Alaska Part 6 - The Epic Escape
Jason crafted a movie about our trip.
And as Paul Harvey says: "Now, the rest of the story."
We needed a break.
Following our week of amazingly warm and calm weather, plus 3 new alpine rock climbs, Jason I and experienced a few grey, colder, and wetter days. What the heck happened to all the mountains? Lost in a fog...
Hanging out in the cooking shelter
Coastal Helicopters had dropped us off with a radio, and we called in for a weather report... what a luxury!
The bad news came back, it appeared that more storms were on the way, with little chance for clearing. Rather than pay the $370 for a 25 minute flight back to civilization, we decided to save some money and work a little harder, planning on skiing and hiking back out to Juneau.
Packing up the junkshow
Jason signals that the field goal was good!
The veteran Alaskan hardmen can evidently manage this trek out in one day (snow conditions depending) but we packed up, threw our stale tortillas in the moat, and set out at noon, planning on 2 days down to the trail head where we would try and hitch a ride to town.
Navigating the upper glacier in a whiteout was slow and stressful. The snow gulley we had planned to descend had entirely melted out, leaving us with several hundred feet of steep slabs that were running with water. Rappel down this... yummy!
Here you can see the rock band which we rappelled after the gulley had melted.
I had loaded up my pack with more weight than I had ever carried, it was probably half my bodyweight. The 200' waterfall rappel just served to soak our clothes and both 60m ropes, increasing the poundage of our bags. I skied for a few miles in my climbing boots, but needed crampons to climb down one of the several small icefalls.
By the end of the first day I had taken me skis on and off about 5 times and we hoped to have made it half way out.
The second day was all walking, as the dry and fractured glacier did not allow for skiing at all. With an even heavier pack, my pace wasn't much faster than that of the glacier we walked down.
How can you quickly cross miles of this?
Jason gets his crevasse jump perfected
After feeling like a pinball bouncing back and forth across a see of frozen waves, Jason and I finally reached the moraine on the afternoon of the 2nd day.
From here, we hoped to find a trail, but glacial recession in recent years has created a confusing network of alder-covered 4th class terrain where one could previously reach the trail from the snow. After encountering swarms of Alaska's state bird (AKA Mosquito) and thrashing up several hundred feet of slide alder (wearing a 70lb pack and skis tied to the top) we realized that we'd gone too high, and dispiritingly turned around, eventually finding the end of the 3 mile 'West Glacier Trail'.
Even this maintained trail featured too many low-hanging limbs to keep skis on my pack, so I carried them in my arms for the final hour of hiking. Thoroughly thrashed, a Juneau local took pity on us and gave us a ride back to town, where we promptly headed down to the docks, for dinner and a beer at Juneau's best pizza parlor.
In retrospect, the epic ski/climb/rappel/hike/schwack back to civilization was a good test, and we both felt like we'd truly earned a little of the fantastic weather and perfect stone which the Towers had held for us.
This amazing experience would have been impossible without my friend and climbing partner Jason Nelson, the hospitality and help of Ryan Johnson in Juneau, the American Alpine Club's grants for young climbers, and equipment from Outdoor Research, Cilogear Backpacks, Trango, and LaraBar. You guys and gals are awesome!