December 15, 2009

Waking Up the Body

The head has been very awake this last 4 months. The body, not so much. I have been in a state of hyperarousal, always one more thing to do for grad school or some activity of daily life like the groceries, the dogs, dishes, cleaning up dustbunnies in our little cabin. Whatever. Having the powerlifting set-up and hangboard has helped, but it is a far cry from daily cardio and climbing such as was my life for about 5 years. Another thing I notice is that exposure seems slightly novel again, which is a welcome perception but can cause one to secondguess solid ice placements.

Usually the way I start out my ice and mixed season is I go around soloing everything I can get my picks into that is easier than WI4+, saving the steeper ice and mixed climbing for later, and generally starting with the easiest climbs and working my way into steeper terrain. I am going about things the same way this year, but the ice around Anchorage, Portage, and Eklutna is pretty anemic, so less options. I went soloing out on the arm (hardly ANY ice) and in Eklutna the last couple days. What I am noticing, this year, is this odd feeling that I will likely be more comfortable on mixed terrain than steep ice. Generally, this has always been the opposite for me. In the past, on trips to the Canadian Rockies or trips to Italy/France, I would spend day after day climbing demanding pure ice testpieces with extremely poor protection...and that was my 'fun.'

For some reason, this year, I feel more motivated to explore some of the mixed climbs that I have been passing off as 'not in' enough, or dismissing due to the fact that they might need bolts. I am hoping that my arms will be up to the task, as these climbs might prove to be demanding in a different way that pure ice. I guess we'll just have to see how it goes! The brain training of grad school may help...or hinder. I have avoided placing bolts for 13 years...perhaps December or January will see the first ones. Todd Helgeson has generously offered up his drill for the cause of establishing new mixed routes. I hope we get the weather and ice conditions to make it happen.

December 13, 2009

Southcentral Sunset

I was back in Anchorage last week for the Alaska Public Health Association (ALPHA) yearly summit. One day while there I went out mixed bouldering with Ryan Hokanson. He and some other folks have been running training circuits out on the arm. We got thoroughly pumped and had a great time. I put a crampon through my calf which made for a bloody afternoon...but it is all healed up and ready to go. On our way down to the car, we were treated to this spectacular is nice to be near the sea again.

We are headed back down from Fairbanks today to get Wendy to her Costa Rica vacation and me to a couple weeks of climbing/guiding and such. I will be working with Ascending Path to guide a few days and hope to get a peek at my mixed projects to see if they are icing up to possibly return in January.

November 29, 2009

December Hiatus and Winter Training

Last year at this time, I wrote something about how much reading and writing I had left to do before yet another semester of grad school is under my belt. This year is much the same, but somehow I am managing to remain more focused and balanced despite the increased workload, though there have been some notable exceptions. As a person driven by poignancy, it can be at times difficult to maintain balance. Last year school wrecked my body through too many hours sitting hunched over my computer doing work. This year it has been easier to maintain my core fitness, because I can get serious workouts in at home in a decreased amount of time; I got a bunch of weights this summer so that I could powerlift in the backyard. When it hit zero for the first time this year the weights came inside. An old yoga mat protects the floor, and the dogs look on from their beds wondering what all the grunting is about! I also got a v10 hangboard from Nicros so that I can do more climbing specific training and core. The bigger challenge is finding time for cardio since my lungs are sensitive to the cold. Soon, I hope to have a respirator so that it is more feasible for me to get out running and skiing when it is colder than -10 F as I did last year.

A goal for my winter training is to come out of the gate in the springtime more prepared to free climb (mixed as well as rock) well on the alpine routes that I am planning to attempt in various locales around Alaska. Winter break is coming up again, and I am also hoping to get out skiing and climbing (the prime activity depending on the temperatures, snow, and ice conditions). It should be a good time, and I will update with any extra cool adventures that occur.

November 15, 2009

Controversial Figure in Alpinism Dies in Nepal

One of the most controversial figures in modern alpinism, Tomaz Humar, passed away recently on the South face of Langtang Lirung (7227m), Langtang Himal, Nepal. Known for his courageous solos and dramatic rescues, his tactics called into question the very definition of modern alpinism. He was a commercial alpinist, an iconoclast within the small world of individuals pursuing hard alpine climbs worldwide. He controverted the long held maxims of self-sufficiency and judicious decision making, two of the central tenets of alpinism held by climbers who wish to push their limits in alpine for a lifetime. Here is Climbing Magazine's account of Humar's climbing life with all excitement included, by Dougald MacDonald. For yet more historical context, please see this National Geographic link: "Tomaz Humar: Incredible Rescue, Angry Backlash on Pakistan's Nanga Parbat" written in the wake of Mr. Humar's 2005 rescue from the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat. This article contains thoughtful comments on the importance of self-sufficiency and factors in the decision-making process in alpine endeavors from alpine luminaries such as Kelly Cordes, Michael Kennedy, Marko Prezelj, and Mark Twight. 

