Bouldering Outside in January In Alaska

This past Sunday David, Hunter and I snuck out for a recon trip to Hatcher Pass to see if anything might be climbable.  While it might seem a tad optimistic to go try to boulder in the middle of winter in Alaska, an unseasonably warm spell meant it could be possible.  We really only had a couple of options for boulders tall enough and accessible enough, although after going up there I’d have different characteristics to look for in a good winter boulder.  Mainly no sloping  down toward the problems from the top as it’ll drain and be a huge ice dam.

Skiing up Archangel Road in Midwinter

Skiing up Archangel Road in Midwinter

After loading up and driving out, we got our skis on(David and Hunter on skate skis, me pulled by the dogs on touring skis) and headed up.  The first boulder we got to was the Aldershade boulder, which had quite a bit of snow on the top still, and was lightly draining down the steep face, and big ice flows down the lower angle faces.  Still it seemed like if you shoveled the top a bit, you could probably get the steep face dried and climbable.  Next up was Drive By, which was about the same.  Loads of snow, but as the boulder peaks right about Drive by and Rutted, if you shoveled it, you could probably dry it and such if you had a small heater (no blowtorching – it’s very bad for the rock).  We continued skiing up the road and checked out the Mr. Big boulder and Indianhead Boulders, which unfortunately both have all the wrong angles for winter.  Lots of snow and Ice, and probably not very reasonable to clear off.

Cleaning and drying the Roadside Boulder

Cleaning and drying the Roadside Boulder

Last stop was the upper roadside boulder, and at this point we weren’t feeling very optimistic about the chances of climbing anything.  As turned the corner and could finally see the Diamond Area Boulders, I noticed Sweet Home Alaska might be climbable as a backup, although approaching would be tricky.  Finally we got to the Roadside boulder and out spirits picked up a fair bit.  It looked like we might be able to get something done on it.  I had brought a rope with in the hoped of cleaning the upper section of Mr. Big, so we tossed down a rope and proceeded to clean, dry and chalk Southwest Arete as it looked the driest and neither David or Hunter had been on it.  Once that was done, I slid the rope to the right to finish cleaning a couple of lines I’ve been eyeing for some time, but have never managed to get on.

Hunter on The Derelict-v5

Hunter on The Derelict-v5

As I was cleaning these, David put his shoes on and calmly flashed Southwest Arete-v6 with no warmup, which was impressive as the crux move is really tenuous and balancey.  Hunter also quickly dispatched Southwest Arete while I finished prepping the rightmost line.  I stepped on and did the new line, The Derelict-v5, which starts matched at the right end of the big sloping  rail and head up and right onto the face via a big move to a decent crimp.  While  cleaning and prepping this line, we looked at the possibility of a center line between The Derelict and Southwest Arete.  While David and Hunter worked out The Derelict, I proceeded to finish cleaning the center line and found what looked to be a really cool sequence.

Once the pads were arranged, I pulled on with a low left sloping crimp and a decent right hand pinch.  The opening move was a foot cutting throw to a good left hand hold.  What followed was an incredible sequence of almost everything you could look for in a boulder problem.  Crimp, Sloper, Pinch, Undercling, Sidepull, Highstep, Kneebar, Heelhook, backstep, tensiony moves, and outright dynamics hucks with a finishing jug at the lip.  I  topped out and was in absolute shock.  That was one of the best problems in Hatcher Pass, and it’s been sitting right by the road just waiting for nearly 2 decades.  I was euphoric.  David and Hunter sorted out the crux opening moves and topped out with the same feelings.  We couldn’t believe ow good the day turned out, and in the middle of January!  Ice Road Safari-v6 is one of the best problems in Hatcher Pass, and I’d put it on my Top 5 in Alaska list.

Me on Ice Road Safari-v6

Me on Ice Road Safari-v6

After that we packed up and skied out, still unbelieving of the day we had just pulled off.

Happy as can be after a sweet day out bouldering in Alaska in January.

Happy as can be after a sweet day out bouldering in Alaska in January.