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Alaska in October

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Alaska in October

Postby skyward22 » Sun Mar 17, 2013 2:19 pm

So I'm thinking about a trip to Canada & Alaska and hoping to get some of you guys who live there to chime in....

The plan is to drive from Seattle to Anchorage, then to Prudhoe Bay on the Dalton Highway. I've always wanted to do this roadtrip, and want to do some climbing along the way. As of right now planned stops include Vancouver, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. I'd like to do a climb each in the Coastal Range, the Chugahs, the Alaska Range, and the Brooks. Will probably also do a hike in Denali Natl Park, stop at Gates of The Artic, and take a (quick) swim in the Artic Ocean.

What mountain would you climb in each range? Ideally I'm looking for climbs that take a week or less (i.e. on a smaller scale than Denali)--something to get my feet wet climbing in Alaska, something that doesn't take a few weeks to aproach and climb. Something moderate in difficulty (steep snow, WI3-4, 5.6, M2-3, Grade III-IV).

What stops would you make along the way on this drive? Any suggestions for stuff to do (climbing or otherwise) anywhere between Seattle and Prudhoe Bay?

Last: I am thinking about doing this trip in October. I've been told that October is generally a stable month with enough daylight for climbing and snowing mainly just in the high mountains. I've been told that by November 15th all bets are off. I know Alaska won't be as green and pretty this time of the year either. Good time to go or not? Suggestions? Advice? Special preparations? Thanks guys!
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby chugach mtn boy » Sun Mar 17, 2013 6:07 pm

A few random thoughts from a guy who grew up where you're from (well, close by--Raleigh and Hillsborough).

The descent into winter is more abrupt here than you might expect. At sea level in Anchorage we lose two degrees of average temp every three days, going from an average afternoon high of 50 on Oct 1 down to highs around 30 at the end of the month. So it makes a huge difference which end of October you plan to come. Farther north it will be the same thing--for the month as a whole, the average daily high at Prudhoe Bay is 20F, but that probably breaks down to being up close to freezing on Oct 1, and more like single digits late in the month. That's the high, of course--overnight lows will be a bit cooler still.

At the Arctic Ocean you may not find any water to take a dip in due to sea ice, although this year (a record low ice year) there was still open water off Prudhoe in mid-Oct. http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/files/2012/10/Figure1-350x417.png Whether you could get at it, I don't know.

With the possible exception of Chugach/Talkeetna south faces below ~6000 feet early in the month, you can pretty much plan on winter conditions for your climbs. For the Chugach, you might look at Pioneer Peak above Palmer (taking a route to the true summit, not the S summit) (here it is as seen in early Oct: http://pics4.city-data.com/cpicv/vfiles24455.jpg). Or you could swap the Chugach for the Talkeetnas and climb on mixed granite/snow in the area E/NE of Hatcher Pass.

Denali Park will be closed to vehicle traffic but maybe you could get flown in or ski in. Climbing/logistics centers like McCarthy will be mostly closed for the season--I once went to McCarthy on Oct 1 and literally could not find a single living person--it was spooky.

... snowing mainly just in the high mountains ...

This isn't correct information. We usually have snow cover down to sea level by the end of the month, sometimes just an inch or two, sometimes a foot or two. Once it's down, it doesn't melt.

I would not characterize October weather here as stable, either. But the storms can be awesome to behold, especially on the coast!!

Cheers,

Chris
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby Steve Gruhn » Tue Mar 19, 2013 3:31 am

Additionally, there is no private access to the Arctic Ocean via the Dalton Highway due to oilfield security issues.

The average date of first snowfall in Anchorage is October 18, and the amount of daylight is rapidly decreasing each day. As chugachmtnboy said, October weather is anything but stable. August, September, and October are the months with the most precipitation in Anchorage. I have experienced below-zero temperatures along the Alaska Highway in September and I have seen the first snowfall of the season in mid-September and it didn't melt until May. If this is your first trip to Alaska, I'd counsel you to come during the summer months.

As a 46-year resident of Anchorage and as a climber for 37 years, my unsolicited advice is to set your sights a bit lower for your jam-packed vacation. The Denali Park Road will likely be closed for the season by the end of September, but you could probably still go for a hike near the Visitor Access Center (Horseshoe Lake, for example). I would dissuade you from attempting Pioneer Peak in October and would steer you to a south-facing route along Turnagain Arm (chugachmtnboy has posted several possibilities). For your Alaska Range peak, you might try Mount Healy, Panorama Mountain, or Sugarloaf Mountain. For your Brooks Range peak, you might try a peak at Atigun Pass. Winter travel skills and crampons would be a must for these climbs in October.

Even the road trip portion of your trip could prove challenging. In the off season on the Cassiar Highway and along the Dalton Highway you will have to plan your gasoline stops. Two hundred-mile stretches without gas stations are not uncommon. You would be wise to purchase the book The Milepost in order to plan your road trip.
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby chugach mtn boy » Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:21 am

I agree that he'll probably need to lower his sights, but Steve, Mt Healy for a guy who has done Cotopaxi? On the other hand, maybe I shouldn't have suggested Pioneer, either.

Steve is right that you can't actually drive your own car to the Arctic Ocean--but at least in summer, if you drive to Deadhorse, there are little escorted bus tours you can take from there that go the last few miles to the beach. Whether any of those tours run in October I don't know. I guess I kind of doubt it, but on the other hand I've heard there is still a bit of tourist traffic up the Dalton in early Oct. I assume that any (wise) tourists at that time are going with studded tires and full winter equipment.
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby WyomingSummits » Tue Mar 19, 2013 1:31 pm

Yeah, sometimes we have snowfall HERE in NE WY in October and it doesn't melt until May......an October trip like you're planning in Alaska is no sure thing!
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby Tonka » Tue Mar 19, 2013 9:29 pm

I would question whether the Dalton Road portion of the trip is even possible. That can be a brutal drive in July.
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby chugach mtn boy » Tue Mar 19, 2013 9:52 pm

Tonka wrote:I would question whether the Dalton Road portion of the trip is even possible.