October 24, 2009

November 17th- Alaska Alpine Club Slideshow

Event poster from Peter Illig, Alaska Alpine Club. This photo is the 4th pitch of the Pillar Arete on Caliban in the Arrigetch. Photo: Ryan Hokanson

November 17th at 7:00 PM at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Schaible Auditorium in the Bunnell Building, I will be giving a slideshow for the Alaska Alpine Club's November meeting covering climbs I have completed during the last year. I will present on climbs in the Arrigetch, the Hayes Range, and the Chugach. The show, titled "Test Tasting an Alpine Medley" will include first ascents, repeats and a solo ascent to whet the appetite for the upcoming alpine season. The primary theme will be encouraging other alaskan climbers to get out there and fire some of the routes that often get climbed by visitors.

October 3, 2009

Jed Brown's New Alpine Line- "The Great White Jade Heist"

Longtime Fairbanks climber, now Fairbanks expat Jed Brown recently posted some photos from his recent China expedition to Xuelian West peak where he and partners completed a 2650m new mixed line on the peak which they called "The Great White Jade Heist." Looks like it was a great climb, and would make any alpinist get excited about heading to China! Follow this link to view his photos from the trip or visit the American Alpine Club's Inclined Blog Entry by Dougald MacDonald for details on their trip.

September 23, 2009

October 12th- AMH Season Opener Slide Show Alchemy Ridge, The Arrigetch, and Mount Yukla

Melting some water in high winds below the crux of Alchemy Ridge, Mount Balchen, Hayes Range. Photo: Matt Klick

On October 12th, 7:30 pm, at Grant Hall Theatre on the Alaska Pacific University Campus, I will be giving a slideshow for Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking's winter season opening event titled "Test Tasting an Alpine Medley." All attendees will receive a 20% discount on Black Diamond Ice Climbing Equipment on October 13th and 14th. The show will include the first ascent of Alchemy Ridge on Mount Balchen, Arrigetch climbs such as the Pillar Arete on Caliban and a repeat of the North Buttress of West Maiden in the Arrigetch, and a solo ascent Mount Yukla's 6700 foot Complete West Ridge. Black Diamond Equipment was the catalyst for this event, and have graciously assisted me, over the last year and half, to get out into the mountains during the windows I have available during hiatuses from the UAF-UAA Psychology Ph.D program. Seth Holden will also be presenting about he and Clint Helander's first ascent of the Southwest Ridge of the Ice Pyramid in the Revelation Mountains.

I plan to focus on climbs that I have not yet presented upon in the Anchorage area to include climbs in the Arrigetch, the Hayes Range, and the Chugach. These are all climbs I have completed since Black Diamond Equipment has been assisting me through their Grassroots Team. I also intend to share about the pursuit of alpine climbing and the utility and pleasure of using an alpine approach in the mountains, vision and execution, and the two-edged sword of the single push. Tag-teamed with Seth's presentation of he and Clint's climb in the Revelations, it should be a unique show, so come on out!

September 14, 2009

Anchorage Drum and Healing Circle

This past summer the Anchorage homeless community lost 12 people, huge among such a tight knit group. As a result, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority decided to fund a special healing event organized by the Alaska Mental Health Consumer Web in the community of Fairview in central Anchorage. I was one of the people (a lucky newbie) who assisted in the facilitation, led by Bob Parr and Larry Roberts (Alaska Rural Behavioral Health Training Academy) of Fairbanks and native elders Liz Sunnyboy and Frank Haldane. Bob and Larry brought somewhere around 40 drums (and a variety of other percussion instruments for use in the circle) down from Fairbanks the night before. The next two days were a really cool process of community strengthening, all out drumming fun, and healing. KTUU Channel 2 Anchorage did a feature of the event on the evening news. It can be viewed by following this link:

September 7, 2009

Anchorage Cultural Event, Nome Institute and Visit

I was in Nome recently for work with my assistantship this year (ARBHTA) at a clinical supervision institute, following a UAF-UAA Psychology Ph.D Program cultural event in Anchorage. Visiting Nome was an awesome experience. It seemingly offers a variety of outdoor activities. I visited with Ian McRae while there, who shared about what climbing dreams look like when one is already removed from the conventions of climbing society's norms and like minded individuals: Not surprisingly, it can be hard to find climbing partners when the weather is often bad and you live near the point of Alaska's Seward Peninsula at the junction of the Bering and Chukchi seas, far away from almost all other climbers. Ian had some inspirations about living in Nome, and some good stories about exploratory climbing adventures throughout Alaska, a few of which have made it to his brand new blog, Kigluaik Tales.

