May 7, 2014
More clouds filled the Ruth Amphitheater this morning when we woke up to check the weather and give a report to the pilot. The mist and low hanging clouds meant no flying this morning but it did give us the opportunity to have a relaxing morning cooking up breakfast in camp and then heading out for some ski touring nearby. This little weather system passing through the Alaska Range brought us a few inches of fresh snow and we found great turns on the slopes nearby. We spent a few hours making laps, forgetting about the weather and immersing ourselves in the simple joy of sliding downhill on skis.
By early afternoon the clouds looked as if they were beginning to thin and we headed back to camp to pack out the runway for the plane and get our gear in order should the weather break enough for a flight to get in. By the time we finished the clouds were still lifting - albeit slowly - and we entered the waiting game, exerting whatever futile will power we could muster to clear the skies while passing the time telling stories, sharing jokes, and even building a little jump in camp to catch some air on skis.
By 5:30 in the evening the views across the Amphitheater were clear and we got the go ahead that a plane was on its way. Shortly thereafter a red Otter poked over the ridge lines above us, made a few sweeping turns above the glacier and came into land. We hauled all of our gear over to the waiting plane, piled everything in and were soon airborne, flying low over the glacier we walked yesterday morning. We buzzed right down the Ruth Gorge, staying low as the summits of the surrounding peaks were still covered in clouds and followed the winding track of the Ruth Glacier out of the mountains and back into the Alaska foothills. The riot of green spring buds covering the forest tops, intersected by rivers still carrying winter ice, was a little bit of a shock after being in a world of ice, snow, and rock for the better part of the past week and the air gradually felt warmer as we neared Talkeetna.
We landed in Talkeetna and swapped our ski boots for flip flops, our soft shells for jeans (after a nice long shower), and are headed out for dinner. Despite the unpredictable weather, it’s been a fun week of adventuring in the Alaska Range.
- RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team
When the alarm clock went off last night we were already intermittently awake, listening to the winds blowing up the Ruth Gorge and pelting our tent with snow. Sure enough, when we poked our heads out of the tent it was hard to see more than a dozen yards through the snow in the beams of our headlamps. We knew that again today wasn’t a summit day so we crawled back into our sleeping bags for a few more hours of sleep.
When we woke up around 5:30 the conditions hadn’t improved much so we set about making breakfast and breaking camp at a leisurely pace, hoping that the clouds would lift a bit before we were done. Unfortunately, that never happened and with our packs and sleds fully loaded with our gear, we set off back up the Ruth Glacier into the fog, snow and wind. The return to Mountain House went smoothly, although the views were lacking a bit. We spent most of the time walking through the Gorge navigating by compass, GPS, and a bit of sheer reckoning. By the time we entered the Amphitheater and rounded the north side of Mt. Barille, the clouds began to lift enough for us to get a look around and we even caught glimpses of some sunshine as we made the final ascent to the landing strip at Mountain House.
Once at Mountain House we set up our camp and then took advantage of the clearing in the weather to go for a short ski tour above camp before the clouds settled back in. We are back in camp now and cooking up dinner. Tomorrow morning if the clouds lift we’ll get another short ski in above camp before we catch our ride in a ski plane back to Talkeetna. Keep your fingers crossed that the clouds lift enough for the plane to get in and get us!
RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team
Yikes! Good luck, sounds cold.
Posted by: M. Homme on 5/6/2014 at 8:50 pm
Thick clouds rolled into the Alaska Range overnight and when we woke up shortly before 3am, we found ourselves in the midst of a thick fog bank. It was thick enough that we even needed our headlamps to get around camp, an uncommon occurrence in Alaska this time of year. The fog bank acted like a thick warm down comforter, keeping the temperatures hovering around freezing, even at the coldest part of the night. We caught several glimpses of breaks in the clouds above and decided to venture out of camp to see if we could find some colder temperatures and more supportable snow above the valley floor. We set out through the mist, following the track that we scouted yesterday evening, and navigating the crevasse field that guards the entrance to the side valley leading up to 747 Pass.
The scene was awe inspiring while we climbed the valley. As a flat light began to illuminate our surroundings, we passed the foot of huge rock faces that stretched vertically into the air above us until they disappeared into the clouds. At the head of the valley loomed the headwall and seracs that mark the top of the pass. The views would come and go with the clouds, occasionally spitting hail and almost rain on us. After climbing a little more than a 1,000’ up that pass we were dismayed to find that the temperatures had not cooled and we were sinking to mid thigh in the soft isothermic snow when we climbed the steeper pitches. Around us running water ran down the cliff faces, telling us that even the snow slopes high above had not frozen overnight. With more clouds blowing in and spits of rain coming down, we knew that today wasn’t our summit day as the conditions made for exceedingly slow progress and the warm temperatures and rain increased the chance for rockfall and snow sluffs above us while also weakening the snow bridges that allow us to cross the heavily-crevassed glacier.
We pulled our climbing skins from our skis and descended back down our route, making a few fun turns in the soft, punchy snow and returned to camp. We spent the rest of the morning catching up on the few missed hours of sleep from our early start, reading, and keeping a general light-hearted banter going in the tent.
