Sunday, July 24, 2016

Adventure still awaits! Story of AMS guides Jimmy and Mike on the Father and Son variation route, Denali, June 2016

AMS guide Josh Hoeschen's photo of his Denali West Buttress team greeting fellow guides Mike Gardner and Jimmy Voorhis after their personal adventure on an alternate route on Denali called Father and Son's wall. . . here is their story.


JUNE 16, 2016 NOTES

MOTHER’S 

DAY 

ON THE 

FATHER 

AND SON’S

                   

THIS YEAR MIKE GARDNER AND I TOOK OUR FIRST CLIMBING TRIP 
TOGETHER, SUPPORTED BY THE AMERICAN ALPINE CLUB AND 
MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR’S MCNEILL-NOTT AWARD. WE OWE 
SINCERE THANKS TO THE AMERICAN ALPINE CLUB AND 
MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR FOR SUPPORTING OUR TRIP FINANCIALLY,
 AND TO STERLING ROPES FOR THEIR SPONSORSHIP. STERLING 
MAKES GREAT ROPES – THEY HANDLED WONDERFULLY, STAYED DRY,
 AND KEPT US WARM (AS INSULATION ON ICE LEDGES).WE CLIMBED
 A VARIATION TO THE HELMUTH-HOUSE LINE ‘FIRST BORN’ OVER 
SEVENTY THREE HOURS FROM MAY 10-12, 2016. OF THAT TIME WE 
SPENT THIRTY HOURS WAITING FOR WEATHER TO IMPROVE. 
OURS WAS THE FOURTH ASCENT OF THE FATHER AND SON’S WALL. 
THE ROUTE FOLLOWS ‘FIRST BORN’ FOR ITS MAJORITY, DEVIATING 
JUST ABOVE THE SECOND ROCK BAND AND RETURNING JUST ABOVE
 THE THIRD ROCK BAND. ALL IN ALL WE CLIMBED 500’ OF NEW VERTICAL
 TERRAIN AND ABOUT THAT MUCH CONTOURING BACK TO THE LINE.  
SINCE WE WEREN’T THERE TO HUG OUR MOMS ON MOTHER’S DAY, 
WE’RE NAMING IT THE ‘MOTHER’S DAY’ VARIATION. AS FOR A GRADE?
 IN THE SPIRIT OF THE PAST ASCENTS: ALASKA GRADE 5, 
SCOTTISH GRADE VI.
                                                
“WHAT’S A SCOTTISH GRADE VI?” REALLY THE ONLY THING WE KNOW
 ABOUT SCOTTISH CLIMBING IS THAT IT ONLY HAPPENS IN BAD 
WEATHER. TWO OF THE THREE ROUTES ON DENALI’S FATHER AND 
SON’S WALL WERE CLIMBED BY SCOTS; ONE PARTY ALMOST GOT 
SMOKED BY AN ICE AVALANCHE (GUY WILLETT AND PAUL RAMSDEN 
ON ‘THE GREAT WHITE FRIGHT’) AND ANOTHER PARTY CLAIMED 
THEY SET OUT WITH ‘NO TENT, NO SLEEPING BAG, NO IDEA’ 
(KENTON COOL AND IAN PARNELL ON ‘THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL 
BROTHERS’). THE FIRST ROUTE UP THE WALL WAS CLIMBED IN 1995
BY ELI HELMUTH AND STEVE HOUSE. NOT ONE PARTY HAS CLIMBED
 IT TO THE TOP. LAST YEAR, OVER PITCHERS OF BEER AND BRANDI
 CARLILE HARMONIES, MIKE GARDNER AND I TRACED LINES UP THE 
FEW PHOTOS WE COULD FIND.


DREAMS / I HAVE DREAMS / WHEN I’M AWAKE / WHEN I’M ASLEEP


FOR BOTH OF US, IT WAS OUR SECOND TRIP INTO THE ALASKA RANGE; 
WE THOUGHT IT MIGHT BE OVER OUR HEADS.  BUT, IF THERE’S ONE 
THING WE’VE LEARNED IN OUR COMBINED EXPERIENCE WORKING 
ON DENALI, IT’S THIS: WHEN IN ROME, YOU GO BIG OR GO HOME – 
EITHER WAY, CARPE-FUCKING-DIEM.