Here is a video of surf crashing into the seawall that defines the edge of town there.

August 25, 2009

Mount Healy Challenge

Wendy and I decided to take a drive and enter the Mount Healy race near the entrance to Denali National Park this past Sunday. We had a good time despite heavy rain and fog. The lack of visibility caused the race organizer (Matias Saari) to shorten the course. It was a fun course, and everyone was very supportive. Amazingly, the turnout was much larger than the previous running of this race despite the rain. Results can be found here on the Running Club North website.

August 6, 2009

Trip Report: Yukla West Ridge Solo

Above: Visible as the skyline, the complete West Ridge of Mount Yukla starts further down than is visible in this photo. The ridge gains 6735 vertical feet (2050 meters) from its beginning near the beautiful Eagle River to Mount Yukla's 7535 foot summit. Photo retrieved from Please view the source for more information.

Trip Report
Rain, rain, rain! That was all the forecast offered as I considered heading south to Anchorage for 10 days to try and climb and pick up some work. Speaking with climbing buddies, it also seemed that no one had the time to be able to go climbing. Then a glimmer appeared as the forecast showed a three day hole of sunshine in the middle of a month of rain. I packed up and headed down to Anchorage. After reconnecting with family and arranging work plans, I threw my pack together and headed out to Eagle River drainage, eager to make a solo attempt on Yukla's Complete West Ridge (IV 5.7), first climbed in 2004 by Rod Hancock and Stuart Parks in 11.5 hours. As far as I can tell after a lot of digging, they made the first and only ascent of the complete ridge prior to my climb. While the ridge had been attempted by several local parties prior to their successful ascent, it is by no means a 'difficult' climb. It is, however, a very long and relatively committing route, gaining 6735 vertical feet (2050 meters) from base to summit. The ridge also has extensive horizontal sections and several areas where one loses elevation. So, it makes for a long day on route. I climbed the ridge in 11 hours, self-belaying one pitch, climbing carefully and thoughtfully the rest of the time, and loving the views! I was pleasantly surprised both at the commitment factor on route, and the presence of a lot of fun mid 5th class climbing interspersed with scrambling and walking. The exposure on route was the most defining factor, as one is traversing along 5000 feet above the Icicle Creek drainage. One would not want to have to descend that way in an emergency. It would be better to descend into the Twin Falls drainage.

Right: A exposed, clean traverse along the crack in the center of the photo.

Left: A fine section of au cheval (straddle) ridge.

Below Right: Some big exposure on clean rock.

Below Left: Getting ready to haul up the pack on a steeper section that I self-belayed.

Right: Self-portrait high on route.

Below: The view from the tippy top.

The descent down to Twin Falls was kind of a pain in the ass. Since I hadn't ascended that way before, I missed the small trail that apparently wends down through the brush to the Crow Pass trail. So, I did a lot of bushwhacking instead, making for a fitting southcentral Alaska finish.

August 5, 2009

Update: Yukla West Ridge Solo

Yesterday I returned from a great solo trip to make the second (?) ascent of Mount Yukla's 'Complete West Ridge.' It is a really fun, LONG 5.7 ridge first climbed by Rod Hancock and Stuart Parks in 2004 after several attempts by locals over the years, including Charlie Sassara in the 1980s. All partners I spoke with told me that they couldn't go at that time, but I wasn't going to miss out on the only weather window in the last month, so I geared up to go alone. It turned out well, and the weather crapped out the day after I returned. Stay tuned for a few photos and a trip report.

July 30, 2009

BD Journal Post

Black Diamond added a BD Journal post from our Hayes Range expedition to their new website. Feel free to check it out. It is pretty similar to my dedicated Alchemy Ridge blog, but is a nice introduction to the BD Journal which hosts updates from many disciplines of the sport and has additional safety features. As an aside, I am headed south to hopefully make the most of the bad weather that has been plaguing southcentral Alaska by doing some climbing.

July 27, 2009

Summer in Alaska

Events this week: Went to an awesome rainy wedding at Spencer Glacier. Our friends Britta and Ian got married there along with their brave, cold relatives from other areas of the country. Ran Lost Lake trail with my bride and oldest friend Rune. The running conditions were pretty perfect, really, for AK kids such as ourselves (50 degrees, drizzle). Wendy then headed back to Fairbanks, and Rune and I went down to Anchor Point to fish with my father. We caught a bunch of Halibut, then went home (Rune to Hope, me to my family's house in Anchorage). Then the dog and I went back to Fairbanks and ran up Mount Healy along the way. I didn't take a lot of photos that week but a few are posted below. Wendy and I also recently ran the Granite Tors trail in its entirety which made for a nice afternoon.

