Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Goat Rock West Ridge - Thread the Needle

   Goat Rock is a pointy 5200' tower of Chugach crud located near Eklutna Lake, Alaska.  There is no specific trail approaching it, and the two main summit routes require either exposed scrambling or outright rock climbing.  It's a fun climb, but unsurprisingly, it doesn't see a lot of traffic. 

Goat Rock West Ridge
   I parked at the S turn just before the ice cream shop on Eklutna Lake Road, and was soon bushwacking upward through a mixed forest of deciduous and evergreen.  Eventually the forest thinned out, and I emerged above treeline onto a very steep grassy slope.  After a few more minutes, I reached a gentle ridgeline with a view of the task ahead - Goat Rock.

Wacking that bush
   As I got closer, I began following a sheep trail through the scree.  This led me below a promising gully to the West col.  I started upward, picking my way through talus and bits of remaining ice and snow.  The travel stayed mellow, if a tad wet and mossy, until finally bringing me to a sharp ridgeline and dropoff. 

Goat Rock directly ahead.  The col is down in the bottom middle - NASTY drop to my left.
   I had gone a bit further West than I had intended, and missed the col!  No matter -  backtracking was easy, and I soon traversed into the correct gully and was on the col.   

   The opposing side of the col dropped off very steeply, and I could tell that the going was about to get steep no matter which way I went.  The West ridge itself rose abruptly to the right, and I spotted a trickle of water coming down by an old climbing anchor.  As I came up to this, I could tell I would be crossing the "no bueno" category of downclimbing if I continued up.  I tried going around to the left and to the right, but came up empty.  It was all steep and saturated, or a mixture of the two. 

Anchor is middle left, in the middle of wet, WET rock
Not Bueno
Also not bueno
   Discouraged, I backed off, and then my eye caught a snowy ramp that was about 50 feet below the col.  I started tentatively up this, and was delighted to find that it stayed much more mellow than the terrain on my left.  Gradually though, it did narrow, and forced me into tighter and more exposed terrain.  At last, the ramp came down to cliffs on the right, and a body width crack ahead.
The crux crack
   The crack seemed that it still might not be a fun downclimb, so I tested it.  Not very good.  It was then it occurred to me that my large winter backpack, with an ice axe and all sorts of gear, might be hindering my  maneuverability in the narrow space.  So, realizing that leaving my pack for a few minutes was probably fine on this deserted peak, I decided to take it off and try again.

Leaving Mr. Pack behind...
   This was the magic bullet I needed!  Without the cumbersome weight on my back, I fairly flew up the crevice and was soon on much easier terrain.  I picked my way through the remaining rocky travel, which never again rose to the same steepness as the crevice I had passed.

Past the crux crack.
Past the crux crack.  Not as steep, but still exposed.
Past the crux crack.  Summit ahead.  Some mean exposure to my left and milder exposure to the right.
   The summit came up quickly, and I was happy to see rays of sun poking through the cloud cover.  Opening the summit register proved a hilarious struggle.  Whoever last closed it did a good job of it!  Funny enough, I flipped open the paper and the first name I saw was Bill Finley!  Hmmm...  Bill's trip reports are the framework I refer to whenever I need a helping hand on a peak (and I'll admit, I did read some about Goat Rock too!!)  I signed my name, albeit accidentally claiming the date one day ahead, and headed down. 

Summit.  Holding my helmet up for dat pano!
Struggling to open the register.

The B. Finley page!

Putting the register back.
   Needless to say, downclimbing the 4th class segment to my backpack was a lot easier without the pack being ON!  It was also warmer at this point, so I took my gloves off for even greater downclimbing prowess.  Shouldering the pack, I made it back down to the col without incident. 

Approaching the downclimb.  Sun was out at this point!  Nice.

Bare hands are much nicer for downclimbing.

Bare hands are much nicer for downclimbing.
   As I backtracked the sheep trail, I thought it would be fun to also do a quick jog over to POW/MIA.  Since leaving my pack had worked so well just a few minutes before, I left it again to make jogging easier. 

   I snapped a few pictures from POW, then headed back to the pack, and from there to the car.  The grass field I had come up was still INSANELY STEEP!!!  (Hmmm...  Exactly the same as it was on the way up, haha.)

Pano from POW/MIA.  Pioneer/East Twin/Goat Rock/Eklutna/Baneful/The Mitre/The Watchman (left to right)

Closer up view of Goat Rock West Ridge (center) from POW/MIA.
Overall - 

   Goat Rock is an awesome early season way to get some good 'ol fashioned Chugach crud exposure with a minimal approach.  There are a lot of climbing options as well - mild, medium, spicy, or very spicy indeed on the north side.  I was content with the mild!! 