By mid afternoon the clouds lifted a bit and we decided to stretch our legs with a little tour across to the east side of the Ruth Glacier before returning to camp for the evening.
We are hoping that the clouds will continue to lift and bring in some cold temperatures to provide a good freeze for the glacier. If we get a cold night and a good freeze of the snow surface, we will make another attempt on Mt. Dickey tomorrow morning. If the weather stays warm we’ll pack up camp and move back up the glacier towards Mountain House to get some ski touring in on some of the more gentle slopes in that area.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team
A thin covering of clouds rolled into the Ruth Glacier last night just low enough to brush the summits of the surrounding peaks. The clouds acted as an insulating layer, preventing the previous day’s heat from fully dissipating overnight and we awoke early to relatively mild temperatures. The warmer temps softened the blow of waking up early and breaking camp - not the most pleasant experience when the thermometer hovers in the single digits - and soon we had everything packed into our backpacks and sleds and were skiing down the Ruth Glacier as the first ray of sunlight reached us. We spent the day traveling downhill, dropping from Mountain House northwards into the center of the Ruth Amphitheater before veering to the east and making a large 180-degree turn until we were eventually headed south down the Ruth Glacier and into the heart of the Ruth Gorge. This early in the season the glacier is still covered in a thick layer of winter snow, smoothing over the crevasses and undulations in the glacier and among the travel very smooth and straightforward.
Soon we entered the Ruth Gorge proper, a “narrow” stretch of glacier (still almost a mile wide) that is reported to be close to 3,000’ deep, and walled by massive rock walls on both sides, the highest being the East Face of Mt. Dickey which rises an impressive almost 5,000’+ above us, whose summit remained shrouded in clouds. We traveled down the Gorge, occasionally stopping in awe to admire the landscape around us, until we reached an altitude of about 4,600’ at the entrance to a side valley that is framed by “747 Pass” - a gap in the rock walls purported to be large enough to fly its Boeing namesake through. Here, we established our camp, just as the temperatures warmed enough to begin softening the surface snow and slowing our progress across the glacier. We spent the remainder of the afternoon establishing our camp in the center of the flat glacier that runs through the Gorge and brushing up on various climbing skills and techniques. If the weather holds, we are in a good position to make a push through 747 Pass and climb the glaciated West Face of Mt. Dickey tomorrow morning before returning to our camp here in the Gorge.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team
May 4, 2014
The little town of Talkeetna, Alaska, was beginning to wake from its quiet winter slumber when we arrived yesterday evening. The long warm evening calling out locals and climbers alike to relax on the outdoor patios along the main strip. After dropping off our gear we grabbed a quick bite at the legendary West Rib Pub, enjoying some excellent caribou burgers as our last meal before heading into the mountains.
The morning was perfectly clear and calm and after checking in with the National Park Service we headed over to the airplane hangar at the Talkeetna Airport to finalize our gear preparations - spreading warm clothes, bags of food, skis, and climbing gear across the floor of the hangar, taking careful count of everything, and then miraculously packing it all back up into our bags. By early afternoon we were ready. We traded out our jeans and flip flips for high tech synthetic shells, pulled on our boots, and clambered into the ski plane - a turbo prop with skis known locally as a Beaver - and took off for the Alaska Range.
As soon as we climbed above Talkeetna, the incredible mass of the Alaska Range loomed in front of us over the dash board of the plane, crowned by the recognizable summits of Denali, Mt. Hunter, and Mt. Foraker. We flew above the landscape of thinning forests and lakes and gradually the formidable wall of mountains began to fade into series of valleys, ridges, peaks, and glaciers. When we reached the toe of the Ruth Glacier we made a gradual turn to the north and flew right up the center into the Ruth Gorge - a stunning stretch of glacier lined by the massive granite walls of Moose’s Tooth, Mt. Dickey, and Mt. Braille. North of the Gorge stands the Ruth Amphitheater - a huge glacial cirque surrounded by massive peaks, including the summit of Denali high above. After making a few extra circles because the views were simply too stunning to pass up, we landed on the glacier near the Mountain House, a small hut perched on a rocky outcropping in the middle of the glacier.
We unloaded the plane, said goodbye to the pilot, and opting for the true McKinley experience, set to work establishing our camp on a shallow ridge to the west of the Mountain House. After getting ourselves settled in, we took advantage of the good weather to spend a few hours reviewing glacier travel skills and crevasse rescue techniques. Once the sun finally began to creep behind the nearby ridgelines, the temperatures began to sink and we found ourselves pulling out our parkas and adding layers - despite the warm weather it is still early season in the Alaska Range.
We are all settled into camp after an excellent dinner and getting ready for bed despite the sun still being high in the horizon, not much darkness up here this time of year. We are planning on leaving our Base Camp here early tomorrow morning and traveling back into the Gorge to scope out some potential climbing objectives before we set up camp. We are all doing well and very excited to be in the mountains!
RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team