WE STAGED FOR TWO DAYS IN TALKEETNA BEFORE WE BOARDED A 
HAVILLAND BEAVER (NO RELATION TO CASTOR CANIDENSIS, THE 
MOST INDUSTRIOUS OF NORTH AMERICAN FAUNA) AND SOARED 
NORTHWARD IN THE WASH OF ITS THROATY ROAR. BEFORE SUN HIT 
THE NORTH BUTTRESS OF MT. HUNTER AND WE WERE CAMPED JUST
 OFF THE AIRSTRIP. THE NEXT MORNING WE JAUNTED TWO-THIRDS 
OF THE WAY UP THE WEST FACE OF HUMBLE PEAK BEFORE WE DECIDED 
IT WAS TOO WARM TO CONTINUE. ON THE WAY DOWN, WE QUADRUPLED 
THE TOTAL NUMBER OF SNOW BOLLARDS WE’D EVER RAPPELLED OFF.


OVER THE NEXT SEVEN DAYS WE MOVED FROM BASECAMP (~7000’) 
UP TO THE 14,000’ BASIN. AS WE DRAGGED HEAVY SLEDS DOWN THE
 KAHILTNA AND UP THE WEST BUTTRESS, IT STRUCK US HOW KARMIC
 OUR SITUATION WAS. AS GUIDES, WE’VE LAUGHED AT PEOPLE ANCHORED
 BY THEIR SLEDS, BUT AS CLIMBERS WE WERE HAPPY NO ONE WAS 
AROUND TO LAUGH AT US. WHEN WE ARRIVED AT 14,000’ WE PLANTED 
THIS YEAR’S FLAG OF CIVILIZATION.


BEEP. THE SCREEN OF OUR SAT PHONE READ STACKED LOWS FOR 
THE NEXT WEEK. IT WAS NEVER TERRIBLE, BUT NEVER GOOD. 
WE TRIED TO GET A CACHE IN AT THE TOP OF THE FATHER AND 
SON’S WALL BUT TURNED AROUND WHEN WE FOUND SCARY SNOW 
CONDITIONS BELOW THE FIXED LINES ON THE WEST BUTTRESS. 
FOUR DAYS PASSED IN A BLUR OF SKIING, GAMBLING IN-TOWN 
BEER ON CARD GAMES, AND DISCUSSING THE ROUTE AND THE 
WEATHER. WE THOUGHT A LOT ABOUT THE DESCENT – 
WE WOULD EITHER GO DOWN TO KAHILTNA PASS, OVER MT. CAPPS,
 AND UP THE PETER’S GLACIER (4000’ OF ELEVATION GAIN OVER 
SIX MILES) OR DROP OFF THE WEST BUTTRESS AT AROUND 
12,000’. WE DECIDED THE LATTER MEANT LESS WALKING 
AND MORE CLIMBING.

WE STAGED FOR AN ATTEMPT ON A ‘CLEARING WINDOW’ BUT BY THE 
TIME WE ARRIVED AT THE START OF THE DESCENT, SNOW FELL. 
A SUCKER HOLE OPENED AS AN AVALANCHE RIPPED ACROSS 
THE LOWER PART OF THE FATHER AND SON’S WALL. WHEN WE
 RETURNED TO CAMP WE DECIDED ON ‘GO’ TERMS – LITTLE TO 
NO NEW SNOW FOR 48 HOURS, SUNLIGHT FOR MOST OF THAT TIME, 
AND GENERALLY LOW WINDS AT LAUNCH.

AFTER FOUR MORE DAYS AT 14,000’ IT LOOKED LIKE WE WOULD 
MEET OUR TERMS. WE GOT OUR GEAR READY. AT 6:30 PM WE LEFT 
14,000’ AND DESCENDED TO THE BASE OF SQUIRREL HILL. WE 
LOOKED AT EACH OTHER, NODDED CONFIRMATION BACK AND FORTH,
 AND DROPPED IN.


AN EASY DESCENT ON SNOW BROUGHT US DOWN TO A BAND 
OF SERACS. SKIRTING AROUND THEM, WE ARRIVED AT AN ICE 
LEDGE AND SET A RAPPEL. I LANDED IN AN ‘ICE MOAT,’ A FEATURE 
WE’D SEEN ON A TOPO OF THE DESCENT. A BETTER DESCRIPTION
 WOULD HAVE BEEN ‘SHARK’S MAW.’ DAGGERS OF GLACIAL ICE HUNG 
ABOVE US. THE MOAT PINCHED INTO A GULLY THEN AND OPENED UP
 AGAIN. I SAW SOME (NOT SMALL) ROCKS FALL CLOSE TO MY RIGHT,
 THROUGH THE PINCH. I DRILLED A THREAD AS MIKE DESCENDED. 
“DANGEROUS SPOT, MOVE FAST,” WAS THE EXTENT OF OUR 
CONVERSATION. ONE MORE QUICK RAPPEL LANDED US 
UNDERNEATH A BOULDER. SHELTERED, WE TOOK A MOMENT TO BREATHE.
 THERE WAS NO GOING BACK UP THAT.


