A Weekend of Bouldering in Hatcher Pass

Warning – Long Post for a Long Weekend

Archangel Valley never ceases to impress me with its majesty and ability to inspire and this weekend was no different.  A crazy windstorm on Tuesday and Wednesday dumped the first major snowfall of the winter unseasonably early on the mountains, and after this storm passed we were presented with incredible clear blue skies, snow-capped mountains, and generally crisp bouldering conditions for two days and nights.

I headed up to Archangel on Friday after work to meet David for a weekend of bouldering.  After a season of development both of us were looking at knocking out some bigger projects.  I had my sights set on getting on the Fairangel Arete which Jamie Emerson cleaned and worked last year unsuccessfully and getting back to the Waterfall Wall, while David had two real projects he was looking to get on – the Freakshow project at the Circus Boulder and Chris’ Lament-v8.

Snowfall in Archangel Valley

All day Friday the weather had looked pretty good, but shortly after driving up Archangel Road, the clouds started to form over the mountains.  I had gotten out a few hours before David, so I headed up Fairangel Valley to get the last of the pictures for the guidebook, to check out a few new boulders, and to finally get on the Fairangel Arete Project.  Unfortunately, the project was soaking wet and it started snowing on me as soon as I got there, so I headed back to meet David.

Lower down it was still dry, so David and I decided to look for a new problem Drew had put up in the new rockfall.  After a bit of boulder hopping we found the new line along with a nice boulder next to it with a couple of partially cleaned lines.  David and I did a little extra cleaning and then climbed three nice problems – a v1, v3, and v5.  Then we headed to Drew’s new line, Awkward Achmed-v8.

Hanging in the Van at Night

As David was working it, he pulled the starting jug off the wall.   After this, he and I decided to go ahead and re-clean the rest of the boulder so that the upper holds were solid as well.  Several flakes later, we were pretty confident nothing else was coming off.  We tried to climb it post-break, but I couldn’t get high enough and needed an extra 4-5 inches of reach, and David’s new beta was definitely a no go without the jug.  By this time it was getting dark, so David and I headed back to dinner and beers.

The next morning we awoke to crisp temps and clear blue skies.  David and I slowly got breakfast and packed up for the day.  We decided to head higher up the valley back behind the monolith toward the lane hut, and as soon as we hit the top of the monolith we were hiking through snow.

David Sitting under Chris’ Lament

First stop – Chris’ Lament.  David had worked the bottom moves of Chris’ Lament the previous weekend despite sideways rain, and was looking forward to trying it in better conditions.  David successfully pieced together each bit, but  couldn’t quite put together all of the moves on this great compression problem.  A more thorough warm-up and slightly less hangover would probably have helped, a theme repeated later as well.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much available to warm-up on nearby and the snow made  us less inspired to look for warm-ups.

Second Stop – Waterfall Wall.  Another 15 minutes of hiking through snow put us at the Waterfall Wall, a boulder developed by Will and Drew earlier in the season.  As luck would have it, I had brought a small tarp (planned for snow) which ended up being really key for the Waterfall Wall as there was a small swamp and creek under all four problems.  Drew and Will had stacked some rocks in the wet areas to put your pads on, but I think there was a bit more water than before, and we added quite a few more rocks to fill in the gaps.  Even with the rocks, our pads would have ended up waterlogged without the tarp.

If you like thin sharp crimping, these problems were fantastic, and certainly different from anything I’ve been on in Hatcher Pass.  Next year, the right side of the wall needs to get fully cleaned and prepped as it looks to have several more really high quality problems.

Looking back down the Valley from the Waterfall Wall

Last Stop – The Hulk Boulder. Earlier in the summer I had managed to climb a new problem on the Hulk boulder called Abomination.  When we were looking at it and cleaning, it looked like there could be two different finishes, one going to the left arête (the one I did earlier in the year), one to the right arête. Despite the snow and cold, I convinced the guys to hang out while I gave the right version a few goes.  My fingers hurt from all the thin crimping. I was tired, cold, and hungry.  David and Nate were being good sports, but I could tell they were tired, cold and hungry too.  I decided to give it “one last go”, and stuck the low crux solidly.  This time the feet were right and after  hard couple of moves across the seam, I hit better holds on the arête.  I quick regrouping, and I held it together to finish the highball arête sending Abomination Right-v10/11.  We packed up and were done for the day.

Nate headed out shortly after we got back to the cars, and David and I made some hot soup to help get warmed up.  It wasn’t very late, but it felt like we had put in a really long day.  Temperatures dropped below freezing overnight, but the sky was clear and the stars and moon were out.

A new day begins

David on Muffin Man


Sunday dawned as bright and clear as it was on Saturday.  David and I were feeling a bit worked from the previous two days hiking, so we decided to stay close and work on stuff around the Diamond.  We warmed up in the Muffin Man Meadow on the one move boulder and a really nice old v5ish problem just left of Muffin Man Boulder we had put up a long time ago.  Then we started working on our respective projects – Muffin Man for David, and the Muffin Man Project for me.  Neither of us sent, but it felt like we both made progress.  I was able to sort out all of the moves but one, and that one felt pretty close, while David came really close to sticking the opening move of Muffin Man(without a doubt the crux).

David on his new Cave v5

We moved on from there and picked our way through the talus with David showing me a bunch of new stuff he had put up to the right of Niffleheim.  First was a stellar v5 cave problem just downhill from Keith’s Last Stand, then a cool problem that started deep down in a pit and ended with a really committing move to the top.  Then we headed over to a boulder that sits up on top of a knoll all by itself near the Circus Boulder and has two nice problems that go at v3/4ish, and finally to the Circus Boulder for David’s other project-Freakshow.

David had worked this for about three days and was convinced he was close.  I was much less certain.  I had worked it one day with Kelsey and Chris B, and it seemed absolutely ridiculous.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine how to climb it.  David started working it and I could tell he had put some time into it.  He toehooked, leaned, pressed, bumped, pressed again, maxed out his body tension, and contorted himself into a ball in ways I couldn’t fathom.   He used feet that weren’t there in ways that didn’t seem possible, but despite all of this he couldn’t quite get out to the finishing jugs…. The wind was blowing and the sun was starting to go down.  I was getting really cold and couldn’t get my arms  or legs into the right positions. My motivation was running low, but David was convinced he had it.

Me working Freakshow – This was as far as I got.

The wind stopped blowing and David pulled on.  Despite the physicality of the problem, he looked like he was floating.  Everything clicked this time and before I knew it he had his right hand in the good seam.  A quick pull in with the left hand and a reach up to the jug.  His body stayed tight and he didn’t barndoor out.  He had it.  I couldn’t believe it.  After 15 years of climbing, and seeing alot of crazy hard climbing and people pulling on holds that are minuscule, this was without a doubt one of the most impressive bits of climbing I’ve ever seen.  He held it together through the topout and was ecstatic.  What a way to end the weekend!