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Blackburn Camp from Above

The Wrangells are a special spot, and for lots of reasons. Having an absurd number of friends with airplanes plus the ability to capture majesty in two dimensions is on the top of our list. Here’s one from this week captured by fellow climber, skier and pilot Andrew Peter of Homer, Alaska. It’s our crew of skiers and climbers currently on the Northwest ridge of Mount Blackburn. Like we said earlier this week … Yeah Boyz!!

Mount Blackburn Camp

Climbing camp on Mount Blackburn, Alaska. May 2014. Photo by Andrew Peter.

 

Three Teams to Blackburn – Meet the Crew!

Climb Mount Blackburn

Today, three teams are packed and ready to fly from an early spring season to full-on winter conditions of Mount Blackburn. Over the next eighteen days, our crew of seven ski mountaineers and two climbers will give ‘er as

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far and hard as they can up the northwest ridge towards the 16,390′ summit. Lead Guide Eli Potter and his crew have the “Hombi Triple Header” in their sights: first Blackburn then 12,471′ Rime and finally 13,860′ Atna. Reudi “Hombi” Homberger is the only climber/skier we know of who has completed all three peaks in one expedition, hence it’s name.

Ski Mountaineering Team 1: Austrian climbers / skiers Robert Prevedel, Herwig Schandl and Lukas Angelmaier. value my domain name Guide Eli Potter.

Ski Mountaineering Team 2: Colin Darrah of Washington and Erik Mundahl of Alaska. Guide Tyler Reid.

Climbing Team: Ben Iwery of Indiana and Guide Seth Waterfall.

Yeah boyz!

Ptarmigan Peak via “Ski Tracks”

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

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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.

Anchorage Alaska from Ptarmigan Peak

“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.

Ted_Ptarmigan

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.

NightScape_Ptarmigan

2013 McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon and 5K

McCarthy and Kennecott were once busy mining towns; these days they’re more like modern yet humble off-the-grid villages steeped with history and tradition. It follows suit that the last days of August signify the end of our summer season and are full to the brim with festivities too.

Tall Tales brings out the story teller (or listener) in all of us. Late into the night, the community

gathers at the Golden Saloon to hear locals and visitors alike take their turn at spinning a yarn. Annually, this fundraiser for our local non-profit arts and science co-op, the Wrangell Mountains Center, draws a big crowd and reminds us all of the dark days of winter and community pot-lucks ahead. Festivus for the Rest-of-Us is a music-bonfire-food smorgusborg hosted by Wild Alpine and The Potato – our favorite local food truck – in downtown McCarthy. Yep, no shortage of parties in this ‘hood …

On Labor Day weekend the annual McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon and 5K attracts runners from across Alaska and beyond. For 12 years, Dan Meyers has been organizing the run as a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association. This year though, Dan was ready to pass the torch. A small group of ladies from the Valley: Karen Loso, Nancy Cook, and Cobi Seslar Harris joined me, Aria Thomases, in stepping up to the challenge. From acquiring new stop watches to commissioning an Alaskan artist to make medals to fixing a post-race spaghetti dinner for the runners and volunteers, we’d say it was a rip roaring success!

Check out some shots of the fun and join us in 2014 for the 14th Annual RUN WITH A VIEW!

McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon hosted by Wild Alpine and Wrangell Mountains Center

McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon hosted by Wild Alpine and Wrangell Mountains Center

McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon hosted by Wild Alpine and Wrangell Mountains Center

McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon hosted by Wild Alpine and Wrangell Mountains Center

McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon hosted by Wild Alpine and Wrangell Mountains Center

McCarthy-Kennecott Half Marathon hosted by Wild Alpine and Wrangell Mountains Center

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

McCarthy-Kennecott half marathon and 5K

Summer Skiing in Alaska aka July Turns, Baby!

Summer skiing in Alaska is epic, no question about that. This just in from guide Nick D’Alessio, of Girdwood, AK: “Just back from an incredible trip out of McCarthy, Alaska into the enormous and truly remote Wrangell – St. Elias National Park. We flew with Paul Claus onto a glacier north of the Bagley Icefield and set up a base camp. With 6 full days of nice weather we were able to cover around 45 miles and 14,000 feet of skiing along with as much instruction as we could fit in. The skiing and snow quality was great and the views grander. The Wrangell – St. Elias has millions of acres of mountains and is home to the largest glaciers on earth. We found the terrain very worthy for skiing. Thanks to Erick, Kevin and Laura for making this trip happen.”

summer skiing in alaska

summer skiing in alaska

2am light in the Wrangell Mountains

summer skiing in alaska

Day 2 on a peak just East of camp. The campsite is below, on the lower glacier.

summer skiing in alaska
summer skiing in alaska

3am Sunrise

summer skiing in alaska

summer ski touring in alaska

summer ski touring in alaska

summer ski touring in alaska

summer ski touring in alaska with wild alpine

summer ski touring in alaska with wild alpine

summer ski touring in alaska with wild alpine

summer ski touring in alaska with wild alpine

Killer family-style trip of a lifetime and the pics to prove it!

Wilderness Ski Week 2013 Trip Report

Good, stable, safe conditions and a great crew made for a memorable Second Annual Wilderness Ski Week with Andrew McLean based at Ultima Thule Lodge. Here’s the report from guides Eli Potter and Tyler Reid.

 

Wilderness Ski Week at Ultima Thule Lodge

All thumbs up after a five star day.