FOUR MORE RAPPELS BROUGHT US TO THE GLACIER. WE PACKED UP A
 ROPE AND MIKE STARTED ACROSS THE LOWER PETER’S. BARE ICE 
WAS PATCHED WITH WINDBLOWN SNOW AND OPEN CREVASSES. 
HALFWAY ACROSS MIKE STEPPED ON A PATCH OF SNOW AND DISAPPEARED.
 I WAS YANKED EIGHT FEET ACROSS THE ICE BEFORE I STOPPED AND 
STARTED DIGGING FRANTICALLY. THE ROPE BETWEEN US SLACKENED, 
AND I STOPPED DIGGING AND STARTED PULLING IN THE SLACK.  

“MIKE! MIKE!” I YELLED. MUFFLED GRUNTS CAME OUT OF THE HOLE.
HIS HEAD POKED OUT OF THE HOLE, “HOLY SHIT!” HE’D TAKEN A 

THIRTY FOOT CREVASSE FALL AND CLIMBED OUT UNINJURED.

HE LED ACROSS THE REST OF THE PETER’S AND UP OVER 
THE BERGSCHRUND TO THE BASE OF GULLY AT THE START
 OF FIRST BORN. WE’D SPENT HOURS TRACING LINES ON
 OUR CAMERA SCREENS, AND CONNECTED A CONTINUOUS
 WHITE RIBBON FROM THE BOTTOM TO THE TOP. THIS WAS THE
 MOST PROMISING OPTION.


WE KITTED UP AND CLICKED ON OUR HEADLAMPS AS DARKNESS FELL.
 TWO THOUSAND FEET PASSED BEFORE WE STOPPED TO BREW UP. 
WE TURNED OUR HEADLAMPS OFF AFTER WE FIRED THE STOVE, AND
 WATCHED THE DAWN RUN TO SALMON. AN HOUR AND A HALF LATER
 MIKE CLIMBED OUT INTO THE FIRST ROCK BAND. THE HELMUTH-HOUSE 
TOPO SUGGESTED WE’D FIND A DIFFICULT-TO-PROTECT 5.8 ROCK PITCH, 
BUT DEEP SNOW LED TO THIN ICE, AND MIKE BROUGHT ME UP. TWO
 MORE PITCHES OF HERO ICE AND FUN MOVEMENT LED US THROUGH
 THE BAND TO ANY ICY TRAVERSE.


THROUGH THE FIRST ROCK BAND, THE WIND AND SNOW PICKED
 UP. WHEN MIKE AND I SWITCHED LEADS BELOW THE SECOND
 ROCK BAND, SPINDRIFT BEGAN TO POUR DOWN FROM ABOVE.
 WE COULDN’T CLIMB THROUGH THE CASCADE, SO I CLIMBED ACROSS
 THE DRAINAGE TO AN ICE ARETE WHERE WE CHOPPED A SMALL
 LEDGE, DOZED, AND TRADED THOUGHTS.


“WE SHOULD GO DOWN OR GO UP.” / “I’M GETTING NERVOUS.” / 
“LET’S LISTEN TO MUSIC.” / “IT’S GETTING BETTER.” / 
“IT’S NOT GETTING BETTER.” / “I CAN’T GET THIS SONG 
OUT OF MY HEAD.” / “NOT MUCH IMPROVEMENT.” / “TIME TO GO.”


AGAIN, WE NODDED CONFIRMATION BACK AND FORTH. 
WE RAPPELLED ONCE TO GAIN OUR LINE. HOUSE DESCRIBES
 THESE PITCHES AS ‘STEEP WAVES’ OF ICE. AS I CLIMBED 
THROUGH THEM I SCREAMED, “WAVES! WAVES!” MIKE YELLS HIS
 AGREEMENT AS HE COMES UP.


