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Climbing in the Kichatna Spires of Alaska

This is a copy of a post from my personal blog (gzimmerman.blogspot.com) that I thought some folks might enjoy...


The fabled Northern state, Alaska. The journey was wild, and despite not completing our proposed objective an amazing time was had...

After successfully getting to Anchorage with all of our luggage Ian, Ryan and I bought a rather large pile of food and caught a ride to the wonderful little town of Talkeetna and after a night of sleep we were in a plane headed for the Kichatna spires. Far out...


The Kichatnas are a sub range of the Alaska range that lie about 45 miles to the Southwest of Denali. While the peaks are not as tall as their neighbors they make up for it with their very steep, magnificently huge rock walls. Were headed there with for an ascent of one of the centerpieces of the range, Kichatna Spire itself.

As the plane traveled over the Alaskan tundra and Snoop bumped through the headset. The granite monoliths in front of us became more and more distinguishable until we were flying among them, staring with mouths wide open. Surrounding us were miles of granite walls thousands of feet tall all of which rose into majestic spires.

We were dropped off on the 'Cool Sac' Glacier where we spent a little over 2 weeks trying to climb and hunkering down as storms blew through. After getting our camp set up we spent a day skiing around and checking out the possibilities, we were blown away by the size of the walls around us, especially the objective that we had come for, the Northwest face of Kichatna.

It was decided that we should get on a warm up climb before getting after the big scary face at the end of the valley so we headed down to a peak called Reisenstien Spire. Estimating that the face was around 1800ft tall we went light and got onto it. The climbing was slow due to our need to aid and sections of poor rock. After about 500ft of climbing our crack system blanked out other than a horrendous looking chimney filled with loose blocks and rotten snow, so we bailed. Once we were back on the ground we looked up to find our high point and realized that the face was more like 3000ft tall. The 'Alaska Factor' was in full effect.

After this we were treated to days and days of storm which blended together as there is no night time in Alaska during the summer. At times it was not too bad and we could hang outside the tents, at others it was wickedly bad with winds strong enough to break w of our poles and bend another. Nothing like sewing up your tent in 60mph winds since the pole slashed through the fly...


Eventually though the weather did improve and we were able to get back out. We got back on Riesenstien this time on a spine on the right hand side of the face. On our first attempt we choose what looked like the easiest line to gain the spine but ended up getting a 3 hour aid pitch instead, overhanging kitty litter.

The next day it was decided that it was time to man up and get after it. We packed up our stuff and headed for Kichatna, it wasn't quite that quick though, we didn't actually get on the route until 3pm due to a cornice above our route. After 3pm we had the most time to climb while the cornice was not in the sun.


Our proposed route was up the coulior on the right side of the North face and then up the steep west face.

This route had been tried by a number of strong parties in the past which had all failed due to technical, loose aid on the west face, no one had ever gotten more than one pitch up. Our game plan was to bring all of our aid gadgetrey up with us, before arriving we were going to haul the coulior so that we could have a portaledge with us but due to the high snow year it looked like hauling would be not a good option. So we packed heavy packs and rolled to the coulior.


It was 9 pitches of great ice climbing, ranging from 30ft wide to less than shoulder width. I led while the guys climbed and jugged with packs, kudos to them, it was hard work. The ice was crushing, with no features in the ice at all our calves were not given a break all day, goodness gracious.


Eventually we reached the cornice which was not as big as expected and easily hacked through, this was going to be our bivy and it was disappointing to find that the col was knife edged and not the ledge we were hoping to sleep on. Visibility on the other side of the col was very low and it was very windy, as well as the upper headwall being covred in rime. So I rapped back the to guys who were getting hypothermic and it was decided to bail out. Hours later we got back to camp and slept hard.


After another rest day that turned out to have alright weather we headed up for another attempt on Riesenstien. Once again on the right hand spine, this time we chose a better line to get onto the feature and were moving well all day. We climbed 6 pitches that involved lots of free and aid and a pitch of classic alpine ridge climbing. Then at what appeared to be the crux we were looking at a bivy either before or after that pitch and the weather was once again coming in. So unfortunately we were on our way back down. Bummin'.

The next day while it stormed away we got a weather forecast that showed a day of clearing, the storm all the way out. It was time to go. So we called Talkeetna Air Taxis and got a ride out 36 hours later.

So the trip was unsuccessful in term of getting on top of peaks and climbing new routes, that said I really learned a lot. My stoked on Alaska is super high and I cannot wait to get back next year. I feel as though next year I will be much more ready to get after it and get some stuff done. Might do some more ice climbing next time though... so it will be off to the Ruth or the Kahiltna.

But for now it's off to Himul in a couple weeks. Time to re motivate and get ready for another round. Sooo stoked!

Heaps of thanks goes out to those who helped make the trip happen. The American Alpine club so generously gifted both Ian and I Mountain Fellowship Grants, the funds these provided made the trip possible. Lasportiva hooked it up with boots which were most excellent, they climbed great and kept us good and toasty. Black Diamond gave us some hardware and a Megamid which proved most comfortable in which to cook. Mountain Hardware loaned us a tent which we really apologize for the state in which it was returned... regardless it worked great in the super nasty AK weather. And lastly thanks to our friends and family who support our endevours to get up the steep stuff.

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