Right: Wendy hiking loads in to the wedding ceremony at Spencer Glacier after hopping off the train.

Left: The old man and the sea. Funny how dad seems most at home out on the water. Kind of like me and mountains!

Below: Two porpoises that made a habit of swimming around the boat while we were fishing.

July 20, 2009

Chena Hot Springs Run n' Soak

Wendy and I, along with several friends from Anchorage went out on Saturday to do the Chena Hot Springs Run 'n Soak. This was a really fun race of 8.5 miles with the first four being uphill to a ridgetop, then running along the ridge for another four and a half miles down to Chena Hot Springs. Ridgetops are so nice to run along, this one especially because we were running through the cool rock climbing area of Angel Rocks, and could also see the Granite Tors from far off.

July 17, 2009

Tatlanika and Rock Creek Bouldering Tour

Wendy and I headed out to explore the bouldering areas of Tatlanika and Rock Creek along the Parks Highway the last couple of days. There is a lot of excellent rock in the area, far more than I imagined. Much of it is undeveloped, but Tom Ellis and others have put in a lot of work cleaning and developing many boulders. The rock is quite monolithic, with few features and often small footholds. We had a great time exploring and got on a lot of different problems. Neither of us sent anything personally difficult.

Above: Wendy trying to decide whether to commit on Welcome Home (VO) on the Welcome Boulder in the Tatlanika boulders (Parks Hwy MP 272).

Left: The nice-looking harder problem Darth Mal (V7) on an unnamed boulder at Tatlanika.

Right: A cool dihedral project (?) on the Highballs Boulder in Tatlanika.

Left: Another cool looking project (?) on the Highballs Boulder.

Right: Topping out on a fun problem on the Welcome Boulder at Rock Creek (Parks Hwy MP 261).

July 12, 2009

Elliot Hwy MP 29.5: The Hilltop Boulders

While heading to Grapefruit this summer I kept noticing a set of nice looking boulders sitting on a small ridge shortly after one passes the Wickersham Dome trailhead and passes the mile 29 marker. No one I spoke with seemed to have any idea what kind of rock was there, and if it was good for climbing. Later on in August I found out that Ian McRae of Nome, formerly of Fairbanks, had climbed on these years earlier.

Today, I couldn't find a partner so I figured I might as well bushwhack up through the woods to check them out. I hoped that I would find more limestone but, alas, this was not the case. I parked at about mile 29.5 and walked straight up through the trees for about 25 minutes to access this group of boulders. I climbed about ten problems all in the VB to V2 range, on all of the cleaner features (i.e. no or minimal loose rock). The height of these problems range from 10 feet up to about 17 or so at the highest. There are more boulders about 1/2 hour hike from this set which I haven't examined. Many of the boulders have a lot of lichen on the top outs, and you may appreciate having a pad as a few of the landings are rocky. The rock quality is mixed, some excellent and some with loose blocks. A brush would be handy for others (lichen), as would some smaller implements to remove scary loose pieces.

Right: A nice roof with two fun easier problems climbing out.

Below: A short, high quality face (V0).

Right: The Fin boulder hosts several taller, fun problems that are generally cleaner, though they still host lichen. Rocky landings on this side.

Some Grapefruit Bouldering

I have been going out to Grapefruit Rocks to hit up the Fruit Loop bouldering circuit a bit this summer, and have enjoyed it. It seems that there is a lot more rock to clean up and climb on out there, but the Fruit Loop problems have presented a great developed option to get out and pull on some rock. There is a nice mix of developed problems from VO (many) to V6 (Harry Potter's Magic Wand) with a few projects sitting around waiting for someone to climb them.  The 'Tom Ellis Project' looks hard, with super small holds. My finger strength seems pretty abysmal at the moment, but hopefully this bouldering will tune me up. Here are a couple photos from Grapefruit.

Wendy warming up on a nice crack before our bouldering session.

Right: Me on Eeyore's problem (V2)

Wendy's Mount Marathon

We all headed down to Seward to watch Wendy run her 17th Mount Marathon race. She came in 20th in a big field, and seemed pretty happy with her race. A lot of people suffered from heat stroke including two individuals who were 1st on the way down the mountain, Holly Brooks and Brent Knight. It was inspiring to see folks pushing themselves and the weather was awesome.

It was also nice to stay a few nights at my old (ca. 1905) cabin at the base of Gilpatricks Mountain, a rarity since we have lived in Fairbanks. My father also celebrated his 70th birthday.

