June 26, 2009

Hayes Range Expedition Update

The Alchemy Ridge of Mount Balchen. Photo courtesy of Jed Brown and 59A2.org.

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.