Last Taste of Freedom!

At the end of June, we spent a couple weeks relaxing and enjoying life on our sailboat before taking off again to get married. Yup, on July 19th we tied the knot! We had a great time celebrating with our closest friends and family and then spent a week visiting with friends and chilling out in Central Oregon. But, a week after our wedding we were ready to hit the road again!

We celebrated a week of marriage with an ascent of Three Fingered Jack near Sisters, Oregon. We climbed the South Ridge Route. While only rated at a 5.2R, we were glad to have rope and some gear for protection as there some very exposed sections.

We definitely made this climb harder than it needed to be. In classic Gabe and Melissa fashion, we failed to fully do our homework and tried to follow a trip report claiming the climbers trail was about 3 1/2 miles up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). So at about 3 1/2 miles we veered off the PCT on what we assumed to be a climbers a trail. Turns out it was not the climbers trail and we ended up going up and over the hill just south of Three Fingered Jack. If we had read the Mountain Project page, we would of known the climbers trail was about 5 miles in. FYI, the climbers trail is clearly and obviously marked and you can see the trail leading up to the south ridge from the PCT!

Eventually we gained the south ridge and scrambled our way to an exposed section of ridge line known as “The Crawl.” You follow a narrow ledge with a section of overhanging rock above you. There is minimal protection here, but you may come across an old piton.

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Gabe leading The Crawl

After some simul-scrambling we reached the crux of the climb, a 5.2/5.3 chimney. Melissa rocked this section, and was greeted at the summit by a wild orgy of flying ants. For unknown reasons, bugs like to have their crazy sex parties at very tip top of mountains… We understand.

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Melissa leading the Chimney

You must traverse a narrow and exposed section to reach the true summit. We took turns belaying each other over to the true summit and it was reminiscent of “Ancient Art,” you can read about our climb of Ancient Art  in our “Utah” blog.

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Gabe on true summit taking in the view of Mt.Jefferson

On August 1st we made our way to Joseph, Oregon to help out on Gabe’s uncle’s organic farm. Farming is hard, but rewarding work! During the week we hand weeded, push-hoed, and harvested beets. Uncle Pat makes weekly visits to Portland, Oregon to sell organic vegetables to restaurants and participates in Portland’s Saturday Market. But like many small family farms, they are struggling financially…. you can learn more and help support the farm by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/gcwjd3js.

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Hand weeding

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Melissa learned how to drive the tractor

Joseph, Oregon is also the gateway to the beautiful Wallowa Mountains. After helping out on the farm for a few days, we made our way back into the Wallowas (You can read about our winter trip HERE). Our main objective was Cusick Mountain, probably the most remote 9,000 foot peak in Oregon. We hiked in the East Fork Wallowa River Trail, hiked over Tenderfoot Pass, and camped at the head of the N. fork of the Imnaha River. That evening and early morning we were treated to a couple of pretty fierce thunderstorms. However, the next day was beautiful. We hiked up to Polaris Pass, and then followed the Imnaha Divide, climbing over N. Imnaha Peak  and Sentinel Peak (both 9000 foot peaks), before dropping down to Honeymoon Basin at the base of Cukick Mountain. Here we ditched our camping gear and headed up the northeast ridge of Cusick. It was a fun hike/scramble that mainly followed goat trails. The crux was a short exposed section on looser rock where the NE ridge meets the N ridge.  The views from the summit were spectacular, some of the best in mountain range.

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Sentinel Peak from Polaris Pass

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Summit of North Imnaha Mountain, Cusick Mountain in the background.

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Honymoon Basin at the base of Cusick Mountain is my new favorite camp spot in the Wallowa Mountains.

The Descent back to camp was quick, and we spent the rest of the sunny relaxing in the peace and quiet of our remote sanctuary. This was one of those rare special days where we didn’t see a single other human for over 24 hours. The next day, on our way back out via the Imnaha Divide, we made our way out to the summit of Peak 9180, which Melissa renamed Menstruation Mountain! We decided to drop down the west side from Polaris Pass and hiked out the West Fork of the Wallowa River, making for a 16 mile day.

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Summit of Menstruation Mountain (Peak 9180)

On 8/9 we left Joseph and made our way to Boise, Idaho to meet our good friend Alex. That evening we camped along Highway 21 outside of Lowman. The next day we made our way to Redfish Lake to climb at Elephant’s Perch in the Sawtooth Mountains. We paid to take the water taxi across Redfish Lake (saving us an additional 5 miles of hiking for only $10) and hiked to the base of Elephant’s Perch. Mountain Project says it’s a 3 mile hike, but watch out for that last mile, it is steep and if you are hauling a bunch of climbing gear it feels a lot longer to get to the Saddleback Lakes that sit at the base this big, beautiful piece of granite.

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Our camp at “The Perch”

We decided to climb the Mountaineer’s Route (5.9 grade III), mostly because we weren’t really feeling ready for our original plan, AstroElephant (5.10b grade IV). This would be our first big climb since Gabe hurt his elbow back in Yosemite (You can read HERE). But we rocked this climb and had the superstar Mr.Alex Fancypants to lead the crux pitches.

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Melissa leading “pitch 0”

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Start of the Mountaineers Route

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Pitch 2

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Melissa leading the best, and most exposed pitch (pitch 3).

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Scrambling the last few hundred feet to the top

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Summit of Elephants Perch!

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Descent Gulley.

After topping out we followed the chossey gully on the south side of the mountain back down to the lakes. The descent route was easy to follow, but the rappel anchors at the end were less obvious. We started to set up a rappel from a little tree on the skier’s left of the gulley, but then we spotted the shiny new bolted rappel anchor on the skiers right of the gulley. A single 60m rope was just barely long enough for this rappel.

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Back at the base after long day, the descent gulley is to the right of the rock face

We hiked back to redfish lake on 8/12, caught the water taxi back across, and drove up the road a little bit to Cove Hotsprings to treat ourselves to a soak and a couple beers. It’s a nice little spot where hot spring water flows into the Salmon River along HWY 75. That evening we boondocked out on Basin Road, close to Cove Hotsprings. On 8/13 we said our farewells to Alex and made our way to our next destination, The Tetons.

That evening we were able to find a popular boondocking spot off of Antelope Flats Rd, just outside the boundary of Teton National Park. In the morning we made our way into the park to get backcountry camping permits for climbing The Grand Teton. Our original plan was to camp at the Lower Saddle and climb the Direct Exum Ridge. However, we were told that route finding can be particularly difficult, especially if you haven’t been up there before. So we decided to just climb the Upper Exum Ridge.

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Boondocking just outside Teton NP

On 8/15 we made our way up to the lower saddle and set up camp. It is about a 7 mile hike with 5,000 ft of elevation gain. We were lucky with the weather, and enjoyed a calm night of camping. While at camp we were able to scope out the entirety of Direct Exum Ridge and were a little disappointed we didn’t bring gear for this route… oh well, gives us an objective for next time!

The next day we got an early start and made our way up the climber trail from the saddle, past the “The Needle”, and following the first part of the Owen-Spalding. We almost went too high, but luckily we caught our mistake and traversed over to Wall Street without having to downclimb much. We roped up at the end of Wall Street and Gabe lead the short exposed traverse to the base of the 2nd pitch, the Golden Staircase. Lots of knobs here make for enjoyable climbing, but not much in the way of protection.

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Wall Street is the right leaning ramp in this photo

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Melissa Leading the Golden Staircase

After Melissa led the Golden Staircase, we simul-climbed our way up the Wind Tunnel. At the top of the Wind Tunnel we veered a little too far west, and Melissa unknowingly ended up leading the last pitch of the West Face of Exum (5.8), which spit us out halfway up the “V” pitch.

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Off route (on the west face of exum route)

Gabe led to the top of the V pitch where Melissa led us up the ridge crest, were we continued to simul-climb our way up the ridge. We reached the final obstacle of the climb near the top of the ridge where Gabe protected a bouldery move and took us to the summit. We were surprised to see it was only 11 am when we reached the summit, the climb only took us 4 hours. It was very fun climb that we playfully categorized as adventure scrambling. After a snack and some summit selfies we made our way down the Owen-Spradling route. The descent required two rappels and lots of scrambling back down to our tent at the saddle. We foolishly had left our sandwiches in our tent and found that the marmots had broken in and ate our lunch! We should of known better than to leave tasty treats in our tent, the marmots here have mastered the art of tent burglary. It wasn’t until we had packed up and headed down that we noticed the food box for climbers to stash their goods.

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Nearing the top of the Exum Ridge

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Summit of Grand Teton!

That evening we started the drive to Yellowstone NP, and stayed at the Forest Service Campground on FR30504 just outside the park. In the morning we headed to a ranger station to pick up a backcountry camping permit for Heart Lake for the following day. Most people who visit National Parks never go more than a mile from their car, which is sad for them but nice for us! The backcountry in Yellowstone is awesome. The sites are reserved individually and we picked a nice private spot located in at the southern cove of Heart Lake. After getting our permit, we had the rest of the day to check out the iconic sites of the driving tour of Yellowstone National Park.

That evening we found free camping off of Grassy Lake Road, just south of the south entrance of Yellowstone. The next day (8/18) we hiked out to Heart Lake. We picked a secluded sport and had to hike about 10 miles to get to it, but it was well worth it! Our hike was rewarded with a large Great Gray Owl, remote fumeroles and hotsprings, and we even had our first close-up encounter with a grizzly bear. Luckily he mosied on up a hill and we didn’t have any problems with him. That evening we were treated to quite the downpour that included a little hail, and some exciting lighting bolts! Luckily, it didn’t last long.

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Thermal area on the hike out to Blue Lake

The next day we hiked out, and drove through parts of the Yellowstone Park we missed. On our way out of the park we stopped where the Boiling River meets Yellowstone River, it’s the only spot where people are allowed to get in and enjoy the hotsprings. We didn’t stick around too long because of all the people, but it was fun to see. That evening we camped in a National Forest campground off of HWY 89 just before Tom Miner Creek Road in Montana.

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The super hot Boiling River flowing into the super cold Yellowstone river

On 8/20 we made our war to Glacier National Park. We stopped in Helena for lunch, because we were craving fried chicken, and found an awesome little place called Suds. If you find yourself wanting fried chicken in Helena, MT Suds is the place to go! That night we camped in a National Forest campground off of HWY2 just south of the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park. This campground is right next to the railroad and extremely loud, if we weren’t so tired we would of tried harder to find a quieter spot.

We spent the next day relaxing at Lower Two Medicine lake and camped at a much quieter primitive National Park campground called Cut Bank. We highly recommend camping here if you are on a budget.

On 8/22 we secured a backcountry camping permit for Upper Two Medicine Lake for the following day, and then hiked out the Grinnell Lake Trail up to the Grinnell Glacier area. This was an awesome hike. There was a lot of bear activity though, and we had another close encounter with a grizzly. We were hiking up the trail when we moved to the side to let a large group of people pass who were heading down. The first couple people warned us of a bear, but by the 10th person we realized that the bear was right behind them. And we mean literally! Melissa got sucked into the group of people, but not before she saw this large grizzly bear round the corner not more than 15 feet behind the last person in line… which ended up being Gabe! We were so surprised that this grizzly was following such a large group of people down the trail, but she cut up the hillside shortly after rounding the corner. Gabe kept an eye (really an ear) on her and called Melissa back. We think a lot of the other hikers called it a day and headed down, but some continued on as it was apparent the grizzly was heading up the hill and away from the trail.

Further up the hill we heard rumors of another black bear sow and cub, but we never saw them on the trail. We also had to walk around a large bighorn sheep grazing in the trail.

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The trail to Grinnell Glacier

 

Eventually we made it to the end of the trail and were treated to beautiful views of Grinnell Glacier. We found a nice spot near the glacier and chilled our beers in the ice cold lake while we ate lunch. After chilling out for a bit, we decided to hike up to the top of an adjacent mountain.

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Grinnell Glacier

 

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Top of a hill near Grinnell Glacier

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Taking in the view

We made the mistake of giving up our camp spot at the primitive NP campground, and by the time we got back from the hike there weren’t any available spots. So we quietly set up our tent at a nearby trailhead and hoped we wouldn’t be bothered. Luckily we were only harassed with laughter in the morning by some other campers.

On 8/23 we hiked up to Upper Two Medicine Lake and found a secluded spot on the shore of the lake, which also happened to be near near some huckleberry bushes, so we spent some time picking and filling a bag. YUM. We spent the evening relaxing and taking in the views.

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On 8/24 we hiked out and drove through Glacier NP on the Going-to-the-Sun road. There is so much to see, and we are looking forward to coming back! That evening we found a beautiful spot along the N. fork of the Flathead river and we camped nearby along McGinnis Creek Road (NF 803).

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Nice spot to chill on the Flathead River

 

On 8/25 we made our way to Hotsprings, MT. We really wanted to find a nice place to soak and this seemed to be the closest spot. Usually we prefer undeveloped hotspring areas, but we LOVED the Symes Hotel. It was built in the 1930’s and hasn’t changed much! It may be a little run down, but it is affordable and has a lot of character! Definitely worth checking out.

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Resortin’ it up at Symes

 

The next day we made our way to Leavenworth to check out the Enchantments and climb Prusik Peak. We don’t know if you have noticed, but there are a lot of people in the lower 48! And a lot of people want to get outside and enjoy the outdoors which is great and all, but in order to keep beautiful places like the Enchantments pristine, there is a cap on the number of backcountry camping permits available. Luckily, they hold a few for “walk-ins” on a lottery basis. So on 8/26 we woke up early and made our way to the ranger station so we could put our name in the drawing…There were quite a few people there, and Melissa wasn’t expecting Gabe’s name to be one of the lucky one’s drawn… BUT IT WAS!  And we got the backcountry permit for Colchuck Lake.

We felt so lucky to score backcountry permits! It is only about a 4 mile hike to Colchuck Lake, so we had plenty of time to pack up and hike in. We found a nice spot along the lake to camp at the base of Aasgard Pass.

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Asgard pass and Dragontail Peak in the background

In the morning we started up Aasgard Pass which rises 1900′ in less than a mile. But the hiking is pretty easy once you are at the top. We followed a trail of Cairns to an eventual junction in the trail and headed up towards Prusik Saddle. Once at the top of the saddle, you follow the ridge to the base of the West Ridge route. We weren’t the first here and we had a cup of coffee while we waited for a party of two to start up the route. While we waited, another group of two showed up… And a then a group of three. Good thing we got an early start!

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Prusik Peak

The West Ridge was fun and quick climb, but it takes awhile to get to, especially if you are starting from the car (The party ahead of us started at 2 am and the party behind us at 3 am from the Colchuck Lake trailhead). While it is rated 5.7 there is a 5.8 crack variation (Melissa led) and if it starts getting too hard you are doing something unnecessary.

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On the West Ridge of Prusik Peak

 

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Summit of Prusik

The rappel down was pretty straight forward, though with a 60m rope you do have to scramble a little bit between two of the rappels. We hiked back out the way we came and made it to the car just before dark. We drove through the cascades into the night and set up camp at one of our favorite boondocking spots on the west side of the range, Boulder Creek. The next day, 8/28, we made it back to Bellingham, and the roadtrip was officially at its end…

The End

 

 

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Back in the PNW

The Southwest was awesome, but the Pacific Northwest will always be home. We spent the first part of May with Melissa’s family in Medford, but on 5/11/16 we had time for a quick escape to Devil’s Punchbowl in the Siskiyou Wilderness in Northern California. The road was a little rough, and hadn’t yet been cleared of the winter tree falls, but we were able to make it to within about a mile of the trail head in the Prius. It was a quick hike up, and after a chilly dip in the ice cold water we set up camp at a nice spot on the shore of the lake. We were lucky, and had the whole basin to ourselves!

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Devil’s Punchbowl

On 5/17/16 we left Medford and hit the road again, working our way to Smith Rock, where we were meeting some friends and family for the weekend. We decided to take our time and check out some of the sites along the way. We camped that night near Toketee Hot Springs (you can no longer camp at the springs, but there are great spots along the road just a few miles past).

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Pretty scenery on hike to Toketee Falls

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Toketee Falls

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Tokatee Hotsprings

The next day we drove to the Bend, OR area, and decided to check out some the roads south of town. We drove out China Hat road after noticing all of the caves marked on the map. Many of the caves are closed, or required special permits, but we ended up stumbling across one called Boyd Cave which was open. It starts as a small hole in the ground with a stairway leading down. It then opens up into a huge Lava tube, which we followed until it ended at a cave-in about a half mile in. We found a nice camp spot on a nearby BLM road that night.

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Boyd Cave stairway entrance

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Inside Boyd Cave

The next day we went to a wilderness area just east of Bend called The Oregon Badlands. We went for a nice long trail run, making an ~11 mile loop out of the Ancient Juniper, Flatiron Rock, Castle, Badlands Rock, and Homesteader trails. We made it to Smith Rock later that day, and spent a nice few days hanging out with friends. We did a couple top-roping sessions at Rope-De-Dope, but between the rain and Gabe’s hurt elbow we couldn’t really do any serious climbs. We did take a nice scenic drive to go look at Steins Pillar in the Ochoco National Forest during the rainiest day. On our last day at Smith Rock, we ran the Summit Trail Loop, which is a great 7 mile trail run that takes you all over the park.

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Oregon Badlands

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Stupidly scenic Smith Rock

Originally we had planned on spending more time at Smith, and doing a lot of climbing, but with Gabe’s elbow still not in climbing condition we decided to explore some of the eastern half of the state, which aside for Joseph (northeast corner of OR) we had never been to. So on 5/23/16 we left Smith Rock and started heading toward Steens Mountain. We set up camp that night on a BLM road just west of Burns, OR. The next day we drove to the South Steens Campground on the west side of the mountain, and went for a short hike up the Big Indian Gorge trail. We camped that night at the campground.

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Cowboys and cows outside of Burns, OR

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Steens Mountain

We decided that instead of doing a longer hike on the west side of the mountain, we would drive a loop around the mountain to see the much steeper east face. We left the campground and headed to the small town of Fields, OR where we fueled up at the local gas station/grocery store/liquor store/restaurant/bar before driving north on the gravel road that parallels the east side of Steens Mountain. The Fields-Denino Road, is probably the most scenic road in Oregon. The huge east face of Steens dominates the view to the west, and the Alvord Desert, the driest place in Oregon, stretches out the east.

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East face of Steen’s

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Alvord Desert

The Prius was able to drive the whole road without any problems, and before we knew it we were back on pavement heading towards Crane, OR. We noticed a place called Crystal Crane Hotsprings on the map and decided to pull in. It ended up being a really nice hot spring, out in the middle of nowhere, surround by cow fields. The pool was big, deep, and hot, we definitely recommend it.

Next we decided we wanted to do a hike in the Blue Mountains, and decided on Strawberry Mountain. We drove to the Strawberry Basin trail head that evening, where there was a nice Forest Service campground that we stayed at. We hiked up Strawberry Mountain on 5/26/16, and loved it. The Strawberry Basin trail takes you past a lake, and 60 foot waterfall before heading up the mountain. There was still ice clinging to the edges of the waterfall, and a decent sized chunk had recently broken off. Snowline was still pretty low, and we spent most of the day hiking over firm spring snowfields. We got off route a couple times, and were glad to have a GPS with us as there were no tracks or trail markers to follow in the snow. We made it to the summit in just over 4 hours, and enjoyed intermittent views of the surrounding peaks through the clouds. After a quick hike down we started towards our next destination, the John Day Wilderness and Fossil Beds.

