8 Day Alaska Intermediate Course Itinerary
The group meets in the morning at the Talkeetna Denali View Lodge then transfers to the Alpine Ascents hangar, where we’ll spend the morning in gear check and orientation. Our flight into Kahiltna International Airport is scheduled for the afternoon, enough time to have lunch and make any last-minute purchases in Talkeetna.
After flying in, we often set up camp at Kahiltna Base Camp on the first day of the intermediate course. Guides will discuss the importance of personal maintenance, hygiene, sleeping in cold environs, and the principals of Leave No Trace. They will also cover instruction of proper hydration, including efficient snow melting protocols, nutrition, and back country cooking techniques.
Please note, inclement weather can cause flight and program delay.
We use this day to review and further develop skills that 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 size, everyone will get an opportunity to practice a real-life rescue. As this is an advanced course, we review the 3:1 Z-pulley and the 2:1 Drop-C haul systems and have 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 integrate load-releasable hitches into our hauling systems. After returning to camp that evening the group prepares for a moderate climb the next day.
Guides often take Intermediate students to the nearby Mount Frances to get an accurate assessment of their climbing skill level, and from there determine what the group needs to make the most of our instruction in the mountains. 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 develop more advanced mountaineering skills. The move provides great training for pulling heavy sleds and executing our route plan and navigation skills. Once we have entered 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 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 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 this course are preparing, planning, and executing a summit climb. 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 as the intermediate course, guides will have 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 through 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 our final day to shore up any remaining skills and provide instruction on additional topics including advanced cramponing, ice climbing, climbing at altitude, and advanced rescue systems. We will break down camp in accordance with our Leave No Trace principals, rope up, and travel back to Kahiltna Base Camp for our flight to Talkeetna that afternoon.
Other peaks climbed on this course may 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.