What a great trip on 11300! I just got back a few days ago from a trip to the SW Ridge of peak 11300 in the West Fork of the Ruth Gorge. My client was Jon Arlien out of the Lake Tahoe area. Jon flew into the Alaska on Sunday May 1st just in time to get some great weather here in Anchorage. I had not met Jon before so I went down to Jon’s hotel to do a gear check and introduce myself. It was great to meet him and see his enthusiasm for being in Alaska and getting to climb. Jon has been here once before. A few years back he had climbed Denali and summited on a 27 day trip. What an adventure that must have been.
Day 2: I meet up with Jon in the early morning to start our journey to Talkeetna. We enjoyed a great ride to Talkeetna with great weather and amazing views. Once in Talkeetna we arrived at Talkeetna Air Taxi to check in and see when we could fly in. To our pleasure there was great weather and we were told that we could fly out within the next few hours. We tied up a few loose ends and headed back to TAT to load up and fly in. Not only were we lucky enough to fly out right away but we had two gentleman who were flying with TAT on a sightseeing tour. That meant that we would get to take the park tour as well which was something I had not done before and it turned out to be amazing!
Once we had finished our tour we landed at the base of 11300 in perfect weather and started to haul our packs to what would be home for the next week. Jon and I broke out the shovels and started to dig out our new home. Jon did a great job digging out and smoothing out our tent platform and so we sent up the tents and started on the cook tent. We then cooked up dinner which was a great meal of sausage and pasta along with some PBR! Off to bed we went.
Day 3: We decided to take a day to do some technical training and rest from all the hard work we had put in building our base camp. We had breakfast around 10am and headed out on the glacier for some crevasse rescue as well as some technical climbing skills. Jon has done a fair bit of climbing and things went pretty quickly as we went through systems. We also enjoyed another day of great weather which was nice for hanging out at base camp.
At around 4pm we started to cook dinner and get ready for a big day ahead of us. We decided to go with a meal of sausage and chili in order to stalk up for some calorie burning. I told Jon that we had a bedtime this night as we would have to get up early. We were in bed around 7:30pm and off to sleep.
Day4: I woke around 2:30am in order to start things off to get out by 5am. It was a cold morning and it took me a few to get moving not wanting to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. Once I mustered up the energy I went to the cook tent and started to make a good solid meal to give us energy for the day. We had a great breakfast of bacon, eggs and hash browns. Once done we packed up and got all our stuff on and headed off to the base of the route at 5am.
We got started climbing just before 5:45am and decided to take the alternate start on the SW Ridge. The snow was not as frozen as we had hoped and it took some work to make our way up the slope as we plunged through the snow every so often. Jon and I were having a blast making our way up the initial snow slopes to the ridge. We then hit the ridge and took a quick break to drink up and get ready for the real climbing ahead. The first rock section was a great 5.8 pitch with some fun moves and a great intro to climbing rock with a pack on. As I belayed Jon up I could see him enjoying the moves and getting his first taste for Alaska technical climbing. He popped over the last ledge and let out a great yell as he was so stoked to be climbing!
The day continued on with great pitch after pitch of rock and snow for thousands of feet. As we made our way up the mountain we hit an area called thin man squeeze which I had told Jon that it was a super tight squeeze. It was a concern for us since we had large packs on and were wondering how we might fit through the squeeze. As I positioned my body to squeeze through I had to wiggle and push and contort my body to fit through. I made it! My pack did not fare so well as it suffered tears all done the sides from the squeeze. Now it was Jon’s turn and although I could not see him I could sure tell when he started to make his attempt. He grunted and yelled as he made his effort on the squeeze. In the end he had to drop his pack and climb on through in order to get past and we were on our way.
The next section ahead was a nice vertical if not a little overhanging section of 5.8 climbing. As I made my way up it I could not help but notice my heavy pack on my back it was some great moves of hooking and smearing to get through. Next up was Jon who was little concerned about the moves. He made quick work of the approach moves to get into the crux of the pitch. I gave him the best beta I could give and Jon took it on. He crushed it and topped out so psyched that he had just powered through such hard moves. We were then off to make our way into the first col.
As we pulled into the first col it was 6pm which had made for a long day. Both Jon and I were pretty tired and ready for some food, water and sleep. We got our tent up and got inside as it was snowing all day and just as we pulled in the col it really picked up. We drank water we had and ate some wraps that we had brought and went to sleep. I woke up around 10pm and was feeling pretty good and was surprised to see that the snow had stopped. I cranked up the stove and stared melting snow and boiling water for dinner. We drank up again and ate dinner and went back to sleep around 11:30pm.
Day 5: We woke around 5am and stared to get on with our day. It was a great night sleep but it appeared that yesterdays big day had worn down Jon a bit. We got all our things together and packed up and started up the next section of the climb. Right out of camp things got exciting as my leg punched into a hole and gave me a good wake up! As we made our way up the next section it was looking like we had gotten around 12″ of fresh snow overnight. It made for the next section of climbing which is steep snow to feel really funny. The climbing was great as it was steep and exposed to a slope that led right off the mountain. As I hit the top I sat down in the snow and brought Jon on up to me. It took a while for him to make it to me as the climbing did not feel very secure due to the fresh snow. Once Jon topped out, we sat up top and discussed what our options were. We had a decision to make. Things were just not going as fast as they should and we made the call to turn around.
We stopped at the first col and reorganized our gear for the descent and started making our way down. Things went pretty smooth and we were enjoying things on the way down. We even ran into another party of Mountain Trip which was Clint Cook and his client. We chatted them up a bit at the top of the Thin Man Squeeze and then said our good byes and headed down. We moved on down at a good pace taking a break here and there to stay hydrated as well as to try and cool off since the temps were starting to rise. It was smooth sailing to the bottom.
Once we hit the bottom it was time to put the skis on and head back to camp. Things were a little slow on the way back as my boots kept coming out of my bindings. Jon and I had a laugh or two along the way because of it and we were back in camp around 6pm. We were both tired but much more hungry so we decided to make a nice dinner before bed. To Jon’s surprise I had brought pizza ingredients on the trip.. So I cooked up some pizza and we had some PBR and stuffed ourselves until we could not stay awake much longer. We were off to bed by 9:30pm and boy did we sleep.
Day 6: I awoke at 7:15am and was feeling great after a great nights sleep. I touched base with Jon on what he wanted to and we made a decision to head on out. I got ahold of TAT around 9am and to our luck again they were able to get in by 11am. So we jumped on camp to get things put up and ready to fly out and with 15mins to spare we were ready. Right at 11:04am TAT was landing at the West Fork ready to take us out. I can’t say enough kind things about the people at TAT and how great they are. We had another amazing flight on the way out and were back in Talkeetna just in time for lunch.
Once in Talkeetna Jon and I went and took showers and got some grub. Before we knew it we were rolling to into Anchorage and the trip was over. I wanna say thanks to Jon for a great trip and wanted to let him know that I hope he comes back so we can tackle this mountain. I had a great week out there and it’s always great when you get a client that is a great person to spend some time with. Jon was a solid climber and I am sure he will have many great adventures ahead. I also wanted to say thanks to Mountain Trip for running a great operation and making things go so smoothly. It was a fantastic trip into the Ruth and I look forward to more adventures!
Matthew Barela, Guide