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    Daniel Harro speeds through the Alaska Range

    Ruth Gorge 2013, Mt. Wake “The Cook Inlet”  April 26th-28th, John Frieh & Daniel Harro.

    Daniel Harro Mixed Climbs photo: John Frieh

    Daniel Harro Mixed Climbs photo: John Frieh

    Climbing in the alpine is all managing the many systems including ropes, cooking, sleeping, rack, and maybe the most important your clothing system.  A few weeks ago I had a “long weekend” trip into the Alaska Range with my good friend John Frieh who has mastered the art of the “Smash and Grab” style of alpine climbing. Alaska has had one of the coldest recorded springs in history so I threw in both my NW Alpine Fast & Light pants as well as my Salopette’s in case things were on the cold side of the spectrum.  John and I talked on Tuesday and purchased our tickets to Anchorage that morning.  Jonn saw a solid weather window and we both had air miles to burn so we decided to go for it.  

    Thursday night we left PDX and headed north.  Our plan was to fly into the range Friday morning and fly out sometime Sunday since both John and I had to report back to our respective jobs at 8:00 Monday morning leaving just enough time to scout routes on Friday and climb on Saturday and get back to Anchorage by Sunday night.  Pretty much your standard long weekend warrior trip substituting airplanes for cars.

    Thursday night to Friday morning: PDX -> ANC -> Talkeetna -> Ruth Glacier.  After skiing and scouting for about 4-5 hours Friday afternoon, John and I decided to head to Mt. Wake and see what it had to offer, unfortunately our line that we were looking at was not in so we ended up repeating a route called “The Cook Inlet” on Mt. Wake that John and Jess Roskelley put up last October.  It was an amazing summit and we were very lucky to have great clear warm weather to climb in.  It was nice reach a summit, not always easy in Alaska...


    After a short stay on the summit and a few photos we headed down with little issues.  We reached our skis as the sun was setting and did the long slow ski back to base camp.  At some point The sun set and the wind picked up on the way back to camp  forcing us to throw on our belay parkas for the last hour or so, surprising us both how cold it was still getting at night.  One of the down falls of the “Smash and Grab” style is our lack of forethought into preparing good quality meals, with no cooking tent, tired bodies and frozen fingers we were forced to eat freeze dried food which in my opinion is not adequate after 20+ hrs on the go.  On the flip side we woke up the next morning around 0800 called Paul at Talkeetna Air Taxi from the satellite phone and said he would see us in 45 min, giving John and I just enough time to wake up throw everything into our duffels and drag our gear down to the airstrip.  After being in the Alaska Range for about 72hrs John and I awarded ourselves with larger than normal breakfast at the Roadhouse making up for meager rations the night before.

    Summit shot! Photo: Daniel Harro

    Summit shot! Photo: Daniel Harro

    A huge thanks goes out to Bill Amos at NW Alpine for making some great quality clothing made right here in my back yard!  I can honestly say that my Fast and Light pants have more days of use than any other pant I have used in the alpine and are my go to pant for anything in the mountains.  

    I want to also say thanks to John for the inspiration of a long weekend into the Alaska Range, and of course we could not have done a trip like this without the amazing support from our wonderful wives and family!

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    Doug Shepherd reports on the FA of Can't Knock the Hustle, Mt. Burkett

    Wonderful, warm sandstone towered above us as we racked up for the north face of Castleton Tower.  The day before my right big toe had been bothering me all day, especially on the thin hands pitches.  As soon as I pulled my rock shoes on, I knew something was wrong.   I had an Alaska trip in two weeks and didn’t want push things, so I took a nap in the sun and watched my friends and others have a blast playing on Castleton. (Photo: North face of Castleton Tower ©Doug Shepherd)

    Fast-forward a few months and between our first ascent on Mt. Dickey and training for the Speedgoat 50K race, I’ve ruined what cartilage I had left in my right big toe.  I finally meet with Dr. Clanton at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado about fixing my toe.  He assured me they knew how to fix me right up and we scheduled my surgery for the end of August.  I pushed through the pain to finish the Speedgoat and hobbled into surgery unable to move my toe more than five degrees up or down.

    After my surgery, my wife was nice enough to drive me back and forth to Vail from our home in Northern New Mexico for follow-ups and help me figure out how to shower without getting my foot wet. I think she took a bit too much pleasure in taping the plastic bags to my leg as I lost quite a bit of hair each time I showered, quickly leaving me content to lie on the couch working and watching climbing movies on my laptop. (Photos: The magic workers (top). Pretending to work during recovery (bottom). ©Doug Shepherd)

    After a few weeks and more 12 hour round trips to Vail, I had my stitches out and was gimping around on crutches. Another 2 weeks and I was able to wear a normal shoe and walk around at work. Right around that time, John Frieh texted me with his usual, “hey, they weather is looking kind of good in Alaska. What are you up to?” I wrote him off the first time, as I could barely walk without the crutches. Another week goes by and John texted me again, “are you sure you can’t wear ice boots?”