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Big ass piece of ice

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Strawberry Mountain

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Summit of Strawberry Mountain

We drove the Upper Middle Fork Road through the gorgeous Umatilla National Forest, where Melissa had spent a summer doing stream work as a undergraduate. We stopped for quick hike to Arch Rock. Arch Rock features an interpretive trail where we learned about Oregon’s prehistoric history. In a nutshell, 30 million years ago, Oregon used to be a warm tropical place home to many types of mammals. Then an increase in volcanic activity buried much of Oregon in ash and evidence of this volcanic past is everywhere in Eastern Oregon. The Arch itself is left over volcanic tuff.

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Arch Rock

After Arch Rock, we made our way to John Day, OR. We camped along the way at a free campground called Billy Fields USFS campground. The next day, 5/28/16, we went to the fossil beds. We stopped at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, which is an awesome free museum where we learned more about Oregon’s fascinating geological history. We then went for a hike up Blue Basin, which was a treat for the eyes. Next we drove the nearby Painted Hills, which was equally awesome.

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Inside Thomas Condon Paleontology Center

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Blue Basin

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Painted Hills

We left the John Day Fossil Beds with a new appreciation of our home state, and ended our eastern Oregon loop by driving west through Prineville and into the Cascade Mountains to meet our friend Dorian at the trailhead for Middle Sister. It was Memorial Day weekend, so the trailhead was pretty packed, we met up with Dory and camped there night, fending off hoards of mice that wanted to make the Prius their new home. The next morning we packed for two nights, strapped the skis on the packs, and headed out to Camp Lake. We made it to the lake fairly early in the day, and decided to a run on the slopes above the lake before calling it a day. We got up early (by our standards) to climb Middle Sister on Sunday, and enjoyed great snow conditions on both the way up and down. It was still early when we made it back to camp, so we decided to just hike out that day and stay with another friend in Sisters, OR. We got off route on the way down and ended up doing a little bushwacking to get back to the trail.

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Middle Sister

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Summit of Middle Sister

After a relaxing night in Sisters at our friends house (with a hot tub!) we drove to west to see friends and family in Eugene, Cape Blanco, Newport, Nehalem, and Ilwaco. After spending the week being social we were ready for a relaxing climb and ski of Mt. Adams in Washington. We made it (barely… the dirt road is not Prius friendly) to the South Climb trail head on 6/4/16 and camped there that night. The next day we were feeling pretty lazy, so instead of doing the whole mountain in a day, we decided to pack for one night and camp somewhere part way up. We didn’t make it very far before we found a great spot at treeline. We spent the whole day relaxing in the sun and enjoying the views.

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The next morning we were able to skin all the way to the summit via the popular South Spur route, we moved at pretty slow pace in the sweltering heat, but made it the top just after noon. The ski down was fun, and at ~6,500′ is the tallest ski descent we have ever done, but variable snow made it pretty tiring. We were pooped by the time we made it back to the car. We drove back down the Columbia Gorge that evening camped at the free Bridge of the Gods Boulder Camp. The next morning (6/7/16) we started driving to Bellingham, WA.

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Summit of Mount Adams

Gabe will be starting graduate school at Western Washington University this Fall, so we have spent the last couple weeks going back and forth between getting established here in Bellingham, and exploring the awesome North Cascades just east of town. On 6/8 and 6/9/16, we found some awesome free campgrounds along Boulder Creek, on the Boulder Creek TH road outside of Arlington, OR. At the end of the road is the Boulder Creek Trail. We explored a bit of this trail which features several waterfalls. On 6/10/16,  we drove the Mountain Loop highway from Darrington to Granite Falls, stopping to camp at a nice free roadside spot on the bank of the Sauk River near FR 4081.

On Monday,6/13/16, we left for a week of rainy hiking and camping on the Mt. Baker Highway. We camped at the Church Mountain trail head that night, and hiked most the way up Church Mountain the next morning, and to our surprise we were getting snowed on only a couple miles into the hike! We were in shorts and running shoes and turned around just past treeline where the fresh snow was already a few inches deep. We camped a second night at the trail head, continued our drive toward Mt. Baker on Wednesday. We drove to the Mt. Baker ski area that day, and enjoyed the awesome partial view of Mt. Shuksan’s north face in the rain/snow storm, and then went for a hike up Goat Mountain. We made it to where the maintained trail ended at viewpoint in an alpine meadow area just above treeline, but we didn’t feel inclined to go to the true summit which was still a ways away up slippery snow cover heather slopes. Instead we relaxed and enjoyed a nice break in the rain, and Mt. Baker finally poked it head out of the clouds for us! We camped that night at the Goat Mountain trail head.

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Church Mountain

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North face of Mount Shuksan

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Views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan from shoulder of Goat Peak

On Thursday morning, 6/16/16, we went back to the Mt. Baker ski area (the highway isn’t yet open beyond this point), and packed for 4 days of ski touring. It was pretty rainy when we left, but there was good weather in the forecast and we were optimistic. We set up camp near Iceberg Lake that night, and awoke to blue skies the next morning. We didn’t move camp very far on Friday. We made it to the start of Ptarmigan Ridge and were blown away by the amazing views in all directions. After setting up camp we skied the slope directly below us, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the sun and the views. Rain came in that night, by the morning our tent was starting to soak through. We waited for a few hours hoping it would clear up, but it just got worse and worse. We decided to call it quits, and packed up camp in a downpour. We made it back to the car pretty quick, cutting over to the closed road and following it back. We turned the heater on full blast and headed back to Bellingham.

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Approaching Iceberg Lake from Mt.Baker ski area

 

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Ski fun

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Killer sunset on Mt.Shuksan

On Monday, 6/20/16, we bought a 28 foot Irwin Sailboat to be our home while Gabe goes to grad school this fall. We spent the week cleaning the boat and turning it into our home. Gabe also finally went to a doctor about his elbow. On 4/20/16, Gabe hurt his elbow while we were climbing Royal Arches in Yosemite. We were worried that he may have torn something, but over the past 2 months, it had been getting better, SLOWLY. But the doctor thinks it is only a sprain, and will get better without surgery. We hope to be doing some easy alpine climbing soon!

On Saturday, 6/25/2016, we made our way to La Push on the Olympic Peninsula to meet Gabe’s sister Chel and her husband Kai. We camped on Rialto Beach and had a nice fire and drank a little too much whiskey. The next day we explored the beach and nearby sea stacks. It is a beautiful place that we definitely plan on exploring more. That afternoon, we were very eager to set up camp as soon as possible. We made it to the Heart of the Hills campground at the base of Hurricane Ridge, just inside the Olympic National Park, and spent the afternoon in our tent, recovering from the night before.

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Sunset on Rialto Beach, WA

The next day we wanted to summit something, so we decided on giving Mount Deception, the second tallest mountain in the range, a try. We hiked 7 miles to the very scenic Royal Lake that day and set up camp there. The next day we started off towards Mount Deception, or what we thought was Mount Deception. We didn’t really do our homework before starting the hike, and weren’t really sure where the route up was. We eventually decided which the correct mountain was, but ended up just picking our own route up. After some pretty nasty steep scree, and slushy snow slopes, we made it to some somewhat solid 4th class rock. We made our way up to the high point of the ridge separating Deception and its closest neighbor to the west, but the we were not able to connect the ridge to the summit due to some steep gendarmes, and/or snow slopes that we would have needed ice axes for… But we were pretty happy with our “summit” and the amazing views of the Olympic Mountains. We camped one more night at Royal Lake before hiking back to the car and returning to our new sailboat home in Bellingham.

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Lake Royal

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Tarn

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Mt.Deception in background

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Getting off the ridge

If your exhausted from reading this blogpost, imagine how we feel! We plan on spending a few weeks enjoying our new home and exploring the nearby North Cascades. We may have moved to Bellingham but the road trip is not over! More adventures to come.

-Alpine Monkeys

 

 

 

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Yosemite and NorCal

We made it to the Yosemite area on Saturday 4/16/16, but as we were driving through the town of Oakhurst we saw traffic signs warning of long delays getting into the park. The radio confirmed that we would have to sit in line for over an hour to get through the park gates, so when we saw the $8.00 PBR pitchers sign on the front of a bar, we decided to pull in and wait there instead. After killing a few hours at the bar we decided to just set up camp outside of Oakhurst for the night and enter the park the next morning. We found a great spot at an ATV trailhead a few miles north of town. We met up with our friend Peri, who was works in the park as a geologist, on Sunday and climbed the two pitch Golden Needle (5.8), and found a brand new BD #4 cam that someone had left on route! Afterwards we climbed a unknown single pitch sport climb nearby (5.9ish). Peri put us up in her spare room for the rest of the week, which was awesome because free car camping in Yosemite would have been tricky to find.

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Looking down at Peri and Gabe from the second pitch of Golden Needle

The next day we started the hike out to Half Dome. We decided to break our climb of Snake Dike (5.7 2000′) into two days to enjoy the scenery a bit more. We camped near Lost Lake, at the base of the mountain, in a beautiful patch of forest with a granite floor. We had just started to make our morning coffee when a group of two passed through our camp on their way to Snake Dike. We wanted to be first on route, so we ate and packed quickly and started racing after them. We passed them on the approach slabs, and were starting up the first pitch by the time they got to the route.

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Vernal Falls on the mist trail in Yosemite

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Half Dome, the Snake Dike route is on the left.

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South Face of Half Dome, near where we camped.

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Pretty tree near camp.

The climb was one of the most fun we have ever done. Pitch after pitch of moderate granite slab and dike climbing. Gabe got off route a little on the second pitch, climbing up instead of traversing right, but some spooky downclimbing and traversing brought him back on route. After that we were able to switch leads for the rest of the climb. After the end of the technical pitches we simul climbed for awhile before unroping and walking to the top.

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Looking down the first pitch of Snake Dike.

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Somewhere on the Snake Dike climb.

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Looking up the Dike.

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Near the top on Snake Dike.

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Packing up the rope to walk to the summit.

The summit of half dome has to be the one of the best views in Yosemite. You can see the whole valley, and tons of the surrounding peaks, but the view looking up Tenaya Canyon to the north was what really blew us away. We descended the cables, which weren’t “up” but were still in place. We just clipped into one cable at a time with a long runner and belayed ourselves down, much like descending a fixed rope. We made it back to camp, packed up, and hiked out well before dark.

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Snow field near the summit of Half Dome

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On top of Half Dome!

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Tenaya Canyon from the top of Half Dome

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Descending the cables.

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Tenaya Canyon on the way down Half Dome.

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The back side of Half Dome

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Melissa decided that this little tree is what split the boulder in half

The next day we decided to rest, and explore the park a little more instead of climbing. Our plan for the following day was to link the Royal Arches climb with the South Face route on North Dome, a really long day with a total of 26 pitches and a lot of hiking, route finding, and rappelling. After scoping out the parking and approach for Royal Arches, we drove up to glacier point (the road had just opened that day) and found a nice secluded view point a few hundred feet downhill from the hand rails and hoards of people. We relaxed up there until sunset while Melissa painted and Gabe played gameboy.

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Waterfall at the base of Royal Arches.

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Mr. Bobcat hunting the fat Yosemite Valley squirrels.

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Our secluded spot near Glacier Point.

On Wednesday 4/20/16, we got up at 4:30am to start our long day of climbing. We started up Royal Arches just after sunrise, but we weren’t climbing as fast as we had hoped. We decided pretty early on that we were not going to be climbing North Dome that day, and instead decided to enjoy the 17 pitch Royal Arches at a relaxed pace. The route finding was strait forward, but there was a lot of flowing water on route still. We were able to avoid it until the pendulum pitch, were we got a little wet, but not too bad.

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Somewhere on the Royal Arches climb.

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The wet traverse right after the pendulum pitch on Royal Arches.

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Almost to the top!

We swung leads the whole way and everything went great until just before the top when Gabe’s left elbow started to feel funny. By the time we reached the top of the climb he was in a lot of pain and his arm was swelling. We had no idea what was wrong, and the pain kept getting worse. We suspected a poisonous bug bite, and started rappelling immediately. Each rappel was more painful than the last, and eventually Gabe was in so much pain that Melissa had to do everything from coiling and throwing the ropes to clipping and unclipping Gabe from the anchors, even feeding the rope in and out of his rappel device. The fact that some of the rappel stations were hanging (no ledge to stand on) made things difficult. To add insult to injury we got off route on the rappel, but we eventually made it down without having to leave any gear.

We made it to the medical clinic in Yosemite Valley right before it closed. The doctors were baffled, and didn’t think it was a bug bite, but had no idea what it was. Ice and pain killers did the trick, and Gabe was able to sleep fine that night. The next day, with Gabes arm in a sling, we decided to just find a nice beach on the Merced River to relax and enjoy the scenery.

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Really cool spot to get away from the crowds in the valley.

Our plan had been to head to June Lake near Mammoth, CA to go skiing with some of Melissa’s cousins for the weekend, and then return to Yosemite for another week of climbing. But between Gabe’s hurt arm, and the snow storm that was currently hammering the Sierra’s, making travel over passes slow and sketchy, we decided to start making our way to the coast. We stopped in Sacramento to see Melissa’s grandma on the way. We made it to Big Sur on 4/25/16, and were happy to see that it does, for the most part, live up to the hype. Maybe not the most beautiful coast in the world (southern OR coast is way better), but probably the best in California.

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Sunset at Big Sur

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We found a great camp spot just past Plaskett Creek campground on Plaskett Ridge Road. We were up on a grassy perch a few hundred feet above sea level, and had amazing views of the coast line in both directions. We stayed two nights there, enjoying the nearby beach access. We were informed by a wandering hippy that rolled into our camp and offered us a beer that the spot we were camping at is called Cowabunga Camp, and is usually used by surfers because of the great views of nearby breaks. He also recommended Willow Creek Beach, where there are nearby waterfalls. We had also read of a boondocking site near here.

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Serpentine cliffs and sandy beaches at Big Sur.

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I busted this hippy doing yoga by the beach.

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Big Sur squirrel

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One of the best free car camping spots ever.

On 4/27/16 we headed up the coast to Pfieffer Big Sur State Park to start the hike out to Sykes Hot Springs. It was a beautiful hike through a very unique forest with a mixture of desert and coastal plants, even some huge redwoods! We started the 9 mile hike in the rain, which only lasted for an hour or so, but we think it did wonders for keeping the crowds down. There are four campgrounds along the way, we decided to camp at the Sykes campground, the closest to the pools. The hot springs are small, and not super hot, but the setting is gorgeous, and we were lucky enough to have them to ourselves the following morning. We camped one more night on the way back, at the Barlow Flats camp, which is nestled in a patch of big redwoods.

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Vertical panorama of a huge tree on the way to Sykes Hot Spring

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Sykes Hot Springs

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Our camp at Sykes

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Big Sur River

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Barlow Flats Campground

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The view from Pine Ridge Trail on the way to Sykes

After Big Sur, we went north to San Fransisco to spend the weekend our good friend Tracey. We had a great time in the big city, and then made our way to the Lake Tahoe area. Melissa has friends in Truckee, but we decided to camp one night before going into town. We found a nice spot off of highway 89 about 12 miles north of Truckee called Kyburz Flat. We spent the next couple days with our Truckee friends. We had originally planned on doing some rock climbing and skiing in the area, but Gabe’s arm was still not working. On 5/3/16 we drove the loop around Lake Tahoe, stopping to do short hikes, and to check out some of the beaches along the way. Our favorite spot was Secret Cove on the east side of the lake.

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Big yummy looking grouse near Lake Tahoe

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Lake Tahoe

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Speedboat Beach at Tahoe

We left Truckee on 5/4/16 to start making our way back to the coast. We drove through Reno, NV and then back into California through the Mt. Lassen area. We stopped at a Mt. Lassen viewpoint right as a thunder storm was starting, and had fun watching the lighting and mountain scenery. We took highway 299 through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest during a heavy rain downpour with constant lightning and thunder. We had toyed with the idea of doing a hike in the Trinity Alps before going to the coast, but it didn’t look like the weather was going to cooperate. We found a great spot to camp on the banks of the North Fork Trinity River, off of East Fork Road. The rain stopped right after we set up camp, and we went for a nice walk up the road through a very diverse forest with tons of flowering plants in bloom.

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Thunder storm over Mt. Lassen

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Sweet camp spot on East Fork Road off of highway 299.

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North Fork of the Trinity

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Shasta-Trinity National Forest

The next day we made it to the coast, and had a nice time stopping at a few beaches as we slowly made our way north into Oregon. We camped that night on an old logging road near the Rouge River outside the town of Gold Beach, OR. On 5/6/16 we started the drive towards Medford, OR, but stopped for a couple short hikes in the redwoods along highway 199. We camped on the Illinois River, near the town of Selma, that night a small campground that we had to ourselves. We are now in Medford getting some family time in before heading to central Oregon.

 

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Until our next adventure!

AlpineMonkeys

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Red Rock Canyon to Zion, and back again

Viva Las Vegas!

On Friday, 3/25/2016, we left Phoenix and made our way to the city of sin. We were meeting friends and family for some weekend fun.

On Sunday we said our farewells and headed out into the desert with our friend Danny who had flown down from Juneau, AK. Our plans were to climb in Red Rock Canyon, a well establish climbing area outside of Vegas. It turns out getting out of Vegas is just as difficult as trying to get out of a Vegas casino! The road to Red Rock Canyon was closed temporarily due to a car accident. There are many desert mountains surrounding the city and we thought it would be easy to navigate to some blm land. There are lots of dirt roads leading out into the surrounding desert hills in the suburbs in the outskirts of the city, however the road are barricaded by cement blocks! So we were stuck waiting for the Red Rock Canyon highway to reopen. Luckily, we didn’t have too much longer after our search for an alternative route into the mountains. We were able to pitch our tents in a dirt pull out a few miles past the Red Rock Canyon scenic loop.

On Tuesday, 3/29/2016, we decided to pay for camping and stay at the Red Rock Campground for a couple nights since it would be more convenient for climbing. The following day we took Danny on his first ever rock climb! Since this would be Danny’s first experience on rock, and he was climbing in his tennis shoes, we decided on a fun and easy classic, the 6 pitch Cat in the Hat (5.6). This would also be the Melissa’s first time leading an entire multi-pitch route.

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Mescalito, our favorite ally

 

 

 

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Melissa leading on Cat in the Hat

We finished the route early in the afternoon. But, since we were all battling colds, we headed back to camp to relax. Gabe and Danny battled it out over rounds of Magic The Gathering, while Melissa sedated herself with cold medicine.

The following day, we drove Danny to the airport. Melissa was still feeling pretty terrible, so we decided to get a cheap room at a hostel in Vegas and get some rest. The next day, we decided to drive towards Zion National Park, located in the southwest corner of Utah. Along the way, we decided to stop in St. George, UT, another well-known climbing town. We decided on an area known as the Prophesy Wall, a great little wall with a lot of moderate multi-pitch, and free camping!

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Prophesy Wall, St.George UT

 

We arrived on Friday, 4/1/2016, and set up camp. Melissa was still feeling pretty sick, so we didn’t climb any routes that day. The following day, we climbed a few variations of the multi-pitch route, Sticky Revelations (5.10a) and Gordian Knot (5.10d). We ended the day early so Melissa could get some more rest.

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Pitch 2 of Sticky Revalations

 

On Sunday, 4/3/2016, we drove to Zion National Park and hiked Hidden Canyon. The beauty of Zion’s giant sandstone walls and lush vegetation blew us away. That evening we camped off of Kolob Terrace Rd. There is lots of free camping along this road and much of it is along the river.

