In late April, Greg Boswell and Will Sim established two new lines above the Buckskin Glacier in the Central Alaska Range, named Beastiality and Shark Fishing. We caught up with Will and Greg to find out a bit more now that they're safely back home...
Why Alaska - was it an escape from the abysmal Scottish winter?!
Will: Spiky mountains, lots of daylight, easy access via ski plane, technical granite mixed climbing, loads of inspiring unclimbed lines and great beer - that's Alaska!
Greg: Yeah I suppose you could say that! The winter season was so bad this year in Scotland and most of Europe, that it was nice to go somewhere that had almost guaranteed mixed climbing conditions. Having said that, it was a very dry ice year for Alaska this winter as well. It was fun to visit a new area, as I hadn't been to AK before and it had been high on my list of places to venture to ever since I had heard Will rave about it years ago after one of his previous trips.
Why this area of Alaska in particular? What's the climbing like in general over there? Is it as gnarly as it sounds?!
Will: I've been wanting to go to the Buckskin glacier for a while. The east faces of the Bear tooth and Moose's tooth have got to be some of the most jaw droppingly cool looking pieces of mountain in the world. Aside from that, it's relatively little visited compared to the nearby Ruth gorge and the other side of the "Tooth" massive.
What were conditions like during the trip?
Will: In the four trips I've done to Alaska I've never seen weather so benign. To say having weather on your side is a game changer would be an understatement. On my last trip to AK as well as having our basecamp blown to pieces in a storm and having to survive in a snow hole, I wore literally twice as many clothes on the mountain and was still seriously cold. This time we barely even bothered with guy lines on our BC tents and I don't think I had a numb toe all trip! We were extremely fortunate this time round.
Did you do any specific physical preparation before heading out?
Will: I am always in some state of training. This winter was no different: Rock specific power and contact strength, which I always try and work on through the winter. Squats and other lower body resistance training aimed towards the movement of breaking trail and carrying weight. I climb a lot, like pretty much every day of my life! And spend a huge amount of my time in the mountains for work and play, which I try and fit training around. With regards to "winter specific" training such as hanging off axes, I don't really do much. I'm not a huge believer in dry tooling as a training method as I think it doesn't translate to real mixed climbing half as well as rock climbing does. Plus I find it really boring and uninspiring. But that is purely a personal outlook! Having said that, you will find me upside down in a cave on my axes a few times a year.
Had you done much climbing together previously? How did you get along?
Will: We climbed together a lot for a few years, always in Scotland in winter. This was the first time in almost three years though. Greg's a really solid person to be on the mountain with, and it was fun to watch him adapt his high technical level of mixed climbing to technical big mountain ground, which is actually more different than you would think.
Greg: Will's ace to be in the hills with. He's super solid in most aspects of climbing and he's always psyched to climb similar things that I enjoy to get on. We've not been out together much in the last couple of years, but we always seem to gel fairly easily when we're climbing together. This was the first big trip I'd done with Will, but I can definitely see more on the cards in the future.
Tell us about the routes.
Will: Beastiality was probably the line of the trip. About 1400 metres, in which we climbed about 30 sustained pitches. The line is stupidly good; a huge fault line/chimney splitting the SE face of the mountain, which other than the chimney system is a big compact wall straight out of Yosemite. We climbed it over 3 days then descended on the fourth. The first day we climbed a couloir and thin connecting ramp that bypassed a dangerous icefall. It made the route safer and better. We then had a luxury bivi in a small tent on the lip of a crevasse on the hanging glacier beneath the 900 metre high headwall.
Day two was slow, absorbing and stressful as we navigated up and around the fault line. Rotten and blank rock forced us out on the right hand wall for 7 or 8 pitches, which felt a bit like being on El Cap in crampons, but it was also really cool; all the time unsure if it was possible to re-enter the chimney.
A make or break last pitch of the day saw me up a nerve racking pitch from the top of which I reckoned we could access the chimney again. I abbed and fixed a line so we could lower to the only bum seat bivi we could see and then had an uncomfortable few hours of continually slipping off the ledge in our sleeping bags. On day three we miraculously managed to re enter the chimney and had one of the most amazing days ever on 5 star sustained and in places thin ice, all the time pinching ourselves. We topped out into a windless sunset, strolled to the summit and bivied again. The next day we abbed the line, which went suspiciously hitch-less!
Shark Fishing was a line we had spotted from Beastiality. A chimney and corner system firing up the apex of a pointy mountain we knew nothing about. Originally we were unsure what kind of tactics to employ (bivi or no bivi), but in the end it did require a bivi, despite only being about 600 metres and 15 pitches. All the pitches had some spice; scary thin ice, snow mushrooms requiring careful clearing, or just hard climbing.
Like on Beastiality, we were blown away by the quality of climbing. The kind of route where you lean back on the belay after leading and can't stop smiling about how outrageous the last 40 metres were. It looks like the whole mountain is actually unclimbed, at least none of the people in the know have heard of an ascent. We didn't realise this at all until we started talking to folk after the trip, but if so, we may give it the unofficial name of the "Shark Tooth", to keep in line with animal and dental names.
We haven't really thought of, or given it a grade. I don't really understand grades and couldn't even begin to represent routes on mountains with numbers.
Why did you name the routes Beastiality and Shark Fishing? Interesting choices!
Will: Hmmm, Beastiality because routes all have feels and characters. Sometimes mountains get personified into an animal like character in your mind and sometimes the experience might feel a bit like having sex with a dangerous animal (!!!), but I honestly have no experience of that...Shark Fishing was so named because the clean cut black and white rock reminded us of a shark's markings, and when hauling our bags through tight chimneys it kinda felt like vertical shark fishing!
Did you have any epics or scary moments?
Will: Hmm, not anything crazy on this trip thankfully. Having said that, there were a lot of very narrow, very steep icy corners on both our routes, which meant the belayer had nowhere to hide. I took a big lump to the shoulder high on Beastiality and thought something was broken for a few minutes.
Have you got more objectives out there that you’d like to go back for?
Will: I have endless ideas in AK. I really love the place and plan to keep going back for decades to come!
Will: Chilled out summer or any big plans? I'll be guiding a fair bit this summer, which I always look forward to. Who knows what the Autumn will bring, West or East - that is the question!?
Watch a video of Will's previous Alaska trip below, Bad to the Bone: