Monday, September 2, 2019

What Else is There Besides Denali in Alaska?

“Were you on Mount McKinley, or is it Denali?” Is a common question asked when returning to the village of Talkeetna after an expedition in the Alaska Range. Given that Denali is the highest peak in North America, it’s no surprise that the thousands of other peaks (both named and unnamed) in the range aren’t on many people’s radar amongst the general public. The reality: the Alaska Range has several lifetime’s worth of skiing and climbing expeditions on peaks…that aren’t "the big three" (Denali, Foraker, and Hunter). For those of you who have never thought about what else such a mountain range can hold, read on…peaks other than Denali have been in the spotlight for decades. All of the below destinations are also incredible options for guided trips, given the prerequisite experience has been met.

Base Camp on the Ruth Glacier in the Ruth Gorge

Ruth Gorge 

Home to peaks like Moose’s Tooth and Mount Dickey, The Ruth Gorge is among the most classic alpine playgrounds in the World. While the majority of the routes in this area are extremely difficult, moderate routes such as “Ham and Eggs” (V, 5.9 AI4) on the Moose’s Tooth or the West Face (II, 40 degrees) on Mount Dickey keeps an expedition in the Ruth “doable” for a variety of ability levels. March-May is typically the ice, snow, and mixed climbing season with June-August being the alpine rock season.
A climber approaches Japanese Couloir (III, 50-70 degrees) on Mt. Barrille

Little Switzerland

The Pika glacier is home to the area affectionately referred to as “Little Switzerland” and is an incredible destination for skiing and rock climbing. For many, this will be among the most amicable options given the relatively smaller nature of objectives here. March-Early May is generally the ski season, with the alpine rock season kicking off from June through July. Some of the class rock routes include “South Face” (III, 5.8) on Middle Troll or “Lost Marsupial” (III, 5.8) on the Throne.

A skier practices crevasse rescue on the Pika Glacier

Mt. Huntington

Mt. Huntington is a breath-taking peak that offers classic ice and mixed climbing on a big peak. The two most commonly climbed routes are “West Face Couloir” (V, 85 degrees) and Harvard Route (V, 5.9, A2, 70 degrees). Both of these routes are not necessarily great introductory routes for Alaskan climbing (depending on your previous experience) but are well worth working towards.

Cathedral Spires of the Kichatnas

Commonly named the “Kichatna Spires”, this area is one of the most unique zones in the Alaska Range. Dozens of golden granite spires erupt from the various glaciers that spiral together to form a beautiful vertical jungle. It is likely that you will be the only other people you see while you’re in here, providing one of the most serene destinations on this list. The most common type of climbing that is done here is big wall climbing, but high quality ice/mixed climbing also exists.

A climber negotiates a ridge straddling the Cool Sac and the Tatina Glacier.
This list is extremely far from being exhaustive, don’t forget that the Alaska Range is over 600 miles long…there is much exploration left to be done.

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