Trip Report: The Alaska Wilderness Classic (in Winter)

They say Alaska is a place of extremes.  This ranges from the stark changing of the seasons, to the scale of the wilderness landscapes, and of course, the size of the monolithic mountains.  But it also applies to the races – and I’m not talking about Nascar.  There’s the Iditarod – a grueling 950 mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, that travels through bitter cold temperatures and sub-arctic, coastal storms.  There’s Mount Marathon – a blistering roundtrip run up and down a nearly 3,000 foot high peak, covered in loose rock and scree, and lined with dangerous cliffs.  And then there’s the Alaska Wilderness Classic. 

Started in the early 1980’s, The Alaska Wilderness Classic is less of a formal race, and more of a grass-roots, community driven adventure challenge.  The Classic historically traverses a mountain range, anywhere from 150-250 miles in distance, and the rules are simple: get from point A to Point B unassisted, usually by foot, ski or packraft.  Participants are expected to leave minimal impact on the terrain they cross, and are prepared to extract themselves in case of emergency.  Although the racers are often-times friends, and checking in with each other throughout the race, it’s a serious event, with potentially high consequences.  

And this was the case in the winter of 2020, when Emily Sullivan and her partner, Taylor Bracher, began their journey from the historic mining community of McCarthy, Alaska – to cross the heavily glaciated Wrangell Mountains, en route to Tok, Alaska. 

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Notes

This trip report is made possible with the generous support of The Firn Line Patreon backers.

Special thanks to Emily Sullivan

Produced by Evan Phillips
Editing & Sound Design by Pod Peak
Original Music by Evan Phillips

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Trip Report: Adventure(s) on Mount Wickersham

Adam Gellman, a young glacier guide, tells the story of his adventures on an obscure (but challenging) Alaskan peak called Mt. Wickersham.

This Trip Report is made possible with the gracious support of The Firn Line Patreon backers. To learn more about how you can become a Patreon subscriber, go to The Firn Line Patreon.

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Notes

Written &  Narrated by Adam Gellman

Produced by Evan Phillips
Editing & Sound Design by Pod Peak
Original Music by Evan Phillips

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Trip Report: Oberon (Valdez, Alaska)

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.

This Trip Report is made possible with the gracious support of The Firn Line Patreon backers. To learn more about how you can become a Patreon subscriber, go to The Firn Line Patreon.

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Notes

Written & Produced by Evan Phillips
Editing & Sound Design by Pod Peak
Original Music by Evan Phillips 

Support The Firn Line

Patreon
PayPal
Merch

Sponsors

Alaska Rock Gym
The Hoarding Marmot