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The following day we did the famous Angel’s Landing hike, known for its exposure along a knife-edge ridge. There were many people on the trail, and most of them were clinging to the cable as they hiked along the ridge. We were quite comfortable with the exposure, and found the people to be another fun obstacle along the ridge.

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Melissa was still battling a cold the next day, so instead of climbing we took a scenic drive through the park that included driving through a very long tunnel. Afterwards, we made our way to Limekiln Canyon. This is a climbing area located outside of Mesquite, NV, in Arizona. Another climber in Saint George suggested we check it out. This place is definitely a hidden gem! Beautiful lime stone in a desert setting. All of the plants were in full bloom. There was free camping minutes from the base of the climbs, and it was relatively uncrowded. Limekiln Canyon is made up of 3 walls which offer very long single pitch and many multi-pitch routes. We stuck to the Sacred Trust Wall. We climbed Office Party, a 6 pitch sport climb (5.10a), and are finally at a point where we can switch leads! This was Melissa’s first 5.10a lead. We then climbed Simple Truths, a 5 pitch sport route (5.10c).

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Limekiln Canyon

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Melissa leading her first 5.10a sport climb

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View from top of Sacred Trust Wall, Limekiln Canyon

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Cactus and anchor

Afterwards, we packed up camped and made our way back to Red Rock Canyon. That evening we camped in the same pull out we had camped at with Danny. Before settling in, we decided to make sure we would be able to get to the trailhead of Epinephrine, the 13 pitch classic (5.9) we wanted to climb. But, it turned out that the road was not Prius friendly. That evening we changed our plan, and decided to climb Crimson Chrysalis, a 9 pitch 5.8+ classic. This is a very popular route, so we picked out a plan B, Ginger Cracks, a nearby 7 pitch 5.9 that at 900 feet was only 100 feet shorter than CC.

The next morning we entered the park at 6:10am, just 10 minutes after opening. We hiked out to CC, certain that we would be the first party there. Alas, two older gentlemen had beaten us! We could of waited, but it didn’t appear they would be very quick to climb, as one guy was explaining some basics of climbing to his partner. So we hurried over to Ginger Cracks. Luckily, we were the first party at the base of the climb. But another climbing party showed up shortly after; we were happy to have the head start!

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Melissa at the top of first pitch of Gingercracks

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Melissa leading second half of second pitch on Gingercracks

Ginger Cracks ended up being a really fun and unique climb, as it was a nice mix of crack and face climbing with bomber protection the entire way. We accidentally split the second pitch into two pitches when Gabe traversed off route towards a bolted rappel anchor, but other than that the route finding was strait forward and every pitch was fun. The climb doesn’t go all the way to the top of the rock formation, but does end on the top of a cool little separated pinnacle. The descent was strait forward, but we did get the rope stuck on the first rappel, we recommend splitting it into two (intermediate anchor is obvious) to avoid climbing an extra 70′ dirty 5.8 chimney pitch to retrieve your stuck rope… We didn’t bring tennis shoes with us, and really wished we had because the rappel spits you off on the backside of the Ginger Buttress, a couple hundred yards from the start. Foot pain aside, it was a very enjoyable climb, and we will definitely be back to check out some more of Red Rock Canyon’s long and unique routes.

We celebrated the successful climb with another night in Vegas. We were able to score a cheap room at Circus Circus and spent the evening exploring and people watching.

After about a week in southern California with friends and family we got back on the road.

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Point Vincent, Southern California

On Thursday, 4/14/2016, we had plans to spend the weekend climbing in Joshua Tree. However, high wind warnings made us reconsider. Instead of putting up with dust storms, we took relief in the mountains of Sequoai National Park. That evening we camped for free along Southfork road, just outside the park in Three Rivers. The next day we camped at Buckeye Flat campground inside the park and enjoyed playing in the woods and hiking out to General Sherman, the largest tree (by volume) in the world!

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Melissa and General Sherman

That evening we ended up sharing our campsite with a bicyclist from France. He too had been on the road for awhile, his travels included biking in New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, and he was just beginning his tour in the U.S.. On 4/16/2016, we wished him well and continued through the park. We thought about doing some climbing in Sequoia, but decided to continue on to Yosemite. But, we did venture up Moro Rock and were treated to some incredible views!

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Top of Moro Rock

After a few days in Sequoia, we made our way to Yosemite! We came in on highway 41 from Fresno on Saturday 4/16/2016 and camped for free just outside the park on Miami Rd, an ATV recreation road.

Yosemite adventures to follow!

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Arizona!

After spending close to a month in Utah (which wasn’t nearly enough time) our next destination was Arizona. We had plans to meet Melissa’s brother in the Grand Canyon, but still had a few days to kill. While browsing the interwebs for Arizona rock climbing, we stumbled across a place called Paradise Forks in Sycamore Canyon, just west of Flagstaff.  We made it to Flagstaff, Arizona on 3/13/2016. When you think of Arizona, you probably think of desert and cacti, but the Flagstaff area is a beautiful oasis in the desert of the southwest, and is surrounded by mountains, ponderosa pine forests, rivers, and waterfalls.

When we arrived at Paradise Forks, we got right to business, and had enough time to climb 3 routes on the Pillow Wall. All of the climbs here are accessed by rappelling in, and then climbing back out to the top of the basalt rimrock. We have a 60m static line that we fixed in place at a good spot for rappelling in, so that we wouldn’t have to set it up each time. The climbs were short, and a little painful on the feet (we are not really warmed up to splitter type crack climbing yet), but really fun.

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Melissa in 3 yogis area

 

We camped in a big flat area between the parking lot and the climbs. It was a great spot with a nice fire pit, and plenty of space to set up the slack line! The next day we climbed to complete exhaustion. Nine routes in all, from 5.8 to 5.10d (we climbed the 5.10d twice!), and our favorite by far was East of Eden (5.10b). We were sore for days afterward.

The drive to Grand Canyon from Flagstaff was quick, and we made it there with ample time to find a great free camp spot just outside the park boundary on North John Road. We had planned on spending the next night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but were not able to get permits for backcountry camping in the park so we decided to do our whole planned backpacking trip in a day, hiking down into the canyon via the South Kaibab Trail and up the Bright Angel Trail.

It turned out to be much quicker and easier than we had thought. We started from the South Kaibab trailhead at 7:30 am and ran down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon in an hour. We were surprised by how green and lush it was in the canyon. We ran/hiked along the river to the Indian Springs campground and took a break for lunch there. Indian Springs was gorgeous, a true oasis with streams, big trees, and tons of flowering plants that were in full bloom. From there it was a couple hours of switchbacks up the Bright Angel trail to the south rim of the canyon. The whole 16 mile hike took 5 hours and 18 minutes. Leaving plenty of time for us to head to the Mathers campground, where Melissa’s brother had reserved a spot, and set up the hammocks and relax. We ended the day by watching the sunset over the Grand Canyon.

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Grand Sunset

Melissa’s brother and sister-in-law weren’t able to make it to the Grand Canyon, so the next day (3/17/2016) we decided to make moves south to Sedona. We drove through Oak Creek Canyon, a beautiful area that also has rock climbing. We would of loved to stop and spend some time in the area, but there was no way to get away with free camping in this corridor.

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Oak Creek Climbing Area

Turns out there also isn’t an easy spot to get away with free camping in Sedona either. The spring break crowds were also out in full force. After scoping out a few climbing areas in Sedona, we decided to head to Cochise Stronghold, a climbing area outside of Tucson.  On our way, we found a well known free camping site (mostly RVers) in west Tucson, a block of blm land just on the corner of Ajo hwy and South San Joaqin rd. This was also our first night of camping with warm night time temperatures!

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Boondocking in Tucson

On 3/18/2016 we made it to East Cochise Stronghold, which is located west of Tucson. It is a beautiful area with granite walls and a unique mix of forest and desert plants. While there is a campground located there, we opted for a free blm site. We set up camp and then set out to try and find some some rock climbing located in an area known as Entrance Dome. Unfortunately, without a guidebook or any knowledge of the area we couldn’t find any obvious routes, so we headed to the Zappa Wall, an area with a number of sport climbs. We climbed a few routes, but we were tired from hiking around Entrance Dome and the hot temperatures drained our souls, so we decided to head back to camp. We did a little exploring and found a nice rock alcove with bolted lines right behind our camp and made plans to climb there before we left.

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The following day we went out to climb a multi-pitch route in the Rockfellow Group, but found that the area was closed to climbing for raptor nesting March 1 – July. So we spent the day climbing at the Zappa Wall. Melissa led Token of My Extreme (5.5), Strictly Commercial (5.7) and Mudshark (5.7+). Gabe led One Size Fits All (5.8), Excentrifugal Forz (5.8+), and Grand Wazoo (5.9). Then the heat of the afternoon got to us and we made our way back to camp to relax in our hammocks.

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On 3/20/2016, we climbed the sport climbs behind our camp. The area is actually known as Vineyards Clove. We then packed up camp and made our way to Phoenix, where we would be spending the week with Melissa’s dad and stepmom. We had made plans to show up in Phoenix on Saturday and when we left Cochise Stronghold we did think it was Saturday. Turns out 3/20 was Sunday! Whoops. Sorry Dad!

After 3 weeks of camping, we were excited and ready to spend some time being inside kitties at Melissa’s dads’. We had a great time visiting with family, eating yummy food, and relaxing. Melissa’s dad even took us out on a little 4WD Jeep adventure up to the top of Four Peaks. We would of loved to stay for a few more days, but we had plans to meet up with some friends and family in Las Vegas! So on Friday 3/25/2016, we packed up our recently washed Prius and hit the road.

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Utah!

We left Alta on 2/27/16 and made our way to Fith Water Hotsprings. The road to the trailhead is closed during winter, adding another 4 miles to the hike in (6.5 miles total). We took our friend Lee’s advice and walked past the first hot pools and were able to find a small, private pool with a flat camp spot right next to it!

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Our sweet camp spot with our own private hot spring pool

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The good life

The next morning we hiked out and made our way to the Robber’s Roost area near  Goblin Valley where we were meeting our friends Lee and Gavin at Bluejohn Canyon Granary Springs Trailhead. The trailhead is marked by a dilapidated ranch building spray painted “BJ’s Motel 6.”

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On the way to Bluejohn Canyon

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Nice accommodations at the trailhead

Lee and Gavin arrived the morning of 2/29/16 and we decided to explore a small portion of Bluejohn Canyon. From Motel 6, we headed northeast to a wash and followed the drainage north to Bluejohn Canyon. While a rope is recommend, we were able to downclimb to the canyon floor.

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Entrance of Bluejhon from Google Earth

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Entering Bluejohn Canyon

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In the Canyon

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We hiked to a fork in the canyon where we went left and explored until it things got steep and we turned back. We explored the main part of the canyon a little further before turning back for the day. Slithering up back up the mouth of the canyon definitely proved to be the crux of the day!

We had planned on hiking the entire length of the Bluejohn Canyon the following day, but we weren’t sure that we enough gas for the car shuttle, and we were all pretty wiped out from our explorations the day before. So we opted for a mellow 8 mile excursion and hiked Little Wild Horse Canyon to Bell Canyon. That evening we were able to find a nice free campground outside of Goblin Valley… but not before playing around on some nearby mud castles.

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Little Wild Horse Canyon

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Weird mud-rock near Goblin Valley

The next day (3/2/16), we said goodbye to our friends and continued on to Moab. We checked out the dinosaur fossils and tracks on Mill Canyon Road. These fossils are on BLM land, with several spots for free camping! This would be our base camp while we were in Moab.

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Dinosaur vertebrate

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Dino Tracks!

Before picking a spot to camp, we decided to check out Wallstreet, the major roadside crag in Moab, located on Potash Road. Gabe led Stego Slab (5.9) and we top roped the crack to the right.

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Potash road

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Stego-Slab

On 3/3/2016 we climbed Elephant Butte, the tallest point in Arches National Park. It was an interesting climb, involving a rappel and some canyon slithering on the way up! We brought our rock shoes, but were able to make the final scramble to the summit in our tennis shoes.

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Approach canyon (left) for Elephant Butte

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Upper half of the Elephant Butte Climb

We made it back to the car pretty early and decided to climb a couple of the nearby desert towers. Gabe led the pitch to the summit of Owl Rock (5.8) and Melissa led the West Chimney (5.7) on Bullwinkle Tower.

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Owl Rock

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Bullwinkle Tower

3/4/2016 marked 6 months since we left Juneau, Ak. We celebrated by climbing Offbalanced Rock. We climbed the Northeast Chimney (5.8R). The chimney pitch was definitely Type II fun, but the views from the summit made the struggle up worth it. Afterward, we went for a short trail run around Thurret Arch, North and South Window, and Double Arch.

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Inside the chimney on Off-balance Rock

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Summit of Off-balance Rock

We finished off the day at Potash, where Gabe led Seibernetics (5.8+). We then decided to drive out to Sunshine Wall to camp and climb.

The Prius wasn’t able to make it all the way to the camp spots at the base of the climbs, so on 3/5/2016 we had to hike about 2.5 miles to Baker’s Slab at Sunshine Wall. We spent the day climbing slab. This was Melissa’s first time climbing slab rock and we both really enjoyed it. We started the day with Melissa leading Learning Curve (5.7). Gabe led the rest of climbs, including, Love Hurts (5.9), Lesson in Braille (5.10c), Mosquito Coast (5.8R) and Unknown (5.9+).

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Our camp spot, and route to Sunshine Wall

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View from the belay ledge at Sunshine

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Our camp on Salt Valley Rd. near Sunshine Wall

We knew rain was in the forecast and we would need to get up early to make sure we could get the Prius off the dirt roads or risk getting stuck. We decided to take a rest day and explore the north part of Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky. This section of Canyonlands is absolutely gorgeous. It sits high on a plateau and overlooks deep canyons carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers. Someday, we would love to come back with a 4WD vehicle and explore the White Rim Road.

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On 3/7/2016 we decided to explore the rest of Arches National Park. We started our day by jogging out to Delicate Arch (3 miles). Then, we jogged the full Devil’s Garden loop, including Dark Angel and Private Arch. We got a little off route and ended up jogging a little over 9 miles. We finished up our arch tour by walking out to Broken Arch and Sand Dune Arch (2 miles).

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We spent the next half day climbing at Potash Road. Melissa led Snake’s Slab (5.8), Brown Banana (5.9), and Gabe led 30 seconds over Potash (5.8), Nervous in Suburbia (5.10a), and Banana Peel (5.10a).

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30 Seconds Over Potash

Afterward, we headed to the free campground at the trailhead for Castle Valley. We had plans to climb the Kor-Ingalls Route (5.9+) on Castleton Tower the next day.

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Castleton Tower, the route we climbed is the shaded corner on the right side of the tower

On 3/9/2016, we got an early start and made it to the base of the Kor-Ingalls Route in an hour. We roped up for the 4th class scramble to the base of the first pitch. Melissa led the first pitch, a 5.7 chimney followed by a 5.4 chimney. Gabe led the next two pitches, a 5.8+ off-width and a 5.9 off-width and chimney. These pitches were a bit awkward and grunty, but protected well. Melissa attempted to lead the last pitch, which our guidebook said was a 5.7. However, we were off route, and on a 5.9 variation of the final pitch. Melissa ended up down climbing back from a very awkward overhanging off-width move to allow Gabe to finish the pitch. The top was spacious and had a fun summit registry.

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looking up the crux pitch

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Summit of Castleton

We camped another night at the Castle Valley campground, and the next day drove up the road to Fisher Towers to climb the Stolen Chimney route on Ancient Art. We heard that this route can be quite popular and parties often have to wait in line to climb. Luckily, we were able to get an early start and were the 2nd party on the route! Gabe led all four pitches and we had a blast. The last pitch is a fun, airy experience to the summit of one the most bizarre rock formations we have ever seen.

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Ancient Art

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The corkscrew summit on Ancient Art

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Hanging out on the diving board before heading to the top

After hiking around to see the rest of the Fisher Towers, we headed back to break down our camp and make our way south. We decided we would stop at Indian Creek on our way to the Needles District of Canyonlands. Indian Creek is a crack climbing destination known for needing LOTS of gear. We weren’t really planning on climbing here because we didn’t have enough gear for most of the routes. However, there was one slab wall with sport routes!

We found a free campspot outside Bridger Jacks campground and on 3/11/2016 we checked out the Friction Slab wall. Melissa led the bolted line on the far right of the wall and we top roped another route from that anchor. Gabe then led the bolted line to the left. We then found a mystery crack in a corner near a pullout on the east side of the highway just past Friction Slab. It was a fun 5.9-ish crack that varied in size from fingers to off-width. Afterward, we checked out two of the major walls at Indian Creek, Super Crack and Battle of the Bulge. We would definitely love to climb here someday with some friends so we can combine racks!

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Unknown crack climb near the friction slab a Indian Creek

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That evening we moved to another free camp spot on BLM land, located just past the Hamburger Campground outside the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. The next day (3/12/2016) we jogged the 11 mile Chesler Park-Joint Loop Trail. This was a beautiful trail that provided breathtaking views of the towering pinnacles The Needles district is known for.

We had a great time during our three weeks in Utah. From the Wasatch Mountains to the desert of Moab, Utah has some beautiful landscapes. The desert was a wild change of scenery after spending most of our time in snow covered mountain-scapes since September. We will definitely be back to Moab in the future, and we recommend it as one of the best places to visit for easy living, and a wide variety of things to do, especially in the cooler temperatures of early March.

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

 

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Montana and Alta, UT

After our weekend ski trip in the Wallowas, we began to make our way to Bozeman, MT. We stopped along the way at Lolo Hotsprings, near the border of Idaho and Montana. Once we got to Missoula, MT, we decided to make a detour up to Glacier National Park and Whitefish to visit an old friend of Melissa’s. Winter camping in Glacier National Park is free; So we camped along the shore of Mcdonald Lake on Wednesday, 2/10/16. The next day we did a short hike out to Mcdonald Falls before heading into Whitefish.

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View from camp at McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park

We finally made it to Bozeman, MT, on Friday (2/12/16). We are lucky to have a lot of friends from Juneau living in Bozeman right now, and were able to make a home base in Tony and Dana’s basement. The weather was unusually warm for this time of year, so we didn’t waste any time and got right to ice climbing the next day.

We climbed at Hyalite Canyon with our friends Tony and Miles on Saturday, mainly top-roping in the G1 area, but also climbing G2 (after a bushwacking adventure looking for a climb called Hangover).

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Gabe and Tony on G1 Wall

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Gabe leading up the G2 Wall

On Sunday we went out by ourselves and tried to find Hangover again… We bushwacked around until finally settling on climbing G2 again, and then heading over to the Mummy Cooler area. We tried to climb The Septor, but Gabe bailed off a V-thread about 20 ft up due to rotten ice and soar calf muscles. We finished the day by taking a couple laps on Mummy 2.

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The Scepter

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The Scepter (left) and Mummy 2 (right)

On Monday, Tony joined us for some more Hyalite fun. We went to The Amphitheater area and climbed Switchback Falls, and then top-roped the two mixed climbs left of it.

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Gabe climbing mixed climb left of Switchback Falls

Next we climbed Fat Chance, and top-roped the mixed climb to the right of it.

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Tony leading Fat Chance

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Tony on mixed climb right of Fat Chance

After a rest day, we went back to Hyalite on Wednesday, 2/16, and climbed The Dribbles. The Dribbles is an awesome four pitch WI4 a few miles back in the canyon. The ice was really rotten on the third pitch, but aside from that we had a blast.

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The Dribbles

On Thursday, we were treated to a day of riding the lifts at Big Sky/Moonlight by our friend Brad, who works as a ski patroller there. The day started off a little bumpy and icy, but then the lifts were shut down for a half hour due to lightning. It began to really snow during the storm hold. It was amazing how much just a half hour of snow improved conditions! We ended up skiing until the lifts closed.

On Friday 2/19 we started the drive towards Alta, UT, but not before a splendid visit to the Museum of the Rockies. We HIGHLY recommend stopping by this museum if you are in Bozeman. It has one of the largest dinosaur collections in the world and a planetarium! The admission ticket is good for two days and includes the planetarium shows – definitely well worth the cost!

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Somewhere between Bozeman, MT and Alta, UT

We arrived at Alta on Sunday (2/21) where we stayed with our good friend Lee who works on the mountain as a CAT driver. We had a great day riding the lifts with him on Monday, but all the traversing, mixed with difficult snow conditions, led to us getting our butts kicked hard. We were so tired the next day that Melissa took a rest day while Gabe just skied one run in the sidecountry with Lee.

On Wednesday we headed out into the backcountry of the Wasatch Range for a three-day skiing/mountaineering trip. We got off route on our way to Red Pine Lake and ended up spending most of the day getting there. But our beautiful camp spot on a ridge above the lake was well worth the effort. The next day we set off for our primary goal of the trip, the Pfeifferhorn.

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Our camp spot above Red Pine Lake, in the Wasatch Range

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Gabe on the ridge heading up to the Pfeifferhorn

The route up was a nice mix of ridge walking and steep snow. We made it up and down with plenty of time left to make a few ski runs in the bowl above camp. The following morning we did two more great ski runs before heading back down to the car.

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Fun skiing right next to camp

We are going to spend one more night at Alta before making our way to the Moab area for some desert canyoneering and rock climbing!

Until our next adventure!

AlpineMonkeys

 

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OREGON COUNTRY

We only got a few hours of sleep in before we made our way to Ilwaco for a short visit with Gabe’s dad on January 1st. We had been checking the weather for Mount Hood, a mountain that we have tried to climb together in previous years but never got the weather window. But, the weather was on our side this time and that evening we drove to the Timberline Lodge. We tried to catch some sleep on the floor of the climber’s cave, a room with heated floors where Mount Hood climbers register. With climbers coming in throughout the night, we weren’t able to get much rest. While many climbers chose to start there climb in the wee hours of the morning, we opted for a late start and got up at 7:30 am (on 1/2/16). We were heading up the mountain by 8:30 am.

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Mount Hood

 

It was a beautiful sunny day, but very cold and windy! We caught up to a group of four at the top of the Palmer lift. At an elevation of ~7,000, conditions began to change from hard snow to ice. It was here that we took a short break and put on our crampons. We were both exhausted from getting very little sleep in the two nights prior, but were able to stay just ahead of the group of 4. We took quite a few breaks and to be honest, we weren’t even sure we would have the energy to make it to the top. But at the end of each break, Melissa would encourage us to go a little further, and before we knew it we were right below the Hog’s Back in Devil’s Kitchen. This bowl is aptly named Devil’s Kitchen because of the prominent fumaroles. This area of Mount Hood is quite stunning, with steam rising out of fermal holes and surrounded by large rime ice formations that tower up from the summit ridge. With the summit in sight, it was impossible for us not to want to continue on to the top!

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Devil’s Kitchen

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To the left is Old Chute, to the right is the Pearly Gates.

We could see climbers ahead of us who had chosen the “Old Chute” which is the standard route most years, and no one had yet attempted the Pearly Gates, a route that takes you through a narrow gulley between large formations of rime ice. With climbers coming down the standard route, we decided we would go up through the Pearly Gates and the climbers we had passed followed. The route was in great condition, and we were able to kick steps in the steep snow all the way through.

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Melissa coming up through the Pearly Gates.

We reached the summit, just beating a climber who had come up the Old Chute. With the other climbing group coming up the Pearly Gates behind us, we decided we would go down via the Old Chute. This required following the ridge west from the summit, which was very exposed to the high winds, and down climbing some steep snow and ice. It definitely felt a little trickier than our route up! But, we made it safely back down to Devil’s Kitchen and hiked down as the sun was setting.

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Approaching the summit of Hood with Jefferson in the background.

It was an awesome experience to finally climb Mount Hood together. Hood is a very important mountain to Gabe, who has climbed it many times. Melissa also loved climbing this mountain, which was very different from the peaks we climbed together in Alaska.

After Hood, we spent time visiting with friends and family. On Friday, 1/22, we headed to Smith Rock for the weekend. We met up with some friends and spent the weekend climbing. On Saturday, we spend the day in the Dihedrals and Melissa got in some lead climbing on the easier routes. On Sunday, we had some ambitious plans of completing an aid route on the west face of the Monkey Face and camping in the cave. However, it had been awhile since Gabe had aid climbed and it took him longer than expected. We had only completed the first pitch when Gabe decided we should just rappel back down. It is really pretty funny because we ended up carrying so much gear up over misery ridge (camping and a full aid climbing rack) for only one pitch and then carried all the gear back over to the bivy. “Good training!” as Gabe often says.

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Beautiful Smith Rock from the west face of Monkey Face.

 

 

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Melissa loving aid climbing.

With good weather in the forecast, we decided to stick around and climb on Monday too. We mostly climbed easy to moderate single pitch routes and climbed up until, and even a little after, it was dark.

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Gabe coming up the second pitch of Cinnamon Slab.

On Tuesday (1/26), we made our way to the coast. We did stop for a quick walk at McDowell Creek Falls, just east of Lebanon. It is a beautiful and short hike with four waterfalls, and it was a nice way to break up the driving from Smith Rock to Corvallis, where we made a stop to have dinner with friends before driving to Newport.

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First waterfall on the trail.

On Saturday (1/30) we tried to summit Kings Mountain in coast range via the east ridge with our friends Dorian and Betsy. We ended up bushwhacking in the rain up the wrong ridge. Luckily, we decided to turn around before getting too far up, and made it back to the car in the daylight. It was definitely a type 2 fun day. The next day we went backcountry skiing with Dorian in the Mount Hood area. This was much more enjoyable, although Gabe did crack one of his ski bindings. But, the binding was not all the way broken, and Gabe was still able to ski all day.

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Backcountry fun near Mount Hood.

From the Portland area we made our way to Joseph, Oregon. Gabe has family in Joseph, and the Wallowa Mountains are where Gabe first began adventuring in the mountains. After spending a few days visiting with family, we headed out the East Fork of the Wallowa River to spend a weekend backcountry skiing. We left Friday (2/5) and made camp about two miles shy of Aneroid Lake. Gabe’s cracked binding ended up breaking further on this first day. Luckily, the binding was okay as long as it was in downhill mode. It was ok, but it made uphill travel awkward for Gabe who looked like he was limping up the slopes. On Saturday, we set up a base camp in a meadow beneath Jewett Peak. We had planned on setting up camp at Dollar Lake and skiing on Dollar Ridge, but there was high avalanche danger, and the slopes off Dollar Ridge were too steep to risk.

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Gabe near Dollar Lake with Dollar Ridge in the background.

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Melissa skiing on Jewett Peak with Aneroid Mountain in the background.

Friday and Saturday had been a little windy, but Sunday and Monday were absolutely beautiful; sunny and with little wind. We spent those two days taking laps off of Jewett Peak at a leisurely pace. It was definitely one of the most relaxed backcountry trips we have ever taken. The Wallowa Mountains were definitely one of the most quiet and beautiful places we have been to on this road trip! Next we are making our way to Montana, hopefully for some good ice climbing, and more skiing!

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Dollar Ridge at twilight.

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Cusick Mountain

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Roger’s Pass and Keith’s Hut

After an attempt at ice climbing in Golden, we headed to Roger’s Pass on 12/16. We stopped at the visitor’s center in Roger’s Pass to get an idea of conditions and possible backcountry ski trips in the area. Lucky for us, there was a low avalanche risk. The on duty ranger also suggested some backcountry skiing options that left right from the visitor center. Roger’s Pass is in a provincial park, so to avoid paying for backcountry permits we drove just outside the park boundary and camped along a railway access road. It was a little noisy, but a nice private spot to camp.

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Our lovely camp spot by the train tracks

The next day we headed back to the visitor center and set out for a ski tour up to Balu Pass. The snow ended up being pretty much as good as it gets. Fresh, stable, fluffy powder, and there was plenty of untouched terrain. We did two awesome runs on the shoulder of the peak between Ursula Major and Minor. It was pretty cold up there, probably single digits, but we had a blast.

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Heading up the ridge above Balu Pass

We woke up to snow the next morning, and instead of trying to ski again in the low visibility we decided to continue on the road. We made it to the town of Revelstoke, where we treated ourselves to a nice rest day at the aquatic center. In addition to a dry sauna and steam room, the aquatic center had a waterslide and climbing wall where you could drop into the pool, definitely worth the $5 CAD!

That evening (12/18) we camped between Salmon Arm and Kamploops. The next day we drove to the Duffy Lakes area and camped a few miles shy of the Cerise Creek Trail Head. We had researched skiing in the area online, and found out about “Keith’s Hut”, which is a user maintained hut that makes a perfect base camp for skiing and climbing in the area. Again we lucked out with the snow conditions as the area had just received its first big dump of snow for the season.

On 12/20 we started the skin out to the hut with food for three nights. We ended up getting a little off route but eventually found the place early enough to do a short run on the slopes behind the cabin before getting settled in. There was a group of skiers that were just leaving when we got there, and a family of three showed up a little later. They were all friendly and gave us some ideas about where to ski the next day.

 

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Keith’s Hut

We decided on Vantage Peak for our first objective, and started our day fairly early. There are two big gullies coming off of Vantage, and we made it to the top of the higher of the two before the snow on the ridge became super firm and windswept. We stubbornly tried to continue further up the ridge for awhile but then decided we should be enjoying the awesome snow instead of grunting our way up the last 700 ft of the mountain. We were a little wary of the avalanche conditions and decided to ski the lower gully, which was lower angle than the upper gully. The snow was great and we ended up taking 3 more runs on the lower flanks of Vantage before heading back to the hut. After one more lap on the slope behind the hut we called it a day, and started planning the next.

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Vantage Peak

We decided to check out the bowl just SW of the hut, which offered a very long run to the valley floor. We skinned up the ridge behind the hut toward Joffre Peak. The ski was great, but we ended up going too far down the valley, and had a very long skin back up to hut. There was no skin track on this side, and Melissa broke trail up the steep forested slope for a couple hours to get us back. After a quick lunch at the hut we opted for one more run above the hut, veering far right to take us back over the Vantage area where we did two more runs. The first of which ended up being the best of the trip.

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Shoulder of the ridge behind Keith’s Hut with Joffre Group in the background

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Melissa at the top of our favorite Vantage Peak run

The next morning, 12/23, we skied back out to the car and started the drive to Vancouver. We found a nice little campground between Squamish and Vancouver, and got a spot right on the beach. Within five minutes of arriving Melissa had us swimming in the frigid waters of the pacific ocean, which we had both been missing since we left Valdez almost two months prior.

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One of our first vies of the Pacific

From 12/24- 12/30 we were inside kitties, housesitting in Vancouver BC. There are housesitting websites and we created a profile for this road trip. On 12/30 we camped outside of Arlington, WA, before making our way to Seattle to celebrate New Year’s Eve with Gabe’s sister and her husband.

From 1/1 to 2/9 we visited family and friends in Oregon Country. Of course we made time for adventures, which included a summit of Mount Hood, rock climbing at Smith Rock, rainy bushwhacking on King’s Mountain, and a backcountry ski trip in the Wallowa’s.

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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Mount Hector

Bourgeau Right left us feeling tired but satisfied, and on 12/15 (after a rest day) we were ready to switch gears from ice climbing to getting up something big. Mount Hector is one of the Canadian’s Rockies most easily accessible 11,000-foot peaks and is one of the more popular ski ascents in the area.

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Route picture from our guide book: Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies

The route is pretty straight forward and one of the biggest cruxes is encountered early on and involves getting around and traversing over the top of a frozen waterfall. Here is a short video of Gabe illustrating our struggles.

 

The route plateaus above the waterfall and we stayed a little too far to the left, but caught our mistake early and were able to make a beeline along a rocky ridge towards the Hector Glacier.

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Gabe with Little Hector in background

 

We roped up and made it safely across the glacier, passing over only one obvious snow bridge. We continued roped up until we reached a bench, just below a steep snow slope.We rested here before making our way up towards a col directly below the summit block.

 

 

 

The steep slope was a very demanding ascent on skis and turned to ice about half way up. At this point, we began to slide backwards, not a fun experience when you are on a steep slope and on skis. We tried removing the skis and kick stepping up the slope while pushing the skis uphill with our hands- a very uncomfortable and slow technique. But, we were able to gain another bench below the col. Here there was more snow and we were able to put our skis back on and skin to the col. Just below the summit block we were already at an elevation of 11,000 feet.

We ditched the skis and made an attempt to get to the true summit. However, thin snow coverage over slick rock made for sketchy climbing conditions, especially with ski boots on. It was also getting dark, so we decided to call it there.

The views from the top of the col were breath taking. We were in and out of the clouds, but could still see quite a bit. There was a beautiful knife-edge ridge connecting Hector and Little Hector, and it was nice to finally see the Rockies from up high. Unfortunately, we didn’t capture any of these views on film and we were again in the clouds for the ski ascent down.

The ski down was great from the top of the col to the second bench. We hit ice shortly after the bench. While Gabe was able to survival ski his way down, Melissa opted to put on crampons and carry her skis down to the first bench. From here there was better snow coverage and we decided to ski down the glacier unroped, following our skin track to minimize the risk. The rest of the ski was great, aside from the waterfall area, overall we were able to ski almost all of the 5000+ foot descent.

We made it back to the car just after dark. This ski mountaineering objective definitely pushed Melissa to her limits- the steep icy slope definitely supplied a healthy dose of stress. But, we both enjoyed the challenge, beautiful views, and skiing that Hector provided.

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That night we camped again at the Bow Lake parking lot with plans to climb the waterfall that we had spied on our way out to the Bow Hut. However, it was -3 F when we woke up in the morning- and we decided to head to Golden for some warmer climbing temperatures.

We climbed the first pitch of Pretty Nutz. The cold temperatures made the ice very brittle- not favorable climbing conditions. We were also pretty tired from our big day on Hector, so we decided to continue heading east towards Roger’s Pass. We had heard that the backcountry skiing there was some of the best in Canada… But that adventure is for another blog post.

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Canadian Rockies Part 2

After playing in the northern part of the Icefields Parkway for a couple weeks, we were ready to move further south. With lots of snow in the forecast, we decided to take a break from ice climbing and head out to the Canadian Alpine Club’s Bow Hut with the hope of finding a break in the weather long enough to ski some of the surrounding peaks. We camped at the Bow Lake parking lot on 12/5/15 and skied out to the hut the following morning. Along the way, we spotted a frozen waterfall that looked like it would be a fun multi-pitch route! We also skied past more ice climbs.

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It was a very pretty skin out to the hut and for the most part the terrain was mellow. Once at the hut, there are many ski mountaineering adventures to be had. We were prepared to skip the hut and set up a base camp on the icefield. However, it was extremely windy once we arrived at the hut and we were grateful for a warm and dry place to sleep!

The weather the following day wasn’t much better. The other groups were heading down that day, and we were able to enjoy the large hut to ourselves for the afternoon and night. We were prepared to stay for three nights, but after receiving a weather update of more snow in the forecast, we decided to head out the morning after our second night. Good thing, too! We arrived to find the Prius almost completely buried with snow!

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That evening we drove out to Kananaskis country, another well-known ice climbing destination in the Rockies. However, being at a lower elevation meant that it was also warmer. We camped at the Evan Thompson Creek trailhead and on 12/9 we hiked out for some very wet ice climbing. We did the first pitch of 2 Low 4 Zero and decided it was too wet to continue. We use V-threads to rappel off from routes without bolted anchors. Water gushed out of the hole left by Gabe’s first attempt, something neither of us had experienced ice climbing before.

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That night we drove into Calgary to stay with a friend we had made at the Bow hut. The next day, 12/10, we drove back into the Rockies and camped at the Johnston Canyon trailhead. We got an early start the next morning, wanting to make sure we had first dibs on any route that might still be in good shape after all the warm weather. The trail follows a creek the entire way. The creek was not very frozen, and during the hike we started to think we would not be doing any climbing that day. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the waterfalls and the end of the canyon were plenty frozen! We spent the rest of the day climbing on great ice! It was one of the most fun days of ice climbing yet, we did four different single pitch routes, and took multiple laps on some.

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That evening we drove towards Sunshine Village, and camped in a parking lot at the bottom of the ski resort. We were going to give our worn out arms a break and ski Twin Cairns, a peak just outside the ski resort. On the morning of 12/12, we drove up to the resort and began our uphill skin. Because the park is in a national park, the resort allows uphill traffic (snow shoers and skiers) to access terrain outside the resort. Heading up, we spotted two long multi-pitch ice climbs just above the parking lot. This made planning the next day easy. It was a long easy ski, a fun and mellow day.

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The next morning we got up at 7:00 to climb Bourgeau Right, one of the climbs we spotted above the parking lot of the ski resort. It was 8:00 by the time we starting making our way up to the climb. After some bushwacking, we climbed 3 approach pitches before getting to the base of the steeper ice, making for a somewhat long approach. It was probably around 11:00 by the time we started up the first real pitch, which ended up being harder than it looked. The sustained near vertical climbing on very brittle ice took a lot of effort, and we both struggled a bit, but it was the second pitch that really tested us. The second pitch was shorter, but steeper, dead vertical for about 20 feet towards the top. This was Gabe’s hardest lead to date, and he almost fell while pulling the final bulge, out of pure fatigue. Melissa also struggled, between the difficult climbing and cold temperatures, she was in a lot of pain during the crux. When you combine the screaming barfies from cold fingers, the forearm pump that comes from climbing past your limit, and the frustration of dinner plating ice, you get some serious type 2 fun… After a little break we decided to climb one more pitch, which was much easier. There were probably 3 more pitches above us, all in the WI3 range, but we were pooped and it would be getting dark soon. Bolted rappel stations made our descent quicker and we were back at the car at 6, exhausted.

The weather forecast looked good, so we decided that after a rest day we would give the 11,000 ft Mt. Hector a try…

 

 

 

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Canadian Rockies Part 1

On November 24th, we made our first attempt at ice climbing along the icefield parkway at Kerkeslin Falls. It turned out to be one of the type 2 fun days where we carry a bunch of gear (up a big hill) and that’s about it. We weren’t sure we were heading up the right drainage so we started bushwacking our way south. Turns out we were in the right drainage… oh well.

 

That evening, we drove outside the park to camp along highway 11. It was our coldest night car camping, the car read an outside temperature of -11 F before we set up camp. In the morning we headed to out to the icefield parkway to climb Weeping Wall.

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Car thermometer

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First day climbing at Weeping Wall

We were still getting into ice climbing shape, and it was pretty freaking cold outside, so we had already decided we were only going to climb the 1st pitch. The cold temperatures makes the water ice very brittle. Temperatures were suppose to remain very cold for the next few days so we decided it would be more fun to take a break from ice climbing and get up on the Athabasca Glacier and try skiing out on the Columbia Icefield.

