AK23 Alaska Mountaineering - NOLS

Fall 2015 I decided I wanted to learn some new skills and get to Alaska. A perfect way to do both was joining an Alaska Mountaineering course with National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). I reached out to my good buddy Nick Stone to see if he wanted to join me. He is pretty much my goto adventure buddy. We met on our 90 day NOLS course in 2014. We wanted to learn mountaineering for when we take on some bigger mountains down the road. So we both got in the course and waited for the day to come.

Playing in Anchorage - Pre Expedition

Man oh man I was so jacked to get to Alaska! I've seen countless photos and videos of the vast terrain this beautiful place has to offer. Nick and I meet up at the Spenard Hostel. We got to Anchorage a few days before our NOLS expedition started. This allowed us to check out the city. Borrowed the hostel  bikes and hit the trails! Best way to get around and check everything out. Got some Singletrack time in (well sort of our bikes were not build for it), snuck into a corporate lunch outing for free lunch, and continued on riding all around Anchorage. Oh and let's not forget the awesome farmers market/festival going on! We snagged up some amazing tea to bring on our expedition!

Go time! Gear up, Load up, and Head to the Glaciers!

The time has come to get on the bus and head to the NOLS Alaska branch. Nice to have a 1-2 hour bus ride to get to know the people you are about to spend the next 14 days with. We got pretty excited by some of the people we met. But time to go through gear, I LOVE GEAR! Had to make sure everyone has the right stuff and knows how to use it. Always a "stressful" time for some where Nick and I were like, "umm yeah we got this" lol. We stared getting the feeling that we were like mock instructors helping everyone out when we could, which the actual instructors picked up on this and really loved our help.

All the personal and group gear is squared away. Game plan established. Time to load up the bus and head to Meekins Air Service. Once there we setup tents for the night. We were camping out before flying out the next morning. This was great because it allowed everyone to practice with the style of tents we were using. Plus it was the first time camping for some, this will be interesting on the glacier lol. Anywho, we talked about the glacier we are targeting for the expedition, travel plans once there, and overall overview of the expedition and expedition behavior  

Glacier Time! But First we Need to get There

We are looking to touch down on the Chugach Range in the interior of Alaska Range. The lead instructor Mita asked if I wanted to be the first student to fly out with her. I said heck yes! Mita and I connected instantly back when going through gear. Plus she liked how I had a solid knowledge of rope skills, hard worker, leadership skills, and much more. It was a 45-50 minute flight in a tiny little plane to the glacier, which the pilot Mike, had to land the plane on the glacier without knowing if there was a crevasse or not. Pretty epic moment! Mita and I landed and instantly got to work. We had like 45 minutes before the next plain landed (running two at a time but spaced them out). The first thing we needed to do was establish a safe zone for the rest of the group to join us. Had to rope together and probe the snow for crevasses, marking our way, and setting up a parameter as others started to join. Eric (another instructor) and Nick were next to help, again best to have another instructor and solid helper, as the others started to fly in. Inga (other instructor, LOVE HER) was going to be the last to fly out to make sure all the other students flew out in the event something happened.                                       

Still roped up I was belaying both Eric and Mita as they rushed to expand the perimeter. As more student started to fly in, which each student had all their gear and group gear too. So we needed to get a fairly large perimeter up. This also allowed the others to get roped up and start to probe the snow themselves to speed up the process. Plus this allowed them to practice and learn the first set of mountaineering skills. 

Everyone is not piling in. Time to get the tents up for the night to take on the next day!

Learning Mountaineering

Next few days we spend learning mountaineering skills. Probing for crevasses, rope management, group travel, crevasse rescue, winter camping skills, and all the other fun leadership classes. Plus getting to know your tent group and explore around our camp.

Putting our Skills to the Test

We have spent the past few days learning a ton of mountaineering skills. The instructors and group feels like it is time to test them out. Time to move camp up onto the Science Glacier!

We ended up getting some shit weather. Whiteout wet heavy snow. Everyone had to dig deep to push to camp. We were moving slower then we thought. Once to our potential camp spot many were exhausted, but we still had a ton of work ahead of us. Needed to probe, set up tents, build wind walls, blowout a kitchen,  and make a tasty filling meal. Didn't get any photos of setting up camp because I was running around like a mad man helping everyone one. 

Our New Home on the Science Glacier

Next day, was a rest day and/or a day to get things straightened out, rebuild walls, make water, and all that fun stuff. I totally exhausted myself the day before and was feeling sick. Had to nap half of the day..

Then the storm came... Two days straight of whiteout dumping snow. We had to say in our tents pretty much the whole time. Instructors came around to check on us, teach classes, and allowed plenty of time to get to know your tent mates. This is when my tent group learned we all love avocados. Ended up calling our tent, Team Avocado lol

Moving On

After being snowed in the past few days we finally have a window to move. We decided at a group to head back to our old camp, because we needed to EVAC someone. She had a UTI and needed to get out. So we packed up camp and started the trek back to our old camp. By the time we got there it started snowing again. Sticky heavy snow. This prevented the airplane from being able to land. So the EVAC is not going to happen. Thankfully, it is not life of death just more so the individual being super run down, which we pitched in to help carry gear and all that. 

With the "fail" EVAC attempt we decided to reuse our previous camp to get setup faster. Met as a group and decided the only way we are getting back is to hike further down the glacier. The heavy wet snow was supposed to continue in our area. So we were going to wake up the next day and push onward, in hopes of finding a better landing spot for the planes. I do have to say I was excited to hike further down the glacier. This allowed us to see the stages of a glacier and nerd out on the science behind how they form, move, and do some crazy stuff. 

The Push

Yesterday was awesome! Had some pretty slow areas because we were getting into more exposure areas with crevasses being open and large. But today brings a day none of us expected. We had to work out way thorough a maze of crevasses in hopes of finding a landing spot for the planes. The previous day wore out a few individuals in which they were having issues carrying their gear. So a few of us took the extra gear to help them out. Nick's pack is now around 80-90 pounds and mine was pretty dang close to his. Just had to beast mode out way off this glacier, but we loved every minute of it. Welll minus when certain people could not navigate the crevasses and we had to keep backtracking, that sucked. But him and I were being goofs to each other like we always do

Just keep going and going. We think we now roughly have an idea of a potential landing zone. But we still need to get there.

Around 13-14 hours later we finally found our X! Nick and I are spent but holding our heads high for the insane push we just endured. This is the "struggle" I'll always wanted and love from expeditions. It was easy it would not be worth it. This was for sure worth it and a killer day. But need to keep going time to setup camp, eat, and pass out.

X Marks the Spot

Last day on the glacier is upon us. Mixed feeling.. I want to keep going but understand it is time to go. We cleared a runway for the planes to land and just waited for out turns. I asked to be the last student so I could have the longest time on the glacier, I loved it out there. Plus I was having way to much fun hanging out with Inga

Now back to "reality". We have all landed and are ready for a tasty meal and to reminisce about our time out on the glacier. Oh and they got us some beer!

Heading Home

Last morning together we loaded up the bus and headed back to NOLS Alaska Base Camp. Degeared, debriefed, did reviews, cleaned up the gear, goofed around, and had one last meal together. Later that day we bused back to Anchorage. Some of us had one more night, as our flights were leaving the next morning. Explore the city some more and parted way. 

Lasting Impression

This expedition was outstanding! I was able to spend time with a really good buddy, Nick. But also meet some new awesome individuals that I now call friends. I learned a ton about mountaineering from some of my favorite instructors I've had. Alaska you had me already just flying in but now I'm truly in love with you. I will be back don't you worry about that! See you soon :)