Full Circle: Jon Waterman

When I think back to my formative time as a young Alaskan climber, I’m often filled with memories and nostalgia that are overwhelming.  The wonder I felt when I first roped up to cross a boundless icefield, littered with crevasses, and dotted with sabre-like nunataks. My first uneasy solo climb up a 2,000 foot ice face in the western Chugach.  Seeing my life flash before my eyes when a river crossing went bad, sending me thru a turbulent cauldron of boulders and snags, only to walk away unscathed.  And the first time I felt the cold finality of death, when my 19 year old friend was buried under 15 feet of snow in Hatcher Pass.

Like many young alpinists, my early experiences in and out of the mountains were defined by a succession of monumental highs tempered with desperate lows.  Maybe that’s why Jonathan Waterman’s book, In The Shadow Of Denali – made such an indelible mark on me. The collection of short stories, which is a a mountaineering classic, followed Waterman’s years as an alpinist and mountaineering ranger on Denali in the 1970’s and 80’.  As a neophyte Alaskan climber, just out of high school – it affected me deeply.

Although I was fascinated with the climbing stories Waterman penned, I was equally entranced by the characters he described.  Tales of legendary figures like Mugs Stump and Ray Genet kept me turning the pages at a frantic pace. But it was the stories of the people living their lives in the shadow of the mountain, that hit me the hardest.  The descriptions of the hard drinking Herb Atwater, and the ill-fated journey of Gretta Berglund – painted a brutally honest picture of a darker side of Alaska.

Needless to say, the book left a lasting impression on me, and I can honestly say In The Shadow Of Denali is the most influential climbing-related book I’ve ever read.

That’s why I was excited to get a chance to interview Jon Waterman this last week.  We talked about everything – from his bitter 1982 winter ascent of The Cassin Ridge, to a 2,000 mile paddle trip across the northwest passage, as well as his new book ‘Chasing Denali’.  


Music

• Lonely Mountain / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Fbx 1975 / Evan Phillips /  Unreleased (2017)
• Learning To Climb /Evan Phillips /  Unreleased (2017)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Holding On / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Silhouettes / Evan Phillips /  Silhouettes (2015)
• Hard Times / Evan Phillips / Cabin Vibes (2018)


Links

Jon Waterman (Website)
Chasing Denali (2018)
In The Shadow Of Denali (1993)
High Alaska (1988)
Surviving Denali (1983)
Evan Phillips
Patreon

Sponsors

Alaska Rock Gym
Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria
The Hoarding Marmot
Behind The Sun Therapeutics

Mount Robson’s Emperor Face

The Canadian Rockies are home to some of the most iconic alpine peaks in North America.  Mountains like Alberta, Columbia, Edith Cavell and North Twin (to name a few) are synonymous with classic rockies alpine climbing: variable rock quality ranging from total choss, to flint hard quartzite – hanging glaciers and double cornices, veins of pristine alpine and water ice – and the classic sandbag grade of 5.9 A2.  

But if there’s one mountain that stands out from the rest (Literally) – it’s Mount Robson.  Topping out at nearly 13,000’ in height, and with huge relief on all sides, Robson is truly a sight to behold.  It’s massive south face rises nearly 10,000’ from the Yellowhead Hwy – luring tourists, hikers and climbers for a closer look.

But it’s the northern side of Robson that speaks the language of the true alpinist.  In 1913, mountain guide Conrad Kain led a group of clients to the summit after navigating the crevasse-laden Robson Glacier, and chopping steps up the northeast face and on the the summit.  This ultra-classic line, aptly named the Kain Face – was in some ways ahead of it’s time – and is still a serious route.

The ante was upped in 1963 when Pat Callis and Dan Davis ascended the intimidating apron of 60 to 70 degree blue ice and steep snow, known as the north face.

But it wasn’t until 1978, that the biggest face of all – The Emperor Face – was finally climbed by Mugs Stump and Jamie Logan.  The duo spent four days on the route – a line that more or less takes the central rib that splits the 8,000’ face – and with that, established one of the most committing Grade VI lines in the rockies.