    I immediately went out to the back yard and pulled my double boots out of the storage shed. Gingerly I try to pull on my right boot. The first attempt ends in almost blacking out and tears as I bend the toe too aggressively on the stiff insole. After a few minutes, I pull out the inner boot and put that on first. By angling my foot into the shell, I’m able to wiggle my foot into the boot with a bearable amount of pain. I quickly pull on my other boot, walk outside and climb on my system board a bit. Seems good enough, as long as we don’t climb anything too technical. I text John back that I’m in and the usual weekend ninja alpinism plans are formed. It just so happens that the weather window falls right after 6 weeks post-surgery, the arbitrary timeline my doctor’s gave me to resume “full-activity”.

    (Photo: Burkett Needle and Mt. Burkett ©Doug Shepherd) I fly to Seattle from Albuquerque on Thursday night and John picks up me at the airport. We crash at a friend’s house, but not before John pulls out a pair of baby blue NW Alpine Neoshell salopettes I had asked to borrow from NW Alpine since they are significantly more waterproof than my green power pants that NW Alpine had made for our Mt. Dickey trip. I’m excited by the prospective of combining these with my orange Big Four jacket, mostly because of the excited color combinations (blue and orange, yes please!) but also because I know the design of the pants is excellent and the Neoshell will keep me dry no matter what conditions we encounter.

    (Photo: Way too happy to be back in the spooner bag. ©Doug Shepherd) On Friday morning, John and I fly from Seattle to Petersburg and after coffee at Dieter Klose’s house, a quick shopping trip, and the usual junk show of packing Wally, our helicopter pilot, has us on the glacier by early afternoon. Because John has been here before, he knows exactly where we need to go and we are relaxing at the bivy site shortly after dark. My toe had responded reasonably to slogging up the talus slope, but I still was nowhere near healthy and definitely worried about the next day. Thankfully, we had brought along the two-person sleeping bag again, so I got to cuddle up to John and try to sleep for a few hours before our early start.

    We negotiate the broken Burkett glacier, with a bit of antics to connect the lower and upper glacier and quickly find ourselves below the access couloir to the Mt. Burkett-Burkett Needle col. I take off leading, the first time I’ve found myself in any sort of climbing situation since my toe surgery. We simul-climb to the col and drop down to where we can access the NW face of Mt. Burkett. The face takes roughly four long simul-climbing blocks between John and myself, unraveling quite nicely with moderate ice and mixed climbing in an amazing position. The only worry during the day, besides the building pain in my toe, is the wind on the upper North face. At times, it was strong enough to blow our arms back as we tried to swing our ice tools. We eventually emerged from the north face into the sun on the East Ridge and make our way to the summit. (Photo: Rocking the baby blue below the Burkett col ©John Frieh)

    Neither of us was willing to stand up on the summit, as the wind would have been blown us to Canada. After the wonderful belly crawl that compromised our summit experience, we begin the descent down the Golden Gully, a couloir splitting the Southwest aspect of Mt. Burkett. 6 or 7 rappels lead us to the lower angle snow compromising the lower portion of the Golden Gully and we down climb that to the glacier. At this point, my toe is hindering my ability to front point, so I am fairly slow down climbing and thankful that John is waiting for me just around every corner. (Photo: John Frieh on the upper ice fields of Mt. Burkett’s northwest face ©Doug Shepherd)

    Reversing our glacier shenanigans from the morning goes quickly and we are soon enjoying another dinner of ramen and preparing for an evening of cuddling. My foot is desperate for a break from my boots by the time we reach camp and I am pretty worried about the walk down to the helicopter pick-up point the next day. Thankfully, the next morning comes and I’m able to wear my boots and the walk to our cache and pick up point goes very easily. Within 24 hours I’m back in New Mexico, completing a first ascent during a long weekend break from work. (Photo: John Frieh and myself standing just below the summit of Mt. Burkett. ©Doug Shepherd)

    Thanks again to NW alpine for making quality alpine climbing clothing. The Neoshell fabric kept me dry while breathing and blocking the crazy wind we encountered. These quick alpine trips require the weather, your fitness, and other factors to line up just right for success. Because I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about my clothing system working, I was able to better focus on keeping my toe pain free and making a successful, and safe, first ascent of Can’t Knock the Hustle with my partner, John Frieh.

