It’s early Friday morning at the Salt Lake City international airport, and I’m exhausted. I could already feel the effects of sleep deprivation creeping in from the late night of packing and procrastination. The captain gave the customary monotone pre-flight greeting, and casually announced that we would be experiencing “a pretty bumpy ride” due to nearby storms. To me, that was code for “shit’s about to get bumpy”. I cinched my seatbelt a little bit tighter, as if it’d make a difference.
Hours later we descended the white room into the 49th state of Alaska! My partner Madison and I departed the airport and made a beeline towards the local Wal-Mart to grab food and supplies. Our mad scramble went flawlessly minus the purchase of some cheap honey whiskey, our first major setback, and a questionable call on Madison’s part. Afterwards, we made our way to the ocean where we were waited for our ride and were welcomed by our first Alaskan sunset.
Around 10:30 pm we piled into my friend’s truck and began heading north toward the small, sleepy town of Talkeetna, the gateway to the Alaska Range. We arrived late that night at the TAT (Talkeetna Air Taxi) bunkhouse, a nice two-story accommodation for climbers flying with the company. The struggle of another early morning was mitigated by a hearty Alaskan breakfast at the Roadhouse before making our way over to check flight conditions at TAT. The weather forecast looked promising, hence the overall urgency, and with nothing but clear skies for the day we were given the green light. An hour and a half later we were in-bound to one of the most awe-inspiring yet intimidating landscapes I’d ever laid eyes on.
The plane floated steadily toward the jagged horizon, and I began wielding my camera like a rapid-fire machine gun. The plane twisted and turned as the landscape slowly began to reveal itself. The infamous Ruth Gorge had made its presence known and I was left feeling enormously insignificant.
Shortly after, I found myself standing knee deep in snow at the base of the Moose’s Tooth massif watching the small plane, a symbol of comfort and security, slowly vanish behind a 3,000-foot granite monolith along with any self-confidence I previously had. A sobering moment, as the immensity of the landscape began to impose itself. The mountain welcomed our arrival with some serac fall resulting in a minor avalanche from a distance. Right about that time I started to question what the hell I’d just gotten myself into.
Luckily, there wasn’t any time for my thoughts to wander. Camp wasn’t going to set itself up. We quickly stomped out a section for the tents, and began amassing a wall that would’ve made even Donald J. Trump proud. The weather report, unreliable at best, gave us a two-day window to climb the route. Despite sleeping only eleven hours in the last two nights combined, we agreed to climb on our first good day of weather to avoid the risk of losing the second to an unexpected storm. We ate dinner, jumped in our sleeping bags and set our alarms for 5:30 am.
Another sleepless night led to an early frigid morning discovery that all of our food had frozen solid. Our glorious bacon and eggs breakfast quickly transformed into chunks of frozen almond milk and granola. We grabbed our packs and casually began the flat five-minute approach to the base of the route, "Ham & Eggs," WI4+ M4. The psych started to build as we climbed past the 5.6 rock step guarding the entrance of the route. The step granted access to several more pitches of easy snowfields and ice chokes. Feeling pretty comfortable on the terrain, and ready to rage, we gained elevation quickly by simul-climbing.
The snowfields deposited us at the base of the crux, an AI4 ice step. I racked up and took off on the sharp end after a lucky game of rock-paper-scissors. Twenty meters of immaculate sticky alpine ice led to a slightly overhanging bulge that granted access to some wildly entertaining ice chimneys. We were making great time as we ascended the last few hundred feet of moderate low-angle ice, which single handedly re-defined my perception of “calf pump”.
We narrowly avoided disaster near the top of the route when I was unable to avoid a falling chunk of ice that ended up hitting me square in the chest while simul-climbing. I nearly shit my pants as it almost knocked me off my feet. The outcome would’ve been disastrous, and likely the end of Madison and I’s friendship. I knew my responsibility as the second had almost been jeopardized, so we quickly transitioned back to pitching out the rest of the route. After reaching the col, we climbed yet another pitch of immaculate blue ice, finally gaining the summit ridge.
We gained new perspective of the Alaska Range as we traversed towards the summit, navigating past some massive cornices. After 3,000 feet of alpine climbing, ridge traversing, and a couple false summits we had finally made it. It was crazy to think, but within 48 hours of arriving in Alaska we were both standing on top of our first Alaskan summit!
To say we were stoked would’ve been an understatement. Aware of our luck in terms of weather, conditions, psych, and safety, we both sat quiet for a moment to take it all in. It’s not often we get to experience these sacred moments in life, and when we do it’s important to take a second to stop and smell the roses. Or, in this case, stop and smell the eighteen-ish rappels reminding you that you’ve only made it half way. However you look at it, I couldn