Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Alaska - Logistics, Gear and Tactics

A quick post with some logistics beta for anyone else wanting to climb in Alaska.  We got quite a lot of really useful information from others who have made the trip out there so here is my take on it.

Getting There

Flights to Anchorage cost us about £700 from the UK, going via Seattle (which is still a three and a half hour flight from Anchorage).

We spent a whole day in Anchorage which was useful to get all of our shopping done, but would certainly be possible to arrive there in the morning and get all your shopping done before catching a transfer the next day.  We stayed at the Arctic Adventure Hostel which was cheap, friendly and walking distance from REI and Wal-Mart - highly recommended.

For technical gear, go to either REI or Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking (AMH) which is just across the street.  The latter is a small independent climbing shop where you'll get good advice from 'proper' climbers!

There are various options for transfer up to Talkeetna, and the prices are all similar (in the region of $50-60).  We used Yukon Transfers on the way up, and the scheduled Park Connection Service on the way back.  Both were fine although the Park Connection won't drop you at your hostel (it stops downtown and then at the airport).  Purple Transfers is another company that seems to be popular with climbers.

For flying into the glacier we used Talkeetna Air Taxi as they came highly recommended from everyone who we spoke to (flights are about $600 with whoever you fly with).  I can't fault the service we got from TAT, they helped us sort our gear, provided a taxi service for us in Talkeetna to visit the Ranger Centre and buy gear and then managed to fly us in the same afternoon.  They also have a free bunkhouse if you are waiting for a flight in, or a connection to Anchorage.  It's probably also worth mentioning that they also have planes equipped with the navigational gear to allow them to fly in limited visibility, which could make the difference between getting flown out, or waiting out a storm on the glacier.  

White gas is stored on the glacier so you just pay the air taxi company and collect it in base camp.  1 gallon per person per three weeks is recommended although you can easily collect leftover gas from other climbers, or buy more if you really need.


As we were staying at Kahiltna Base Camp our food didn't need to get carried anywhere so we didn't pack light.  A big shop in Wal-Mart provided our rations for the trip and it was well worth paying for a bit of excess baggage with TAT to have the luxury of tinned fruit and bacon (though not together).  Be prepared to fork out a fair bit of cash as food is expensive in Alaska (especially anything fresh).
Things that were good:
- bagels - great for lunch on climbing days and rest days though expensive
- tortilla wraps - cheap alternative for rest day lunches but got a bit squashed on the way out
- pancake mix & maple syrup - amazing rest day breakfasts!  1 box did about 5 breakfasts each.
- sachets of porridge mix - a brilliant buy, instant hot breakfasts that just need water.  Easy to make up in the tent with a jetboil for those early start days where it's cold outside!
- tins of chilli - good hearty meals
- tinned fruit - good for puddings, you start to crave fruit and veg after a week or so
- big tub of ragu pasta sauce - useful for making all sorts of meals
- bacon - mmmm...
- peanut butter and cream cheese - for bagels or wraps
- budget cereal bars - really quite tasty
- boxes of just-add-boiling-water macaroni cheese

With a bit of care it's actually quite easy to make a snow fridge and keep bacon, fresh mince, cheese, eggs and possibly some veg fresh for quite a while.

Things that were bad:
- fun sized chocolates - small does not equal fun, buy full-size bars (but not Hershey's, it's foul)
- blueberry bagels - taste a bit weird
- baked beans - just didn't get eaten
- smelly cheese - got very smelly
- the fact that we didn't take out beers
- eggs - got broken then froze, although you can buy 'liquid eggs' in cartons


- Get a stove board (or two) of a good size.  It doesn't have to be thick so some 5mm ply would work fine.  Makes cooking/chopping/preparing so much easier
- Buy a large (4-8L) pot and use this for melting snow (and melting snow only).  Always keep the pot half full of water.  Overnight, wrap the pot in a bin-liner and seal it in little snow cave somewhere in the kitchen to stop it from freezing overnight.
- Make sure you have two MSR-type stoves that work well, and lots of lighters.  It's nice if one of them is a 'gourmet' style stove with a decent simmer function (e.g. Dragonfly or similar).
- Dig a pit in the porch of your tent for boots etc.
- Wetwipes are useful for washing although a little bottle of handsoap is nice when you want a proper wash with water.  Don't forget washing up stuff, and a teatowel is useful.
- A cheap walkie-talkie ($25 from REI) will pick up the weather forecast on the buttress (Ch 1, 8pm)


- A thermarest and a karrimat/foam bivi mat are nice to have for added insulation.  Take a good sleeping bag as, although it was very mild when we were there, -30C is not unheard of in May and that's COLD!
- A small food/kit tent was really useful.  A large fly-only living tent, or a one pole teepee-style tent would be a good alternative as you can then dig your living/kitchen and storage areas underneath it.
- Sunhat essential, spare sunglasses would be good as you'd be stuffed if you lost your only pair.
- Snowstakes can be useful for crossing bergshrunds but are not essential by any means.
- Don't forget the sunscreen.
- A snowsaw is really useful for cutting blocks
- It's nice to have plenty of ab tat in case you need to equip a couple of descents.  If it's cold enough abseil straight off the thread rather than adding tat.
- Tent pegs are pretty useless.  This is where snowstakes come in handy.  Alternatively you can fill any spare stuffsacks and the tent bags with snow and bury them.
- Figure out how to leave your inner boots on and take your outer boots off with the crampons still attached - useful for bivis!
- We climbed in ski touring boots which worked OK, although mountain boots would have been a little bit comfier over a long day (though not £500 comfier as we both already owned ski boots!).  Some of the Americans couldn't believe we were even considering climbing the North Buttress in ski boots, but I don't think they have the Chamonix ski-climb-ski-beers mentality that we do this side of the pond!


