lundi 15 juillet 2013

My First Alaskan Adventure! (June 22-July 12, 2013)

My flight to Anchorage was booked for day following the end of the guide training course. However, given the flood and the road closures, many of us were stranded in Canmore. I was able to reschedule my flight for 30 hours later and I explored several avenues for getting out of Canmore (e.g. getting a ride on a friend's dirtbike, an 8h bus from Banff to Calgary, driving to Kelowna and flying back, etc.). Finally, knowing that we had a perfect Alaskan weather window and wanting to take full advantage of it, I caught a helicopter from Canmore to the Stoney Nakoda Resort, where my friend Sean met me in his Jeep with my passport, backpack and US cash. He drove me to the airport and I arrived in the nick of time. What an exciting start to an Alaska Adventure! 

Below is the trip report we submitted to MEC for their Expedition Support. A video of our trip is found online at:

"Oh, the Kichatnas…"

The Kichatna Mountains are a range of spectacular granite spires 110 km southwest of Denali in Alaska. If it weren’t for their remote location, terrible weather and the huge price tag that comes with getting there, they’d be busier than Canada’s Bugaboos. 

In 2012, Nancy Hansen and Holly Beck carried 300 lbs of food and gear over a steep and glaciated pass to get to the base of Middle Triple Peak’s East Buttress. Once there, they discovered that the first 40m of rock had fallen off, leaving a near-vertical blank slab. Since they didn’t have the gear to deal with this unforeseen problem, they despondently ferried our gear back over the pass and went home.

This year, supported by a grant from the MEC Expedition Fund, we flew to the range with the intent of having another go at the East Buttress. Filled with high hopes, we were surrounded by blue sky and innumerable golden granite spires. The weather forecast was pretty good for the foreseeable future. We decided to just take 12 days of food and fuel to our advanced base camp. All the luxuries stayed behind, including books and iPods. Despite going relatively light on the food, we still had close to 300 lbs of gear to transport. 

After carrying loads between intermittent rainstorms, we got ready to see what could be done about the missing first pitch. Nancy was determined to keep this new pitch as close to the original grade as possible, so she weaved a line using a mixture of scary aid and poorly protected free climbing. She had placed two bolts in longer stretches of blank rock about 20 metres up when Renee announced it had start raining again. 

This time, the rain didn’t stop for 10 days. We didn’t have books or iPods. Tent bound, we made 12 days of food stretch over 18 days. It was typically 4-8°C. It snowed at times. We didn’t know if the $2500 of gear we had stashed at the base of the route was getting washed into a crevasse. We anxiously awaited the daily weather update, hoping for a glimmer of hope. None came. We talked about everything – EVERYTHING. We wrote, performed and recorded a song. We made commercials and filmed them. We slept until our backs seized up. We bailed water out of the tent. We ate smaller and smaller pieces of chocolate each night, trying to make it last. We laughed, had fun and made the most of it. We became much better friends.

At some point, we realized that there was no way we were going to climb the route. We were out of food and time. We retrieved our gear and carried loads back over the pass between diminishing rainstorms. By the time we got back to the pick-up zone on the evening of our 19th day, the skies had cleared – it was the first sunny day we’d had since we landed! 

Thanks to MEC for supporting our Kichatna adventure! Thanks also for making and selling the gear that kept us warm and comfortable in horrendous conditions. Key equipment for the Kichatnas includes: GORE-TEX, MEC neoprene kayak gloves and a chamois for drying everything!

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