Another line on the face was climbed in 1981, by the legendary Dave Cheesmond and Tony Dick.  

And finally in 2002, after multiple attempts over many years – Barry Blanchard, Phillipe Pellet and Eric Dumerac climbed “Infinite Patience” – a classic line following couloirs, ice runnels and interesting mixed pitches up the right side of the Emperor Face.

Although Infinite Patience has now been climbed multiple times (and even soloed by the late Marc Andre LeClerc), it is still one of the most serious lines in the Canadian Rockies – and like other classic rockies routes – an ascent is largely based on finding the face in perfect conditions.  

That’s why I was excited to hear about the line getting repeated again in September of this year by the Canadian / Dutch team of Jas Fauteux and Maarten Von Haren.

I recently got a chance to talk with Jas about his experience on Robson – what it felt like to find that face in perfect conditions – and what it means to have climbed such an iconic line on the emperor of the rockies.


Music

• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Trails / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Corn Flakes / Andrew Tholberg /  Unreleased (2016)
• Lucillia / Easton Stagger Phillips / Resolution Road (2014)


Links

Mount Robson Emperor Face 1st Ascent – AAJ 1978
Evan Phillips
Patreon

Sponsors

Alaska Rock Gym
Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria
The Hoarding Marmot
Behind The Sun Therapeutics


Shades Of The North Cascades: Nikki Frumkin

Narrative

If you’ve ever spent time flying over, or travelling through the pacific northwest, you’ve most-likely been taken by the monolithic glacier-capped volcanoes that dot the horizon line.  Giants like Mount Rainier, Hood and Adams hold court over some of the most beautiful terrain in north america – and in doing so – form an inspiring backdrop for hikers, climbers and even artists – like Nikki Frumkin.

From an early age, Nikki always had an outdoorsy and creative side, blending a love for animals and playing in the woods, with a deep rooted passion for drawing, sketching and painting.  But it wasn’t until Nikki finished college and headed out west, that her love for art and creativity, would merge with her passion for mountains and the wilderness.

Since that time, Nikki has immersed herself in her craft – forging a lifestyle that revolves around creating art in beautiful places – most notably – the North Cascades of the pacific northwest.

I recently got a chance to sit down with Nikki, to talk about her passion for adventuring in the mountains, her creative business ‘Drawn To High Places’, and the triumphs and challenges she faces making a living as a full-time artist.


Music

• The Fox / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Learning To Climb / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• I Come Alive / Evan Phillips /  Cabin Vibes Volume One (2018)
• Silhouettes /Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Old Dirt Road / Evan Phillips /  Cabin Vibes Volume One (2018)
• Goodbye Blues / Evan Phillips /  Lonely Mountain (2017)


Links

Drawn To High Places
Evan Phillips
Support The Firn Line
Jeremy Collins
Rachel Pohl
Semi-Rad

Sponsors

Alaska Rock Gym
Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria
The Hoarding Marmot
Behind The Sun Therapeutics

Episode 22 // Alaska Roots: Danielle Varney

Narrative

Growing up in the Yupik village of St. Mary’s, Danielle Varney was raised on a steady diet of winter camping, and long summer days spent working on the family’s Yukon River fish camp.

These core experiences instilled a work ethic that first carried over into college athletics, and ultimately, mountaineering.

Since that time, Danielle has climbed and explored big Alaskan mountains including Denali, Mt. Drum, as well as a harrowing life-and-death experience on the icy crown of The Chugach , Mount Marcus Baker.

I recently sat down with Danielle to talk about her deep Alaskan roots, as well as the important lessons she’s learned from Alaska’s mountains.


