8 Day Alaska Intermediate Course Itinerary
Confirmation package with trip logistics, gear lists, training suggestions will be sent upon registration
The group meets for an amazing breakfast at 7am at the Fireweed Station Inn outside of Talkeetna, Alaska, and then we transfer to the Alpine Ascents hanger to start our gear check and orientation at 8:00 am. The gear check/orientation is an invaluable part of the course and will often eliminate many of the questions students have about both equipment and the flow of the course. Our scheduled flight into Kahiltna International Airport is 2:00 pm, enough time to have lunch and make any last minute purchases.
We often camp at Kahiltna Base Camp on the first day of the intermediate course. Once there, we set up camp.
Guides discuss the importance of personal maintenance, hygiene and sleeping in cold environs and the principals of Leave No Trace, and address any concerns the students may have. Finally, instruction of proper hydration, including efficient snow melting protocols, nutrition, and back country cooking techniques will be addressed.
We use this day to review and further develop skills students should be familiar with from their previous training. We rope up for glacier travel and practice moving in classical and echelon formations on a tour up the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna. From there we probe out a safe spot to practice our crevasse rescue. Due to the smaller group sizes everyone will get an opportunity to do a real life rescue. Because it is an advanced course we review the 3:1 Z-pulley and the 2:1 Drop-C haul systems and have the students execute both. This also provides a great platform to review knots, rope management, snow anchor construction and mechanical advantage systems. If time provides we also integrate load-releasable hitches into our hauling systems. After returning to camp that evening the group prepares for a moderate climb the next day.
It is important to get an accurate assessment of the climbing skill level of the students to make the best use of our time in the mountains. Guides often take Intermediate students to the nearby Mount Frances to test their mettle on a real Alaska mountain. Situated in the center of the three great peaks of the Alaska Range (Denali, Foraker and Hunter), Mount Frances has arguably the best summit view in North America. The standard route on Mount Frances provides exciting climbing up a steep snow and mixed couloir to the more moderate, yet heavily crevassed, East Ridge. Often both belayed climbing and rappelling are necessary to safely ascend and descend this mountain.
We break down camp and move to a remote camp on the main Kahiltna Glacier. With several challenging peaks and no tracks it gives the perfect clean slate we are looking for to help develop more advanced mountaineering skills in the mountains. The move provides great training for pulling heavy sleds in addition to executing our route plan and navigation skills. Once we have entered into the SW Fork, we set up a bomber wilderness glacier camp, constructing snow walls, tent platforms, cook shelter and privy. The views of Denali from this camp are simply incredible. We use the evening to prepare for a morning summit.
The goal for the day is a peak known as Gateway II. The group weaves through a beautifully complex glacier up to the base of a short but steep headwall and an impressive summit that overlooks the Kahiltna Ice Fall. We descend the same way and prepare to climb a more challenging objective the next day. Among the most important skills learned in the course are the preparing, planning, and executing the summit climb itself. One advantage of the Alaska course is that students get to climb multiple peaks. This repetition is key to truly developing good skills in the mountains. And because it is the intermediate course, guides get students to lead the rope team as much as possible.
This is a long arduous day to one of the nicest moderate climbs in the entire range. We traverse the entire SW Fork to the base of the great French Ridge of Mount Foraker. From there we pick our way up a pocket glacier working up through numerous crevasses to the base of the steep North Arete of Peak 8610. This beautiful feature, seen from high on Denali itself, can be a moderate steep and exposed snow climb or it can be a challenging section of hard ice. Either way, it provides exciting belayed climbing to the summit ridge. From the end of the difficulties we traverse the summit ridge to this very remote and exceptional summit. We retrace our steps all the way back to camp and prepare for yet another fine Alaskan summit attempt.
This day is often used to move camp slightly closer to base camp and climb the ultra classic Cats Ear Spire on the West Ridge of Mount Hunter. The climb goes steeply through a side glacier skirting the edge of a small ice fall. This is a great chance to understand how we mitigate risk of objective hazard through choice of route, conditions and timing. Once through the steep section the route cruises up to the base of the spire. Two short pitches of steep snow and ice gets us on top of this impressive feature.
We use the final day to shore up any remaining skills and discuss and provide instruction on additional Topics which include: advanced cramponing, ice climbing, climbing at altitude discussion and advanced rescue systems.
Finally, we break down camp in accordance with our Leave No Trace principals, rope up, and travel back to Kahiltna Base Camp.
Topics such as navigation (GPS, map, compass, altimeter & whiteout navigation), route finding, and glaciology will be incorporated into the curriculum throughout the entire course and are often not designated for a particular time. Furthermore, throughout the course emphasis will continually be placed on checking and maintaining good self-awareness and well-being, in addition to ensuring camp is always clean and secure. Finally, due to the dynamic nature of mountains and weather, guides are constantly shifting the itinerary in order to best match the skills and interests of the group with the weather and conditions on the mountain.
Other peaks that may be climbed include Control Tower, Annie’s Ridge, Peak 12,200, Mount Crosson, Kahiltna Dome, Mount Capps, Point Ferine, Pizza Point, Gateway I, and Thunder Mountain.
The program was excellent. It covered a variety of materials in 8 days time, all of which was useful. I participated to learn specific skills and came home with those skills and more. I will be a safer and more confident climber for having had the opportunity to take your course.