AAC, Alaska Section. The year began in February with an ice-climbing seminar in Eagle River Valley in which more than 35 climbers participated and AAC members provided on-site instruction and tips on how to master steep ice. The outing, organized by Steve Davis, provided a solid basis for climbers traveling to Valdez for the annual Ice Climber’s Festival on Presidents’ Day weekend.
Two Section meetings were held, both at the Alaska Rock Gym in Anchorage. At the first one, issues and projects were identified that included hosting a Swiss Alpine Club representative as part of an AAC and SAC exchange.
One particular project focuses on the potential loss of access to the rock cliffs along the Seward Highway south of Anchorage. This is a very popular rock and ice climbing area, and climbers could face future restrictions due to the public’s (and government’s) perceived opinion that climbing activities pose a threat to passing motorists. Those familiar with the cliffs know that the rock is typical “Chugach crud” and that natural rock fall is common. The highway passes very close to the base of the cliffs, and rock and ice debris often land on the road. The fear is that some day, when a stone or a piece of ice crashes through a windshield, any climbers seen in the immediate vicinity will be blamed. Another issue centers on climbing adjacent to the railroad tracks, which must be crossed to gain access to the cliffs. The Alaska Railroad has established a permit system wherein all ice climbers are required to register and acknowledge that they are familiar with both the trespassing laws and the fact that they may not loiter near the tracks. Climbers in the area remember a few years ago when one of the most popular rock formations was literally blown up by the Railroad after a number of instances in which climbers were observed belaying from the tracks.
To address both the rock fall and railroad issues, the Section has embarked on a proactive campaign. In coordination with the Mountaineering Club of Alaska, a trailhead-like sign has been designed listing a set of “common sense” rules. These rules are intended to remind climbers about the risks involved when climbing in the area. Efforts to minimize stone and ice fall and working as cooperatively as possible with the Railroad will reduce the chance that these popular areas might be closed to climbing. A grant to help support this project has been approved by the AAC’s Domestic Conservation Committee.
In August, the Section welcomed Andre Reider of the Swiss Alpine Club. During a two-week visit, Andre met with Section members to exchange information on both clubs as well as to inform us about the climbing opportunities in Switzerland. The Section was fortunate to have Eliza Moran, AAC board member and Chair of the Club’s Exchange Committee, in attendance during a part of the exchange. The objective of the Section was to provide Andre with a good overview of the climbing opportunities in south-central Alaska. During his visit, he sat in on a Congressional hearing on Denali Park rescues and spent several days with NPS climbing rangers in Anchorage, Talkeetna and Denali National Park reviewing current climbing management practices and rescue procedures. Section member Jay Hudson gave Andre a flight around Denali, Hunter, Foraker and the Ruth Gorge. Andre was then taken on a two-day trip into the Talkeetna Mountains. He also explored Girdwood Valley and climbed along the Seward Highway.
As mentioned above, a Congressional hearing was held in Anchorage by Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) to discuss the high costs of mountain rescues on Denali. The Section as well as the local NPS rangers share the opinion that current rescue costs are not excessive and actually are minor compared to the taxpayer’s cost for other types of rescues in Alaska and elsewhere in the country. Still, there remains a public outcry whenever a high-altitude rescue is reported in the press. Detailed summaries of this hearing as well as an article supporting the climbing community’s point of view have been provided to the Section web site.
Ralph Tingey, Chairman