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Something To Believe In / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Hard Times / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Close To Me / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2018)
• Lucillia / Easton Stagger Phillips / Resolution Road (2014)

 

Links

Support The Firn Line
Evan Phillips
The Alaska Rock Gym
The Hoarding Marmot

Episode 21 // The Firn Line “Live”: Roman Dial


Narrative

On December 2, 2017, I had the great privilege to sit down in front of a live audience at the Alaska Rock Gym, and talk with renowned Alaskan alpinist and explorer, Roman Dial.  We had a candid and highly-entertaining conversation that spanned topics including his early years in Fairbanks, his ambitious climbs in The Hayes Range in the 80’s, as well as his forays into hell-biking, tree climbing, and packrafting in the 90’s and beyond.  

In some ways, Roman is a larger than life character, with a list of jaw-dropping outdoor achievements to his credit.  But as you’ll soon hear, it’s the characters, friends and partners that have helped shape Roman’s life, and ultimately meant the most to him.  


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Lonely Mountain / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Space Walker / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)

Links

Support The Firn Line
Evan Phillips
The Alaska Rock Gym
The Roaming Dials
Shwak Magazine


Episode 18 // Commitment, Vision, Trust: Jack Tackle (Part 1)

Narrative

On episode 18, we’ll delve into the first of a two-part series with the venerable North American alpinist, Jack Tackle.  With his unmistakable baritone and classic unassuming style, Jack is the epitome of a true Alaskan “hardman”.  His gutsy first ascents up climbs like the Isis Face on Denali, the Diamond Arete on Mount Hunter, and the Elevator Shaft on Mount Johnson, have cemented his place in the storied history of Alaskan alpinism.

Recently, I got to sit down with Jack at his Castle Valley yurt, to talk about his forty-year career as an alpinist, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.  We discussed everything from his early forays in the woods, to his most intense experiences in the mountains and in life.  It was an enlightening and meaningful conversation that I felt privileged to be a part of.


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Isis / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Northeast Face / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Ode To Easton / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• The Fox / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• The Cave / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Isis / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)

Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips
The Alaska Rock Gym
Denali – Isis Face (Alpinist Magazine)
Hunter – Diamond Arete (1985 AAJ)
Mount. Barrill – Cobra Pillar (Super Topo)
Mt. Johnson – Elevator Shaft (1996 AAJ)
Mt. Kennedy – North Face (1997 AAJ)

 

Episode 17 // A Higher Calling: Brad Meiklejohn


Narrative

It’s no accident that Brad Meiklejohn makes his home in a beautiful alpine valley outside of Anchorage, Alaska.  An avid pack rafter, climber and skier, Brad has spent much of his life exploring Alaska and other remote corners of the world.  But beyond his accomplishments in the outdoors, the mountains have always been a sacred place of reflection and self discovery, attributes that can certainly be traced to his deep family roots.

As a kid, Brad followed his grandmother and cousins on hiking and climbing adventures in The White Mountains of New Hampshire.  It was during these formative years that Brad would lay the foundation for his future outdoor ambitions.  But more than anything, his family instilled in him a deep loyalty to each other, as well as a sense of duty to protect the natural world they loved.  

This way of life was a natural progression for Brad, first as an avid climber, skier, and avalanche forecaster in Utah, then as Alaska Director of The Conservation Fund, a position he’s now held for over 20 years.  

But as much fulfillment as his career and personal adventures have brought, there’s been equal amounts of tragedy and sadness.  Over the course of Brad’s outdoor career, he’s lost over 30 friends in mountain-related deaths, a toll that has affected him profoundly.  But perhaps none of these deaths have affected him more than loss of Kyle Dempster, a young American alpinist with whom he shared a deep family and spiritual connection.

A few months ago, I drove out to Brad’s mountain-side home in the Chugach Mountains, hoping to gain insight into his wilderness adventures, his philosophies about conservation, as well as his meaningful relationship with Kyle.  


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• By Your Side / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Avalanche / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Falling Down / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Guess I Was Just Young / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Letter That You Sent / Evan Phillips / Lonely Mountain (2017)
•By Your Side / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)

Links

Patreon
American Packrafting Association
The Conservation Fund – Alaska
Kyle Dempster
Evan Phillips
The Alaska Rock Gym


 

Episode 16 // Short Ropes: Committed On The Cassin

Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips
Andy Tholberg


Narrative

In June 2017, Aaron Kurland and Sam Novey planned to attempt the formidable and rarely-climbed Father and Sons wall on Denali, but when they found the face to be out of condition, they quickly turned their attention elsewhere.

