Backcountry News – Taylor and Salys Go Big
Seems like there is renewed interest in Valdez peak bagging this summer. Though many of the summits around Valdez were first climbed in the early 80’s by the aggressive “Peak-a-Week Club”, winter interest soon left the peaks a paradise for winter ascents and ski descents.
Of course the main reason we don’t see many summer summits is access. Lack of trails from sea level to alpine areas above town are nonexistent, leaving Valdez as perhaps the only coastal Alaska community without a mountain trail. But for those of us who have tried and succeeded, the battle with Class V brush is simply brutal between sea level and brush line. Having bagged Town Mt, Mt. Francis, Sugarloaf, Whistlers and Snowdome, and some others, my inclination to dive back into brush for a day was tempered years ago. (Technically heli assists don’t count as first anything in the world’s alpine community.)
Last week, locals Taylor Brown and Kevin Salys skipped the brush and pioneered a stellar route to the top of Sapphire Peak along the E-W ridge from Catchers Mitt. Mostly a rock scramble with some short rappels, they traversed the summit and descended the 27-Mile Icefall.
This is significant as I know of no other ascent of Sapphire in summer, though most the surrounding peaks were climbed in the late 70’s mainly by John and Scott Weiland. Alaskan Vin Hoeman may have climbed in the Pass as he did come here did some route off the Valdez Glacier.(Let me know if you of any other ascents in summer.) Tones Temple, previously named Alabama Peak was done myself, Pat Levy and his uncle via Dot Glacier in 1981. Odessey Big and Little were perhaps Old Towner routes.
With that said there is more out there. The “Big Three” consisting of Meteorite, Dimond and Billy Mitchell have not been climbed in summer.
Meanwhile, mountain biking on Thompson Pass is pretty good these days as the tundra is dry and soft for off trail exploring. On my ride yesterday, the grounds were smothered in blue berries.
Weather continues to amaze as we are on pace for our second driest year in history and perhaps the nicest summer in recent memory highlighted by our recent 8-day stretch of Alaska sun. With summer beginning to wane, there’s still time to get out off the deck and explore our alpine regions with some simple human power.