Dis­cov­er­ing Re­mote Prob­lems

Gripped - - NOTES FROM THE TOP - Story by Philip Quade Alaska Boul­der­ing Guide Philip Quade is a Cal­gary-based pho­tog­ra­pher and climber.

In 2014, I trav­elled to Alaska with Ash­ley Gales in search of the typ­i­cal hot-spots: De­nali, An­chor­age and a costal tour out of Se­ward. But it was a de­tour through Hatcher Pass into the Ar­changel Val­ley that left a last­ing im­pres­sion on me. Gales had no­ticed a Face­book post by a climber named Alex Johnson, who had been ex­plor­ing the boul­ders of Hatcher Pass. Gales reached out and Johnson was happy to ad­vise us on where to climb. I was then in­tro­duced to Todd Helge­son, who is the co-au­thor of the

and a lo­cal crusher. He hooked us up with pads, gave us a tour of his favourite boul­ders and newly devel­oped prob­lems, such as Happy End­ings V2, a cool con­cave pyra­mid of toe smears and all left-hand bumps. He showed us his lat­est project, which he sent only a few weeks later and called More Buff than Muff V13. It is the hard­est known prob­lem in Alaska.

A year later, I was back in Hatcher Pass with my climb­ing part­ner Clint McCarthy and one of my old­est friends, Kyle Jes­sup. I showed them projects that I wanted to climb and some that I wanted to pho­to­graph. I knew from the pre­vi­ous year that it was rainy sea­son, but the skies stayed clear for the first few days. We camped on a plateau, be­hind a long nat­u­ral wall of small boul­ders, the whole val­ley opened be­low us. There is a cold stream that me­an­ders through the boul­der field that of­fers fresh wa­ter, a place to cool off and trout to catch. The rock type varies a bit through­out Hatcher Pass. Dif­fer­ent ar­eas con­tain dif­fer­ent den­si­ties of gran­ite.

I sent sev­eral of my projects, set new per­sonal bests and came away with fu­ture goals for trips to the area. Hatcher Pass made me re­al­ize that seek­ing out lesser-known climb­ing ar­eas was some­thing I re­ally wanted to do. I don’t mind a bit of ex­tra work to get into a new area, even if the climb­ing turns out to be sec­ond rate. I was back home in Cal­gary for a few weeks be­fore plan­ning my next trip, which was to Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in Tan­za­nia. Af­ter some re­search, I re­al­ized there was lit­tle pub­lished in­for­ma­tion on boul­der­ing around Kil­i­man­jaro, only a few as­cents in the 1990s. Since I was go­ing to climb the moun­tain, I de­cided to pack climb­ing shoes and chalk for the seven-day trek up Africa’s high­est moun­tain.

We made it to Karanga Camp at just un­der 5,000 me­tres around mid-af­ter­noon on Christ­mas Day. It was day four of seven on Kil­i­man­jaro and the first day with­out rain. The camp had am­ple po­ten­tial for boul­der­ing. We in­spected the boul­ders near our tents af­ter lunch and then pro­ceeded to wan­der far­ther above camp to a clus­ter that stood out on the ridge to the north. We struck gold. Not only did we find some great routes – and a few gnarly high­balls – but the clouds cleared enough to get a glimpse of the moun­tain. It wasn’t un­til the fourth or fifth prob­lem that it sank in for me, “Damn, there’s no pad if you blow this.” I moved be­tween some tiny side pulls and tested out high, crumbly f lakes with my foot. Mean­while, my friend Erin was on the ground say­ing, “Hang out there while the clouds move. I want to get that photo.” She did and I topped out. I wouldn’t call the rock qual­ity great. It’s burly and bro­ken. It feels more like old, rot­ting con­crete that is cov­ered in long shaggy moss. Be­tween the choss, we did find some solid stone.

We worked about half-a-dozen lines over a few hours, rang­ing from V1 to V5, un­til the winds picked up and the fog rolled in. Each day the fog would chase us as we as­cended, creep­ing up the moun­tain side, en­gulf­ing us in mist and fi­nally heavy rains. We knew it was com­ing, like clock­work. I left one line un­sent that was re­ally good, maybe V5. It was a straight 90- de­gree high­ball: micro crimps, a kind of fun, awk­ward high feet, all bal­ance and re­ally cool. My kind of prob­lem, with a few mats be­low. With three days left on the moun­tain, I didn’t want to risk break­ing my an­kle and not sum­mit­ing. I spent my seven days on Kil­i­man­jaro map­ping out the boul­ders and dream­ing of what it would be like to re­turn with a team and proper gear. Each camp of­fered po­ten­tial for boul­der­ing. The Bar­ranco Camp has the 800- me­tre Bar­ranco Wall with big boul­ders at its base.

Alaska gave me a new per­spec­tive on travel and re­mote climb­ing. I’ll be re­turn­ing to ex­plore more of Hatcher Pass dur­ing my at­tempt to climb De­nali. While in Africa, I heard ru­mours of a hid­den boul­der­field near Lake Vic­to­ria in Tan­za­nia that is on my list of places to ex­plore. This summer, I’m trav­el­ling around North Amer­ica look­ing for re­mote boul­ders and keen lo­cals.

Clint McCarthy on Tank Girl V2

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