Gearing Up for Alaska

Grivel and Beal athlete Alan Rousseau shares his thoughts on the gear necessary for a successful climbing trip to Alaska.

This spring over the course of seven weeks I did three trips into the Alaska Range.  Two of these trips I was working as a mountain guide, and one was a personal trip.  Starting in mid April I guided the Ham and Eggs route on the Moose’s Tooth in the Ruth Gorge.  Late April I had a second client for another trip up Ham and Eggs followed by an ascent of the SW ridge of peak 11,300 (a mountain named by its elevation located in the West Fork of the Ruth Gorge).  

A look up the Moonflower

In May I met a friend of mine from Salt Lake and we made several attempts on the North buttress of Mount Hunter.  With this much climbing planned on a diversity of objectives my gear quiver was quite extensive.  For which I am thankful for Liberty Mountain’s support.  The focus of the following article will be on equipment I used for these various objectives and why they are suited well for climbing in the Alaska Range.  

Scoping the Mooses Tooth

Mid April in Alaska can be a pretty cold time, however, with spring arriving earlier and earlier I advised my clients that although it can be cold; it’s better to be cold on an ice climb than show up and have it melted out! I used warm double boots for all my trips into the range this year.  The boots I used fit well to both the Grivel G20 and G22 crampons.  For the Moose’s Tooth and Peak 11,300 I used the G22 crampon.  For long moderate routes the dual front-point reduces calf and ankle fatigue while providing a more solid platform.  

Rapelling Ham and Eggs

The North Machines made for an excellent ice tool on “Ham and Eggs” and Peak 11,300.  The swing weight is spot on, and the pick angle works really well on the lower angle ice (60-75 degrees) encountered on both of these routes.  The Hammer and adze are also both the “real deal”. There has been a trend lately with tools to make the adze and hammer smaller and smaller.  I feel on most tools out there the hammer is too small to actually place a piton or picket, and the adze is not large enough to really move some snow or chop a good bollard.  For big alpine routes it’s a huge advantage to not have to carry an actual wall hammer to place a solid piton.  Grivel tools are the only ones I feel like I can actually hammer with. 

Sorting ropes on Peak 11,300

Using ropes as insulation

When it comes to ropes there are endless options for routes like these, all have their merits.  For the Moose’s tooth, I used two, Beal Gullys (7.3mmx70m).  They are super light weight, and ultra water resistant.  It is important to have two ropes for the descent, and I feel fine about going with such a thin line since there is little rock encountered on the route and therefore few sharp edges.  Most of the pitches are full rope lengths on this route so it’s nice to have less rope weight.  For the SW ridge of 11,300 I opted to carry a Beal Gully on my back and for simplicity of handling the rope I used a single Beal Opera (8.5mm).  Guiding a route like the SW ridge the rope technique is changed often from long pitches, to simul climbing, to short roping, and short pitching.  Being able to have one rope instead of two can shave hours off your time at the end of guiding a big route.  For the descent it was nice to have a light twin rope to use on the rappels.  Some people prefer to use a 6mm cord for a tag line rappelling, however in cold windy places I find the 6mm tangles up a bit too much.  Although the 7.3 Gully is a little heavier it tangles less, and if a rope gets stuck it’s nice to know both ropes in your system are designed to take falls (should you have to lead up to retrieve a stuck line). 

Bollard on Ham and Eggs

Cornice at the top of peak 11,300

For the North buttress of Hunter, which has more difficult technical climbing a “sendier” set up is nice.  I changed my tools up to the Tech Machines, which was nice to have a solid match point for the harder mixed sections.  The tool’s pick angle is designed more for vertical to overhanging terrain.  The G20 crampon was my choice for this objective.  This lightweight crampon helps reduce fatigue, and using a mono point in rock terrain is much more comfortable for me.  A mono point allows the climber to pivot ones foot on small edges without levering off the hold.  I was happy to have it while freeing the Prow pitch, which used to have an A2 rating, and is now generally referred to as M7-.  

Moonflower pitch 9

For the Moonflower our rope set up also changed to a Beal joker (9.1mm) and a Beal gully.  For the harder pitches and pendulums on the route I prefer to have a rope over 9mm.  The last thing I want to be thinking about in the crux is if my rope is on a sharp edge.  I like climbing on skinny ropes, but there is a time and place for it.  Ask yourself what benefits you will gain by using a real skinny cord, and see if any apply to the climb you have at hand.  If its likely the leader or second will fall in rock terrain, or if jugging lines is a possibility think hard about if the skinniest rope is the right choice. 

The pieces of gear that I used for all of these objectives were the Grivel Stealth helmet, Grivel Sigma K8g and plume twin gate carabiners, Beal Mirage Harness, Cypher mydas draws and dyneema slings, and a Cilo Gear 34B pack.  The stealth helmet is super light and surprisingly durable.  The adjustment systems are simple and unlike most helmets with a “turn knob adjustment” the stealth’s adjustments will not freeze on you.  The Grivel twin gate carabiners have been a game changer for me, especially in cold environments.  I was so tired of having lockers freeze on me I began belaying with non-lockers on big cold alpine routes.  These twin gates have little surface area to freeze and once you get the hang of them they are easy to operate one handed with gloves on.  

Bivy on the descent of Peak 11,300

The Beal Mirage harness packs small, is lightweight, and has enough surface area to help keep circulation to your legs.  Weight savings is key with all the gear you have to bring up on these routes, the cypher mydas carabiners helped out a lot in this department.  I used four mydas sport draws and 6 mydas alpine draws with dyneema slings on the moonflower.  The last piece of gear I‘ll talk about is the Cilo gear 34B pack.  This bag has been with me for several years, hundreds of days of use, and the dyneema keeps on givin’ er.  It is small enough to still climb well, but if you go light you can fit a few days of kit in it.  Check out Cilo gear’s line of packs all handmade in the USA.

Cook tent at the base of Mooses Tooth

Ham and Eggs

I hope this has been helpful to see what equipment allows me to work and climb personal objectives in Alaska.  Now it’s time to pack for the next two months of guiding in the Alps, immediately followed by a personal climbing expedition on the India Pakistan border supported by the Mugs Stump Grant.  See you in October North America!     

-Alan Rousseau


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