Denali, Alaska & Rule #2: Always Clip Into Something // Todd Swain

In mid-June 2015, my wife, Donette, and I flew into the Pika Glacier in Denali National Park in Alaska.

We had been to the park previously (Wonder Lake), but had never climbed there. The flight on K2 Aviation from Talkeetna to the glacier provided incredible views of very beautiful scenery. In less than 20 minutes, we flew from the forested land of Talkeetna to the snowy environs of the Pika Glacier. Once we landed, we moved our 200 pounds of gear and food about 150 yards from the landing area and got our camp set up.

The next day we snowshoed about 20 minutes from our camp and climbed the south face of the Munchkin (5.4). The crux was the snow climb to reach the actual rock. The snow was very soft and as you approached the rock, the snow became fairly unstable. Easy climbing up clean, alpine granite got us to our destination. Our next objective was the South Face of Middle Troll (5.8).

Based upon the trip reports we read on the internet, this seemed to be the most popular climb off the Pika Glacier. The start of the climb is roughly a 15 minute ski or snowshoe from camp and the first obstacle is getting past the bergshrund at the base of the peak. About 60 meters of snow climbing gets you to the rock, where the fun really begins.

The climb is roughly 1200 feet high and probably 70% of it is on 4th Class or easy 5th Class ground that is festooned with teetering loose blocks. We did two good 5.8 crack pitches and the rest we would now say “fagetaboutit.” For the amount of loose rock and subsequent stuck rappel ropes, the peak hardly seems worth it. (A party rappelling the route a few days later, had a large block destroy their only climbing rope. This was on the first day of their trip).

On the second to last rappel, I violated rule #2, which is always clip your stuff into something (if you are wondering, rule #1 states you and your climbing partner(s) should come back from your objective alive).

In violating rule #2, we got to see my pack slide down the snowfield and disappear into the bergshrund. My pack contained my only parka, M5 rock shoes, camera and other rather important stuff. After a day of kicking myself for my stupidity, we eventually located the pack down in the bergshrund: after some rope rigging, I was able to rappel down to the pack and ascend back out of the potentially icy tomb.

Our next project was a new rock route on the Crown Jewels. The rock on our chosen buttress was generally of excellent quality and almost devoid of the death blocks we saw on Middle Troll. The best pitch on the new route climbed a beautiful corner system with perfect finger to hand sized cracks.

After six days on the glacier, we flew back to Talkeetna.

We hope to return next June for more Alaskan adventures!