Route info - 

   Watch my videos (listed below) or pay very close attention to Bill Finley's excellent trip report.  If you want to scramble this peak AND downclimb it, it's important to hit everything right on the West Ridge.  Downclimbing the ridge proper would be quite bad if the rock is wet.  The crack/ramp go-around is definitely easier but is still exposed and narrow.  As Bill mentions, it's a great way to get summer started with a nice bit of scramble practice.  Be careful, and have fun on this pointy, seldom visited Chugach peak.  Stay tuned for lots more peaks this summer.       

Links - 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Ptarmigan Peak North Ridge - North of the Norm!

   The mountain bug has bitten me earlier than usual this year, and that means I've had to come to terms with my lack of snow/ice experience.  For me, snow and ice usually amounts to a snow slide between Peak 2/3 in mid-June, or an afternoon snow squall in May.  This winter, however, I've embraced the ice axe and microspikes.  I may even come around to crampons, especially after today.  What happened today?  Funny you should ask...

   I woke up not knowing exactly WHAT mountain I wanted to climb, all I knew is I wanted to climb A mountain!  This is typical for me (as most of you who read my trip reports already know) so I spent the morning just getting the gear together and let the chips fall where they may.

   It so happens that the chips fell halfway, and before I knew it, I was out at Glen Alps riding my fatbike, hoping that there would be some sign of where I should go from there.  My first inclination was to climb Homicide Peak, one of the charmingly named brethren of the Suicide peak family - a mountain usually accessed from the powerline saddle.  It was an unclimbed peak for me, and as I rode on, it seemed likely to remain so as the path to the powerline saddle deteriorated after 3 miles.  I was forced to stash the bike and explore other options.  Ptarmigan!

Ptarmigan in summer

Summer again, this time poking out behind my brothers and I.
   Ptarmigan is one of my favorite front range peaks - it's aesthetic, it has a short approach, and above all, it's fun to climb!  Ptarmigan, it turns out, also has a reputation as a "gateway" mountain for the winter climber.  The north couloir is something of a classic route - although an unfortunate climbing accident several years ago has certainly darkened my thoughts whenever I see it.  With the accident and my nonexistent snow skills on the mind, I decided to go for another route.  The north ridge!
I knew very little about the north ridge other than it intersected the couloir near the summit.  It looked doable, carefully doable, with a few trouble areas evident as I walked towards it.  With some slight apprehension, I took my axe out, and started kicking steps upward.

The Ptarmigan North ridge and couloir
   Things were easy for a while - the angle was low, the snow was consistent and packed, and the route was clear.  Eventually though, it got sneakily steeper, and I reached my first cliff-out.
Cliffed out!
Nope, don't wanna climb these cliffs...

   At first, I was stumped.  I tried going up some cracks in its face, only to be repelled when I ran out of comfortably large holds.  Slightly perturbed, I paused for a second, and remembered my long touted Chugach adage "there's always a better way if you go around."  I went around, and this is where things got interesting...
Discovering the "chute of doom"

   I had been gradually learning how snow behaves on different slopes, but now the snow was inconsistent AND the going got steep.  Really steep.  I didn't like the powderey, fragile feeling I was encountering.  It disconcerted me and drove me to follow the rock as much as possible.  This feeling led me to a narrow chute, almost a crack, with good rock for stemming and what looked like a solid bit of snow in the middle.  Wrong!

Climbing the chute of doom
I got to a ledge, but my prospects were no better.  I wanted out.

   After climbing the chute for a while, I came to a place where it was too steep with too few holds for me to go on.  All the while, I had been noticing that the snow in the middle wasn't trustworthy, and was prone to just falling away.  So I stopped.  And I thought for while.  Then I tried again to go up, and then I tried to go to the side, and then I realized I couldn't do either of those.  So I went down - carefully, painstakingly, planting my axe where I could, not trusting the snow to be of help.  It took me a long time, but I got down from that crack.  And I let out a huge sigh!

The chute I'd been climbing is in the middle of this cliff.  Shoulda known to keep going around!

   The powdery snow around me wasn't QUITE as scary as it had been, so I opted to keep looking for a way around.  And I got around, finally!

Windblown edge, top of north couloir, and summit!  

   Pretty soon, I came to a point where I could see the top of the north couloir and the summit ahead.  It looked like smooth sailing until I got closer and saw the cornice on the other side of the couloir.  I knew then I couldn't walk right over the top, so instead I dropped down into the couloir slightly, and worked my way over from there.  At long last, I was past all the hard stuff!