We brought 3 nights of food, which included stuffing, spam, and canned cranberries for Thanksgiving. We set up camp just shy of the first icefall. It was a beautiful, but extremely cold night.

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At our camp spot on the Athabasca Glacier looking towards the ice fall

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Full moon hooping on the glacier

We definitely underestimated how cold it would be up on the glacier, and how long the glacier travel would take. Once we got closer to the first ice fall, we decided it was too cold and it would take too long to navigate the icefall. There was an easy way up, but it required traversing under a hanging glacier which would expose us to falling seracs. We decided to call it and head back to the car. When we are car camping we have the luxury of double up sleeping bags. As we made our way back, we watched an ice avalanche fall from the hanging glacier . . . while it wasn’t huge, it was enough to make feel better about not trying to traverse under it.

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View of hanging glacier

We made it back to the car and decided to camp across the parkway from Tangle Falls. It was here that we had our Thanksgiving feast! The next day, Gabe led several single pitches. It was nice easy ice, with both of us taking laps on each pitch. It was a good warm up day for us!

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Car camping at Tangle Falls. We are using the little tent to stay inconspicuous.

Afterward, we went to check out Jaguar falls by Bridal Veil falls. It wasn’t in, but you could hike down and walk behind the partially frozen falls.

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Jaguar Falls near Bridal Falls along the Icefield Parkway.

On November 28th, we skied Parker Ridge behind the Hilda Creek hostel. It was a pretty quick skin trip up, but the lack of snow near the summit made us ditch the skis and hike to the summit. The views from the top were amazing and we took a long break eating lunch and enjoying the scenery. The ride down was good, but not great, due to variable snow conditions. We decided to focus on ice climbing until it snowed more.

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Looking out for summit of Parker Ridge.

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Skiing down Parker Ridge.

 

On December 2, we climbed an ice route called melt out. With a quick approach and 3 pitches, it was a perfect warm up to multi-pitch ice climbing for the season.

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Bottom pitches of Melt Out.

That night we camped out at Weeping Wall for another attempt. Another climbing party beat us to the right side, so we started up the left. Which wasn’t all the way frozen, but still looked doable. We made it up the first pitch, but it was warm and ice was starting to fall down around us. We decided to be safe and call it.

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Left hand side of Weeping Wall.

The next day we tried again on Weeping Wall. The climbing party from the day before had climbed straight up, but we had read that there was a bolted belay station on the right side of the ice. So Gabe led the pitch towards the bolted anchors. However, the ice was not quite in above the anchors. Again, the sun was starting to come out, and we knew it would take a bit of time to down climb and traverse before climbing up again- so we decided to just rappel down. It was still very fun, and someday we will have to come back to complete this climb!

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All of Weeping Wall.

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Right side of Weeping Wall.

The next day we were hoping to climb Lady Wilson’s Cleavage. But the area was closed because a grizzly injured a climber just days before. You can read about it here. We decided to continue south and head to Bow Lake. We had research the Bow Hut and there was suppose to be great skiing in the area. But the rest of this story will continue in Canadian Rockies Part 2.

 

 

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Liard Hot Springs to Jasper

The road from Alaska to the Canadian Rockies is long and cold, but we are retired now, and aren’t into putting in long days of driving. We took our time and drove at a leisurely pace of about 4 or 5 hours a day. Camp spots along the highway were easy to find, and although the temperatures dropped to below zero degrees fahrenheit at times, we had a great time driving through these beautiful northern lands.

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One of our camp spots between Whitehorse and Liard Hotsprings

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A sheep!

The highlight of our journey to Jasper was a stop at the Liard Hot Springs. We stayed for a full 24 hours, taking multiple relaxing dips in the natural hot springs, the water temperature was between 100 and 104, and the air temperature was between 0 and 15. We camped under a shelter in the day use area of the campground, and had a great nighttime soak under the stars before bed.

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Melissa enjoing a soak

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It was so cold that Gabe’s shorts froze solid!

We finally made it to Jasper, Alberta, our first destination in the rockies, on Novemeber 18th, and have been in the area since. We were disappointed to find that much of the backcountry in Jasper National Park is off limits this winter until February  due to a caribou habitat restoration project. It’s also still pretty early for ice climbing, but after a few false starts we did finally find some good ice!

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Edge of the World – Jasper

Our first climb was the “Edge of the World.” It is located just outside of Jasper along marmot basin road. We top roped the second pitch. It was covered in snow, but Gabe cleared off the snow as Melissa lowered him down. We didn’t bother with the first pitch, since it was low angle and also snow covered. It was a fun first climb of the season and we both took a second lap.

We had to head back outside of Jasper to restock at the Walmart in Hinton. There are a number of ice climbs located just outside of Hinton along highway 40. We decided we would check out the ones located in Cadomin, which is 50 km south of Hinton.

While there are several ice climbs in Cadomin, we found the easiest one to get to was Whitehorse Falls. Along the way, we ran into a small herd of sheep.

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Whitehorse Falls, Cadomin, AB

Now the plan is to move further south along the Icefields parkway, where we will hopefully find more ice, and less restrictions on which mountains we can climb and where we can go skiing.

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A bull moose on Malign Lake Road

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Elk in Jasper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until our next adventure,

Alpinemonkeys

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Worthington Glacier, Delta Range, Haines Road

Twas the day before Halloween – And all through Los Anchorage people were making plans on what costume to wear and which party to go to. But, we had grown weary of the concrete jungle of the north and were ready to hit the road again. No bars or night out for us… we decided to spend the holiday on the Worthington Glacier, located in Thompson Pass on the way to Valdez.

It was suppose to be a beautiful weekend, and we were hoping we would find similar snow conditions as we experienced out at the snowbird hut. So after camping under the covered visitor information area at Worthington Glacier, we strapped skis to our packs and made our way to the toe of the glacier.

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Gabe getting up on the toe of the Worthington Glacier

Getting on the glacier was pretty easy, and there was just barely enough snow that we could skin instead of carrying our skis, which was really nice. We roped up and made good time up to the first icefall, which was the highest point we could see from the car. We took a break and hiked up a little pile of moraine to get a view at what lied ahead. The glacier was pretty heavily crevassed, but it looked like we could get around this icefall by skirting the left edge. We could also see the second, much larger icefall ahead, and a little slope on the left edge that looked crevasse free, and covered enough to ski! We decided it made sense to try and get to the base of the ski slope and set up camp, and worry about getting past the second icefall in the morning.

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Our route around the left side worked out great, and before we knew it we were at the base of the second icefall, and right next to the skiable slope we had spotted. We also saw a nice ramp leading up to the ridgeline on the south side of the glacier, and figured we might go that way on the hike out, instead of reversing our route through the first icefall.

After setting up camp we decided go check take a run on the ski hill above us. It was a short run, but the snow was perfect!

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Looking up at our little ski hill

When we got back to our camp we made dinner, had a few whisky enhanced cups of tea, and got out the hula hoop for our glacier halloween party.

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Melissa hooping with Girls Mountain in the background

That night was a little windy, but we woke up to clear and calm skies. We decided to leave camp set up, and set off with light packs to explore the upper glacier. The second icefall was much more tedious, with tons of open crevasses and a few spooky snow bridges. But we were able to find a good route through and before too long were past all the obstacles and cruising up to the pass at the southwest end of the glacier. We didn’t find anything that looked skiable, open crevasses and exposed rock blocked all the would-be ski runs… But, the views were amazing, and we always enjoying exploring a new glacier.

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Example of some of the large crevasses we were traveling through

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Looking out from our summit point on southwest end of glacier

We decided to call it good at the top of the pass and head back to camp. We spent another relaxing evening on the glacier with more whiskey and hula hooping. The next day we made our way back to the Prius. The way down we opted for heading down the ridge along the left side of the glacier (looker’s left from the parking lot).  While it was much easier heading up the glacier, heading back down the glacier would have been a little more tedious. It was much easier to strap skis on our packs and hike down the ridge (there wasn’t quite enough snow to ski down).

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Looking down ridge at Worthington Glacier

We spent the next few days in Valdez so Melissa could submit her manuscript edits and Gabe could finish his grad school applications. On Saturday the 7th, we were ready to hit the road again. It had been snowing in Thompson Pass and we were optimistic that we may be able to get some turns in on our way out. Unfortunately, it did not snow as much as we had hoped. We decided to continue on and drive up to the Delta Range via Alaska Highway 4. We have a short ice climbing guide that outlines a few climbs in the Delta Range. We knew it had been pretty cold, with temperatures dipping into single digits at night, so we thought we would check it out. We camped beside Whistler Creek. To prepare for the cold temperatures, we doubled up sleeping bags, each of us tucking into our personal trip bags in addition to the double sleeping bag we share while car camping. Two sleeping bags, a few layers of coats, and puffy pants make for a pretty comfortable camp out, even when temperatures dip close to 0 F.

The next day we flipped through the guide book and settled on exploring Boulder Creek. After walking up creek for about an hour and half we decided to call it. We passed by a few gnarly looking mixed climbs on rotten rock, but didn’t see much actual ice.DSC01928

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Gabe hiking down Boulder Creek

It was a beautiful clear day, but it was also very windy. If we had come across any ice, it probably would have been super thin, and in the current weather conditions it didn’t seem worth it. So we decided we would continue on the road. We were content with just driving through the Deltas – a very beautiful mountain range! In addition to ice climbing, it offers many mountaineering objectives. But, because of glacier hazards, the Deltas are more often enjoyed in spring.

The next few days of our road trip included a couple minor hiccups. After spending the night along the side of the highway outside of Tok, we made our way to the Canadian border. Gabe and Melissa have crossed the border a handful of times all ready and have never had an issue. But, this time we were asked to park and come inside to have a chat… After about an hour of questioning the border patrol officer, who took his job very seriously, finally let us into Canada.

That evening we camped near Kluane Lake. We had heard from a friend that the snow was good on the U.S. side of the Haines Road. But, we decided we would only check out the Canadian side, since we didn’t want to go through another border crossing. We had read that there was good skiing near the Three Guardsman and Nadahini.

On Tuesday (November 10th), we made it to the Three Guardsman, which looked awesome, but had very little snow. We were amazed by the beauty of the area, but decided there wasn’t enough coverage, and turned around to start heading back towards Haines Junction.

Just a few minutes after turning around we noticed that we had a flat tire… We pulled over to put on the spare but discovered we had NO JACK!

There was nothing we could do but wait for someone to pass by. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long. Heli-Sean from Haines came  to our rescue! In addition to lending us his jack, he suggested we stay the night at the green shack that we had just passed by. We took his advice and made our way to the green shack – which was equipped with a small wood stove and wood! We had passed right by this gem earlier without a second thought! There was an avalanche information sign outside that also informed us that the mountain behind the shack was Nadahini – one of the backcountry skiing spots we had read about. We had great night in the warm hut, and will definitely be back someday when there is more snow.

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The Green Shack with Nadahini in the background

We made our way back to Haines Junction in the morning. We were hoping to get the tire fixed, but had to drive all the way to Whitehorse. It was Remembrance Day (Veterans Day) and ALL tire shops were closed. So we settled in at our old camp spot from when we first arrived in Whitehorse (just over 2 months ago) along Mount Sima Road.

The tire is fixed, and we now have a jack (plus a can of fix-a-flat). Soon we will be on the road again, making our way to Jasper! Looking forward to skiing and ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies!

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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O’Malley Peak and the Snowbird Hut

The week of Oct. 18th was filled with a lot of studying (Gabe), working on manuscript edits (Melissa), and spending time with friends. Aside from a couple short trail runs, we were inside kitties for the whole week. We had been dreading, and looking forward to, the week of Gabe’s GRE tests for the whole road trip. So far, Gabe had been studying at a leisurely pace of 1 hour a day, but now it was crunch time. We are lucky to have some very good friends in Anchorage that let us stay with them so that we wouldn’t have to worry about finding a camp spot each night. But once the tests were out of the way (the regular GRE and the Mathematics Subject GRE) we were free to play outside again. The weather was good, so we decided to stay in the Anchorage area for a bit longer instead of heading directly to Valdez as we had originally planned.

Our first trip was a pointy little mountain on the edge of Anchorage that we had been looking at all week long. O’Malley peak is just a hike, but with a little bit of snow, and good company, it was a fun day out. Not knowing what to expect, we brought mountaineering boots, crampons, and ice axes. They were nice to have, but not at all necessary, as our friend Chelsea demonstrated by doing the whole hike in running shoes. The view from the top was great, and it felt really good to be outside again after the GRE week.

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O’Malley Peak

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Melissa, Gabe, and Chelsea – Summit Shot

On our way down from O’Malley, Gabe caught sight of an ermine weasel carrying a pika for his dinner (presumably). Below is a short youtube video of the little guy.

The next day (Monday, October 26th) we went to Hatcher Pass, a road that heads up into the Talkeetna Mountains outside of Anchorage, to meet up with another friend, and chase the rumors of skiable snow. The rumors were true, and we got a fun run in right off the road near the Hatcher Pass summit. The snow was pretty firm, tracked out, and a little icy in spots, but this time of year you have to take what you can get, and it was great to finally get some turns in.

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Gabe and Travis skinning up

The weather forecast looked good, so we decided to do a longer trip in the Talkeetna Mountains before we left. There are a variety of huts in the Hatcher Pass area, and we had toyed with the idea of doing a hut-to-hut traverse. But with the thin snow conditions, it would have required a lot more carrying of skis than actual skiing, so we decided instead to head out to the Snowbird Hut, a new hut maintained by the American Alpine Club, and try and summit some of the surrounding peaks.

We packed for three days and left the Reed Lakes trailhead at our usual crack-of-noon starting time on Tuesday the 27th. After much deliberation we decided not to bring ski’s and just focus on mountaineering. We figured it would be more of the firm icy snow anyway. We were wrong, and the postholing across the Snowbird Glacier made the hike out to the hut a little more strenuous than it needed to be. We still made it out there in just over 4 hours, a little bummed by the amount of powder that we would not be skiing, but stoked on the plethora of mountaineering objectives just a stones throw from the hut.

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There was a friendly group of four skiers in the hut when we arrived, and we spent the evening playing cards and sipping whiskey.

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The very kush Snowbird Hut

The next morning we set off with two climbing goals in mind: a fist shaped rock on the ridgeline on the west end of the glacier, and a sharp nunatuk rising out of glacier a little to the south.

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Nunatuk – middle left, and the Fist Pump rock- highpoint on far right ridge

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We made good time across the glacier, and after just an hour we were kicking steps up a couloir that led to the ridge. At the top of the couloir we made a picket anchor, and Melissa belayed Gabe up the ridge for a rope length where Gabe slung a rock horn to belay Melissa up. One more rope length brought us to the highpoint on the ridge between the couloir and the fist shaped rock (our goal). This was our first up close view of the rock, and although it looked like a fun climb, it was much bigger and steeper than we had anticipated. With rock shoes and more gear we would have loved to climb the crack system leading to the top, but in mountaineering boots, and with only a few pieces of protection, it did not seem feasible. So we headed back down to the glacier. Over lunch we discussed our route options for our other objective, the nunatuk.

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The fist shaped rock on the ridge from our turn around point.

The route we decided on was a big left leaning snow ramp on the north side of the nunatuk that leads up to the northeast ridge (the ridgeline facing you when looking at the nunatuk from the hut). The snow on this ramp was much deeper and softer then anything else we had been on that day, so it was a lot of work to get to the top.

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The nunatuk

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Summit block of nunatuk

When we reached the ridge, the snow was way too soft to make an anchor, but there were rocks jutting out. After a bit of searching, Gabe found a spot to make a piton anchor, and we started climbing. The first pitch was a precarious strip of snow on the crest of the ridge, following alongside some big rocks. The second pitch was more mellow, but a little spooky as it was thin snow over slabby rock. From here we were maybe 30 feet from the top. The last short pitch looked tricky, but doable. However, we could see that there were no features on the summit block to make an anchor, just more of that super soft snow. We decided not to risk getting stuck on top with nothing to rappel off of, and began our descent… It’s always frustrating to get that close to the top of something and not make it, but it was still a fun little climb. We headed back to the hut feeling good about day. DSC01604

The group of skiers had left during the day, so we had the very spacious hut to ourselves that night, which was great for drying all of our gear out. The next day we had a very leisurely and beautiful hike back to the car.

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Our tracks at the snowbird glacier

We briefly toyed with the idea of just resupplying and heading back up to the hut with our skis. But we had been in the Anchorage area for almost two weeks, and were anxious to get back on the road. We decided we would just stay the night with our friends, before heading to the Worthington Glacier (in Thompson Pass on the way to Valdez) in the morning.

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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Adventures in Seward

Our next set of adventures includes a vow of everlasting love, an iceberg filled lagoon, topless mermaids, and the Harding Icefield.

Still tired from our wizard staff quest, we wasted no time in moving on to our next adventure. Seward was our next destination and we were very excited to visit this coastal community surrounded by jagged peaks and an icefield! Plus, sun was in the forecast for the next couple days and we couldn’t afford to let a weather window pass us by.

We arrived in Seward the day after finishing Resurrection Pass hike. We were able to get in our weekly shower at the harbor and poach laundry from a local hotel. A friend had told us of the Alpine Trail from Cain’s Head, and said we shouldn’t miss this hike if we had a good weather forecast. If you follow the Alpine Trail out to the furthest ridge you can spy, you are rewarded with views of open ocean, an ice-berg filled lagoon, the Bear Glacier, and the Harding Icefield.

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Cain’s Head trail map

The trail out to Cain’s Head can only be hiked during a low tide of three feet or lower. While we were doing laundry, we checked the tide tables and found that we could catch that evening’s low tide. We decided we would hike out that evening and camp at North Beach (~5 miles), continuing up the Alpine Trail in the morning in search of some beautiful views. Low tide was at 7:30 pm, leaving time for us to finish laundry and Gabe to get a short study session in before heading to the trailhead.

The first section takes you through the temperate coastal rainforest that we have missed so much, followed by 3 miles of beach walking. We hiked along the intertidal zone in the setting sun, with the ocean on one side and rocky cliffs with gentle waterfalls on the other. We even passed one larger waterfall just before the trail cuts back into the woods.

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Coastal temperate rainforest

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Waterfall along Cain’s Head trail

We made it to North Beach and set up camp just as darkness began to fully set in. We cooked up a second dinner of ramen noodles and hot chocolate and settled in for the evening. It had been a pleasant hike and we were blown away by the views of the mountains across the bay. With clear skies, we laid down in the tent with the door open so we could admire the stars, a sight rarely seen in our Alaska experience.

There is always the hope of northern lights when the night sky is clear, so when Melissa awoke in the darkness of the early morning she opened up the tent to peer at the sky above. To her delight, the northern lights were dancing above. She gently awakened Gabe and together we crawled out of the warmth of our sleeping bags to admire the beauty of the northern lights.

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Northern lights

The lights appeared white above our heads, different from the brilliant green we had experienced in the Tombstones. However, this time there were dancing wildly across the sky… like lightning in slow motion, the lights quickly appeared and disappeared, as if dancing to music that our ears could not hear. We moved our sleeping pads and bags outside the tent so we could admire the show for a little longer, before moving back inside the tent to get a few more hours of sleep.

