8-Day Alaska Course Itinerary
All eight days are spent on the mountain.
Day 1 After a 7AM group meeting at Fireweed Station Inn, we begin at the Alpine Ascents hanger at 8AM. Everyone’s gear is first checked for quality and missing items. This includes a discussion of what constitutes good gear, necessary gear, poorly-designed gear, and extra unnecessary gear (read ballast) in your pack! After the gear check, we have practice sessions for knots, prussiks, tie-in to a climbing rope, and prussiking crevasse self-rescue. These important topics and skills need to be learned and practiced in a safe and controlled environment because we need to use some of them as soon as we land on the glacier. Our fly-in to the glacier landing strip generally begins at 4PM, after a late lunch usually eaten at the local pizza restaurant in Talkeetna. After arriving on the glacier, a brief orientation is conducted about roped glacier travel, and then we move up-glacier a mile or so to set up our first camp. Building a comfortable and storm-resistant campsite, and cooking and operation of stoves fills out the first day. Our first evening of is spent on the massive Kahilta Glacier in the Alaska Range. This is when the reality of being in some of the most stunning and impressive mountains on Earth really sinks in!
Day 2 Today we focus on practicing snow climbing skills, the basic foundation of all mountaineering skills. Snow conditions in the Alaska Range and Alaska in general are variable to say the least. The following is a typical preferred logical progression of skills, but sometimes the order in which certain practices are done will depend upon current field conditions.
1) Snow climbing focusing on making good solid and efficient steps on both soft and hard snow surfaces, especially on steep snow.
2) Ice axe self-belay skills, and then self arrest skills both with and without ice axes, allows us to practice for that inevitable time when climbing technique fails and we have only a moment to stop that slip from becoming a fall!
3) The balance of the day is spent on learning and practicing snow anchors, roped climbing, running belays, and rope team self arrest. These are the most important skills to master well to be a safe climbing team member on glaciated mountains or big mountains anywhere. For this reason we spend whatever time necessary to ensure everyone is building a solid foundation for further learning, and to climb safely over the next week.
Day 3 Now that everyone can be a safe rope team member because they are able to self arrest their rope-mates, more work is needed on managing and using the climbing rope safely and intelligently as a rope team. This we practice in-depth during a roped tour of part of the glacier. This is the real thing, not just theoretical practice as there are large crevasses and impressive snow-bridges to cross to get to where we are going. We spend the balance of the day learning and practicing the important skills of crevasse self-rescue and rope team rescue. Over the evening meal back in camp, preparations for a summit attempt of Control Tower Peak will be discussed and attended to. This includes instruction on how to produce a climbing plan for the day's climb.
Day 4 Today we follow our plan put together last night for climbing Control Tower Peak. Focus is on having fun, and almost all the skills so far learned and practiced come into play! Today’s climb opens up views of this amazing place, unimagined just 3 days ago. Being on a summit with big mountains such as the Alaska Range all around you comes with a unique feeling, one which needs to be personally experienced and can never be felt by looking at photos, films, video, or in any other vicarious way! If you have never climbed in such a place before, then you will only understand after you stand here and take it all in—after all the hard work, the long practice sessions, the months of physical fitness training, only now can one truly know! After descending around noon back to camp, we spend more time as needed to continue with learning and cementing rope team crevasse rescue skills.
Day 5 Today we pack up camp and move it through several miles of glacier travel to our next camp and climbing objective. We set up another good weather-resistant camp with focus on completing this camp faster and more efficiently than the first one. On this day, it all comes together as we are now moving through the mountains as a self-sufficient climbing team, and soaking up the experience in the process.
Day 6 This morning we do another glacier tour to observe and learn from some very different terrain and to look for ice climbing practice sites. Then we learn and practice basic ice climbing including flat-footing, front-pointing, no tool, one tool and two tool climbing. This is then mated with roped and belayed climbing and placing ice screws for protection and belay anchors. Back at camp, we again prepare for a summit attempt tomorrow, including students producing the climbing plan for the day.
Day 7 Today we plan to carry out our second summit climb. In some ways, this is the most important day of the course. All of the practice and experience of the previous 6 days have prepared the team for today, but today is different because the entire summit climb experience happens again. It is true that much may be learned by taking a shorter course, but participating in a second climb this soon after learning all of the skills that we have, goes a long way towards cementing these skills and experiences more permanently with everyone. It is called building experience, and we believe that building this experience faster goes a long way toward making self-sufficient climbers much more quickly and efficiently. Depending upon weather and climbing conditions, the possibility of a third summit climb can also be discussed after we arrive back in camp.Day 8 If conditions are good, a third climb may be attempted. Our main focus for today is getting back across the glaciated terrain in a safe and timely way for our return trip to the glacier landing site and our afternoon flight back to Talkeetna. On the flight out from the Alaska Range, as the awesome mountain scenery passes by alongside the aircraft, thoughts often turn to how eventful the past 8 days have been and how very much has been truly lived and experienced!
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