This trip was a long time coming. Though discussions started last autumn, things were cemented on this fateful night when Hans convinced me to join him (Lauren assisted) on a 12-day mountaineering course with AMS. Six months (and a plane ride, and 6 hours in the Ted Stevens International Airport and a 3-hour shuttle) later, we were dropped off at the Talkeetna Hostel, where we would be spending a night before flying out to the Pika glacier.
As both of us were hungry, we stopped off at the Roadhouse and each ordered a full Standard (those with normal appetites are encouraged to only get the half). The full has 8 eggs, two pieces of toast (each as thick as three normal slices of bread), a few potatoes worth of home fries, and a healthy amount of some of the best bacon I’ve ever tasted.
After breakfast we stopped by AMS and met Greg Runyan, the instructor/guide who would be making sure we stayed alive, then went by a gear shop to grab a few last-minute things, and went down to the river to make some phone calls and hang out for a bit.
Despite our huge (and late) breakfast, we went to Twister Creek for beers and then dinner, which was way too much food. I didn’t sleep on the plane (which was a red-eye, after working all day) so I was out cold at 7:30, woke up at 11:30 to call Lauren and take a shower before going back to sleep until 7:30 the next morning. Apparently I was asked if I wanted to go out with Hans and a friend of his for a beer – I have no recollection of any such thing.
The next morning I grabbed a burrito for breakfast (and had eaten so much the day before I was stuffed after only a few bites) before going back to AMS for a final gear check. Later that afternoon, it was off to the airstrip for our departure.
After a hilariously bad ski back to camp (skiing in mountaineering boots required far more balance than I ever could have expected) it was time for Hans and Alain to cook dinner. After this we started a rotation with one person per meal, so you always had quite a bit of time off between having to cook.
But first we took the time to dry out a few things (including ourselves) when the sun was out. It was important that we took this opportunity, as it ended up raining on all but two days we were there – one day it snowed instead.
The view across the Exit glacier was, again, beautiful.
And here I am on the final rappel of the day, with things starting to clear out. Not long before we started down, Greg said “we’d still be climbing if it weren’t raining!” When we got down here someone mentioned that it was 10pm. Greg immediately burst out “It’s ten o’clock?!” That was a fairly late day.
The next day we went on a tour around the glacial valley, and up Exit Pass to take a look at conditions. Our initial plan was to head down there and explore a little-traveled (if ever) area across the Ruth. Unfortunately it was mostly melted out, and we had to change plans.
The next day we went ice climbing on an exposed glacial wall, which was a blast. Here’s me, wailing on the ice. The top several inches was rotten, and on one lap I was bashing so much I let loose a few square foot plate roughly 4″ thick that slid to the bottom.
Ice climbing is so fun and so theraputic, I’m already looking forward to bashing some ice this winter. My favorite part is that it’s much more brute-strength intensive rather than finesse-based. I’m not a finesse kind of guy. Even belaying was fun, as you got to watch chunks of ice rain down the wall (at least when I went)!
Hans and Alain decided to get rad and throw some heel-hooks on a boulder.
The next day, we headed back over to climb a likely-unclimbed couloir that is now named the “What? Couloir.” It’s the second couloir from the right and while the snow was garbage (not unexpected), the climbing was fun and the protection was solid.
After moving a couple days later, we went in search of a good rock wall. Sadly, the access had melted out and we just skied back to camp (in the rain, of course – what else would it do?). We had all finally figured out skiing in mountaineering boots, so it was a fun 1,000-1,500′ of boot-deep untracked slush.
That night things cleared, and we called to see about an early pickup (we were scheduled to leave the next morning at 11am). Talkeetna was socked in, and they couldn’t fly to come get us.
The next morning, we woke up completely socked in. It was raining, and felt as if we were inside a ping pong ball. It was July 4th, and we were all very much looking forward to getting out on time, eating real food, drinking beer, and dancing at the Fairview. Unfortunately, we didn’t leave. Instead, we stared at the inside of our tents all day and had refried beans and couscous for dinner. The next morning we woke up to the same thing. I was not happy.
It stayed that way all day. Hans and I were scheduled to fly home that night, and we missed our flight as a result of the weather. We woke up the next morning to no rain, just lots of wet, heavy snow. The cook tent nearly collapsed in the night, and I was banging snow off our tent all night long. Fortunately, things finally started clearing. We broke down non-essential parts of camp and hauled loads over to the landing zone after spending a couple hours packing it down.
As I dropped a load off at the LZ and was about to ask one of the other groups if they’d heard from TAT about flights (two other groups were leaving that day; they were bailing early on a week-long trip, and we were already overdue two days on a 12-day) when the Otter blasted through a pass out over the glacier. Hans and I couldn’t contain our happiness, and just started shouting “Plane! Plane!” and got as fast as we could back to camp to tear it all down and get out of there.
We were pretty busy after we got back, but had time to hang some things up to dry, and put away other things before catching a shower, a couple beers, and a burger (along with amazing sweet potato fries) at Twister Creek and then rushing off to Anchorage to catch our rescheduled flights home. We got back in yesterday morning and I once again couldn’t sleep on the plane, so I was up for about 30 hours before getting a nap in.
During the storm I was pretty down on ever going back, but now that I’m a few days out, I’m sure I will be doing plenty of similar expeditions – just not in an El Nino year.