Wishful Thinking

I remembered seeing Wishbone Hill from the road on the way to the crags up north; the dark cliffs of the bizarre formation rising from the center of the valley. It seemed like an obvious place to explore, but all I had heard is that the cliff was “chossy”, a vague description that explained nothing about the true composition of the rock itself. Chossy cliffs have been known to kick off boulders that are worthy of climbing (i.e. Wiener Lake) and I could see the boulder formations online, casting heavy shadows into the snow. The lure was too much for me and with a few weeks left before any of the bouldering crags melt out, I threw my snowshoes into the car for a bluebird day of exploration.

Wishbone Hill

Wishbone Hill

 

Wishbone Hill has been the site of contention for the past few years as Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. has been in the permitting process for digging an open strip mine on the west side of the formation; the east side of the hill is under similar consideration by Ranger Alaska LLC for re-mining the tailings of the historic Jonesville Mine. Both companies advocate that mining will create jobs, but nearby residents overwhelmingly oppose any new mining activity, citing issues such as environmental degradation, ground water pollution, and health concerns. There is one way to make an Alaskan redneck care about the environment  and that is to threaten his/her salmon streams.

Presently, locals use the area as a snow machine playground and a multi-directional gun range, a fact that became obvious when I stepped out of my car into a field of spent ammunition and sled tracks, gunshots boomed and echoed off the nearby hills. I hoped that previous climbers had been deterred from exploring the area because their concerns about the mines and the rednecks, so I dismissed my fears of Deliverance-style sodomy and set off for the hill. I could see large hulking masses through the barren trees, and it immediately became evident that there were boulders everywhere.

Abandoned mine ruins at the base of the hill

Abandoned mine ruins at the base of the hill

 

Cobble

Cobble

I was excited, but as I got closer my heart sank in my chest. Those were not just rocks. They were rocks made up of other smaller rocks. Specifically, they were gigantic conglomerate turds comprised of large cobbles and loose clay, just solid enough to survive a tumble down the hill, but loose enough to be yanked apart by my baby-soft fingers. I easily knocked a few cobbles off of the nearest boulder and could not imagine getting an entire face clean enough to climb. Even if it could be managed, what then? There are no aretes, features, or obvious lines and therefore there are no true boulder problems to be done. At best it would be a bouldering area full of contrived eliminates and a criss-crossing lattice of climbs that could not be defined; a climbing wall without any routes. I continued up the hill, marveling at the size, form, and the number of boulders around me. I imagined the potential that might have been, what the area could have become if only the rock had been slightly better.

Starting back down the slope, my snowshoes punched deep into the weak snow. It’s melting quick. Soon enough the sunny side of the Matanuska Valley will be snow free and bouldering season will truly begin, but there’s one place I no longer need to wonder about. Climbing at Wishbone Hill is just wishful thinking.

 

Boulders