Barely
http://www.blm.gov/ak/st/en/prog/recreation/dalton_hwy/dalton_faq.html
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby skyward22 » Wed Mar 20, 2013 3:21 am

Lots of good advice guys, keep that coming. Lots of patronizing too--let's do without that. Me being from NC bares no reflection on what and where I have climbed. I have enough experience climbing in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Washington State, and South America in all seasons to know what I'm doing and what I'm getting into. I know Alaska is a serious place and that's why I asked advice from people who live and climb there. My information regarding the weather in October is from someone who also lived and climbed extensively there.

Mount Healy? I'm not into walking up tourist trails. Give me a fucking break. I know you have better things to do than patronize on summitpost messageboards. Pioneer Peak's North Face is something exactly like what I was looking for--thank you Chugach Mtn Boy. Obviously a lot will depend on weather, but the technical difficulty and length of this climb is right at my experience level, or below. Any more suggestions like this are welcomed. As is any other useful advice not basked in negativity.
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby chugach mtn boy » Wed Mar 20, 2013 7:13 am

Steve meant no harm, Tobe--he probably didn't pick up on the fact that you have experience. Still, a 6000-foot north face like Pioneer's could be harder and more hazardous in early winter conditions than it would be if you did it, say, in late winter or spring like so many people do. Lots of variables you'd have to assess, but if it didn't seem like a good idea, there are sunnier & safer routes across the valley.

Your friend's memory of October weather is just odd to me--maybe he got it confused, because October is in the unstable part of the year for us, not the stable part. But some years, I've snuck in a couple of great trips in Oct--you can get lucky.
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby wfinley » Thu Mar 21, 2013 9:32 pm

tobe945 wrote:Lots of good advice guys, keep that coming. Lots of patronizing too--let's do without that. Me being from NC bares no reflection on what and where I have climbed. I have enough experience climbing in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Washington State, and South America in all seasons to know what I'm doing and what I'm getting into. I know Alaska is a serious place and that's why I asked advice from people who live and climb there. My information regarding the weather in October is from someone who also lived and climbed extensively there.

Mount Healy? I'm not into walking up tourist trails. Give me a fucking break. I know you have better things to do than patronize on summitpost messageboards. Pioneer Peak's North Face is something exactly like what I was looking for--thank you Chugach Mtn Boy. Obviously a lot will depend on weather, but the technical difficulty and length of this climb is right at my experience level, or below. Any more suggestions like this are welcomed. As is any other useful advice not basked in negativity.


Steve isn't being patronizing... he's telling you like it is. Your friend who told you that October was good must have a pretty selective memory. October in Alaska tends to have unstable weather and ave danger tends to be high. If you have all of October to wait eventually you'll be able to get on some of the mixed routes in the Anchorage / Chugach area. Unless we have unusually perfect conditions Pioneer Peak would be an ave trap from hell. Finding a route to do in the Alaska Range in October means you're either slogging up sugar snow or sketching it out on super thin ice / poor rock on the Panorama mixed routes. Driving the Haul road in October would be hard enough without trying to endure epic sugar snow for a Brooks Range peak. All that said... if you enjoy abuse, the sketchy mixed climbs in the Anchorage area are a possibility.

For more info on mixed routes visit the following sites:
http://alaskaiceclimbing.com
http://cragalaska.com/miniguide/miniguide.html
http://www.angelfire.com/ak4/HighIceAk/BetaAlp.html
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Re: Alaska in October

Postby Steve Gruhn » Fri Mar 22, 2013 6:20 am

As Billy indicated, I wasn't patronizing you, but rather merely telling you like it is. You asked for advice and I gave mine; I wasn't being negative at all. I didn't mean to come off that way. Your planned trip will involve a tremendous amount of driving, even if you take the entire month, and you will not have a lot of time for each of the climbs you'd like to do in the four ranges you indicated. Spending two or three days accessing and again returning from the mountain will simply not be possible given your ambitious itinerary. I mentioned peaks that are close to the road so that you could avoid the long approaches and stay on your itinerary. You aren't going to find a Cotopaxi equivalent near to a road in Alaska. You will be extremely unlikely to find any tourists attempting Mount Healy in October. But if that's still too simple for you, you might consider traversing the ridge westward from the summit of Mount Healy to the Savage River. That route is rarely done in the summer. You might also consider Fang Mountain, but that might be a bit more than 5.6 near the summit. In the unlikely event you can get back in on the Denali Park Road, you might try Scott Peak or Belay Peak. I suppose you might alternatively consider a climb in the Delta Range (there are several from which to choose, like Old Snowy, Black Cap, White Princess, Institute Peak, Minya Peak, M'Ladies Mountain, Item Peak, Sight Peak, Mount Hajdukovich, Tusac, Peak A-123 (9510), etc., but most will involve glacier travel and you would be wise to be roped to a partner) or the Mentasta Mountains (in the vicinity of Noyes Mountain). Pioneer's north face in October really would be likely to be extremely avalanche prone; it would be unwise for me to recommend such an unsafe climb on an Internet forum. That said, you know your own abilities, interests, and risk tolerances better than I do. Enjoy your trip and when you return home you'll understand that I wasn't trying to patronize you at all. Good luck.
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