    (Photo: Waiting for Wally to pick us up below Mt. Burkett on Sunday morning ©John Frieh)

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    Doug Shepherd on Mt. Dickey

    “Hey Bill – got any really ugly bright fabric you can make me some pants out of?”


    The power pants humble beginnings
    Photo ©Bill Amos
    Bill sent me a text message with the above picture and a question “Is this obnoxious enough?”

    So begins the saga of the power pants.


    The power pants are so hot, I had to open the vents just to stay cool
    Photo ©John Frieh
    In early April, John Frieh and I took a short trip to the Ruth Gorge in the Central Alaska Range.  The adventure began for me in Los Alamos, NM where I have been living for the past year.  I left home on Thursday afternoon and after a quick drive to Albuquerque, a red-eye flight next to a woman who thought it was OK to text on the plane, plus a late night shopping spree at the 24-hour Carrs in Wasilla we crashed on the floor of Talkeetna Air Taxi for a few hours of rest on Friday morning.  John had brought the power pants with him from the PNW, so I first set eyes on them in a sleep deprived state, but knew right away that they were winners.  After an early wake-up and massive breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, Paul Roderick flew John and I onto the Ruth glacier.


    Doing what I do best, making and consuming pancakes
    Photo ©John Frieh
    While waiting out a day of unsettled weather on Saturday (pancakes!), John and I decided to attempt the unclimbed Northeast face of Mt. Dickey, which he, Dylan Johnson, and Roger Strong had previously hoped to attempt.  The alarm went off early Sunday morning and after a quick breakfast/brew session we were skiing towards Dickey.  Ditching the skis at the base of the face, John crossed the schrund and we were off.  After the initial snow slope, we began what would be a long battle with thin ice slabs, overhanging snow mushrooms, mixed steps, and all around heady climbing.


    The massive East face of Mt. Dickey. Our route begins on the white slabs directly above camp.
    Photo ©John Frieh
    After a difficult 600m or so, we reached easier terrain and simul-climbed through wonderful ice runnels and steep snow to the base of the large chimney system.  It was now late afternoon and we were disappointed to find that only the first pitch, maybe pitch and a half held ice.  After that, it quickly turned into overhanging snow mushrooms and what looked to be difficult mixed or aid climbing up to a hanging ice curtain of dubious quality.  Even worse, the ice hose from John’s photos was completely absent.  This was obviously disheartening, but we had to focus on finding a bivy site.  A 70m traverse down and across the face brought us to a rock outcropping were we chopped a ledge for our tent and settled into our two-person sleeping bag for the evening.  Since we hadn’t brought any sleeping pads, the man spoon was essential for comfort.


    Escaping the man-spoon and brewing up outside the tent on Monday morning
    ©John Frieh
    After sleeping in a bit on Monday morning, we got going around 10AM and eventually decided to traverse over to the French Route on the Northeast Ridge to see if we could exit there.  A lot of simul-climbing and some high quality mixed pitches brought us to a high point on the ridge crest.  We realized that with our limited gear, there was no way we were repeating the techno aid climbing that the French had pulled off over six days on the ridge.  A 30m rappel from the ridge brought us into a perfect runnel system that split the North face of the Northeast ridge, but didn’t guarantee success.  We knew that looming around the corner were the massive seracs nicknamed “Walmart” and hoped that we would be able to regain the ridge crest before having to confront that monster.


    The power pants propelling us through yet another mixed step on our route
    Photo ©John Frieh
    Another few hours of simul-climbing combined with short belayed mixed steps and we eventually had to face reality, exiting through “Walmart” was our only option.  We could see a large snow ramp traversing the seracs to a probable exit point.  A quick food and water break and we were off, blasting through the seracs in two quick simul-pitches.  Suddenly, I was above the danger zone and screaming with joy.  I could see the summit and knew we had the route in the bag.  We reached the summit around 8PM on Sunday afternoon, 37 hours after starting the route.  The descent, while long and arduous, was straight forward and a matter of mind over body.  My personal low point was when John reminded me that not only was Dickey a vertical mile tall, but we had to traverse under the South face which was a vertical mile wide…


    Two exhausted, but elated friends on the summit of Mt. Dickey
    ©John Frieh
    Thanks to NW Alpine for making quality alpine climbing clothing.  I’ve used and abused gear from most of the major companies in pursuit of alpine silliness and the combination of NWAlpinist salopettes and Big Four jacket is the best system of clothing I’ve ever owned for the pursuit.  That and green is so hot right now!

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