July 2, 2009

Hayes Range 2009: Trip Report

Please see this link to my trip report for our Hayes Range trip, during which we completed the first ascent of Mount Balchen's (11,140 ft) northern ridge. We named the route Alchemy Ridge (V AI4 M7), and we climbed it in a two day round trip from base camp in terrible weather. The 'Alchemy' reflects the combination of several less than ideal elements into something that turned out to feel like a golden opportunity, as well as reflecting Matt's departure from the Golden Heart city of Fairbanks for Colorado to pursue a PhD in International Relations. Jeff Benowitz feels that the correct grade for alpine routes is usually 5.4c, but Matt and I felt that the crux pitches were solid at the grade and we have chosen to keep the grades as such. Enjoy!

For Climbing's Hot Flashes report of our climb, follow this link.
For Rock and Ice's News report, follow this link.

Thanks so much to Roger Strong and Black Diamond for supporting me in climbing during the last year through the Grassroots Team.

June 26, 2009

Hayes Range Expedition Update

The Alchemy Ridge of Mount Balchen. Photo courtesy of Jed Brown and

Matt Klick and I had a great trip to the Hayes Range despite abysmal weather. Were the weather better, we would have climbed a lot more. As is, we pushed a new route on the northern ridge of Mount Balchen (11,140 feet), Alchemy Ridge (V AI4 M7), through a monster storm over two days (round trip) with minimal bivy gear (bivy bags and a jetboil, no sleeping bags). Retreat options were limited prior to our bivy halfway up the ridge at which point we had passed much of the harder technical ground. We feel that the Alchemy Ridge is a reasonably serious and sustained route, though nowhere near the most difficult route in the Hayes Range.

The above photo really shows the lower, more technical, half of the route quite accurately. The remainder of the route consists of snow/rime climbing to the summit. It may be good to note that the route we chose on the ridge was often dictated by the amount of snow that was present, though we still feel that we climbed the line which was truest to the ridge. There are likely many options to pass the steeper buttresses. The main crux pitch was an absolute classic, perched on the arete between the east and west faces of the mountain.

Due to the weather, we felt lucky to have completed this one effort successfully, spending most of the expedition tentbound in high winds and precipitation. 12 of 14 days had significant BAD weather events, with localized and generalized weather patterns tag-teaming our expedition except for our reconaissance day and our walk out day to the Hayes airstrip. Most of the route was sustained moderate fifth-class terrain, on splitter granite and snow over slabs, on the east or west side of the ridge which winds sinuously to the summit. Stay tuned for a trip report as we pull our photos together.

In Memoriam: Jonny Copp, Micah Dash, and Wade Johnson

Jonny Copp and Micah Dash, along with photographer Wade Johnson, were recently killed by an avalanche on Mount Edgar in the Sichuan Province of China. Though I knew Jonny and Micah only as acquaintances, their presence in the world of technical alpine climbing will be sorely missed, as will their enthusiasm for such. Micah I met while in Pakistan in 2005, just after their final speed climb of Trango/Nameless Tower. He was there with Nick Martino and Renan Ozturk at that time. Those guys were really friendly and handed over some important items to our expedition which they no longer required.  Jonny I met in Talkeetna, though I did not know him well. Please visit the Patagonia 'Cleanest Line' online memorial.

June 14, 2009

Hayes Range: Waiting on Weather

Matt Klick and I are waiting on weather to fly into the Hayes Range with Wing Air. We hoped to fly yesterday morning, but intermittent bad weather has kept us from getting out of Fairbanks thus far. We are planning to make an attempt to get in this afternoon, and have been watching the FAA weather cams and radar a lot the last couple days. We are hoping to land at a gravel strip near the base of the North/Northwest ridge of Mount Hayes after dropping some food up in the basin so that we can lighten our loads for the walk. From the gravel strip, it should be around 7 miles to our proposed base camp near Mounts Hayes, Balchen, and Geist. Wish us luck...

June 6, 2009

Chena River: Angel Rocks to Mile 31.4

Around the time of my birthday (May 3), my father called up and asked me what I thought about him selling his old raft, which he used to guide all over the state for many years as owner and operator of Alaska Fishing Adventures from ca. 1984 onwards. I told him that we would like to buy it from him, and he in turn insisted upon giving it to us to use. So, I took Wendy, Allie, and two dogs out on a two-day float of the upper reaches of the Chena River here in Interior Alaska this week.

Above: Tia and Sterling practice dog Judo in the Angel Rocks parking lot as we prepare to launch the raft from mile 48.5 Chena Hot Springs Road. Photo: Allie McDonnell

Above: The river was very low as it has been generally sunny and hot this spring. The upper stretch of the Chena doesn't get floated a lot, and when it does often smaller craft are used. Here we are at sweeper #100 or so, part way through our first day. This log jam crossed the entirety of the river, necessitating a portage past the log jam which entailed emptying the boat or all passengers, equipment, and the rowing frame, then carrying all of the equipment and the 16 foot boat about 1/4 mile downriver.

