Bouldering in Juneau, Alaska

This is a guest post by Jared LaVaque.  He headed down to Juneau to check out some of the bouldering there.  In the last few years, Jared has tried hard to explore the bouldering around the state from Fairbanks to Homer, and   now on to Juneau.

 

Yes, Juneau is a rainforest……

I had been planning a trip to Juneau since 2009, after seeing a post by Jessie Palomino on the Five-Ten blog. The pictures looked amazing as did the commentary on how excellently featured the rock supposedly was. A mini-Squamish, is what appeared in the images, with lush moss and high evergreen canopies. However, due to less-than-predictable weather pockets in the southeast and my chaotic schedule leaving me jet-set at any given time, I had not been able to make the short journey.

Wunderground had become my frequent obsession, to the tune of several times a week, to monitor the weather. Statistically, Juneau sees 220+ days of rain a year, and then there is the snow when it’s not raining. Needless to say, planning any sort of definite dates to climb there are slim at best, with the month of least precipitation being June. The month that I chose to roll the dice and gamble, was not June, but August, which has a very-high probability for rain.

One Thursday the 2nd of August, I had been watching the weather for the past 6 days. The weather had been unseasonably good, the previous weekend was bluebird, with a day of low precipitation mid-week and then a forecast for nothing but partly cloudy for 4 the days of my trip. I immediately cashed in my miles for a trip and booked a car and place to stay. As luck would have it, the next two days yielded an increase in the chance of rain, it jumped to 50 on Saturday, 70 on Saturday, 80 on Sunday…my arrival date.

So, today I flew into Juneau and discovered it was doing what? It was raining of course with dense fog. What else would it do in a temperate rainforest? So here we go…

I checked into the hotel. And what better way to introduce this hillside city as “full cowboy”, than a staggering lush piloting a bottle of Jonny Walker Red and fumbling desperately for his cigarettes…shocked by my unannounced rounding of a corner, not expecting anyone to interrupt his bender, he grunted in my direction. Apparently I was in the monthly-rent building (think blue-light special on Spenard), so I walked across the sky-bridge to my actual hotel building and went to sleep, dreaming of dry rock and a great trip. Unfortunately, they had placed me in a smoking room…

Auke Bay

 

At 7:30am, I promptly awoke, with putrid disgust of an acrid scent that can only be described as one-million rotted cigarettes and the decor in the room that was steeped in their tea. I needed to smell something else, anything else. Thoughts of getting a straw and doing a huge line of Febreeze danced around my head. I immediately began tossing my clothes in the Burton and went to the front desk, sans coffee or shower, to get a non-smoking room. Moments after getting a new room, with a shower and a trip to heritage Coffee Roasters, I decide to make the best of the rain.

I headed northwest seven miles just past Stephens Point, to the Auke Bay, where Tee Harbor lies. Pulling off against traffic, just after the guardrail, I jumped out of the car and shot a glance up the hill, nearly saturated within minutes, I knew climbing was not happening today. Today would continue to be recon for the rest of the trip. The boulders sit just up a short yet steep hill. I ran up the hill camera in hand…mini-guide too.

 

Roadside Boulder, Tea Harbor Boulders

The first boulder encountered is the Roadside Boulder. Though not exceptionally tall, has amazing texture, even in the rain. I was immediately captivated by the brilliant green hues of the moss, ferns and trees. It truly was like Squamish, other than the rock-a- type, though the foliage is definitely much more dense. The rock of Tee Harbor is igneous and of the Greenstone Tuff formation. I began to navigate the forest and most of the boulders in the guide. They are all easy to find and in relative proximity to each other. There are a few small clusters, but are mainly single boulders that are a stone’s throw from each other. Many of them sit perched farther up the hillside., but all are five minutes, or less, from car to climbing.

Two of the most notable boulders are Room With a View and the All Your Waters Boulder, with its signature test-piece of the same name, and one of the top 3 lines at Tee Harbor. I had been attracted to the All Your Waters(AYW) V7 because of the angle, movement and height. It truly is aesthetic. I discovered the holds to be a combination of dry and wet upon arrival…but with a little Alaska TLC(yes, a tarp and a lots of hold drying with a hotel towel) and motivation, had to at least come away, damp, wet or otherwise, with this problem. I spent the next hour shooting more photos, though photo conditions sucked as much as the rain. Later that night, psyched, yet Facebooking, I posted:

Bloody Hell…the rain in Juneau is no joke. I will be seeking the steepest stone I can find. Wish me luck!”

I had placed a tarp over the top and would have to hope it works, leaving space for air circulation with rocks under the tarp, between the rock and the nylon. I would have to go with luck and a lot of toweling off the holds that were wet on the steep face of AYW.

Straight from another post on the interwebs, on the 3rd day of the trip : “Well, the trip to Juneau was not a complete tourist trip. I warmed up on the dryer holds of many random problems and got a send of All Your Waters, a choice V7 on the boulder with the same name. I took Todd’s advice and placed a tarp the day before and dried the holds…or most of them, for a nice send. The crux crimp was tres miserable, but other than that, went off without a hitch. As always, I will keep checking the weather and shoot for later this year…or next June(when the weather isn’t rain 100% each day. “

The send had taken three tries, despite the dampness of the rock, some key feet were soaked and had to be avoided for drier, yet worse ones, but I was psyched to have done something there.

 

Presto Boulder, Tea Harbor Boulders

According to the local climbers, and as of a 2010 blog, there are somewhere around 150-200 problems, up to V10+, as of that date. Though, there has been significant development since then and I would suspect that there are harder problems and definitely the potential for more. There are also boulders on the beach, below the houses on the water side of the road. I did not have a chance to scope those out, but from pictures, look great as well.

As far as logistics for the area go, drive north from Juneau on Glacier Highway, 7 miles from the airport, continue to Auke Bay. Once the Tee Harbor sign is reached continue just slightly farther to Point Stephens, on the right side of the road is a small fire station, and then a long guardrail on the left side. Park where the guardrail ends, making sure not to block the entrance spaces to the houses below the road, on the beach. The boulders are on the opposite side of the road, with Roadside and the Tension Boulder, visible from the car. Enjoy! On rest-days, take in the Alaskan Brewing Company, downtown and its cafes, and just for kicks drive to the “End of The Road”, which is 30ish miles north of the airport and as far north as roads go, and then south to Thane, which is 4 miles south of downtown. You will soon discover that Juneau is definitely not a “drivers” city, as the total north to south is less than 50 miles. There is plenty of beauty in this isolated semi-metropolitan area though….even in the rain.