For a big route such as those on the North Buttress all of the attempts we saw were fairly light and fast, big push type efforts.  Unless it's really cold I don't think a tent would be worth the weight (not that there's anywhere to pitch it unless you're going over the top).  If the weather is that bad you can always descend.  The bivi ledges marked on the topo all seemed reasonable, although they'd proabably take a bit of chopping if you were the first team of the season (shovel would be useful then).
As well as what I wore (thermals, adidas tracksuit, shell salopettes; baselayer, R1 hoody, goretex shell) I carried:
- Goretex bivi bag
- Very light Rab Quantum 250 sleeping bag (mountain marathon bag - ~600g)
- Down jacket (Rab Neutrino ~600g)
- 50cm of bivi mat
- Spare light pair of gloves, spare mitts and balaclava

Will didn't have a light sleeping bag so carried a pair of synthetic insulated trousers instead, and also carried a mid-weight synthetic belay jacket (Arc'teryx Atom) as well as his down jacket.  He had a 3/4 length bivi mat too.

The pro's of the puffy trousers are that they zip on, removing the need to take your boots off to get into a sleeping bag, and can also be worn for climbing/descending if you get really cold (Will wore them on the descent with no problems).  The con's are that they aren't as warm as a down bag.  I think they worked really well for him as it was very mild, but I'd have been very glad of my sleeping bag had we been on the route a week or so earlier and trying to get some sleep in the shade.  The bivi mat was more useful for sitting on rather than sleeping on to be honest, so you could probably get away with carrying one between two and sharing it at bivi stops.  Some form of belay jacket is a must, especially for long belays on technical ground.

Our group kit/food was:
- Jetboil
- Single plastic bowl (10g)
- Gas (1x100 and 1x200 canister)
- 3x MountainHouse dehydrated meal (~140g and 800kcal each)
- 4x porridge oats sachets (~35g each?)
- Personal supply of cereal bars/chocolate bars/bagels (probably ~800-1200g each when we left the ground).  Will was a fan of energy gels whilst I preferred bagels.  We found some yummy energy chews - endorsed by Lance Armstrong - which worked well (it was probably the EPO)
- We each carried a knife and v-threader.  We had ~15m of ab tat between us.
- Other odds and ends (goggles, camera, laminated topos, radio etc.)

We each carried 2L of water

If I was to do it again I think I'd carry pretty much exactly the same stuff.  I reckon we got the kit just right.

What I learned:
- DRINK MORE!  I should have drunk more, both whilst climbing and also at bivi stops.  I consumed in the region of 7-8L over 50 hours which was stupid.  Force yourself to drink even if you're cold, I think my main problem was not wanting to open my bag whilst being hammered in spindrift.  It also takes discipline to drink if you're busy belaying a leader, or moving together.  Drinking whilst you have your second on autobloc is much easier.
- Drink a full 2L whilst you are at a brew stop, and then leave with a full 2L for the next block
- Brew up regularly, I think you HAVE to stop at least every 12 hours to keep functioning well.  That will give you a consumption of 8L per 24 hrs.  Whilst you can get away with only drinking a couple of litres on a 24hr route, that isn't sustainable for 2 days.
- The jetboil works really well for melting snow.  A small plastic cup would have been useful for collecting snow and pouring it into the jetboil.  A 100 canister is enough gas to melt ~8L of snow, and give you hot water for a dehydrated meal (temperature dependent I guess).
- Electrolyte powder or tablets are quite useful, they give a bit of taste and help ward off cramp (we were both suffering from cramp at the second bivi).
- Don't underestimate the reviving effect of a hot meal and a few hours sleep.  Had we carried on to the cornice bivi and got some sleep before descending, then I suspect we wouldn't have had the epic descent that we did.
- The Mountainhouse meals are really tasty - I'd carry 4 meals and no porridge if I was to do it again.


Our rack was quite rock-heavy as we knew there was some hard climbing on Deprivation.  For the Moonflower I'd probably leave some of the rock gear behind (maybe take 6-8 wires and a half rack of cams) and carry an extra couple of screws as it's all ice apart from the two aid/pendulum pitches which have in situ gear.  More stubbies and 12cm screws could be useful.
We carried:
- 13 screws
- set of wires (2-11)
- Friends: blue alien, F0.5, yellow alien, F1, F1.5, red camalot, yellow camalot
- 2 blades, 1 lost arrow, 1 medium pecker
- 10 draws
- 3-4 slings

Hope that bits of this are useful to somebody!

No comments:

Post a Comment