Philippe Batoux is back from the expedition in Alaska
" We got back yesterday, with the national mountaineering team (ENAM) from the French mountaineering and climbing federation (FFME), from an expedition in the Kichatna mountain range in Alaska.
And I loved Alaska – it’s the Wild West! Talkeetna is a small place with a population of just a few hundred. Its heyday was during the Gold Rush, after which it became a ghost town before being revived by tourism and scenic flights around Mount McKinley. The people of Talkeetna are all straight out of a Sergio Leone western. We met Tuco, Blondin and Sentenza. In Alaska, everyone carries a handgun, even when they’re taking the bins out – in case they meet a bear. Anyone without a gun is plain reckless! Tuco explained to us that Barack Obama is a fundamentalist Muslim terrorist from Al Qaida who wanted to stop them being armed!
On Highway 3, which links Anchorage and Fairbanks, you pass an “Into the Wild” bus every mile or so. The place seems to mark the end of the adventure for hundreds of round-the-worlders.
After a few days of waiting, and annoyed to see other expeditions being landed in Ruth Gorge, we were told by Paul Roderick, the boss of Talkeetna Air Taxi, that it would be wiser to change targets and head for the Ruth Glacier, where the weather was more clement and he was sure he could land us. Tired of waiting, we looked for info on a new destination at Park Headquarters. Paul phoned us and said we’d give it a try. The first plane was quickly loaded up. An hour-long flight over wild, unspoilt nature, mile-wide rivers and forests full of grizzlies took us to the Kichatna range. This area has barely been explored because it’s more remote than the area around Mount McKinley and storms are more frequent; and the wind blows hard and often, too. The flyover was magical: sharp granite needles separated by three parallel glaciers: Shadow, Cul de Sac, and Tatina. Each one is perfectly flat, and surrounded on three sides by an amphitheatre of sheer faces and granite needles.
We chose Tatina. This place was a fashionable summer destination in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and 10 or so rocky routes were opened up. Big names in mountaineering such as Royal Robbins left their mark here. In the early 2000s, an Englishman called Mick Turner made two expeditions to this glacier and discovered its huge potential for mixed climbing.
We opened up the most outstanding line in four days with Sébastien Brugalla at Tatina Spire. It’s a varied, complete route with mixed sections, plates of stuck-on ice and snow, artificial sections, and the speciality of Alaska: unconsolidated snow on 60° granite slabs.
We also struggled when trying to open a line up an obvious gully at Tatina Peak. The plates were interrupted by a smooth, compact granite slab a few metres long: we would have had to fit spits, and we had decided not to use them.
During three weeks in the Kichatna range, the weather was relatively clement: just two storm episodes, and temperatures didn’t drop below -25°C. The whole team was able to open six new routes and repeat three others.
All of these lines, mostly over mixed terrain, were about 600-1,000m in length.
I’ve only just got back, but I’m already impatient to return to this hostile yet awesomely attractive area.
I wore for this expedition :
Rescue down pant
Point break gtx jkt
Seamless wool ls
Seamless wool tight
Shelter leather GTX gloves
Mountain xfit gtx gloves
4 socks and 4 underwears (but a big wipebox that had to be defrosted 15 min in my down jacket before using)
The equipment suffered in the tough conditions, but totally fulfilled its mission: I never really got cold and sustained no frostbite, although we climbed M7 pitches in -15°C with a 40km/h wind!
Thank you very much for your help that enables us our dream come true "