Melissa awoke early again, just before dawn’s light began to break, and caught a glimpse of Venus and Jupiter on the horizon. During the last few weeks in October (in the northern hemisphere), Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury are all visible near the horizon close to dawn. You can learn more HERE.

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Our tent on North Beach

Witnessing the dancing of the lights set a magical tone for the rest of the day to follow. We awoke to beautiful weather and were eager to get into the alpine. The steep Alpine Trail rewards you with spectacular views. Once you start to get above tree line, you can see large offshore rock islands off and the open ocean horizon. The views make you feel as though you are walking through a land before time, the beauty and magic of the place is hard to describe.

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We were feeling pretty pooped out, especially because we hadn’t given ourselves a break between this adventure and Resurrection Pass. Once we reached the ridge proper, the wind had picked up quite a bit. We took a break for a little snack once we came across a little dip in the ridge that provided shelter from the wind. Here we enjoyed gazing out across the open ocean- a sight we had not seen since we were in Oregon last December!

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To view iceberg lagoon, aim for the left of the pointy peak

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Our views of open ocean!

After the quick snack we continued on. The ridge goes up and down, and was a little more tiring than we imagined. It wasn’t long before we came across a nice grassy patch that was too tempting not to lie around in.

It was here that we took time to really enjoy where we were and each other’s company – to be fully present and appreciative of the moment. Love is a wonderful thing and it’s funny and beautiful how it can fully surround you. From our evening hike out, to the early morning’s aurora show, to the beauty that surrounded us on the ridge… The adventure so far had added to make create the perfect moment that took both of us by surprise. Gabe couldn’t help himself but to ask the question that he had been holding inside… “Will you marry me?”

Gabe had wanted to get the ring first, and come up with something clever. But the timing was perfect. He felt so much love bubbling up at that moment, that the words just burst out of his mouth.

Of course Melissa said, “Yes!”

But- enough of that mushy love stuff! We enjoyed the moment a little longer, before getting up to continue on. There was an iceberg lagoon waiting for us!

The hike out to the lagoon viewpoint was further than we expected. Once we got closer, we came up on some mountain goats. They saw us, and ran over to a low point in the ridge. We decided to follow them. There were two summits along the ridge on either side of the low point, and if we had more time, we probably would have chosen to climb up one them.

“WOW,” said Gabe as he arrived at our final destination. Melissa hastened her steps and was equally blown away by the view. So much beauty! A landscape filled with peaks and the prominent Bear Glacier. The terminus of the Bear Glacier sits in the back of the lagoon and giant icebergs are scattered around. Separating the lagoon from the ocean is a tiny section of beach and we guess that the ocean flows into the lagoon during high tide.

As you look out along the coastline, the large rock islands continue, creating coves and hidden coastlines begging to be explored. Someday, we will come back for a kayak adventure!

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Melissa admiring the views

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The Bear Glacier

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Gabe’s triple bologna and cheese sandwich

We would of loved to linger, but the afternoon was getting away from us and we needed to return to the beach in order to hike back to the Prius during the low tide.

We made it to the beach with time to spare and had to wait a little bit for the tide to go out. It was a beautiful hike and we got to admire several eagles, one who was munching on a sea gull for dinner!

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Sea gull having a bad day

We felt so lucky to have gotten to do this hike in good weather. But, clouds were moving in and the following day we awoke to rain– rain that persisted throughout the following week. But, with only so much time to spend in Seward, we couldn’t let rain detour us from getting outside.

We spent a rest day in Seward before packing up for our next adventure… the Harding Icefield!

We have had many fond adventures on the Juneau Icefield, and both of us were excited to explore the Harding. However, fall is not the ideal time for an icefield trip. Summer usually melts the snow, and the early snow in fall makes for thin snow bridges that can make crossing crevassed areas very sketchy! Knowing this meant that we would need to be extra cautious- so we packed up our glacier gear and strapped skis to our packs knowing that there may be a chance we wouldn’t even be able to safely get on the Harding. The first hike of the season with skis on the pack is always rough. But, as Gabe says, “it’s good training!” So off we went.

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Gabe loaded up and ready to go!

To get on the Harding Icefield, there is a well-developed trail – The Harding Icefield Trail, located at Exit Glacier. The trail is described as “very strenuous” and rises about 1,000 feet elevation for every mile, of which there are four. Close to the end of the trail is an emergency hut, a small 8 by 8, windowless log cabin. We had to carry our skis most of the way up, but once there was enough snow the skis were off our packs and on our feet. Unfortunately, this point was only a short distance before we arrived at the hut.

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Gabe skinning to the Harding Icefield Emergency hut

We had planned to spend 3 nights out on the icefield. Knowing it would be very soggy, we brought two tarps- one to set up the tent on and another to throw over the top. But, once we arrived at the hut, we couldn’t pass up a dry place to stay for the night. And we were feeling pretty lucky once it started pissing rain that night!

We awoke to more rain and socked in conditions. So we decided to sleep in, enjoying the darkness provided by the windowless hut. But, we had to take advantage of the day. We decided that we would stay another night in the hut – why pass up a dry place to sleep? It was about noon by the time we gathered our lunch and prepared for a day tour on the Harding. Luckily the night’s rain hadn’t melted all the snow and we were able to skin out the icefield.

It took us about an hour to reach the edge of the icefield. From the cabin you continue to traverse out, paralleling the Exit Glacier. Orange flags continued to mark the way for a short while. We reached a creek in a short, but steep ravine and had to carry our skis across.

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Our tracks down and back up the ravin with the creek that we crossed

From there we made our way to a lake. From here we were able to get up onto the icefield.

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Lake just before the Harding Icefield

Before getting on the icefield we roped up, in case of one of us punched through and fell into a crevasse. Luckily, this did not happen. The weather remained pretty soggy, but it was more of a light mist. Even though the low ceiling prevented the views of the surrounding mountains and the icefield, it was great just being out on the Harding. After taking a short break for lunch, we continued on for short tour. The cloud ceiling rose as the day went on and were able to get some nice views. It was very tranquil to ski around. But, the time came where we needed to head pack to the hut.

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Melissa – we skinned up on the shoulder of this mountain to try and get some views

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Drying gear out in the hut

There were no tracks in the snow around the hut when we returned, so we knew no one had hike up while we were gone. It was nice to take off the skis and have a dry space to relax. We took a rest day the following day; the weather was worse than it was the day before with less visibility. Still, two separate couples made it up to the hut for the day. Luckily, we noticed them coming and were able to clean up our stuff and hide the fact that we had posted up in the hut for a few days – you are not actually suppose to camp in the Harding Icefield hut, it is for emergencies and day visits.

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Our route

We hiked back down to the Prius after spending three nights in the hut. It was a much quicker hike down than up- but it was another soggy day. We packed our soaking wet gear into the car and blasted the heat to try dry things out. As we drove to Anchorage, we felt grateful that we had friends to stay with; which would make drying out much easier.

We are feeling pretty lucky to have this opportunity to do what we love. We will be spending the next few weeks in Anchorage. Gabe will be taking his GRE exams our first week here and we are hoping to get some adventuring in the week after before we head off to Valdez.

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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Pioneer Peak to Resurrection Pass

A few weeks have passed since we arrived in south central Alaska, and in between studying for the GRE (Gabe) and working on manuscript edits (Melissa), we have managed to get a few good adventures in.

Fairbanks is flat. K’esugi Ridge is mellow… So, when we arrived in Anchorage we didn’t care about the weather or the conditions, we just wanted to get up something steep! Eager to attempt to conquer a peak in the Chugach Mountains, our first adventure in the Anchorage area was a mountain called Pioneer Peak. This mountain rises over 6000 feet from the Knik Valley. It is located outside of Anchorage off the Old Glenn highway. This is a beautiful backwoods highway, with mountains one side and a large river valley (Knik river) on the other. There are various routes up the mountain, but for an early fall attempt we figured the Southeast Ridge was our best bet for a chance at a summit. This  is a very long route that follows the Pioneer Ridge Trail to its end, then follows a rocky ridge to the summit of South Pioneer Peak, and finally another ridge to the true summit, totaling  ~7500 feet of elevation gain… and possibly a bit of technical rock climbing. We couldn’t find a very good route description online, so we decided to bring a single rope and a light alpine rack (a few pitons and cams) up the mountain with us. The mountains had been in the clouds, so we really had no idea how much snow to expect… and we underestimated the amount of snow that could be at the top and hiked up in plain old hiking boots.

Pioneer trail head Trail map

The hike is pretty straight forward, and the trail is so well marked it is impossible for you to get lost (There are large trail markers every 200’). Once you start to get above tree line, you are rewarded with amazing views of the Knit River and the Knit Glacier.

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Looking down into the Knik River Valley and Knik Glacier

The ridge hike proper ends at 5300 feet. By the time we reached this elevation, we were post-holeing past our knees, and our feet were soaked. We had low visibility, it was windy, and beginning to snow… While we were slightly miserable, we both loved it! Gabe was having major mountain withdrawals after Fairbanks, and if it wasn’t for our wet, frozen feet, he would of kept us out there all day!

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Gabe lovin’ the windy conditions

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Hiking Pioneer Ridge in prime conditions

The ridge got a little more interesting when we had to walk beneath some pretty jagged sections. You wouldn’t want to slip or trip on some sections.

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Don’t slip

We eventually got to a point when we came to terms with the fact that we have had enough. With freezing feet and low visibility, we decided we were happy with how far we had gotten and it was time to head back down to the Prius… plus we were getting hungry!

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FEED ME!

We really enjoyed this mountain, and we imagine the views are phenomenal if you hike it on a clear day. Hopefully, someday we will get to come back and make it to the summit… but a summit via the Pioneer Ridge Trail is probably best attempted in summer. A winter attempt via the north face also sounds appealing! Alas, we were too early for ice and snow climbing to make this a viable route option.

Our next adventure took place in Girdwood, a ski resort town just south of Anchorage where we stayed with a friend for a couple nights. With Forty’s in hand (in celebration of Gabe’s birthday), we explored the Winner Creek Trail.

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Keepin’ it classy

The highlight of this trail is a hand-tram, and since we were visiting during high flow (due to rain), the creek was raging. The current of Winner Creek was so strong, that from the hand-tram you could hear rocks tumbling over each other as the water pushed them downstream. Once we pulled ourselves back, Gabe couldn’t resist a little rope walking…

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Load up!

After a mellow day of playing in the rain, we decided to explore the Crows Pass area (also in Girdwood). The trail starts at Crow Creek Trailhead, and is a four-mile hike to Crow Creek Pass. Crow Creek Pass is the south entrance of the Eklutna hut traverse (via the Raven Glacier) and Crow Pass traverse. The Eklutna hut traverse is a 38-mile glacier traverse that would be an excellent spring adventure. The huts are available on a first come, first serve basis for Mountaineering Club of Alaska members. The Crow Pass traverse is a 23 mile hike that runs between Girdwood and Eagle River.

Our intention was to simply check out the area and maybe hop on the Raven Glacier. Some recent snow made staying on the trail an initial challenge, but after about three + miles we made it to the Crows Pass cabin. You can rent this cabin for $35/night. From the cabin, you get beautiful views of Jewel Mountain, a popular destination for early season backcountry skiing (One skier hiked out the same day as us, and few more showed up the following day). We can’t afford the luxury of legitimate cabin camping on this trip, but we were very thankful it was unlocked and vacant when the winds started picking up that evening.

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Looking back at the Crow Pass Trail

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Crow Pass Cabin

The next day, we slowly made our way to an overlook of Raven Glacier. While the glacier appeared pretty broken up, it was definitely possible to safely hike down and play around on it. But, that would involve quite a bit of post-holing and we (Melissa) were feeling a bit over it. After talking our options over, we decided it to take a break from the mountains to explore the Kenai Peninsula. A good friend would be in Homer in a few days so we decided to restock in Anchorage (where groceries would be the cheapest) and head south to Homer.

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Raven Glacier

We spent our time in Homer relaxing and spending hours in the library so Gabe could study and Melissa could work on edits. Not to say there aren’t adventures to be had in Homer, but having access to a boat would help out a lot! Homer is a fairly flat spot, but across the bay are the beautiful peaks of Kachemak Bay State Park. We did our best to explore the Homer side of the bay, but were unable to travel to the ends of many roads (too rough for the Prius). But, Gabe had been to Homer before with a friend on a family vacation. We stopped at a lagoon on the spit that had been a favorite fishing spot.

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Mountains across the bay with Gabe looking back at a favorite fishin’ spot

On our way to Homer, we had stopped and checked out the south trailhead for Resurrection Pass (near Cooper Landing on the Sterling HWY). Resurrection Pass is a 38-mile hike that runs between Cooper Landing and Hope on the Kenai Peninsula.

At the trailhead, we found two wizard staffs! We could sense that these staffs desperately wanted to travel to Hope, but were waiting for worthy hikers to escort them along their way. We walked a short part of the trail with them, but decided we weren’t ready to take on the quest. We were too tired and low on HP. Before we could take on the quest, we needed to rest in Homer. So we left the wizard staffs behind, but not before vowing to return in order to escort the mighty staffs through Resurrection Pass to Hope.

After Homer, we felt well rested and ready to take on the challenge that had been put forth to us by the wizard staffs. We arrived at the south trailhead in the afternoon on October 7th. Our first stop was Swan Lake, about 13 miles from the trailhead. In addition to designated camp spots, there are eight forest service cabins that you can rent from the forest service for $45/night. We stopped and check out the Juneau cabin on Juneau Lake and were in awe of the cabin. You really get your money’s worth when you stay at this one. While Gabe was tempted to settle in for the night, we weren’t sure who else might be showing up later. We continued on, we still about four miles to hike before arriving at Swan Lake.

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Juneau Lake on Resurrection Pass Trail

At the end of Juneau Lake, we came up on some beautiful swans. There are two types of swans native to North America who nest in Alaska, the Trumpeter and the tundra swans. We are pretty sure the swans we saw were Trumpeters, the largest waterfowl in the world. Bird nerds can click HERE .

We spent two nights at Swan Lake, taking a rest day the second day of the hike. Swan Lake is probably the most secluded spot on the hike, and for 2 days we didn’t see another party. This was only the 4th time we went a day without seeing other people on this road trip, and so far the only time we have gone consecutive days (Which was a blessing!). Unfortunately, Swan Lake is misnamed, as we didn’t see a single swan during our stay. But, we were able to take a little row boat out for a spin on the lake.

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Swan Lake Cabin seen from Swan Lake

From Swan Lake, we hiked 11 miles to East Creek. This was our second day of solitude and involved gaining a little elevation, and leaving behind the forest for alpine tundra. Shortly after leaving the forest, we passed by the Devil’s Pass Cabin. At this point, there is a split in the trail where one could travel 10 miles through Devil’s Pass. We continued on to the north trail of Resurrection Pass.

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Melissa admiring the alpine tundra

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Map showing our route for the day: Swan Lake to Devil’s Pass to East Creek

After a night at East Creek, we hiked out the remaining 14.5 miles to the north trailhead of Resurrection Pass. The wizard staffs were thankful to have arrived safely to their destination in Hope and we were grateful for the opportunity to successfully complete another quest. After some fond farewells, we continued walking on towards the town of Hope.

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The wizard staffs

Wait…. How far was it from the trailhead to the town of Hope? Funny how the little details you miss can really add some miles to your hike. The trailhead is located 4 miles down Resurrection Creek Road. We hiked 2-3 miles of this road before getting picked up by some locals, who were on their way to dinner at friend’s house on the Hope Highway. We had assumed the trailhead spit you out in, or at least closer to Hope. The couple who kindly picked us up told us Hope was shut down for the season, its bar and two cafes are only open during the summer season. They were only going to travel half way down the Hope highway, but decided to give us a ride all the way to the Seward Highway so we could hopefully catch a ride before it got too dark.

We didn’t have to wait too long for a ride, but not before a big bull moose ran out from across the street towards us. We crossed the street to give him some more room, and he trotted down the Hope Highway. Shortly after, a man on his way to Soldotna gave us a ride to car at the south trailhead, ~16 miles down the road.

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Hike (Blue), Ride back to Prius (Red)

Overall, our quest was a success. And the scenery we experienced was a nice change from our usual mountain and ice adventures. The hike starts and ends in beautiful forests. We were travelling at a time where most of the leaves of the deciduous trees had already fallen, but this did not take away from the beauty of the scenery. In fact, it was quite enjoyable to experience this trail in-between seasons. But, we are ready for the adventures that Seward has to offer!

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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Cold Rocks and Windy Ridges: Grapefruit Rocks to K’esugi Ridge

We have been on the road for almost a month now. We left Juneau on September 4th and ferried to Skagway. Most of southeast Alaska is Tongass National Forest and all of it is a temperate rain forest, made up of mostly evergreens: Sitka Spruce and Hemlock. As such, we don’t see much of an autumn in terms of color change. But, as you move north and enter the Yukon Territory, Canada, birch trees begin to make up more the landscape, and the forests this time of year are painted with ribbons of gold and red; quite a beautiful sight for eyes that are use to seeing only green.

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The Tintina Trench

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Grizzly bear amidst the fall colors

After our adventure in the Tombstone Territorial Park, we made our way to Dawson. Dawson was one of the booming gold rush towns along the banks of the mighty Yukon River. Today, the town caters to tourists looking to relive Dawson’s gold rush past. The buildings in Dawson imitate the looks of the city as it was a hundred years ago. Those of you familiar with southeast AK can relate Dawson to the likes of Skagway and downtown Juneau. If you make it to Dawson, check out the gambling hall, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s. Today there are modern day slot machines and table games like you would find at any casino, but there is still a gold rush theme, and employees dress accordingly. Minus the slot machines, you feel as though you have stepped back in time when you walk through the doors. Every night, there are three can-can performances… Hosted by Diamond Tooth Gertie. Supposedly, the performances get more provocative the later the show. We decided to check out the early show, which happened to be the only show that night because of a poker tournament going on that weekend. The 12-dollar admission fee had also been waved because of the tournament. It was a lot of fun to watch the show, especially because Gerdie likes to engage audience members. Gabe experienced this first hand when Gertie sat on his lap as she sang.

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Diamond Tooth Gertie and her girls in the gambling hall

In Dawson, we decided to go ahead and pay for camping at a camp ground/ RV park to easily take advantage of showers and laundry. So far, this is the only time we have had to pay for camping. We usually just find quiet camp spots off the highway, which has been very easy, and one of the joys of road tripping in Alaska and Canada.

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One of our gravel pull-out camp spots in the Yukon

We didn’t spend much time in Dawson because we wanted to take the top-of-the-world highway (HWY 9/ Boundary HWY), that connects Dawson to Alaska HWY 5, and this highway closes in the winter. This year, the highway was set to close on September 20th. So after staying two nights in Dawson, we made our way towards Highway 9 on the 15th of September. But, in order to leave Dawson towards HWY 9, you must cross the Yukon River. There is no bridge across the river; instead there is a ferry that can only take a few cars at a time across. During the peak of summer season, the wait can be a few hours! Luckily, we only had to wait for the ferry to get back from the other side before driving on.

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The George Black Ferry on the Yukon River in Dawson City

The highway from the Yukon to the border is a gravel road, and as the name suggests, the top-of-the-world highways offers amazing views of rolling hills and open space as far as the eye can see.

