When people think of ice climbing in North America, the first places that might come to mind are Ouray, Colorado, Hyalite Canyon outside Bozeman, Montana – or the vast alpine region of the Canadian Rockies, just to name a few. But perhaps the ultimate mecca for pure frozen waterfall climbing, is in and around Valdez, Alaska. This temperate region, which encompasses the shared traditional land of the Ahtna, Athabaskan, Alutiq and Eyak cultures, averages around 300 inches of snow each year, making it a perfect environment for forming fat, blue ice routes
There’s a rich climbing history in Valdez, starting when Jeff Lowe and John Weiland made the first ascent of the ultra-classic Keystone Greensteps in 1975. Then, in the late 70’s, a couple of young hotspot climbers from Fairbanks, Carl Tobin and Roman Dial, started ticking of dozens of first ascents, raising the standard of what was being done at the time. In the 80’s, climber’s like Andy Embick, Chuck Comstock and Brian Teale, all Valdez locals, continued the tradition, establishing hundreds of classic first ascents. And the old school merged with the new, when In February 1987, Steve Garvey and Jim Sweeney climbed Sans Amis, a grade 6 snow and rock line on the Keystone Wall – ushering in modern mixed climbing techniques to the Valdez area.
Although Valdez has remained popular over the years, it’s continued to somehow stay under the radar to the mainstream climbing world. But that hasn’t stopped a new generation of Alaskans from continuing the tradition of adventure, exploration, and first ascents in the magnificent arena.
One of these ascents happened in Feb, 2021, during the annual Valdez Ice Festival, when Sam Volk, Ryan Sims, August Franzen, and Sam Johnson, headed back toward the remote Wartmanns Glacier. Assisted by snow machines, and a boot pack put in a few day before by Sims and Johnson, the 200 meter, WI 6 climb was an instant classic. Here’s Sam Volk’s trip report of that memorable outing.
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