Getting close to the summit!
   The summit was surprisingly warm, with full sunshine and only a slight breeze.  I took the opportunity to text a few people, telling them to guess what I had just climbed (I was pretty pleased I had made it by this point.) After a few photos and a few Poptarts, I headed toward the west summit and down to the saddle for an easy exit.  Buttsliding was not as good as expected :(

   It was strange to stand on top of a mountain I'd so often climbed, having arrived there from an entirely different approach.  It made me feel like it was brand new all over again.  Elation, relief, focus, wonder - a purer form of existing that is difficult to describe.  I know I'll be back soon... 

Looking back up at the mighty north face

Returning to a pleasant afternoon at Glen Alps

Garmin Connect

The Video


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fatbike Intermission

   To the people out there that watch this blog - you may be wondering 'bout the lull in mountain stoke.  Well, it turns out there actually is night in Alaska, and sometimes a lot of it.  When that happens, it's easier to go for a bike ride than a full mountain day...  Which brings me to the subject of this (filler) post.


Me riding at Knik glacier.  The drone that took this photo has an uncanny ability with composition.

This is about as fat as they get.

Sometimes you can jump them.

   Yep.  I even work for a fatbike company (and it shouldn't be hard to figure out which one).  This means I feel a certain obligation to get out there and test what I sell.  It's pretty fun even.  It's so fun, and so ubiquitous in Alaska, that sometimes us crazy locals race 'em.  Which brings me to the next subject.  


The local fast guys dragging me around.  Yes, that's me back there.  This is when I realized there would be pain.
Finishing my 2nd Frosty 50.  No matter what happens, you smile at the end.  Photo by Brian.

First few minutes of racing on Eagle River.  Dat temp doh.

   Fatbike racing is, in my opinion, the most interesting form of bike racing.  There are a tremendous variety of snow conditions, each with its own corresponding series of tactics and gear choices.  Fast snow favors narrower tires, road racing skills, and pack strategy.  Deep, fluffy snow requires bike handling, meaty tires, and the ability to endure a high watt sufferfest for as long as possible.  Of course, there are a million other variables - the course style, the temperature, the competition.  It all combines into a unique race experience every time!

   This year, my goal is to take race training a little more seriously.  It's easy to do pretty well on just fun miles (going easy most of the time and hard when you feel like it) but I know there are definitely gaps in this - with major things being race nutrition and proper periodization.  Race nutrition has always been a weak spot for me.  I get very focused as the race evolves, but unfortunately, not very focused on when to eat and drink.  Not only do I forget, but the nature of racing in winter can make it difficult to even get at the food or drink.  Lots of layers, yo!

   The second aspect, periodization, is a core idea to many sports, cycling included.  This is probably the worst problem I face.  I like to go hard sometimes, and sometimes hard for too long.  Sometimes junk for too long (JRA - Just Riding Around).  Rarely do I manage to do the correct combination of intensity and recovery.  That's where my co-worker, TWR (The Will Ross) comes in. 

Warning: Shout-Out Below  

   So, Will is arguably the fastest fatbike racer around - Alaska, lower 48, anywhere.  Not only is he quick, but he knows how to get quick.  He's been racing for a long time, knows the ups and downs (literally) and has a very approachable attitude.  That's why, when Will mentioned he wanted to start coaching, I was quick to jump at the opportunity.  I'm stoked to put my training into more experienced and objective hands.  

   My plan starts today and uses a heart rate monitor to measure intensity.  It accounts for two peak events: The Frosty 50 and Susitna 100.  I guess the real proof is yet to come, but for now, I'm confident to recommend Will as a coach.  Go check out his website and tell him Nate sent you!

But it's not all racing...

   Winter is still young.  The trails are packing in with snow, the rivers and streams are icing over, and there are many fatbike adventures waiting. 

   "Sorry Mountains - I'll come back when I can, but for now, fat wheels are pretty good."

   Here, have some fatbike stuff.  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Korohusk Peak w/ Adrian - Full-on Fall Fun

Korohusk Peak 9/30/17

  This might have been one of the most magically aligned mountain days of the whole year - perfect weather, perfect gear list, perfect peak, near perfect routefinding, and great company!

Maybe the last time summer scramble gear is used!
   I picked up Adrian around 7:20, and we were hiking from the Eagle River Nature Center by 8.  There was a touch of damp chill in the air, as recent rainfall still saturated the first four miles of our approach on the Crow Pass trail.  A few low lying clouds hung about, but things looked bright and clear up high.  As we walked, we noticed that there was some serious erosion going on near The Perch, and that it seems a trail re-route is in the works.

Passing Echo Bend, looking toward Yukla (in the cloud)

View from The Perch.  Eagle Peak on right, Organ Mtn. in the middle, and Polar Bear on the left.  Some trail erosion going on nearby!
   Since I'd never climbed a peak from ERNC, I was very cautious about getting started on the right foot.  We first went a bit too far and hit Dishwater Creek, then backtracked to the worn "Trail" sign noted by Bill Finley in his trip reports.  From there, we simply entered the woods and hoped to find a trail.