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Near summit of Top-of-the-World Highway

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Shortly after crossing back into Alaska

The border crossing is at the summit of HWY 9 (4,127 ft). Once you come across the border, you are on Alaska HWY 5 and the road is paved for a bit, but quickly turns back into gravel. Between the border and Chicken, Alaska, we noticed several hunting groups pulled over on the side of the road with guns aimed at the hillside. We watched as one lucky hunter took a shot, and heard him yell “Got it!” as we drove by. We then spotted the rest of the caribou heard running off up the hillside. From Chicken to Tok, we continued to see many trucks, trailers (for ATVs), and RV/campers parked in pullouts along the highway. We even spotted a young man dragging his kill to a truck; the truck already had an enormous set of antlers peaking out of the bed. Once we arrived in Tok, we headed northwest along the Alaska HWY 2. We camped near Craig Lake Trail, in between Tok and Delta Junction, and made our way to Fairbanks the next day.

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Craig Lake camp spot

On the 16th, we arrived in Fairbanks and were able to take a break from camping and stayed in our friend’s guest (dry) cabin. It was a small cabin, furnished with a bed. While there was no heat or water, our friend did run an extension cord out to it so we could have power! The accommodations were very luxurious compared to what we are use to. Our last 5 months in Juneau were spent living in an 8 X 8 tree house that we built ourselves, and before that, we spent an entire year living in a two person mountaineering tent. So we are no strangers to living without heat or running water. At least this cabin was somewhat insulated. Rain was in the forecast for the next couple days; it was nice to be somewhere dry.

We had done some research on climbing in the Fairbanks area and made plans to checkout Grapefruit Rocks and Mount Prindle. Grapefruit Rocks is a local crag that has a variety of routes. The area is made of limestne rock that protrudes from the hillside, making for lots of fun sport climbing opportunities. Mount Prindle is within the White Mountains outside of Fairbanks, and hosts a variety of trad/alpine routes. We were planning on climbing one of the more popular routes, Giradelli, which is a 900-foot route up the biggest face on Mount Prindle. When the weather broke, we planned to spend a few days out at Grapefruit rocks before heading to Mount Prindle.

With about 5 days of good weather in the forecast, we left Fairbanks on the 20th and made our way north to Grapefruit Rocks. We decided to check out East Grapefruit Rocks first. After a quick snack, we hiked up to an area known as the Twin Towers. We were able to borrow a Fairbanks area climbing guide put out by the Alaska Alpine Club. It contains maps and route descriptions of the various climbing areas around Fairbanks.

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Gabe leading Sand Bag

On the left tower we top roped First Lead (5.6). In the alcove (area between left and right tower) we top roped No Name (5.9) and The Blade (5.10). On the right tower, Melissa led Groove’n (5.5) and Gabe led Sand Bag (5.9). We then hiked up about 150 feet to the Morning Wall. Melissa led As Hard As You Want (5.7-5.10) and we top roped Bivy Ledge (5.6-5.9). The climbing was similar to the climbing we found in Whitehorse last year, and was a lot of fun. We were looking forward to checking out the rest of East Grapefruit before going over to West Grapefruit the next day.

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Melissa leading As Hard As You Want

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Left Tower, Aclove, Right Tower

We hiked back down to the trailhead and set up camp. The trailhead parking area is right off the Dalton Highway, which is a big rig route for trucks heading to and from Prudhoe Bay. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very restful night’s sleep. The clear skies also brought cooler temperatures that night. Much cooler than we had expected, we remember waking up with a layer of frost on our sleeping bag and in our tent. But, we woke up excited for what we thought would be a full day of climbing… we didn’t put much thought into what effect the cold night would have on the rock.

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Our camp spot, right off the Dalton Highway

After eating breakfast (pancakes are our go-to when we are car camping) and packing lunch (this week we planned for bologna sandwiches), we hiked up to Beggars Canyon, the furthest set of rocks at E. Grapefruit. Melissa started to lead Do The Dew (5.8+), but was only able to clip the first bolt. The rock was so cold, she was losing feeling in her fingers causing her grip on the rock to weaken. Gabe was planning on leading the 5.9 route next to Do The Dew, called Don’t The Rain. But as soon as he felt the rock for himself, decided  to start with the 5.8+. Gabe was able to finish the route, but not after a near fall and a couple of breaks to warm his hands. The night’s cold temperatures had left the rock freezing cold to the touch. Melissa tried again to climb Do The Dew, this time with her liner gloves on. She made it about halfway up before she called it good. Using the same anchor, Gabe climbed Don’t The Rain. After that, we called it. We had our fill of cold rock climbing! There is a reason why we were the only ones climbing, and why Alaskan rock climbers head to the lower 48 in the fall. So we headed back down and decided to make our way to Mount Prindle.

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Icicles on the rock

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Gabe warming his hands on Do the Dew

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Gabe, loving the cold rock

To get to Mount Prindle, we headed back to Fox and turned onto the Steese Highway. From there you travel along the Chatanika River to Faith Creek Road. You can find more information on how to get there and climbing in the area in the Mount Prindle Area Climbing Guide by Stan Justice, put out by the Alaska Alpine Club. The road to the trailhead involves multiple creek crossings, and we knew the Prius would not make it. We also knew snow would be on the ground, but we weren’t sure how much. Once we got to the road for Mount Prindle, we could see that the surrounding mountains were covered in a thick layer of snow, much more than we had anticipated. It was the middle of the day and the temperature was already below freezing at our elevation, and Prindle is a couple thousand feet higher. We didn’t need to do the 14-mile approach hike to know that it was not good rock climbing conditions. So we decided to keep driving, and maybe check out the Circle Hot Springs, located outside of Central, which is about 50 miles down the Steese Highway from Faith Creek Road. We hadn’t gotten very far when we reached 12 Mile Summit. There was snow on the highway and the outside temperature had dropped to 24° F! We had drove straight into winter and we were not ready for it, so we decided to head back to Fairbanks and reassess our plans.

We made it back to our friend’s house before 7. We checked the weather and found that we still had 3 days of sun in the forecast. We decided to head south in the morning and try to get a few miles in on the K’esugi Ridge.

We had heard about the K’esugi Ridge from a couple in the Tombstones. It is a ~30 mile ridge hiked that offers phenomenal views of Denali, Foraker, and Hunter in the Alaska Range. On Tuesday morning (9/22), we headed south on the Alaskan HWY 3 towards the most northern trailhead, Little Coal Creek.

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Denali, looming in the distance

“Wow, real mountains!” were the words out of Gabe’s mouth when the Alaska Range came into view. While we had a good time in Fairbanks, this comment highlighted the lack of features in the Fairbanks area. We were both stunned when Denali came into view. This peak towers above the other mountains in the Alaska Range. Even though Gabe had climbed Denali 3 years ago, this was his first time seeing the mountain from a distance. It had been in the clouds before!

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Melissa, ready for some cold weather camping

It was about 6 pm once we got everything packed and started our hike. Weather was supposed to come in Thursday evening, so we decided we would only do a short portion of the ridge: starting at Little Coal Creek and going down Ermine Hill. This portion of the hike was ~17 miles with ~3100 feet of elevation. The entire ridge hike would have meant hiking an additional 16 miles to Lake Byers. The ridge hike use to extend to Troublesome Creek, but due to flooding in 2006, the forest service states the ridge between Byers and Troublesome is “impassable.”

We only hiked up about 2.5 miles before setting up camp. In addition to loosing daylight, it was very windy, so we set up camp in a sheltered region below the ridge. We had beautiful views of Denali, whose spindrift glowed pink in the setting sun.

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Denali sunset

In the morning we continued up to the ridge. It got very cold and snowy, but the hiking was pleasant and easy. Once we got up on the ridge we were treated to amazing views of Denali and the rest of the Alaska Range. Unlike the evening before, it seemed as though you could reach out and touch the mountains!

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Melissa up on the ridge with Denali in the background

The ridge hike itself was mellow. For a majority of the hike the ridge rises on your left and gently rolls down on your right, allowing for the gorgeous views of the Alaska Range.

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K’esugi Ridge

The hike got a little more interesting near lake Ten Mile Tarn. Once the lake comes into view, the left side of the ridge lowers revealing 360 views of the area. The trail also diverges and turns left, revealing a beautiful wide river valley that gives rise to a large plateau bordered by snow-covered peaks in the distance.

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River valley and large plateau

We then came up on a large boulder area, a landscape reminiscent of mars (minus the iron oxide, of course). From here, the trail curves back down to the lake, which was already beginning to freeze over. A short time later, we crossed Giardia Creek. Here the landscape was particularly beautiful with the semi-frozen creek amidst fall colors highlighting the ridge, and Denali standing tall in the background.

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Fall colors and Denali

Sometime after crossing Giardia Creek the trail splits. We followed it to the right, thinking this would lead us to the Ermine Hill Trailhead. We were tricked. The trail that splits right only leads to you down the ridge to an overlook spot where you can see the true split at a lake. Back up we hiked.

The trail then goes around a hill and down to the true split. Here the trail has a very different feel than the rest of the ridge hike. There were many alders growing along a stream and many of the trees were still green. The trail then opens up and there are two prominent hillsides with giant boulders and rocky faces. One of these is known as Ermine Hill. There were also some boulders in a circle to the left of a post marking the split in the trail. We have read this area is known as “mini stone hedge.”

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Looking down a split for Ermine Hill Trail

We tried to set up camp by the lake, but found the ground surrounding the lake was too soggy. By this time we had already hiked 12 miles and were beginning to feel tired and hungry. We took a break to munch on some cheese-nips before continuing down the trail. We continued for another 2 miles before we finally found a stream to camp by.

Camping along the Ermine Hill trail was beautiful! We were surrounded by all the colors of fall. The hike down from the lake was filled with the sounds of leaves rattling and grasses whispering in the wind. There was also the sound of Giardia Creek flowing deep in a ravine below us.

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Our camp spot

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Fall hiking is the best

The next day’s short hike had a similar beauty. Golden leaves made up the trail and the air was filled with the sweet smell of fall. It added to the sense that we were in a race between seasons, and we were catching the tail end of fall while winter was nipping at our heels. Once we made it to the Ermine Hill trailhead we hitch hiked to our car at Little Coal Creek. Car and after car passed us, and we getting ready to ditch our bags and start walking, when a car finally pulled over to pick us up. Although, we may have been a little impatient, since it was only the 9th car that picked us up.

K’esugi Ridge is a mellow ridge hike that offers amazing views of Denali and the Alaskan Range. If you are driving through Denali National Park and have good weather, we recommend you take the time for it. While the ridge in itself is not very exciting, the views are incredible. We feel that the short version is enough to take in the views the ridge has to offer. We also think this ridge would be an awesome trail to run in the summer. The elevation gain is gradual and the route is easy to follow. The total elevation gain from Little Coal Creek to Byers Lake is only 5,100 ft.

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K’esugi Ridge from Little Coal Creek to Ermine Hill

(There is an annual trail race in early September. Entries are limited, and sign-up for 2015 ran from July 8th-22nd.)

We arrived back at our car early in the afternoon on the 24th. It was a beautiful sunny day, and was the last in the forecast (winter is catching up). We decided we would drive to Talkeetna and try to find a place to camp. This is the town where climbers can catch flights into Denali Basecamp.

Talkeetna is located on the banks of the Susitna River. A beautiful river that, unfortunately, the state is looking into damming. For more information please see the links below.

http://www.susitna-watanahydro.org

http://susitnarivercoalition.org

We took some time to walk the banks of the Susitna, where again we were treated with amazing views of the three amigos (Foraker, Hunter, and Denali). Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a quiet (free) spot to camp in Talkeetna. Melissa looked at one of our road maps and noticed that a few miles back at Trapper Creek, Petersville Road went out into the foothills of the Denali National Park. We decided to go ahead and check it out. At the very least, we knew we could find a quiet place to camp.

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Susitna River and the three amigos

It wasn’t very long before Petersville Road turned into a gravel road. This usually isn’t a good sign for the Prius. But, we continued on. Along the way, we passed by pullouts filled with pick-up trucks and campers (basecamps of hunters). We continued as far as we could before the road became too unfriendly towards low clearance vehicles, this was at about 5 miles past Kroto Creek. We turned around at a spot in the road that overlooked Peters Hills and Denali. This view, and the many views along the way were breathtaking. If only this part of the Alaska Range was more accessible!

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Petersville Road (gravel portion)

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Adventure Prius

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Mount Hunter and Denali

The road goes a ways further, through the Peters Hills and ending at the base of the Dutch Hills. The boundary of Denali National Park lies somewhere beyond the Dutch Hills, and if you look at a map, you could plot out a route that could get you into the Alaska Range. We are definitely keeping this road in mind for a future adventure. But, with snow in the forecast we decided to head back to the pavement, and camped in a pullout on Petersville Road.

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View from Petersville Road

Snow started to fall just as we were finishing packing up camp. We loaded up the Prius and began to make our way towards Anchorage. Again, we felt as though we were racing winter. She is catching up, but so far we have managed to stay about a day ahead. We will be spending about a month in the Anchorage area, including Seward and Homer. While we are here, we are hoping to get out in the Chugach Mountains and surrounding icefields. We are sure we will not be lacking in things to do!

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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A Week in Tombstone Territorial Park

The Tombstone Territorial Park in the Yukon Territory is known for its iconic granite spires rising out of the tundra. Photos of the Tombstone Range insinuate climbing opportunities, but were not able to find any information on climbing in the area.

http://www.env.gov.yk.ca/camping-parks/tombstonepark.php

Instead of taking this lack of information as a sign of limited climbing in the range, we decided to explore the range ourselves, bringing about 40lbs of climbing gear in… just in case.

With sun in the forecast for the Tombstones, we made our way north along the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to the Dempster Highway, where the Tombstone Territorial Park is located. The Dempster Highway is a gravel road that will take you all the way to Arctic Ocean. Fortunately, the Tombstone Territorial Park is only about an hours drive up the highway.

On Sunday (September 6th, 2015) we made it to the visitor center inside the Tombstone Park. We were too late to get backcountry camping permits for that night, so we drove north along the Dempster HWY and found a pullout to camp. That evening we were treated to the best Aurora display we had ever seen, yet.

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Melissa and Gabe under the Aurora.

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Aurora over mountains within Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon, Canada.

Monday morning we drove back to the visitor center, got our backcountry permits, and set off for the Grizzly Lake trailhead.  With 7 days of food, a fatty rack (double cams up to 4”), and double ropes, we started the 7 mile hike to Grizzly Lake. Bluebird skies made for amazing views, which seemed to lighten the weight of our packs as we hiked up the ridge trail.

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Our first view of the Tombstone Range.

We made it to Grizzly Lake in about 4 hours… not bad considering how heavy our packs were.  We set up camp and spent the evening relaxing, knowing that tomorrow would be another long hike to Talus Lake.

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Our first view of Grizzly Lake, our first camp site.

In the morning we packed up and made our way over Glissade Pass, a steep pass that was a bit icy on the way down.

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View of Grizzly Lake from top of Glissade Pass.

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Looking back at the icy side of Glissade Pass.

We ate lunch at Divide Lake, another camping area, before continuing on to Talus Lake.

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Divide Lake.

As we were coming up on Talus Lake, we noticed a talus slope leading up to several granite spires along a jagged skyline ridge. It was too tempting pass up for a short (so we thought) adventure climb.

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Talus slope leading to several spires. Our goal was the second spire (from left to right).

We ditched our bags, and after having a snack, made our way up the talus slope, each carrying a rope, harness, climbing shoes, and Gabe carrying a trad-rack consisting of single cams up to 4”.

The talus slope was terribly loose, and much longer than it appeared from below. But, we made it to ridge and roped up for the first of two pitches. The first pitch was relatively easy and consisted of moss-covered slab.

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Gabe making his way up the talus slope.

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First pitch.

The second pitch began at about same elevation of the lowest of the spires. This second pitch was more difficult and consisted of looser rocks, but not as mossy. Gabe had to trundle some of the larger boulders down so that the rope wouldn’t knock them loose while Melissa was climbing.

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Second pitch, with an example of how you DON’T want your ropes.

Our adventure climb ended at about 150 feet along an exposed ridge, where Gabe could find good placement for anchor and rappel. The loose rock made us decide not to pursue the ridgeline further. However, we were happy with the views we had (at an elevation of ~6100 feet).

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Looking up from our stopping point.

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View from our summit point.

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Gabe rapelling. Mt Frank Rae is on the right.

We also noticed some tents at the base of Mount Frank Rae. This mountain is the tallest in the Tombstone Range (7743 feet) and also rests along the continental divide.  The camp was near the south slopes of Frank Rae, which looked like a great spot to launch a summit attempt.  (The camp turned out to be a group of photographers)

Our adventure climb was fun and had just the right amount of stress. Two rappels brought us back to the talus slope without any major issues. However, the climb took longer than expected (~5 hours). When we finally made it to Talus Lake, we set up camp and made dinner, settling in just as darkness began to take hold. As we were about to fall asleep, we got another great Aurora show.

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Mount Monolith back lit by Aurora.

Weather had moved into the area by morning, and the iconic spires were in the clouds. We heard that snow was expected, although weather forecasts for the area aren’t particularly reliable. The weather looked better down the valley towards Tombstone Mountain, so we made plans to hike out and explore that area. We were about a mile shy when rain turned us back (we weren’t sure if rain would turn to snow). Of course, the weather got better as we made our way back to camp, so we took some time to ditch our bags and explore.

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Melissa looking out towards Tombstone Mountain (which is hidden in the clouds).

Later that afternoon, the weather cleared and we decided to scout out the Mount Monolith for climbing possibilities. While there were no safe looking rock climbing routes to be found, it was awesome to be at the base of these spectacular granite spires (Monolith’s elevation is 7103 ft).  We had heard that there is some good scrambling to be had up the ridges surrounding the Monolith Massif, but by that time we were too tired to attempt.

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Closer look at the Tombstones, with Monolith in the middle.

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Another close up, with no feasible routes to be found.

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Mount Monolith main peak.

The Tombstone Range is an awesome mountain range, but it is not a very good rock climbing range… unless you have a high tolerance for risk, and a sick fetish for loose rock.  So Thursday we changed our objective, and moved camp in order to make an attempt at summiting Mount Frank Rae on Friday.

Once we set up camp at the base of Frank Rae, a storm began to move in. It was impressive to watch the storm move over the Tombstone Range and head our way. It first brought hail that became rain and eventually snow!

We woke up the next morning to a couple inches of snow on the ground, and more falling from the sky. The weather was not looking good, and we weren’t sure if it was going to improve. We decided that it would best to hike out… Or so we thought as we began to mow down on our “extra” food. Then a weather forecast from our friend Dory came through on our Delorme: Precipitation for Friday (that day), clearing in the afternoon and then two days of good weather.

With this new information, we decided to sit tight and attempt Frank Rae on Saturday, or hike out.  The weather did clear that day, revealing the beauty of fresh snow on the surrounding peaks.

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Our camp at the base of Mt. Frank Rae.

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Looking out at fresh snow on the Tombstone Range.

Saturday morning we set out for Frank Rae. Visibility was good and it appeared that Dory’s forecast would hold true. The mountains were in and out of the clouds as we began to hike up to the base of our climb.

We had spotted two possible routes up Frank Rae, but by the time we had reached the base visibility had been greatly reduced and we found ourselves in a cloud. We waited a bit for it to clear, but we were closest to route one and we decided to go for it.  The clouds cleared enough for us to view our route, a semi-steep snow chute leading to west ridge.

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Gabe hiking up Frank Rae with the Tombstone Range in the background.

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Gabe leading the way up to the ridge.

