Climbing, friends, and beautiful landscapes at the edge of the world. These are a few of my very favorite things, and a rare combination to have in a relatively short weekend trip. Just over a year ago I encouraged a friend to move to Valdez, Alaska and she extracted the promise of a visit from me while she was there. It took a while but this past weekend the journey was made, ice was climbed, and the promise was fulfilled. Did I mention it was awesome to see a great friend? It’s only appropriate at this point to give a huge thank you to Mackenzie and Eric for being exceptionally generous hosts- thank you.
After a red-eye flight north on Wednesday night, we picked up the rental car at 2am. Even at that point, the concept of fitting three large men, with six large bags of ice climbing gear in a Chevy Aveo, then driving across 300 miles of Alaska, in winter, in the middle of the night, seemed just a little hilarious. But we did it anyway, and we nicknamed the car “the rollerskate.”
The “prelude” photo below was sunrise upon our arrival in Valdez at 7:30am. We rallied to repack and were racking up to climb by 9am. The weather gods granted clear skies with only moderate winds and good temps. To warm up I followed both pitches of Hung Jury (on the left), then gang simul-climbed Fang Gully (on the right):
Friday my good friend Mackenzie came out to play as well. Temps were a little warmer, but with cloudy skies and no wind. John and Marcus took off to chase the big boys further up the canyon, and I took the chance to lead Mack up Hung Jury and Horsetail Falls.
Valdez is far enough away that you can get on a full 70m WI3 at 2pm on a Friday without waiting for anyone. Money.
Saturday predicted higher winds, but clear skies. John and Marcus hadn’t gotten to get on Keystone Greensteps the previous day, and I was psyched to follow them up the longest piece of ice I have ever climbed. Four pitches of solid WI4+.
We watched the winds pick up all day, knowing that Valdez is well known for getting pounded by weather. The climb was thankfully tucked just out of the way, but by the time John was leading pitch 4…
We topped out and rapped down, with Marcus leaving some nice “alpine style” v-threads for others to wonder about. Thanks for gunning a stellar route gentlemen. At the base the winds had really picked up, and we figured it was time to head home.
Originally we had hoped to climb on Sunday as well, but forecasts were predicting gusts up to 100mph on the pass out of Valdez, and by the time we got back to base, trash cans were rolling down the street on their own, and there was a fury in the air that was not to be messed with.
Sunday morning we stewed in town watching the weather station on the pass until about noon, then decided to go for it. The upside to our “rollerskate” was its low profile. The downside was that it probably only weighed 3,000lbs, with us in it… thankfully the pass was chill and we made it to Anchorage without much trouble. Clear skies on the way out of town left us with the impression that the only thing bigger than the ice climbing in Valdez was the opportunity for skiing…
Huge thank you to Marcus and John, for being exceptional partners on this, and having a hell of a good time together.