The duo settled on the ultra-classic Cassin Ridge, a 9,000 foot spine of ice, snow and granite that snakes it’s way directly up the center of the south face. With a big storm scheduled to hit within the week, the duo planned a 3 day alpine-style ascent. Little did they know, they would soon be at the mercy of Denali’s weather, totally exposed, and fully committed on the Cassin.


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Sexy Violence / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)
• Quad Laser / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)
• Sci Fly / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)
• Slow Motion Seq / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased(2017)
• Save My Soul / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)
• Can’t Bleed Thru A Microphone / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)
• Clad Frog / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)
• Posted Up / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)

 

Episode 15 // Denali Dreams: Vern Tejas

Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips
Vern Tejas


Narrative

When I was a kid growing up in Alaska, Vern Tejas was one of my heroes. Back in February of 1988, Tejas made the bold first solo winter ascent of Denali, and in doing so, captured the imagination of all Alaskans, including me.

The Denali climb changed Vern’s life. He wrote books, gave lectures and eventually became one of the most sought after high altitude guides in the world. But Alaska never remained far from Vern’s heart, and he returned each year to guide on The High One. To this date, Tejas has summited the mountain a staggering 57 times. A world record.

I recently had the privilege to sit down with Vern, and talk about his life in and out of the mountains. From his first adventurous forays of hitchhiking around the country, to his 1st winter ascent of the Lowe-Kennedy route on Mount Hunter, Vern is a larger-than-life figure and a great storyteller.


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• The Cave / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Denali Dreams / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Lost In The Night / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• After School Special / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• The Cave / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Unnamed Jam / Evan Phillips & Vern Tejas / Unreleased (2017)


 

Episode 14 // Short Ropes: Ashley Saupe

Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips
The Sharp End Podcast


Narrative

A few weeks ago I got to sit down with outdoor educator and host of the excellent ‘Sharp End’ podcast, Ashley Saupe. We talked about her upbringing in Alaska, her experiences teaching as an Outward Bound instructor as well as discussing what it takes to produce a monthly podcast about accidents in North American climbing.


Music

• Space Song // Evan & Molly // ‘Evan & Molly’ (2012)
• Augusta // Evan Phillips // unreleased (2017)
• Sharp End // Evan Phillips // unreleased (2017)
• Traveller // Evan Phillips (written by Leeroy Stagger) // ‘Lonely Mountain’ (2017)


 

 

 

Episode 10 // Short Ropes: Mixed Master Vol. 1

I first came up with the idea to do The Firn Line in September 2016 – really not that long ago when you think about it.  I think the truth is that i’d always wanted to somehow combine my love for the mountains with my creative pursuits.  I just wasn’t sure how to do it.  I guess you could say I had a light bulb moment when I realized that I could combine my passion for storytelling, the mountains, and music all into one creative outlet.  Nine months and ten episodes in, I guess you could say I haven’t looked back.


My goal from the get-go was to create a podcast that I would have wanted to listen to back when climbing was the only thing that mattered to me.  I’ve thought back to all the endless nights sitting around campfires with friends, all the soggy drives to go ice climbing in Valdez, and all the storm days I whittled away in tents, counting the squares in the ripstop fabric.  Back then, I would have loved to have had a podcast like the firn line to listen to.

So as I look back today at the beginning stages of this podcast, or rather, this community, I wanted to share “mixtape” from The Firn Line episodes.  Some of these moments are light-hearted, while others are pretty heavy.  But like every Firn Line episode you hear, all the clips are genuine, in the moment, and real.


