being more about backcountry skiing and splitboarding.

An awesome day on N face Gilpatricks

Winter biking up Lost creek canyon

Glacier creek ski day

The new friend Copper who has become my therapy dog trainee at my new private practice.

Definitely some blower days out in Summit this year.

Trail lake from the ice climbs on the Hatchery wall - never got cold enough for a true deep freeze this winter.

Looking down Hatchery Pillar (WI4/4+)

Never too tired to go looking for ice up in these cool valleys.

A typical staging area for local backcountry access.

Finally knocked off a couple of those big chutes on Goat near Avalanche Acres.

Copper likes backcountry skiing. A lot.

And, he likes Olive.

Angela Coleman booting up Goat on the day we went to the summit.

Darkness is a way of life in the winter. The night skies are spectacular though!

Full moon backcountry laps with no headlamp!

Mellow pow day around town with Ben and Sam Rininger, Angela Coleman.

It rained a lot this winter at low elevations!

Solo day on Fresno

Ryan Campbell enjoying a snack with his sponsor, Whatchamacallit Bar.

Monsters through the trees, a pretty standard scene around here.

SW face of Alice

For all your poor suckers lamenting the snow conditions around Hatcher Pass and Turnagain this winter, I kept telling you all to come down and ski with me and you didn't. This was a pretty standard scene hiking up some of our local quickies this year above about 500 feet elevation. I wish you'd been here! Never trust the Seward forecast unless you get it by looking out the window, a lot of times the tree skiing is excellent when it is wet and 36 F in town.

Distant view of SW face of Alice

Local tree runs

Looking out Resurrection bay from another great spot.

Moon over a subpeak of Alice

Copper shows good style breaking trail in the evening light above the bay.

I imagine that now it may be easy to understand how I have become enamored of this dog who is now my co-therapist in training.

More great pow days.

The beginning of the stairway to heaven a stone's throw from town.

Stunning days had in many of these high alpine bowls this year!

Follow me to the pow!

Storm skiing on Tiehacker

4th of July break on a warm Spring day

A sunny lunch run on Bear mountain

Lizzy's first day going big in the backcountry on the N face of Gilpatricks in super stable conditions.

There is no better place for a nap than the mountains.

Trail running, skydiving, climbing vacation in March. This shot is Lizzy Sutphin mid trail run in Zion.

During a great 12 mile trail run up Angel's Landing and to the West Rim RT in Zion.

Lizzy's first trad climb, first multipitch day climbing in Snow Canyon State Park.

The next trail run we did was a 20ish mile run to the East Rim, to Cable Mountain and Deertrap mountain then back to Zion's valley floor.

This was part of a cable system used to lower large pines from the top of Cable mountain to the valley floor for use in projects such as the building of the lodge.

Warm sandstone on Cable mountain greeted us on our run back down to the valley floor.

Another day of easy trad in Snow Canyon State Park with Lizzy Sutphin.

Sunset in the Kai'bab National Forest

Fifthwater Hot Springs just after dawn.

Antelope island sunset

Back in AK, it was time to break out the longboard for Northside Nash road and the South side of the Divide on the Seward Highway, dodging leftover spring gravel.

Ryan Hokanson and I bailed from a rainy weekend snomo skiing trip in Valdez to pull off a rare late season descent of the 5700 foot North face of Mt. Andy Simons above Crown Point.

Entering the mid face icefall section

Steep skinning led to the next spot for a rest and evaluation of the upper mountain.

Ryan kicking steps up the last section to the ridge on Mt. Andy Simons like a Boss.

5700 feet of vert to Ptarmigan lake!

Switching gears on the summit of Andy Simons

First turns down Andy Simons North face

Excellent conditions through the midway point on the face

Solo day on Gilpatricks N face chutes

Trying to maintain the momentum with a late season go at Sheep mountain's massive vertical relief with Ben Rininger, Angela Coleman, and Matt Ward.

Entering the NW bowl on Sheep.

Angela Coleman booting up. The light is going flat and the terrain is getting real steep, just short of the ridge in NW bowl on Sheep.

A video Ben Rininger made of a bit of the descent on Sheep. For the first time in the backcountry, I saw a good friend of mine take a potentially fatal tumble off a 50 foot cliff when they were torn from their feet by massive sluff. Thankfully everyone was able to get out under their own power and we worked well together as a team to respond to the event in a caring and cohesive manner.

There are always treasures for those willing to put in the work to explore. This treasure is a 50m gently overhanging crag that could provide an excellent opportunity for route development and training.

Lizzy pulling on the warm up boulder.

New problems near town, accessible on lunch breaks!

New dog named Meili joining our clan!

Just another example of how huge the snowpack has been up high this year from sometime in mid May this year.

Trail runs are Copper's second favorite activity after backcountry skiing. 

David Funatake pulling on laser cut crimps on one of a few classic and excellent problems a 45 minute hike from town, Tantalus Slab (V1).

Tantalus Face (V3)

Lizzy heading up to the Catalyst boulders where some cleaning, climbing and projecting occurred earlier this season.

A view of Grant, Vagt, Kenai, and Upper and Lower Trail lakes as well as Resurrection Bay from Lark Mountain.

Downhill biking kind of took over for myself and Ben Rininger once he finally got himself a proper steed. Sometimes when its raining we go ride laps on trails that aren't super steep after I get off work.

Second year in a row riding steeps in the fog while the town celebrates the fourth and Mount Marathon across the bay.

One of our updated local trails, watch out for the 80 foot cliff tucked behind the trees on the left of this photo!

Another example of local scale from an uncharacteristically easy access run by Ben Rininger and his brother Sam.