Even now I find it hard to believe when I look at photos of those mountains that we will be there in less than a month. I have mentioned Alaska very briefly in the last few posts, and felt like it was time to properly introduce our next adventure.
|Mt Foraker and The Sultana Ridge continuing onto Pt.12,472 and Crosson|
PC- Fedor Farberov (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia)
When Joe first mentioned going on a expedition to the Alaska Range to me last summer, I was quite unsure about the whole idea. Maybe more on the side of thinking that it was not going to happen anytime soon. So when we decided to shoot for the month of May in spring of 2018, we slowly went to work on getting our team and logistics together. With our main objective being the Sultana Ridge on Mt Foraker.
Mt Foraker (the indians native to the land call the mountain Sultana) sits in the central Alaska Range located in Denali National Park. Foraker is a mere 14 miles southwest of her much more popular partner, Denali. At 17,400ft, Foraker is the second highest mountain in the range, and third highest in the United States. In 2016, Denali saw 1,126 climbers, of which 675 got to the summit. Mt Foraker on the other hand, saw a total of 16 climbers, of which seven made it to the top. Credit: NPS.Gov Although we are going to Alaska with the main objective being to climb Mt Foraker, we have a few other possible climbs lined up if things don't go as planned.
|The Camps mark the route, Pt.12,472 is behind camp three on Crosson.|
PC- Daeshik via Wikiloc
Our intended route up the mountain is the Sultana Ridge. Though the climb itself is not overly technical, it is quite long and committing. Requiring you to climb two substantial peaks and then traverse a long exposed ridge, before making it to the mountain itself. Where a 5,500ft summit day awaits you.
I am a new addition to Joe’s prior expedition team. Joe, his sister Melissa, and good friend Trav all climbed and summited Denali via the Muldrow Glacier. This will be their second expedition to the Alaska range, and my first. Overall, each one of us will bring something to the team, from knowledge, humor, encouragement, and different skills.
|Melissa and I on our climb of Mt Hood, summer 2017|
One of the most exciting things about the trip thus far has been naming our expedition team. If you look up “Sultana” in google, the first thing that comes up is Grapes. So after a little more research we quickly realized that in some countries golden raisins are called “Sultanas”. That coupled with the fact that we are all blonde, and don’t fair particularly well in the sun, we decided that The Golden Raisins would be a perfect expedition name.
Along with learning about the route, helping naming our team, and getting permits, I have had to purchase a lot of new gear for this trip… from sleeping bags, mats, clothes, parka, and other essential items. Out of all the preparation we have done so far though, training has taken up most of our time. We started methodically training even before we got back from New Zealand.
As I said in my last blog post, “Training for the New Alpinism” has been our own sort of “Bible”. Referencing that book and the companion website (Uphill Athlete), we have been scheduling our lives around running, hiking with heavy packs, days of doing strength workouts, and somewhere in our free time getting some climbing in.
|First day of Training, doing the Alpine Combine in New Zealand|
The whole training cycle, if done perfectly goes over 25+ weeks. Since were in New Zealand, we started a bit later and shortened our training to be at a total of 18 weeks from the time we started training to the day we take a plane out onto the glacier. At this point in time we are less than a month away and are at about 156 hours of training.
It's been difficult to try to balance traveling, climbing and life in general with such a strict training plan. So when last week looked like it might be our last time to get some ice climbing in this year we took the opportunity to try to get one more day in.
|First 30ft on Chouinard's Gully|
The transition from only toproping to now leading has opened up a whole new door of possibilities of routes to get on. So we drove up to Keene Valley, NY and scouted out Chouinard's Gully. A 300 ft, WI3 ice gulley right off the pond. With a 70m rope you can do the whole thing in two pitches, with an easy walk off at the end.
The morning of my first multi pitch climb I was filled with fluttering butterflies in my stomach. We left the car just before 8:00am and were at the base of the climb in about 15 minutes. I had placed all the screws, slings, cordelette and carabiners on my harness before we left the car so when we got to the climb all we had to do was tighten our boots and rope up. I was the first to lead and I was nervous! Once I started to climb, and placed my first screw the nerves fluttered away. Once out of the short steep section of the climb I felt like I was cruising. So mentally focused on the task at hand, by the time I got to the top of my pitch my calves quickly reminded me of the low angle ice, as it felt like they had been placed in a raging fire. I made an anchor around a tree and Joe climbed the full rope length up to me. Where we high fived, switched the lead and he was on his way. The sun never hit the climb, but for a spring day, it felt warm and the ice was soft. Joe lead the last pitch with good technique and excellent screws. Once he created the anchor I was quick to follow and got to the top where both of us were ecstatic on our first ice multi pitch.
|At the belay, Joe on the second pitch, with Chapel Lake below us|
We were back down at the car before noon, and spent the rest of the day climbing in the canyon. Both of us high as a kite after a good day. Most importantly an excellent way to close this years ice climbing season. Climbing 50 pitches of ice, both of us getting our first leads in, and finishing up with an excellent first multi pitch. What started out looking like it might be an iffy season for us, turned out to be truly outstanding.
With us not having to shuffle around trying to fit in ice climbing between cardio and strength workouts, we have stepped up and really started focusing on the last few weeks of training and prep before the trip.
|Following Joe on the second pitch|
With almost all of the gear gathered and purchased, we are moving onto food for the trip. With a projected 3 weeks of time in the Alaska Range, that means we will have to be packing 3 weeks of food for four people. You can get the idea how much that might weigh. So as we come up with each bag of food, we have to think of food items that will keep our appetites interest at 10,000+ ft. All the food you try to stay away from in everyday life with most likely be making an appearance in one of our food bags. Easily digestible, high calorie, low weight food items are the goal.
As the weeks start to countdown to days, our training intensifies before it tapers. This week consisted of over 16 hours of training. The following weeks will start to look more and more like what we will be actually be doing on the mountain.
|After our climb, me on Chapel Pond. 300ft Chouinards is behind me.|
After we all group together mid April for a last check over gear and big last training day, all four of us will be meeting up in Anchorage Alaska on April 26th.
|Running laps on Hot Shot|
The training, planning and expenses for this trip have all been more than I was expecting, but I think we are and have been doing the best we can to prepare ourselves for the trip. If we haven't, we will quickly know once we get there.
I am excited to keep all of you in the loop and try to blog along as the process continues! Cheers!
|Happy Camper after our first MultiPitch|