McCarthy and Wrangell-St Elias Part 2

May 27th, 2008
The ride out to the Nizina

Me, fooling around on the trestleThe bike ride we planned was to ride across the foot bridge and then out an old road to the Nizina River, which no longer has a bridge across it, but does have a nice view and the remains of the old railroad trestle. It was a fun ride, about 7 miles out and 7 miles back with some hills. My only complaint was that I was a bit hung over, even thoughThe old trestle on the Nizina we did sleep until 12. The giant sand and gravel bar that the braided Nizina runs through was fun to hang out in, and we climbed on the old trestle and threw rocks. These braided rivers are pretty amazing. The gravel bars are a mile across on the bigger rivers, and when a wind kicks up the whole valley is filled with a dust cloud.

Sweet rocks from the NizinaThe Wrangells from the Nizina River

Holy shit I'm biking to Kennicott at 3:30AM!After the bike ride we hung out and carbo loaded and decided that we did want to try Donoho again. It would be a long day - with the 5 mile bike ride, glacier crossing and bushwack before the climb itself - but doable. The problemĀ  was that we had to finish our approach before the sun got on the snow chute we would be climbing and turned it to rotten mush. This meant we had to get up early. Like, 12AM early. So we went to bed just after dinner to get a few hours of sleep, but we didn’t want to go to all the trouble of making a proper camp so we just threw down our pads and bags in the parking lot. This would be bad enough, but it’s still broad daylight out and the parking lot was full of people walking and driving around. So, we slept fitfully (to say the least) until about 2AM, This was the "good" trailwhen we decided if we were going to do this thing we had to get up now. So we did, and rode up to Kennicott, and crossed the glacier, and with the new beta we got in the bar the day before we even found the “trail” we missed before. It was still just an overgrown game trail, but it was like the autobahn compared to what we’d found before. We did lose it right at the end but by 8 or 9 lo and behold, we were at the base of the scree field. Now it was just straight up… for about 4000′ feet.

Blackburn reflecting off a lake at 6AMDrew by the reflective lake

Drew and a ptarmiganThe first part was dry, but before long we had to get on the snow. One of my concerns about trying this as a one day - and not skiing - is that my only boots for the crampons are my ski boots. Which weight like 8lbs each or something ridiculous. So I decided to tough it out, and was doing just that across the glacier and up the avalanche chute. About half way up though, the fact that I had done the Working our way up the Donoho snowfieldDonoho approach, plus the 3000′ mine hike, plus a 14 mile bike ride, plus a night of hard drinking… and only had 5 or so hours of fitful sleep… all in three days really caught up with me. I was feeling tired and weak, but figured I’d get over it, until Drew started asking me “Are you alright man? You look like death”. Well, then I got worried and felt even worse. I took a short rest and a Powerbar, but we were in a rush to beat the sun as it came around the mountain, so we pushed on. Donoho gets steep towards the topAfter another thousand feet of steep booting we made it to the saddle just below the summit. I was finished. I was seriously concerned about getting down the steep face since I usually ski down the things I climb up. So I chilled out for about 15mins while Drew scrambled up the last few hundred feet of steep scree to the actual summit. I was happy with being able to look off the back side of the saddle at the icefalls, but I envied Drew’s view of Blackburn and The Root GlacierKennicot glacier from the very top. He came back down to me and we started our descent. The top part was pretty steep, but without skis on it seemed about vertical to me as I began to climb down. Drew tore down the face in a death defying glissade, his huge balls flapping around in the wind, and I slowly down-climbed. Through the steepest section, which is above a 5ft rock drop that breaks the snow chute, I was downright gripped. I need a lot of practice and comfort building on this aspect of mountaineering. Slowly but surely I down-climbed in the self arrest position until we were on the more gentle lower avalanche chute. From there it was a breeze and we boot skied down like lightning (between unexpected jarring post holes as the sun warmed the snow).

Mount Blackburn and the Kennicott Glacier

The Wrangells from Donoho... I'm down in the saddle out of frameSelf portrait from Donoho saddle

Drew bagging the summit while I try not to dieAs we were sliding down the hill I noticed a bear below us to the left, just off of the snowfield. We stopped, gauged the distance and thought that if we to the far right and made a bunch of noise the bear would scare off farther to the left. We were just excited to see the first bear of our Alaskan trip and continued to slide down and we yelled. The bear did not behave as expected though. When he heard the noise and looked over at these strange things sliding down the snow instead of running off he wanted to check out the scene. Drew and the cheeky bearHe started approaching us. By this time we were almost level with him, but still had the higher ground. We’d heard that black bears don’t like to get hit, so we started throwing rocks. None of hit him, but the snow that flew up in his face when they struck near him turned him around. So we continue down the face. I guess he thought we were running (and… we were) so the cheeky bastard came around behind us on the snow field Another bear over by the glacierand started to approach us from above this time. We yelled and threw more rocks, but he was getting close. Rock throwing distance. I’d say he got to about 60ft before he turned away, maybe closer. Close enough we went into battle mode, brandishing our ice axes. I’d unholstered my pepper spray as well. He veered off again with the snow exploding in his face and this time we made a point to stay put for a bit and look menacing, instead of running downhill. It was a good call and he left us alone this time.

That pretty much ends our adventures in Wrangell-St. Elias and McCarthy. We followed the trail out to the glacier, crossed it and rode back to the car. We saddled up there and drove on to Valdez.

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