The rest of the ridge hike was not difficult, and we got about 600 feet below the true summit. But above us, the route very technical, and would take a long time to complete… Between the loose nature of the rock, the fresh coat of unconsolidated snow, and the uncertain weather (we were still in the clouds, and weren’t sure if it was getting better or worse), we decided to call it there. We were a little bummed, but happy to be sitting so high up on the continental divide, where to the north of us water drains to the Arctic Ocean and to the south it drains to the Yukon River drainage and eventually the Pacific Ocean.

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Looking up at the summit of Frank Rae.

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Melissa, happy to be in the mountains.

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Gabe, happy to be near the summit of Mt. Frank Rae.

Just as we turned around to head down, the weather broke on the north side of the continental divide, revealing amazing views of the surrounding mountain ranges.

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View of surrounding mountain ranges from Frank Rae summit ridge.

We hiked down with immense gratitude for the experience of the climb, which was due to Dory’s forecast. If we didn’t get his message, we would of certainly hiked out Friday morning.

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Divide Lake with storm clouds lingering behind the mountains.

We got back to camp and packed up for the hike out to Grizzly Lake.  As we made our way back to the trail, we noticed clouds engulfing Talus Lake and heading our way. They chased us to Divide Lake, but the storm did not over take us and seemed to stay behind. We had lunch, and continued on. We made it to the valley below Glissade Pass and noticed three other hikers making their way up the steep pass.

About half way up the pass we noticed more storm clouds coming towards us. Weather changes quickly in the Tombstones. We quickly made our way up and over the pass as snow began to fall. We overcame the other hikers about a third of the way down the other side of the pass. They had hiked from Talus Lake, and were going to head all the way to Dawson that evening. While hiking out was tempting, we were beat from the long day, and weren’t excited about the possibility of hiking out in a storm. We made our way down to Grizzly Lake and set up camp.

The weather cleared as we made dinner, providing beautiful views for our last night.

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Storm clouds chasing us up over Glissade Pass.

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Calm views down at Grizzly Lake.

However, we woke to freezing fog and it certainly felt as though winter was chasing us out of the park.

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Winter chasing us out of the park.

But, we made it back to the car just as the fog lifted from the valley. The sun came out, allowing us to dry our gear.

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Sunshine on our drive out of the park along the Dempster Highway.

The Tombstone Range is beautiful! We loved hiking around the tundra; no bush-whacking is a welcomed change of pace from what our Juneau hikes usually entail. Given that the weather is in your favor, you can quickly move from one mountain to the next. And while this range is not a very good climbing destination, it’s a beautiful place that provides ample space for one to explore.

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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Suicide Basin: An Attempt at the West Nugget Tower

Suicide Basin is the unofficial, but widely used, name of part of the Mendenhall Glacier that is bordered by Mt. Wrather to the north, the Nugget Towers to the east, and Mt. Bullard to the south. It’s name probably comes from the hanging glacier that looms above it, which is constantly calving and sending huge ice avalanches down  Suicide Falls.

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Suicide falls as seen from near our campsite.

Most Juneau residents are probably familiar with Suicide Basin as the origin of the increasingly common  jökulhlaup (glacial outburst flood) events. Suicide Basin sits lower than the main branch of the Mendenhall Glacier, which serves as an ice damn to all the water draining into Suicide Basin from it’s bordering peaks. During periods of heavy rain, the water in the basin increases rapidly enough to float the ice dam of the Mendenhall, allowing water to drain underneath the glacier. This sudden increase in flow often causes flooding of Mendenhall lake and river.

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View from our tent. Our intended route included scrambling up the gully on the far right and making our way to the visible ridge line.

The NW ridge of the West Nugget Tower was the main objective of this trip, and Suicide Basin was supposed to be an easy way to approach it. Gabe had done this same approach during an early winter attempt of the west face of the tower 4 years prior, and remembered a relatively easy crossing of the basin.

The trip to Suicide Basin is fairly straight forward and can be done relatively quickly. We traveled at a leisurely pace on Saturday, August 8th, starting at 1 pm and arriving at our camp site near Suicide Falls around 7 pm. Crossing the Mendenhall Glacier is always beautiful, and this time it’s beauty was enhanced by the many melt ponds and streams flowing into deep moulins that we passed along the way.

The jumbled mess of glacier we encountered upon entering Suicide Basin forced us to skirt the edge of Mt.Wrather, by an avenue of giant house sized boulders, and right up to the base of the impressive Suicide Falls.

Avenue of Giant Boulders

Blown away by the scenery, we settled in for the night, excited and ready for tomorrows approach and climb of the West Nugget Tower.DSC00192

Waterfalls sing the sweetest lullabies, and we awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to climb! We only had to get across the basin, a task that proved more difficult than we had expected. As we headed towards our objective, our path was blocked by a giant ice canal that went up the middle of the basin!

DSC00176We followed the canal heading towards the West Nugget Tower, hoping that there would be a way to cross. However, getting closer to land meant getting closer to the lake at the base of Suicide Falls, which fed into the canal. There were ice bergs, and it did seem possible to jump from berg to berg and maybe get across. Gabe tested the stability of one of the bergs, and almost went for a swim… we quickly agreed this was not a safe option. So we turned around and followed along side the canal, heading back out towards the Mendenhall. We ended up going almost all the way back out of Suicide Basin, and then made our way to the edge of the ice on the Mt. Bullard side.

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Ice Canal, looking towards Mendenall Glacier

As we followed the edge of the basin, the ice quickly became more rotten. As we approached the terminus of that jumbled mess of a glacier, almost to where we could get off onto solid land, the seracs seemed to crumble underneath our feet. You could rip off huge chunks with a single swing of an ice axe. Again, we decided we needed to go back out and try another route. Our third attempt led us to another lake at the base of the gully we were planning to follow up to approach our climb. Looking across the lake, we saw that the ice did appear to connect to land. We tried to make our way around the lake, however, the crevasses we were hopping over were inundated with water, and as we got closer to the edge the ice got more and more rotten. As we discussed our options we could hear chunks break off and splash into the icy water below. Not wanting to join them, we decided to call it…

While we were disappointed that we weren’t going to make it up West Nugget Tower, it is hard to stay discouraged when one is surrounded by such beauty. The sun was out, we were surrounded by ice, mountains, and one of the most impressive waterfalls Juneau has to offer.

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One last look back

Hiking back, we loitered around a granite wall on the lower flanks of Mt.Bullard. We had spotted some cracks on the way in, and thought we may be able to get some use of the climbing gear we had packed around for 2 days. Unfortunately, all of the crack systems were too shallow and dirty to protect well. Clouds were beginning to come in, so we made our way back across Mendenhall Glacier.

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Making our way back across the Mendenhall Glacier

While our last two trips ended in successful completion of our climbing objectives, most of our Juneau trips turn out like this: we plan on climbing something, carry a bunch a climbing gear around for a couple days, and get shut down because of weather, or, as in this case, the approach proves more difficult than expected. But, as Gabe always says with a smile, “It’s good training!”

Suicide Basin

Blue is our intended route, red is our actual route

Thank you for reading!

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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Split Thumb in a day

It has been a very wet July in Juneau this year. So we were excited when Melissa’s first day off in 2 weeks was forecasted to be sunny, and we were ready to take full advantage! Split Thumb is one of the more accessible rock climbs in Juneau, and has been on our list of peaks to climb before we leave (Gabe had already done a solo summit a few years ago).

Split Thumb is a granite peak that rises out of the ice field and is visible from town when looking up the Lemon Creek valley. Below is photo of Split Thumb that was taken from Heintzleman Ridge in August, 2013. Our route included crossing the Lemon Creek Glacier (shown in photo).

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View of Split Thumb and Lemon Creek Glacier from Heintzleman Ridge.

Split Thumb is accessible by hiking out Blackerby Ridge to Camp 17 (an ice field research station consisting of a few small huts, one of which is left unlocked for hikers). From C17, you cross the Lemon Creek Glacier and gain the ridge that separates Lemon Creek Glacier from the “Dead Branch” of the Norris Glacier (This is the ridge featured in the above photo).

Split Thumb Route

Split Thumb Route

We knew that climbing Split Thumb car to car in a day was possible, but that it would be a very long day. But, we were familiar with long days and the Type 2 fun that goes along with them. Plus, the weather for the following day was iffy, and it would be nice to have a full day to recuperate. So we decided to go for it!

After a leisurely McDonald’s breakfast (which included strawberry milkshakes, yum!), we hit the trail at 6:30 am (Tuesday, July 21st, 2015).

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Blackerby Ridge Trail Head.

It took us about 2 hours to get near tree line, and at that point the sun was making it a very warm hike.

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Gabe’s fancy hiking attire.

We continued along Blackerby Ridge, making our way up and over Cairn Peak, and down to C17.

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Cairn Peak on right with Split Thumb peaking out in the distance on the left. We followed the ridge over Cairn before dropping down into Camp 17.

View looking down from Cairn Peak at Camp 17. Split Thumb is seen in the background.

View looking down from Cairn Peak at Camp 17. Split Thumb is seen in the background.

We expected it would take us about 5 hours to reach C17 and were happy to see that it was 11:30 am as we reached the camp. We stopped for lunch, taking about an hour long break before making out way across the Lemon Creek Glacier.

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View as we descended onto the Lemon Creek Glacier, heading for the ridge line. Split Thumb is on the left, Scorpion Peak is the tan colored rock on the right.

It took us about an hour to cross the glacier and get up on the ridge line. We gained the ridge at a low point just north of Scorpion Peak. Below is a photo looking back at Observation Peak as we crossed. Not visible in the photo are some hikers at the summit of Observation (we assume they came up from Granite Creek because we didn’t see them on Blackerby).

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Observation Peak seen from Lemon Creek Glacier crossing.

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Looking back at Observation (Left) and C17 (Right, in the saddle between the rocky peaks).

From the ridge, we figured it would take us another 3 hours to reach the summit, making it about 5 pm by the time we got to the top. While this seems late, we were actually keeping a pretty good schedule, as we weren’t really expecting to get back to the Prius before 2 am.

While it had been sunny all day, by the time we made it to the end of ridge leading to Split Thumb, the wind had began to pick up and the clouds in the distance were beginning to look threatening. Weather can change quickly in SE Alaska, so we knew we had to move fast.

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Gabe with Split Thumb in cloud cover.

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Looking down at the Dead Branch from the ridge.

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Looking out at the final snow crossing before getting up on the SE Ridge of Split Thumb. We crossed the snow, and then climbed up on the right end of the ridge. The route follows the right hand skyline to the summit.

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Looking back at the ridge we had followed before reaching the final snow crossing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a bit of a pain to get up onto the southeast ridge of Split Thumb from the snowfield. The snow steepens right before you reach the rock, and it is somewhat exposed. We were glad we decided to bring ice axes. The rock is loose and chossy for a couple hundred feet climbing off the snow and up to the ridge, but once you are on the ridge crest, the rock quality improves, and it becomes a fun and easy scramble over granite boulders and steps to the base of the crux pitch of the climb.

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The scramble leading up to the crux pitch.

The crux pitch starts at a huge flat bench on the SE ridge. It begins with a big flake leading diagonally up and to the left, and then after a short slab, follows a highly fractured corner up until it flattens out next to a large boulder that makes a perfect anchor. Below are some photos Melissa took looking up and out from the base of the climb. We brought 4 cams (.3, .5, 1, and 2). Gabe ended up placing 3 (.3, .5, and 2), and we used a single 60m X 8mm rope.

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Looking up.

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Looking out. You can make out our route from the final snow patch crossing, to the ridge that separates Lemon Creek Glacier from the Dead Branch, to our crossing of Lemon Creek Glacier to C17. The cloud shadow marks where we crossed the glacier from C17, with Observation to the left of the shadow and C17 to the right (roughly).

 

 

 

We summited at 4:45 pm. 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and just over 10 hours after leaving the car. It was a great feeling, reaching the top, and we were happy to see that the weather was appearing to hold for us. Looking out over the ice field is one of our most favorite views, and is always breathtaking.

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Gabe and Melissa on the summit.

We didn’t spend much time on top, as we still had a very long trip back to the car… Type 2 fun. We made 3 rappels on the way down, one for the crux pitch, and two for the chossy rock section to get back to the snowfield. We made it back to C17 around 8:30 pm, where we took a short break for coffee, food, and water. It was also at this time where the length of the trip began to weigh on us, and we realized that we forgot 2 items that would have increased the comfort of the trip home.

1) an extra pair of socks and 2) ibuprofen!

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Looking back at C17 and Split Thumb from Cairn.

Our feet had been soaked all day from sweat and walking across snow, and were starting to get pretty tender. And Gabe’s hip had began to hurt. We still had to climb back over Cairn and make it out Blackerby ridge (about 6 miles). I think the beauty of the setting sun helped distract us from our pains (Melissa sensitive trench foot feet and Gabe’s sore hip).

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Gabe, still smiling.

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Good-night sun!

Thanks to Alaska’s long summer days, we were able to make it most of the way down Blackerby Ridge before headlamps became necessary. Our achy bodies slowed our descent, and although we were both limping most of the way down, we did make back to the car before 2 am. We arrived back at the car at 1:30am making it a 19 hour day for the ~21 miles and ~11,000 ft of elevation gain/loss. Split Thumb-in-a-day beats our previous longest day trip, which was our 18 hour climb and descent of the Solva Buttress on the Mendenhall Towers.

While we loved the climb, and had an awesome time, we agree that this was probably our most painful trip yet. We feel that every trip is a learning experience. You learn something new about your abilities, and your limits. Most important, you learn that you can always push your limits, and your body is capable of so much, even when your mind is screaming NO!

We don’t think we would do (or recommend) Split Thumb in a day again…. But, ask us in a month and we will have probably changed our minds.

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

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Malted Milk Ball Spire (Peak 4897)

Peak 4897 and Peak 5894 tower above the Cowee-Davies watershed in Juneau, Alaska. These peaks are prominent features as you cross over Cowee Creek when driving out the road. There are no maintained trails to these peaks, although the Davies Creek Trail is mentioned in some local hiking books. The trail has been adequately described in a Juneau Empire article from 2002.

Juneau Empire Davies Creek Article

This trail can be accessed from a logging road located near Echo Cove at the end of the road, and follows Davies Creek. We parked the Prius at Echo Cove and began our hike at 5:30 am (Monday, June 15th, 2015). While our main objective was to summit Peak 4897, we were also (ambitiously) hoping to follow the ridge out to Peak 5894. Not knowing what to expect, we brought a rope and small rack that included 4 cams (.3, .5, 1, and 2), small set of nuts, 6 double length runners, two anchor runners, and carabiners. We only ended up using the #2 cam and the runners.

From Echo Cove, we walked back out to the road and continue walking away from Juneau. The logging road to access Davies Creek is a gated gravel road on the right hand side. We followed this road to where it ends in a muskeg that is often visited by 4wheelers.

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View from 4wheeler trails. Peak 4897 is the spire in the foreground

From here, Davies Creek is on the right. We followed the creek to where it will eventually opened up to a meadow filled with beaver ponds. Those adventurous enough to put up with a decent amount of bushwhacking, bugs, and wet feet are rewarded with amazing views. There is some flagging, and off and on game trails, but they are few and far between. As long as you follow the creek, you will make it to the meadows. Below is a link to a very blurry video of Davies Valley and the Beaver Ponds Meadow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgqyOby_5hI

You can see Peak 4897 in the video as the prominent peak on the right side. From the meadow, we made our way towards the peak. Once we crossed the meadow, we crossed Davies Creek by log and came across a smaller stream flowing from the mountains. We were able to hydrate and refill our water bottles with this much cleaner (beaver free) water. After crossing the stream, we started to traverse up the mountain, making our way to the ridge that we followed up to the summit. As we climbed, the terrain steepened to a point where we were using tree branches and roots to monkey over rocky cliff bands. Our perseverance paid off as we finally made it above tree line!

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View looking out towards Cowee Creek

As we turned our gaze up to what we thought was the summit, we figured it would be standing on the top within the hour. Happy to be done with the bushwhacking and refreshed from a lunch break, we made our way up, only to realize we had to put a little effort before reaching the true summit.

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Looking up towards the sub-summit

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Looking up at true summit, Dean Peak is in the background to the left

From the sub-summit, the ridge drops down into a notch before continuing up to the top. While we had already being doing some class 3 and 4 scrambling to reach this point, we decided to actually rope up for a short section (just out of view in the above photo) leading up to the summit ridge. Gabe lead this short pitch and placed the #2 cam for protection. From here, we carried the rope until we reached a short chimney section just below the summit. Gabe was able to do some fancy-free-solo-rock-straddling and set an anchor to belay me up. We stayed roped up as I scrambled up towards to the summit and set up an anchor and belayed Gabe up (For practice as this scramble was easier than what we had already done without a rope).

After around 7 and a half hours, we made it to the top! We eagerly walked to the edge that overlooks the Dean Peak and Davies Glacier. Looking down into the valley are many different waterfalls. In the winter, these waterfalls freeze and provide an awesome playground for the adventurous and ambitious ice climber. There is also a very cool looking slot canyon! We would definitely love to hike back and explore this valley, especially when the ice climbs are in.

In addition, the summit gives you an amazing view of Horn Spire. However, we weren’t able to capture the prominence of Horn Spire with the GoPro. Below is a link to a short video of these views and the ridge leading out to Peak 5894.

Looking out the ridge to Peak 5894, we realized we didn’t have the energy or time to attempt to reach it. Furthermore, we weren’t prepared to cross the snow field just below Peak 5894 summit ridge.

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Ridge leading out to Peak 5894 with Davies Glacier to left

While we didn’t have time to attempt to summit Peak 5894, our early start did leave us plenty of time to enjoy the summit of Malted Milk Ball Spire. While exploring the summit, we discovered a summit register rolled up in an old film canister. It was sopping wet but we were able to carefully unravel it and dry it out in the sun. There were two entries, it reads:

“Pk. 4897 Malted Milk Ball Spire
1st Ascent 26 Sep. 1971 Dick B (something) – Seattle, Craig Lindh – Juneau, Gerald “Loft” Buckley – JNO, Delbert Carnes – Juno

2nd Ascent 29 Aug. 1997 Ben Still & Mike Miller”

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Malted Milk Ball Spire Summit Register

We weren’t able to sign our names, but we did attempt to preserve the summit register by placing the film canister in our plastic bagel bag.

After spending a few hours monkeying around on the summit, we made our way down.

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Melissa after repel with Dean Peak in background

We made additional use of the rope to rappel the steep forest that we had (somehow!) climbed up. While rappelling through the trees took a little more time, it was much easier on the body (and mind!) than downclimbing.

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Gabe’s accidental selfie while trying to take video

The remainder of the day was spent bushwhacking and traversing back downhill through fallen trees and devil’s club. Once we made it to flat ground, we still had to wallow through swampy beaver pond areas (and more devil’s club!) to make it back to the 4wheeler haven.

We made it back to the Prius and began our drive home as the sun was setting (around 10pm). Our time spent up on the summit made the long day and bushwhacking worth it and we were happy to explore a new area of Juneau.

Thank you for reading our first AlpineMonkey trip report/blog post. We thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in before we start our road trip, plus there are still many Juneau trips that we would like to do before we leave! These first couple of blogs may be a little rough, but we hope you enjoy following us on our adventures. At the moment, we only have a GoPro to capture video and images, but hope to get a camera soon!

That is all for now!

Until our next adventure,

AlpineMonkeys

MMS route

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Photo from http://www.juneau.org/parkrec/trails/coweedavies.php

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