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North America, United States, Alaska, Chugach Mountains, Portage Glacier Valley and Along the Seward Highway, Various Ascents

Portage Glacier Valley, and Along the Seward Highway, Various Ascents. South of Anchorage, in the Portage area, Dave Miller and partners made a number of first ascents during the 1995-’96 season. At the entrance of Bear Valley, Miller and Chris Brown and Cathy Charlton climbed The River Styx, an enjoyable W13. The crux is climbing a steep pillar at the bottom of the obvious gulley in the mountainside, followed by low angle ice with occasional short bulges. Across Portage Lake, about two miles from the Bogg’s Visitor Center, is a collection of high quality routes on both sides of the lake. The climbs on the south side of the lake offer long medium angle flows of thick green ice and lots of good veggies to belay and rappel from. Four routes were completed here; all were WI3. Looking right to left, they are The Triton, a 1,200-foot route climbed by Miller and Brown; Calypso, 750 feet; Circe, 700 feet; and Lotus Eater, 700 feet. All of these latter routes were soloed by Miller.

In contrast to the sophomoric nature of the south side, the north shore, like its Hawaiian counterpart, offers the more challenging undertakings of the area. Long, high angle verglas smears of quarter-inch ice required the use of 100-meter ropes, Spectres, short front points, and long necks to be successful. Most notably, The Spectre (WI5, 800 feet), and Farm Payment (WI5, 550 feet), climbed by Miller and Brown, required simul-climbing due to the inability to put in any pro until well off the ground.

Along the Seward Highway, the Candyland area, with its easy road access, has proven popular. The climbs here form as wide sheets of ice over a two-tiered rock buttress. This icefall provides a number of routes ranging from WI2-4. Steve Davis and Dave Miller climbed Candycane (WI4) in a single 250-foot pitch. Above the highway, lack of early snow allowed climbers to explore a number of gullies that otherwise would be prone to avalanche. Never very hard, these long WI2 routes make for an enjoyable afternoon.

By February, more typical winter conditions returned to south-central Alaska. Anchorage received more than three feet of snow. Climbers enjoyed a break from the climbing to take advantage of some excellent powder skiing. However, it wasn’t long before people were back out prospecting for more ice climbing gold. Whoever says that local mountains are “mined out” just doesn’t realize the surprises lying in store for those who make the effort to look.

Steve Davis