THE SPINDRIFT STARTED AGAIN BUT ONE MORE SHORT PITCH
 BROUGHT US TO A SNOW ARETE. THE WEATHER GOT WORSE
 AND WE CHOPPED AN ICE LEDGE. AFTER SEVERAL ATTEMPTS
 TO SPOON LYING DOWN WE FIND THE MOST COMFORTABLE POSITION 
POSSIBLE – SITTING UP, OUR HEADS ON EACH OTHER AND OUR FEET
 NESTLED DOWN LOW. WE DRAGGED OUR SHARED SLEEPING BAG UP 
OVER OUR HEADS AND TUCKED IT BEHIND US. FOR SIXTEEN HOURS
 WIND AND SNOW ARE LOST TO US. WE SPOKE LITTLE AND SLEPT LESS. 
THE REMAINDER OF OUR SOLID FOOD AND RAY WYLIE HUBBARD’S
 LYRICS FORTIFIED US.


I SAW THIS OL’ DOG HE WAS CHASIN’ THIS RABBIT 
/ I SAW A DOG A’ CHASIN’ THIS RABBIT / I SAW THIS DOG 
HE WAS CHASIN’ THIS RABBIT / IT WAS ON SUNDAY,
 ABOUT NOON / I SAID TO THE RABBIT, 
“ARE YA GONNA MAKE IT?” / I SAID THE RABBIT, 
” YA GONNA MAKE IT?” / I SAID TO THE RABBIT, 
"ARE YA GONNA MAKE IT?” / THE RABBIT SAID SAID, 
“WELL, I GOT TO.”

THE NEXT DAY WE DEPARTED IN THE EVENING WHEN THE 
WINDS CALMED AND THE SNOW STOPPED. I LED UP TOWARD
 CURTAIN OF ICE FLOWING DOWN A WEAKNESS IN THE THIRD 
ROCK BAND. STEVE AND ELI TRENDED LEFT HEB. MORE TRAVERSING
 AND ONE STEEP PITCH BROUGHT US ‘ABOVE THE DIFFICULTIES’
 TO A BROAD SLOPE OF BLUE ICE. WHEN MIKE ARRIVED, 
WE DRANK DEEPLY FROM WATER FLOWING DOWN THE ROCK
 WALL ON OUR LEFT.

MIKE LIFTED OFF, BUT SOON REALIZED THIS ICE BAND DIDN’T
 CONNECT TO THE UPPER SLOPES WE’D EYED IN THE PHOTOS.
 HE FOUND A BLOCK AND WE RAPPELLED IN TANDEM TO THE
 ICE BANDS. FOUR HUNDRED FEET OF TRAVERSING BROUGHT 
US BACK IN LINE WITH ‘FIRST BORN.‘


IF HELL FROZE OVER, IT WOULD LOOK LIKE AN ENDLESS 
SHEET OF 50 DEGREE BLUE ICE. TO US, SALVATION 
APPEARED AS DISCONTINUOUS RUNNELS OF NEVE. FOLLOWING
 THE SNOW THE BEST WE COULD, WE SIMUL-CLIMBED THE REST
 OF THE ROUTE; MIKE LED A FEW HUNDRED FEET UNTIL OUR 
SCREWS RAN OUT, AND THEN I LED UNTIL THE SCREWS RAN OUT,
 THEN MIKE LED THE REST. WE GAINED THE TOP OF THE RIDGE 
AROUND 7:30 AM. THE WIND WAS RELENTLESS, BUT THE SKY 
WAS BLUE. OUR REMAINING RATIONS CONSISTED OF TWO 
HANDFULS OF GELS AND NUT BUTTER PACKETS AND ONE 
FREEZE DRIED MEAL.

WE DECIDED TO WAIT FOR IMPROVEMENT BEFORE GOING FOR 
THE NORTH SUMMIT. AFTER ALL, THAT WAS PART OF OUR DREAM. 
A SMALL CORNICE OFFERED SOME SHELTER FROM THE WIND. 
WE AUGURED IN. TWO HOURS LATER, WE AWOKE COLD AND 
SHIVERING TO INTERMITTENT WHITEOUTS AND STRONG GUSTS
 BLOWING SNOW INTO OUR SHELTER. WE DISSOLVED GELS IN 
HOT WATER AND SIPPED THE DRINK TO WARM OURSELVES. 
AS WE SAT THERE OUR CHOICE BECAME SIMPLER. EIGHT HOURS
 LATER, THE CLOUDS BROKE ENOUGH TO OFFER QUARTER-MILE 
VISIBILITY, AND THAT’S ALL WE NEEDED. STILL, THE WALK ACROSS 
THE UPPER PETER’S WAS BREEZY.AS WE SLOGGED THROUGH 
FRESH POWDER TOWARDS THE FIXED LINES WE HEARD A FAINT 
WOO HOO!” WE LOOKED UP TO SEE A GROUP FROM ALASKA 
MOUNTAINEERING SCHOOL STANDING ON THE RIDGE AT THE 
TOP OF THE LINES. NOW, I ALMOST RECALL THAT WE RAN 
RIGHT UP AND HUGGED THEM, BUT REALLY WE WERE TRASHED. 
WE TRUDGED UP TO THEM AND NOSHED THEIR OFFERED CANDY.
 ON THE WALK DOWN TO 14,000’, WE STOPPED ON A RISE, TURNED
 TO EACH OTHER WITH TEARS IN OUR EYES, AND EMBRACED. 
WE STEPPED INTO CAMP SEVENTY THREE HOURS AFTER WE LEFT. 
THERE WASN’T MUCH TO SAY THAT NIGHT, 
AND AFTER DINNER, SLEEP CAME EASY.





