Friday, July 5, 2013

Wondering in the Chugach

The Chugach! photo by Zena Wolcott

Well you know climbing this spring has been pretty sweet to me! I got to adventure in the Vancouver Island Mountains for a bunch of days before heading to NB to visit family. There I got a few great days of climbing in with good friends! From there I made my way to Squamish where I climbed a number of routes I have been excited about. When my time in Squamish ended I boarded a plane to Alaska to work a NOLS Mountaineering course in the Chugach Range.
Sean on this way up the 10c corner pitch on the Great Game in Squamish BC photo by Max Fisher

Climbing in the Chugach consists of big glacial approaches and lots of snow time. Our course started on June 3rd when our Instructor team came together to meet and discuss our objectives for the course. Over the next few days we organized gear, fuel, planned our food and pulled maps. On July 5th our students arrived.

We outfitted our students with all the gear necessary for an adventure into the Alaskan Mountains and on the 6th we made our way to the toe of the Matanuska Glacier to start our adventure. Our first 7 days involved introducing the NOLS Leadership curriculum, basic camping/cooking skills, basic mountain and dry glacier travel skills and awareness and getting some ice climbing in.
Sean and others traveling up the Matanuska Glacier photo by Matt Valentine
Zena, Wes and myself photo by Matt Valentine

Traveling on the Mat photo by Matt Valentine

We then got a re-ration and the rest of our technical gear, which was flown in by Meekins Air Service, along standing NOLS supporter! We made our way into an area known as Scandi Peaks where we taught the students how to travel on a rope team through firn zone (the area where winter snow has accumulated enough to cover the crevasses), probing ( a 2.5-3m pole the push vertically into the snow to find crevasses as you travel up or down glacier) and camping on snow. After a few days in Scandi we decsended back to the Mat (Matanuska Glacier) where we continued our up valley progression with the ultimate destination being Turtle Flats (A classic NOLS Alaska climbing area for courses). After a few days our students where probing out perimetres (using the probe to find a safe area with no crevasses so we can be un-roped and roam freely in that area) for camping in good style and finding that camping on snow is hard/fun work.
Our kitchen at Scandi peaks photo by Matt Valentine
Student kitchen in the first snow camp photo by Matt Valentine
We navigated through an ice-fall and got onto Turtle Flats where we planned to base camp for a week so we could teach technical mountain skills and go climb some peaks.
One of the many beautiful nights on Turtle Flats... 24hr Sun photo by Zena Wolcott
During our 7 days in Turtle Flats we got more food from the Meekin's Air Service, climbed 3 peaks, taught snow protection, anchors, single team crevasse rescue, more leadership, and environmental studies such as glaciology and ecology.
Looking down at Turtle Flats on the approach to peak 9620ft photo by Matt Valentine
Navigating the bergshrund and onto the ridge photo by Matt Valentine

Up the ridge into rotten snow photo by Matt Valentine
Anthony on the "Au Cheval" with exposure all around! photo by Matt Valentine

Pretty cool place! photo by Matt Valentine
Looking down the ridge at Will and Anthony on there way up. photo by Max Fisher

Sam and Prince William Sound hanging out photo by Matt Valentine
We started our way off Turtle Flats with students leading the way. They took us down towards the Powell Glacier and after 3 days lead us through an ice fall, the firn zone and on to "dry ground".

Our last 5 days were focused on our students travelling independently of us for 2 days.  So we finished the first aid curriculum and travelled 2 more days with then through the Alaskan bush before setting them free. We then went ahead to our final meeting point and waited there for then. They travelled successfully in 2 groups to our point. They worked together in these 2 separate groups to navigate there way to us. It is awesome to see them use there skills to make good decisions with risk management and navigation and finish there course in style.
Gear we are sending out on the plane before we send the students on small group travel photo by Matt Valentine
The next day we made our way to our pick up spot and back to the branch where we had some fresh food, flavoured juices and drinks, and a small graduation for the team.

Thank to all the students and instructors for a great experience in Alaska!!! Mason, Sam, Merrick, Sean, Reid, Erica, Diana, Will, Anthony, Cliff, Wes, David and Max.... Zena, Jorn and Matt (my I-Team)


  1. Hey man, nice blog! was just investigating stuff to do on Vnacouver island and found you.... was up camping at landslide lake a few weeks ago with some mates who don't climb, Foster looks ace! then I scrolled down and seen you were up on tha matanuska glacier, I was up there in April with a team from the UK and stayed at scandi hut for a week, what an incredible place!! anyways, ive just moved to Vancouver from Scotland and keen to get out climbing and exploring as much as possible so if you are ever in the city would be good to hear some of your stories and recommendations for places to go!! cheers

    1. Hey Neil, Your in a good place for climbing, being in SW BC, now! I'm in the Rockies right now trying to get into the mountains for some alpine adventures. Yeah Scandi is a cool area... I was working so the ability to take advantage of the area was limited for me. Foster is awesome!! There are some awesome area's around you that are cheaper then going to the island.... the Chehalis Range, Slesse and Rexford, Joffre area, Washington Pass, the Enchantments.... lots of great alpine climbing! I'm not going to be back on the west coast until sometime next year. Have fun out there!

  2. thanks for your response, hope your enjoying the Rockies!!! have some buddies from back home living on the Island so that's why I ended up there first, but there is just so much to explore! I will check out your recommendations and get myself out there!

    cheers buddy, take care!