Above: Aaaah, and the portage is done. Now we just needed to load it all back up again and get on our way. Wendy and Allie were very helpful. The dogs were no help whatsoever, though they did find some carrion of interest in the area.

At right: Tia's glamour shot for the Crest catalog. What appears to be her mangled teeth is actually an intact, rotting porcupine skull, upside down. She proceeded to crack this apart with her teeth until we could knock it off the boat with a stick. Foul.

Back to Fairbanks, Family Connections

Following my guiding work with AMS, I went to Anchorage to pick up my stepdaughter Allie. I also bought my bride a ticket to come meet us in Anchorage so that we could all drive to Fairbanks together. On May 26th, we celebrated my mother's birthday in Anchorage. Here are a couple photos from the visit.

Right: At Mom's family birthday bash. Tia the dog also recently had her 15th birthday, making her 105 in dog years!

Below: Wendy and I on the way back to Fairbanks. Photo by Allie McDonnell.

May 31, 2009

Summit for Someone- Alaska 2009

From May 16-25th I worked a contract for Alaska Mountaineering School with another guide, Seth Hobby. We took three people with Summit for Someone out to Kahiltna base camp, did several climbs, and taught many mountain-related classes. The photos here are illustrative of the climbing portion of our trip.

Above: Clients David and Ed make their way up the East Ridge of Mt. Frances (10,500 ft). Peak 12,200 (Lisa Peak) is directly behind the ascending climbers. Another client, Darren, ascended the Southwest Ridge (IV 5.8) of Frances with Seth.

Below: Making our way up Control Tower (8,700 ft). We had the clients take much of the responsibility for decision-making on this climb, with backup from us.

On our last day, we climbed up onto Annie's Ridge (8,500 ft) from the Kahiltna proper. We used all of these climbs to teach practical mountain skills, and the clients left Talkeetna with a bunch of new tools for mountain travel and climbing.

May 12, 2009

A Change in Plans...

My great friend and climbing partner Ryan was recently out completing a ski-kite traverse of the Bagley Icefield. I imagine that he will likely have some photos up on his blog pretty soon, so heads up for a few of those to come out. While out on the icefield, Ryan had an in-camp accident while modifying a water bottle and cut his finger pretty deeply. He toughed it out for 5 or 6 days until the swelling decreased, skiing several nice lines on peaks lining the icefield. During that time, he was in touch with a friend (an ER doctor) who consulted with a hand surgeon to inform him of the best course of action. When the swelling decreased, Ryan was able to accurately assess that the most distal segment of his right-hand index finger was not mobile, and did not possess sensation. At that time, they took the steps necessary to get Ryan out so that he could undergo reparative surgery on the finger, at which time he found out that he had cut the main nerve, the flexor tendon, and one of two major arteries in the finger. They laid his finger open and reattached the nerve and the flexor tendon, but were unable to reattach the non-dominant artery due to the amount of time since the injury. His dominant artery is still all good though. 

Ryan and my sisters Diana and Sally (Ryan's partner) are visiting here in Fairbanks right now, and Ryan was nice enough to let me take a photo of his hand for the record (above). Very brave of him. We are all having a good time, and getting cardio in doing some running. Ryan will probably be in awesome running shape by the end of the summer, since it is the activity least restricted by his recent injury.

Ryan and I will be unable to complete our attempt on Mount Logan this summer, but still plan to attempt new rock routes in the Arrigetch Peaks of the Brooks Range again this August, when Ryan's finger is predicted to be fully functional again. As an alternative, I contacted local Fairbanks climber Matt Klick to go climb in the Hayes Range for two weeks mid-June. The Hayes comprises the eastern extension of the Alaska Range. Ryan and I will plan to attempt the same line on Logan next summer. Wish him your best...thanks for looking!

May 7, 2009

In Memoriam: John Evans

John Evans, an English climber who has often worked with the National Park Service in the Alaska Range, died on April 28th while rock climbing in Wales. John was accessible, easygoing, and competent. As a ranger up on Denali, it was always a pleasure to interact with him. His people skills were unparalleled, he always made me feel comfortable, and he had a kind and solid attitude which conveyed that he was someone who could be trusted. Best, John, on your journey!

Photo: Alaska Mountaineering School

March 25, 2009

Awaiting Freedom!