Friday, July 22, 2016

6 Day Mountaineering, Voorhis Returns

The AMS 6 Day Mountaineering Course taught by AMS Instructors Jimmy Voorhis, Simon Frez-Albrecht and Michael Hutchins returned to Talkeetna last night due to weather concerns.

The students seem to have developed a great working relationship.  They are having a great time as they go about sorting gear, washing dishes and completing their final tasks.

Chopy sorting

Raymond and Thomas repacking

Deborah and Joanna

Ashton busy washing dishes
Sean and Anthony (student from an earlier course)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

AMS 2016: July 19th, Celebrating our interns

Alaska Mountaineering School enjoys and relies on interns each busy climbing season, and has watched many first year interns become all-star mountain guides. Alaska Pacific University, located in Anchorage, Alaska has a long standing outdoor studies program that the majority of our interns have been selected from. In recent years Juneau's University of Alaska Southeast program has been growing and adding to the family at AMS. UAS program director Forest Wagner is a friend and guide for AMS.

We were thrilled to have Becca and Emma as interns this year and would like to highlight their experience:

Hey everyone! My name is Becca Erdman and I am one of the interns at Alaska Mountaineering School this summer. I am originally from a small town in Wisconsin; however, there are no mountains there so I quickly moved to Alaska where I couldn’t be happier! I am currently in school at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage getting a degree in Outdoor Studies and Psychology. 
This brought me to Talkeetna, Alaska home of Alaska Mountaineering School and the entrance to the Alaska Range.  I was drawn to AMS because of their dedication to teaching and learning in the mountains. AMS offers a unique learning experience in one of the most beautiful places on earth: The Alaska Range.
This summer I spent some time in the range teaching mountaineering courses and taking participants into Kahiltna Basecamp. I was surrounded by some  of the biggest glaciers and most beautiful mountains in the world. Some favorite memories include lowering into an 80ft crevasse and experiencing the midnight sun of Alaska reflecting off the snowy mountains at all hours of the night. 
I never in a million years thought I would make it all the way from Wisconsin for the best job ever in Alaska. I’ve had wonderful learning experiences and opportunities at AMS, and wouldn’t have spent my summer any other way. I encourage anyone looking for a challenging yet rewarding learning experience to sign up for one of AMS’s mountaineering courses.  You’ll be happy you did!
Happy climbing!


Sun protection from the daily glacier sun


Enjoying life on the glacier. 

 Becca rappelling into a crevasse at Kahiltna basecamp

A 6 day mountaineering course traveling in the Pika Glacier 




Emma Lyddan: Originally from California, I moved to Alaska two years ago to continue my college education at University of Alaska, Southeast in Juneau. I am currently majoring in Environmental Studies, Geography and Outdoor Studies. I came to Alaska to escape, explore and pursue a journey of self discovery. In my first year I learned how to ski, climb and guide people through the backcountry. At the end of that year I climbed Denali and skied in Japan with the Outdoor Studies program. I was interested in the internship at Alaska Mountaineering School because I wanted to strengthen my hard skills and further my understanding of life in the mountains. This internship has been an incredible experience. I was extremely honored to be a part of two Denali expeditions this summer with a successful summit at the end. My time on Denali has always been life changing. The determination, compassion and strength required on Denali has altered my perspective on the world in a very positive way. I learned remarkable life skills through my summer as an intern at AMS. The community here at AMS is filled with a diverse, highly skilled group of people who have come together to do something they deeply love. It was wonderful to watch and be a part of. The confidence and knowledge I gained this summer at AMS is unforgettable. 


Climbing Denali, all smiles

Sun protection on Denali West Buttress

Summit shot! Denali West Buttress, 20,310'

AMS Denali West Buttress cook tent, cooking and melting water are key skills to have to keep everyone hydrated and full of enough calories to tackle the route!