On Saturday, Feb. 10, students of the University Alaska Southeast Intro to Ice Climbing traveled to Skagway to spend the weekend using their new-found technical climbing skills in real life. Led by UAS Outdoor Studies Instructor Forest Wagner, the group of 15 students and four teaching assistants climbed several frozen waterfalls.
In class, students learned about types of rope, knots, ice tools, crampons, ice screws and top-rope along with lead climbing techniques, and start commands. Climbing is a type of serious fun, since someone is literally hanging on one end of the rope and the person on belay holds the other end.
The ferry was completely sold out because of the funding-related changes to the Alaska Marine Highway schedule, which means fewer sailings to Skagway from Juneau. So we took float planes to Skagway. This is different from prior years. In the past, groups experienced the strange and unique tradition of communing on the ferry solarium.
It was painfully cold on the ice. Temperatures hovered around 9 degrees during the day. We were dealing with winter hours, so daylight was scarce. Before and after the sun was visible, it was too frigid to sit still. Simple things like eating snacks and taking photos without gloves becomes challenging when you’ve been out all day on the ice. No matter, since I didn’t have donut holes hiding in my helmet anyway.
We climbed three routes— all were on the side of the Klondike Highway just past the U.S. Customs Entry Port. The first climbing route was nicknamed “Amphitheater” because of its shape and curve. The second two are named The Curtain and Upper Curtain.
On the last day the students got to try their turn at lead climbing, which is a completely different mindset. Climbers had to ascend, keeping in mind that there was no “safety net” until they placed an ice screw to catch their fall. All who tried to lead climb did well.
We ended the trip at Gold Rush Cemetery marveling at the frozen base of Reid falls where we all decided we wanted to drink smoothies and eat sandwiches rather than continuing to freeze our ears off. This is where we took a group photo.
I believe for the most part people sign up for these skills classes so that they acquire the technical knowledge in order to do the activity on their own. I have come to enjoy the down time more often than the activity itself. After taking almost all of the outdoor classes offered by UAS I think I have a solid base of understanding how to survive the outdoors in Alaska. On the way back we took the night ferry. Right around Spanish dinner time we commandeered two of the big booths in the onboard restaurant. My favorite part was just that. Sitting in the middle of a bunch of smelly climbers making way too much noise, while feeling bad for the waiter who had to separate all 15 of our checks. We arm wrestled and ate Oreo chocolate pie.
In total, the trip was four days; we arrived in Skagway on Friday and got back to Juneau at midnight on Monday. As always, I feel it is the best way to spend weekends in Alaska.