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• The Fox / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Silhouettes (w/ Courtney Marie Andrews) / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Lonely Mountain (w/ Courtney Marie Andrews) / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Unnamed / A. Tholberg / Unreleased (2016)
• Kenny Blackwell / Grand Couloir / Unreleased (2017)
• The Talkeetnas / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Falling Down / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• The Search / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Block Me Out / Easton Stagger Phillips / Overseas (2008)


Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips
Courtney Marie Andrews
Easton Stagger Phillips

 

Episode 08 // Short Ropes: Katie’s Micro-Expeditions

Last month I sat down to chat with Alaskan climber and mountain explorer Katie Strong. Katie is an ambitious adventurer, as well as a driven environmental lawyer, which means her career often-times takes center stage, leaving her with limited amounts of free time. But that doesn’t keep her from spending time in the mountains. Rather, it just means she has to pack big trips into shorter blocks. Enter the “micro-expedition”.


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Stereo / Evan Phillips / Goodnight My Dearest Stranger (2012)
• The Talkeetnas / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• The Gauntlet / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Pick Yourself Up / Evan Phillips / Songs From Lake Irene (2007)


Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips
Katie Strong

Episode 06 // Short Ropes: The Risk Of Commitment

Nestled in the heart of the Alaska Range, lies what many believe to be one of the most beautiful mountains in the world: Mount Huntington.  Rising on all sides to form a symmetrical pyramid of rock, snow and ice, Huntington has captured the imagination of bold and dedicated alpinists for decades.

When the French Ridge was first climbed in 1964, the mountaineering world took notice.  Then just a year later, when a young David Roberts and crew climbed the stunning west face, the mountaineering world was shocked. Both of these climbs raised the standard of what could be done in Alaska’s mountains, as well as setting a precedent for what future alpinists could expect on Huntington: remoteness, sustained, hard climbing, total commitment.

By 2016, most of Huntington’s major features had been climbed.  But one line, perhaps the most committing of them all, had yet to be ascended: The complete south ridge.  Rising nearly 7,000 feet, the south ridge follows a serpentine spine of four jagged sub-peaks, each connected by delicate gendarmes and stacked cornices.  Of the south ridge, David Roberts wrote, “It was not so much a ridge as five separate, serrated peaks, each increasingly higher.”  Although a few teams had ascended the upper south ridge of Huntington over the years, few parties had considered a go at the complete south ridge.  That is until this year.

Over a stretch of perfect weather in April 2017, American alpinists Jess Roskelly and Clint Helander made the first ascent of the complete south ridge in a single 5-day push.  The climb was everything the duo had anticipated and more, pushing- the limits of their endurance, and forcing them to commit psychologically in a way neither of them had experienced in the past.

A few days later after they got down from the climb, I sat down with Jess and Clint in Anchorage, to recount this once in a lifetime adventure.  The interview picks up on the second day of their trip, as they are crossing the east fork of the Tokositna Glacier, and starting the initial climbing up the first peak of the south ridge of Huntington.

Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Letter That You Sent / Evan Phillips / Lonely Mountain (2017)
• Trippy Instrumental / Andy Tholberg / Unreleased (2017)
• Lucillia / Easton Stagger Phillips / Resolution Road (2014)


Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips
Clint Helander
Jess Roskelley
Andy Tholberg

Episode 01 // The Expression Of Climbing: Charlie Sassara

Growing up in the wilds of Alaska, Charlie Sassara always yearned for adventure. But it wasn’t until he found the “expression” of climbing that his life’s path changed forever. From early harrowing ascents on Mount Deborah and Denali in winter, to visionary climbs and bold rescues in the Wrangell-St. Elias, Charlie is a compelling character, and one of Alaska’s most enduring alpinists.


Music

• Space Song / Evan & Molly / Evan & Molly (2012)
• Augusta / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Learning To Climb / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Afterschool Special / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Silhouettes / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)
• Learning To Climb / Evan Phillips / Unreleased (2017)
• Lucillia / Evan Phillips / Lonely Mountain (2017)
• The Fox / Evan Phillips / Silhouettes (2015)


Links

Patreon
Evan Phillips