   From time to time, a trail seemed to appear, but stayed vague until about 15 minutes in.  At that point, we found our way to a steep clearing and a obvious trail that led steeply upward.  As we followed, it became increasingly hard to do so - the trail was fading and leveling out.  We were led to a fork, took a turn uphill, and then the trail was gone.

   We then came to a large mossy rock in a clearing, and could see what lay ahead uphill.  Cliffs!  We'd been led to cliffs!

Don't go the way on the left - there be cliffs!

   After a thankfully brief alder bushwack, we went under and to the right of the cliffs, stumbling upon another fairly distinct trail.  This again we followed, and again were left stranded after the trail ran out.

   By this point, I was fairly certain where we had to go, so we struck off into the trees without a trail.  This would be a bad idea in quite a few places in Alaska, but the deciduous trees made for very decent bushwack.   Dishwater Creek was down out of sight in steep terrain to our right, but we used its sound as a guide to the moraine.

   In the last half mile before hitting treeline, we did pick up another trail, and this trail continued all the way to the moraine.  We had arrived!

   The few clouds we had seen earlier were burning away, so we were treated to heartrending sights of Nantina Point, Kiliak, Eagle, and many other tall snow shrouded peaks.  We both agreed that it was a great to be out here.

Coming above treeline - Eagle Peak behind us.

The moraine in front of us.  Korohusk is on the left, Kiliak and Nantina on the right.

Adrian doing some typical side-hilling

Pano of Adrian sidehilling with Eagle in the background

   Although the remaining clouds were sparse, a persistent one stayed on Korohusk, obscuring our view of the route.  We got off the moraine, and sidehilled our way to a gully on the south face.  Upon reaching it, we went up and around the worst bit to avoid some wet rock.  At this point, we were surrounded by cloud.

Adrian coming up to the likely looking gully (behind me)

The gully.  We went up and around to my right.

The cloud was definitely a factor.  Guesswork for the route!
   It was guess work and avoiding pinch points from here - we encountered cliffs ahead and went left, chasing open terrain and avoiding the steepest, wettest looking areas.  We eventually came to what is likely a stream earlier in the year, and climbed next to it on the left.  We then dropped back into it as the angle slacked off, and peeped over on the right side to see what lay in that direction.

   A snow couloir to the summit! We were going to make it!

Adrian climbing on climbers left of what is likely a stream earlier in the year.

Crossing over to find the couloir
Almost there!

Finding the couloir
   The clouds were thinning out at this height, and we were quite hot as we kicked steps up the couloir and the bright sun shone down.  It was steep, sweaty, yet confident going.  As we got closer to the summit, the snow got a bit harder, and care was needed to kick steps.  After this weekend (9/30) it's not likely to be doable without an ax.

Adrian coming up the snow

Cloud was off and on
   We came to the end of the couloir, and realized that we had been eyeing a FALSE summit.  The good news is that the real summit was only about 5 minutes away!

That back there was the false summit!
   It was literally hot at the summit, though we had cold toes from submerging our running shoes in powder snow.  The views were mesmerizing - Yukla, Kiliak, Eagle, far and wide into the central Chugach as well.  Snow was settling into the mountains, and despite how fair the day was, we felt that winter was not far off.  After some congratulations and snacks, we went down.

Adrian @ summit!

Me @ summit.

Kiliak and Yukla, plus some central Chugach on the left.
   The way down was pleasant!  Only the very top of the snow couloir was the least bit of concern - right at the edge of probably wanting an ax, just in case.  Once we were past that though, it was fast going.  The rock further down the peak had dried out considerably, so we felt pretty good about what had earlier been slippery.  In no time, we were down to the moraine.

Almost wanted an axe.

Nantina pano

Coming down on nicely dry rock!

Adrian on the moraine

Me on the moraine
   Heading back into treeline, we did manage to follow more trail than on the way up, but it was still disconnected and spotty.  This time we avoided the cliff, but never did stay on a trail the entire way.  In this type of woods, it was fine, and we neatly avoided any significant thickets.  It was about 5PM as we regained the Crow Pass trail, and had a leisurely walk back to the car.

   Adrian had brought a thermos of tea the whole way, intending to share it on the summit, but it was a welcome victory brew at the ERNC.  Mmmm, mint!  We talked about how perfect the day had been, and had a very tranquil drive back to Anchorage.  Now that's how to cap off a summer of mountains!

Thanks for coming Adrian!

Heading back to ERNC - almost sunset
The route.  Note the difficulties near Dishwater Creek.