There’s something about Alaska…


There’s something special, something truly wondrous about Alaska. It’s been said so many times, it would be easy to dismiss praise for The Last Frontier. Especially since I’ve spent the last five or so years exploring some of the world’s great ranges, I didn’t expect to be so taken aback by this place. But the ruggedness, scale, and limitless light and freedom in the heart of the Alaska Range are unparalleled. Everything in Alaska is big: From raging, mile-wide rivers like the Susitna, to the linear post-glacial features that stretch hundreds of miles from the Pacific Ocean to Denali, The Great One, to Talkeetna’s blood-guzzling mosquitoes. Even “Little Switzerland,” our destination for a week of spectacular alpine rock climbing, was a grand adventure.

Foraker looms above the tracks in Talkeetna

Foraker looms above the tracks in Talkeetna

After waiting out a bit of rain in Talkeetna, Brad and I flew up to the Pika Glacier in a single engine plane with one of Alaska’s legendary bush pilots. These workhorse DeHavillands and Cessnas from the World War II era are truly marvels of engineering.

Skis mounted to the landing gear of bush planes like this Otter revolutionized the exploration of the Alaska Range.

Skis mounted to the landing gear of bush planes like this Otter revolutionized the exploration of the Alaska Range.

Landing a plane on a glacier with skis is a pretty mind-boggling and abrupt way to enter the alpine. But aside from the tourist visits by bush plane, Brad and I had a week to ourselves in spectacular wilderness.

Scouting on rappel from the Middle Troll

Scouting on rappel from the Middle Troll

Our first day on the glacier consisted of digging tent platforms and getting a bit set up and dug into the glacier. As we had clear blue skies and 24 hour daylight at our disposal, we quickly made a late lunch and roped up for our first climb, an ascent of the nearby Middle Troll. Upon arriving at the summit after hours of exploratory climbing on sometimes clean, sometimes loose and chossy Alaskan granite, we arrived at the tiny perch of the summit and 360 degree views of Denali, Foraker, Hunter and other Alaska Range giants. In no rush to get down, we soaked in the evening sunshine before returning to camp.

The midnight sun emerges from behind the Royal Tower.

The midnight sun emerges from behind the Royal Tower.

Our second day was a gut check. These are some of the northernmost big mountains in the world, and we spent all day digging in, and averting one mini-disaster after another as we were pummeled by rain and hail. We made the necessary improvements quickly, however and soon had a luxurious living room/kitchen dug in and complete with custom furniture carved from the glacial snowpack.

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Thereafter, as skies cleared, we settled into a comfortable rhythm, waking up late in the morning to dry our boots, clothes and ropes, finally emerging from our tents groggily in the mid-afternoon and climbing late into the night.

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I stand atop the Hobbit’s Footstool late one evening.

The Pika was good to us and after a few more gorgeous climbs, we took the hint and called for a bush plane pickup before the weather soured. On the way out, as Brad in particular aspires to climb historic hard-man routes in the Alaska Range, and I am an aviation nerd at heart, we opted for some extra airtime on the way out. Again, a masterful pilot from K2 aviation danced us in and out of alpine cirques and down deep granite gorges. These guys have the best job in the world and they know it. Thanks Alaska for the warm and sunny welcome!

Denali, The Great One

Denali, The Great One

The Moose's Tooth. The legendary ice climb "Ham and Eggs" ascends the thin ribbon of snow and ice just left of the summit.

The Moose’s Tooth. The legendary ice climb “Ham and Eggs” ascends the thin ribbon of snow and ice just left of the summit.

The broken Kahiltna Glacier from the air.

The broken Kahiltna Glacier from the air.

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Wow.

The Big Bend of the Ruth Glacier. This is miles wide for some perspective.

The Big Bend of the Ruth Glacier. This is miles wide for some perspective.

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