The end of the semester is fast approaching. With lots of work awaiting me, I am doing my best to forge my way through the thousands of pages of reading and a variety of special projects that await my attention prior to May 4th. I made the mistake of looking at Colin Haley's blog the other day to discover that the bugger somehow managed to finish his bachelor's in March, and is now alpine climbing and posting new photos from Chamonix a couple times a week! Here I am, scratching my way out of the depths of the interior Alaska winter, busting through work at the end of the first year of a challenging doctorate program while trying to stay in shape for 6 weeks of expedition climbing that is to occur during the summer months. Makes it hard for a guy to stay motivated. For now, the necessity of remaining in shape for the challenges of these summer trips is almost enough, but the time crunches I am under make scheduling workouts in pretty hard. To keep myself (and whoever else out there also needs to get excited) motivated, I am taking a few minutes out to post a couple motivating photos from the past. Enjoy, and get out and play if you are fortunate enough to have some free time.

Left: Here I am forging a different kind of study plan, climbing Aerial Boundaries (III WI 5+) in WI6 X conditions, Canadian Rockies, 2004.

Photo: Heike Schmitt

Below: One of the most enduring motivations, successfully bailing off a giant mountain (after being hit by a slough while transitioning from rappel to anchor). Our two attempts on Latok II (7200m) have got me psyched to head back to Pakistan someday in the not too distant future.

Photo: Ryan Hokanson

In any case, I am indeed motivated to head back into the mountains and look forward to facing some of the transformative challenges available in our natural world, practicing the art of alpine climbing. I am hoping to head out on two separate expeditions, one big mountain trip to Mount Logan/the St. Elias, and a return trip to the Arrigetch to attempt a couple unclimbed lines that we noticed last year while on a trip there.

March 21, 2009

Good Times...

We have had a couple family visits recently. My sister Diana and her friend Meghan (she brought her accordion) just came out to visit us in Fairbanks, which was really nice. One day Di, Wendy and I went out for a run and the following day Di and I went for a ski with the dogs out on the Tanana. Here are a couple photos that we took while out skiing.

The mighty Diana at a hot chocolate break...

And below, Tia and I. Gotta love the awkward mid-stride arm position. Nonetheless, a lot of action in this photo. I like it.

Photo: Diana Johnson

About a week after Di came out, Wendy, Tommy and I traveled out to DC to spend time with my grandmother. We had a good time, pretty low key. Grandmother was not feeling well, so our visits were relatively short but wonderful. Inspiring to be around our elders, especially a woman who has contributed so much to this world, and to our family. An immensely talented wordsmith. Please visit her Washington Writers' Publishing House author profile. We visited the Holocaust Museum, the Museum of American History, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II memorial among many other places.

March 5, 2009

Ryan Hokanson's Arrigetch Slide Show

Sam on the Pillar Arete, pitch 4. Photo by Ryan Hokanson

Ryan is going to give a slideshow on our 2008 Arrigetch expedition! This will occur at 6:30 PM on March 10th at the BP Energy Center in Anchorage, a great venue. Here is Harry Hunt's blurb about the show:

"Ryan Hokanson and Sam Johnson spent two weeks in the Arrigetch Peaks during August 2008.  After warming up on the W. Maiden, they turned their sights to the unclimbed east ridge of Caliban, the highest peak in the Arrigetch. Their route involved 16 pitches and 4 rappels. They were forced to engineer their way around 2 of the towers and climbed up and over the other two. A great route, with amazing granite, that they named Pillar Arete 5.10b, grade V, 16 pitches and 4 rappels on route." -Check it out!

February 16, 2009

Getting Steep with Vision: Experiences of a Seeker

Left: Attempting a new route in New Zealand
Photo: YewJin Tan
The Alaska Ice Climbing Festival has been in planning for the last five years, and will take place March 6-8 in Anchorage and surrounding ice climbing areas. One thing that is a little more exciting about the Alaska Ice Fest as compared to other similar festivals is the fact that the climbing potential here in AK is still very largely undeveloped. Roger Strong, the Northwest Rep for Black Diamond (they assist me through grassroots team support), has coordinated with Jayme Dixon, the Alaska Ice Fest coordinator to fly me down from Fairbanks to do a slideshow for the opening night of the festival.

The kick-off party will start at 6pm, March 6th, at the Alaska Backpacker's Inn at 327 Eagle Street in Anchorage. There will be a spaghetti feed, beer, festival registration, and demo gear sign up starting at 6pm. Jayme let me know that 7pm might be a good time for me to start the show, which should include pics and stories from climbs all over the world, with an emphasis on the personal evolution of this experience seeker, and recent paradigm shifts in the vertical realm.

February 10, 2009

Getting out, FA of 'Lunar Smears'

It has stayed relatively cold, recently warming up for a day or two almost to 10 degrees above 0 F! Last Saturday I got out climbing with Andy Sterns, and last Sunday I took Tia the hound out for a two hour ski on the Tanana in -30 F temps. It was a gorgeous day! It seems like the quality of light really changes when it gets down below -20 F. The snow was so slow that glide was almost nonexistent, but I still had a good time being bundled up and getting in some cardio in cold temps. This Saturday, I helped out with a benefit auction for Boys and Girls Club of Fairbanks (Wendy's employer) for the entire afternoon following a morning of reading and homework for the Clinical-Community PhD program.

