Alpinists find practice in the Chugach Range
In the world arena for big alpine climbs, Alaska sits next to the Himalaya and Andes. In this context, Alaska means the Central Alaska Range, the ice-encrusted granite walls around Denali, Hunter and Foraker. For most Alaskans though, these central Alaska Range peaks are a major trip – expensive and time consuming. Between annual pilgrimages to the Alaska Range, Anchorage alpinists practice their craft in the Chugach Front Range, above town on the tall faces of loose rock and ice.
Andrew McLean leading an ephemeral dribble of ice on Ptarmigan Peak. After a rainy September and then no precipitation for a month, ice climbs appear everywhere. This route was two rope-lengths of moderate ice that wound through a corridor of rock. Get these routes quick! A single big storm will stuff these gullies with avalanche debris, rendering them better for skiing than climbing. Joe Stock
Joshua Foreman racked up for a heady pitch of frozen Chugach crud and ice. He’s carrying cams and nuts for cracks, short ice screws for thin smears of ice, pitons for pounding into thin rock seams and toothy hooks called Spectres for beating into frozen moss. Most important is a solid head to manage fear when looking at a 30-foot fall if a hold breaks or an ice tool pops. Joe Stock
Joshua Foreman climbing snice, a cream-freeze of snow and ice, also known as styro-ice. A swung tool sinks into snice like butter and holds solid. Alpine climbs morph into their easiest and best condition after a soggy snowstorm plasters the mountain walls with snice. Also note in this photos Joshua’s Un-Vest. He’s removed the body from a puffy coat and connected the two sleeves with a keeper cord. “Keeps the body cool and arms toasty.”
Alpine climbing in the Chugach Front Range is akin to Scotland, where thick ice for sinking tools into is sparse. The best tool placements are often in frozen moss. While these blobs are loose in summer, they become solid in winter. For anchors, we pound Spectre ice hooks into the turf, which is more solid Chugach Crud.
Cody Pittman placing a Stopper in a crack on O’Malley Peak. He’s climbing with skis so he can salvage the descent: skiing downhill is faster, easier on the knees and more adrenalized than trudging downhill. Serious fun, excellent training for the pilgrimage, or perhaps some “executive alpinism,” where the goal is to climb a Central Alaska Range alpine route on the weekend, between 5 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. on Monday. Joe Stock