By Guest Blogger, Blair Anne Hensen
January 2014 in Alaska was … interesting. Chinook winds from the south pushed warm air up and artic air down to the Lower 48 states where places like Georgia saw temperatures drop below freezing. It has been a wild winter, and though our ski legs have been itching to “send it”, there have been plenty of
other opportunities for adventure!
A couple of weeks back, guides Eli Potter and Ted Grosgebauer drove up to the Flattop Mountain trailhead, just fifteen minutes from home, to endeavor in a day of alpine climbing. Their objective was met on Ptarmigan Peak at 7:00pm on a Saturday night as they watched the sun fall behind Cook Inlet.
“It was a reminder that there is nowhere else like this,” Eli remarks. “It was a fifteen minute drive from the house and we were on an alpine climb looking all the way across Anchorage at fifteen story office buildings, north to Denali and south to Mt. Redoubt.”
There were, of course, little quirks in the day like the treachery of a three-mile ski approach on shear ice. But once the icy ski-in landed them at the base, they quickly transitioned gear and mindsets for the climb.
They prepped for the hardest pitch: the first fifteen-foot step. Part of the initial challenge was just getting their heads into rock pro. Even for experienced climbers, crampons on rock can seem strange at first because they can’t really feel the rock. Two inches of airspace between the bottom of a climber’s boot and the rock face can make for a challenging route, but that challenge is part of what gets these guys going at 6:30am … on a Saturday … in the coldest and darkest winter hours … in Alaska. For guides, winter alpine climbing is a fun – and essential – way to stay in shape both mentally and physically before the big mountain guiding days of summer begin.
On this 8-pitch climb the equipment quiver included skis, mountaineering boots, axes, crampons, a full rack for ice and rock, 160-meter rope and thermoses of hot water. Good gloves and being prepared for all kinds of terrain were essential to their success.
“You are either prepared for it all or you balls up,” Eli remarks with a smile.
“Perseverance is key.” Ted explains, “Always take a look around the next corner, even when your spirits get low, chances are it is more rewarding than the last.”
After a day of switching off lead pitches, the two guides summited 4,880-foot (1,487 m) Ptarmigan Peak via the “Ski Tracks” route for a rewarding winter sunset.