On Sunday, the temps warmed up above 0 degrees F, so Andy and I went out again (without a camera) to discover something heretofore unknown to either of us in terms of climbing so near to Fairbanks: A multi-pitch mixed route! We drove out to the first pullout for Grapefruit Rocks, then skiing back past all the established crags. We dropped most of the way down into the base of the valley, from where we spied a fine looking buttress among many other nice looking pieces of limestone. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that it might provide excellent mixed climbing, on both rock and ice, which it did. I onsighted each pitch, placing gear (cams and nuts only) on lead. Andy followed efficiently and we had no problems staying warm. We left no traces of our ascent on the crag, for any who might worry about a mixed climb near a traditional rock climbing area.

The first pitch was about 20m long, and went at about M4 with sections of gorgeous water ice plastered an inch or two thick in the back of the corner. It ended with a mantel onto a nice flat block and a belay from a sturdy birch tree after some low angle turf climbing.

The second pitch offered up the business of this little route, about 40 meters of sustained mixed climbing starting with turf sticks, flowing into a dihedral with small footholds and not quite perfect hook placements (M5). The climbing was more technical than pumpy. I had to stack a couple pieces of gear to make it feel super safe, but the gear was generally solid. The pitch finished with some juggy footless climbing, finally entering a chimney to finish with somelock-offs into a mantel on to the crest of the buttress, where I belayed Andy up, anchoring from a slung block.

From there, we climbed another pitch which was almost 60m in length, a very easy but insecure 'au cheval' ridge straddling pitch with several small gendarmes. This pitch ended as the buttress merged into the hillside. From here we walked back down the hill to grab our packs and the dog (Tia came along). We had a great time and felt like we took advantage of what may be exceptional conditions, finding some ice on each of these three pitches. We are guessing that the ice we found plastered in corners and on slabs here was the result of melting from a short warm spell several weeks ago. Andy and I conferred and decided to call it Lunar Smears (M5). We felt lucky that it hadn't sublimated yet. Please contact me with any questions, or if you would like clear directions to base of the buttress. It could use a second ascent while it is in such stellar condition, and confirmation/revision of the grade.

Family Update

The Sailors-Johnson family update: So, my stepson Tommy was in town staying with us for a couple weeks. We had quite a few laughs over the course of that time, and we got reminded of how fun it is to have a kid around the cabin. Tommy and I watched a few bloody guy movies together, too, so that was pretty cool. Last weekend, Wendy drove back to Anchorage to drop him back there to resume life in Anchorage. We are definitely missing having Tommy and Allie around, even though our cabin is tiny. Now it is packed even when they aren't here, because we are full time owners of two dogs, the 14-year old arthritic would-be princess Tia and our new arrival, the two year-old Sterling! Lively times. Now that Tia has begun taking Rimadyl for her arthritis, she spends a lot more time being large and in charge while she and Sterling are playfighting in the yard or in the house (about 1 1/2 hours a day). This weekend we will be heading back to Anchorage to see one of Allie's basketball games and to spend some time with family.

January 5, 2009

Mugs Stump Award

Mt. Logan (5959m), photo retrieved from the NOAA website.

Ryan Hokanson and I applied for the Mugs Stump Award in December. A couple days ago, Michael Kennedy called him to let us know that we won a Mugs for our proposed attempt at a ca. 3000m new route on Mt. Logan (5959m/19,551 ft). I am looking forward to going alpine climbing with Ryan again, and can't wait for the opportunity to check out the immense Mt. Logan!

Solstice and the Cold: -55

Wendy and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary (12-22-08) and the holidays back in southcentral Alaska with family. Highlights included family hilarity, and a surprise re-appearance by Wendy, Tommy, and a young husky named Sterling on New Year's eve. Ryan Hokanson and I made plans to attempt a new route on a peak in the Chugach but were foiled by continuous sub-zero temperatures, around minus 20 F in Anchorage (minus 55 F here in Fairbanks). The cold snap continues around the state, with temperatures hovering at minus 40 F here at our house with no end in sight.

As a substitute plan, skiing became the main activity of the holidays. I skiied a day up on Cumulus Mtn. (off Hiland Rd.) with my sister Diana, three days up near my cabin in Gilpatricks (near Moose Pass) with several people, and put in a long day at Turnagain Pass with Ryan and his roommate Jason. The best skiing I found was in some big couloirs, and the all-day alpenglow of the Alaskan midwinter cold made for some spectacular scenery, though I didn't have my camera. Check out Ryan's post with some ski pics from around this time, including the time we went skiing.