 

The concept with Wilderness Ski Week is to bring together some of the biggest and most remote skiing in the world, elite mountain pilots including Paul Claus, Jay Claus, Ben Gray, and Steve Davidson, ski mountaineering icon Andrew McLean and a team of guides at the top of their game. Ultima Thule Lodge, a destination in itself, serves as our base of operations.

 

Ultima Thule Main Lodge

Ultima Thule Main Lodge, Spring 2013. Photo by Tod Francis.

 

Ultima Thule Lodge guest cabins in Spring

Guest cabins in spring, looking across the Chitina River. Photo by Tod Francis.

 

Pilots Paul Claus and Ben Gray at Ultima Thule Lodge

Pilots Ben Gray (left) and Paul Claus (right) talk shop in the Main Lodge.

 

The rest of our crew flew in on March 31st and we were psyched to report prime skiing conditions. Over the course of the next five days our group proved not only to be all around great people, but strong, motivated, and experienced backcountry skiers and splitboarders, of which we had two in our group.

 

Andrew McLean at Ultima Thule Lodge with Wild Alpine Guides.

Andrew welcomes everyone to the Lodge with an intro slideshow and champagne toast.

 

Wilderness Ski Week with Andrew McLean and Black Diamond at Ultima Thule Lodge

Andrew talks R&D on his Black Diamond "Whippet".

 

Andrew McLean at Ultima Thule Lodge with Wild Alpine Wilderness Ski Week 2013

Andrew talks knot shop with John and Titus.

 

Paul Claus and the Turbine Otter at Ultima Thule Lodge with Wild Alpine Guides

Paul gives a morning briefing to the team before loading the Otter.

Turbine Otter at Ultima Thule Lodge with Wild Alpine

Loading the Otter.

 

Plane access ski touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

Bravo Kilo dusts skiers on it's way out of the mountains.

Plane access ski touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

Bravo Kilo buzzes skiers after take-off.

Weather conditions were stellar with predominantly clear and sunny days, minimal wind, and temps ranging from touring in a baselayer to as cold as -15°F (touring in a down parka). We skied alpine glaciers, big faces, off of summits, 50°+ couloirs, and everything in between, with stats coming in at 26,920′ feet of ascent, and thanks to high landings and low pickups, 33,120′ of descent!

 

Plane access ski touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park Alaska

The first steps of daily average 4000' vertical climbing.

Plane access ski touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park Alaska

Sunny, snowy skin tracks.

Plane access skiing in Wrangell St Elias National Park with Wild Alpine Guides

Sayaka skinning on Couli Day in the Granite Range.

Skiing couloirs in Wrangell St Elias National Park with Wild Alpine and Ultima Thule Lodge

Couli day!

Plane access ski touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

Couli's here ... pick yer couli.

Plane access ski touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

Blue light and long evening shadows, must be April in Alaska.

Plane access ski touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

13.2 million acres to choose from.

Plane access ski touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

Mmmmm, yep. That's just how we like it.

Plane access ski and splitboard touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

John, pow surfing.

Plane access ski and splitboard touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park AlaskaPlane access ski and splitboard touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park AlaskaPlane access ski and splitboard touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park Alaska

Plane access ski and splitboard touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

Approaching the end of the run, the ride home.

 

Plane access ski and splitboard touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park Alaska

Pilot Jay Claus and Axel B heading home in Tango Cub.

Plane access ski and splitboard touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park Alaska

Unloading the Otter.

Plane access ski touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park Alaska

Guests share slideshows from adventures around the world. Japow on the menu this night.

Plane access ski and splitboard touring in Wrangell St Elias National Park Alaska with Wild Alpine Guides

Bear, Karate Kid, Cowboy ... it was a tie.

 

Plane access ski and splitboard touring with Wild Alpine Guides in Wrangell St Elais National Park Alaska

Daily tally: more than 26K up, 33K down. Not too shabby.

Want to see more fun photos? Visit our flickr photostream. Interested in joining us next year? The roster is already filling up, so get in touch for details and availability. Learn more here: Andrew McLean’s Wilderness Ski Week

 

Skiing the Wrangells in March

Skiing the Wrangells in March can be some of the best of the season. This year I was joined by a father and son team for the opening runs. We experienced unseasonably cold temperatures and a varied snowpack. The other things we experienced were incredible sunny vistas, never-before skied venues and lots of fun memories. Big thanks to Tod Francis for capturing our good times in these beautiful images. – Eli Potter

march turns in the wrangells pilots are mountaineers in alaska skiing with wild alpine guides in alaska

Pilots are ski mountaineers too. Pilot Ben topping out.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

Stacking the tracks.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

Bundled up to beat cold temps.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

Each day pilots and skiers head to new terrain, picking lines from the air before landing on untracked snow.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

Chitina River Bison viewed from the air.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

13.2 million untracked acres.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska
march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

Shredding gnar.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

Getting dusted by Bravo Kilo.

march turns in the wrangells skiing in wrangell st elias national park with wild alpine guides alaska

Early season skiers are sometimes lucky enough to tour with Pilot and Skier Extraordinaire, Paul Claus himself.

Evolution of a Revolution

Back in

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the fall of 2008, Drift Snow Kite Magazine was just getting off the ground. Years before that, Eli Potter and friends were skiing in the Wrangells, experimenting with kites as a tool in their ski mountaineering quiver.

Written by Eli Potter and Karen Hilton, plus photos by Karen Hilton, Evolution of a Revolution captures the color and adrenaline of one defining expedition in the history of Wrangell Mountain exploration.