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The project consisted of three main segments. Firstly we completed the Eklutna traverse of three connected glaciers as a "warm up". Subsequently the show was taken to Thompson Pass, Valdez. Basing out of an RV provided by Great Alaskan Holidays we focussed on the production of great shots with snowmachine and helicopter assistance. Finally the biggest challenge was faced, the kite-assisted climb of Mt. Marcus Baker, more than 4000m high. After flying out to the giant Knik glacier it took more than three weeks until the weather allowed for the summit run. Tents collapsed under the enormous amounts of snow deposited in camp storm after storm. After three weeks and two failed attempts due to avalanche hazard and bad weather the German part of our team had to fly out in a small weather window in order to not miss the flights back to Europe. Obadiah and the american support crew sat out another major storm dwarfing any preceding one to finally reach the summit, after waiting four weeks for the right weather and snow conditions.
Part I - The Eklutna Traverse
After a short helicopter ride up to the Raven headwall, we descended to the first hut, “Rosies’ Roost” and subsequently crossed the Eagle Glacier, climbed on to the Whiteout Glacier and finally made our way along the Eklutna Glacier to descent the icefall at the end, which would mark the end of the traverse. Our goal was to kite most of the disctance, however due to lacking winds, we were not.
The nights were the coldest we had ever experienced. Luckily the super thick Ajungilak Altitude Season 5 sleeping bags kept us warm, even in negative 25 degrees celsius. In order to charge the camera batteries we had to sleep with the battery packs inside of our sleeping bags to keep them warm for charging. During the day the main battery packs were kept warm with down booties and hot water bottles while charging from solar panels. Extreme conditions require unusual ideas.
The climb up to Hunsis Hut looked like a walk in the park. In general underestimating distances is, what every new visitor to Alaska will go through. Well, it turned out to be anything but that. Pulling heavy sleds and carrying large backpacks the 1000m ascent soon turned out to be a challenge. With a major Alaskan snow storm approaching fast, we had no other choice but to fight on and continue climbing. Arriving late at night, we were exhausted and subcooled. Noone of us has even been close to a total fatigue like this before in life. Nevertheless the first heavy gusts shaking the shack proved us right to have continued climbing.
The snow storm brought two good things with it. Firstly we could rest for a day while the storm was raging outside. Secondly it brought wind from the right direction. This raised hope for the following day... If we could continue with an average speed of 25 km/h pulled by a kite, we could make it to the last hut very quickly. The visibility was great and the wind blowing solid, when we left Hunsi’s Hut the next morning. But once again we should not be lucky. The instant we started rigging our kites the wind backed off and finally we could only kite a few meters and that was it. Back to skinning we covered many more miles that day and also took a small speedflying “break” right at the col between the Whiteout and the Eklutna Glacier. Finally we arrived late again at the last hut, Picheler’s Perch right next to the icefall at the toe of the Eklutna Glacier. Our powerful headlamps enabled us to navigate around crevasses and up the moraine where the hut was situated. We were exhausted after climbing the ridge and skinning for more than 13 km. Crawling up in a warm sleeping bag was the feeling we have worked so hard for during this day.
The following day we slept in and speedflew a little wall next to the hut down to the edge of the icefall. It was a stunning scenery: Cracked ice as large as houses and the isolated hut on top of a border moraine. Nonetheless the most techincal challenge still lay ahead of us. There was no other way off the glacier than to belay down an 10m icewall at the end. Crampons, ice axes and the Mammut 150th anniversary rope helped to get us and the heavy sleds safely off the ice. The seven days flew by and to say the least, we all got a very laid-back first trip in Alaska... we should soon learn that the Alaskan weather could be anything but as nice as it was during this trip.
Part II - Thompson Pass
This segment was planned to represent an opportunity for all of us to be more flexible and agile while producing great photos as well as video footage. Using snow machines and helicopters enabled us to produce amazing pictures. A small daytrip to the Tsaina Glacier ended up as a shooting in an ice tunnel. During the three weeks we were speedflying through a tunnel of blue ice, jumping out of a helicopter at 4.500m height with a paraglider, snow kiting the mountains surrounding Thompson Pass and skiing some fresh powder to name just a few of our activities. Being more in touch with the Alaskan residents this trip gave us important insights into their culture and way of living.
Part III - Mt. Marcus Baker
As the first people on the planet we wanted to climb Mt. Marcus Baker with kitesupport and by doing so set up a world record for the longest vertical climb with kites. Being aware of the weather situation in Alaska, we planned for three weeks on the glacier to get the right weather window for our attempt. What we sure didn't know ahead was that this adventure should turn out to be more of a survival trip than an easy success.
After flying in with a 66 years old ski plane we set up camp, which took a while due to its size and the walls we built around it.The first scouting mission towards Mt. Marcus Baker very soon let us realize the actual dimensions of this place. We skinned for nearly 7km up the glacier until we could finally get a glimpse of Prince William Sound. The entire skin until we would start climbing turned out to be 8km long ... this place is simply huge! After the scouting mission we were waiting for the right winds to kick in. Unfortunately there was literally no wind at all. Nevertheless various cumulus clouds above the peak indicated a high chance of thermal winds up the main face of Mt. Marcus Baker, which is why we decided to start climbing without kite support the following day. Hoping to find more wind further up the mountain, we progressed really well, until we arrived at an inevitable segment of the first large ridge with really gritty snow below a hard layer. Even though the top layer was still frozen it would have been simply too much of a risk to keep on pushing, an avalanche would have taken us down an almost vertical wall of blue ice ending in crevasses and a massive bergshrund. Shortly after our arrival back in camp a thick layer of clouds started billowing right at the edge of the wall facing down towards Prince William Sound, and we felt a breeze picking up! Unfortunately this wind was not blowing up the mountain, but it was a solid breeze for some exploration of the glacier with our kites. What we didn't know, was that these were the first signs of a massive snow storm, which should bring us sleepless nights of digging and freezing. After a seeming endless time the clouds eventually disappeared to reveal an explosive avanlanche situation! There was no chance to start climbing right away. It was paradox, we had the best weather but couldn't start climbing. Loud "woumpf" - sounds made it very clear. Whoever would step on anything steep would have risked his life. Finally we could start climbing again, still without the right wind, but we could at least make another move towards Mt. Marcus Baker hoping for thermal winds further up. According to our pilot Jim, we would have a 36-hours window for the summit run. It lasted 7 hours before the clouds closed in on us once again to announce the next storm, which should dwarf the first one many times over. One of the subsequent attempts to climb Mt. Marcus Baker began with blue skies and ended short time later in a total snow storm! Very soon we were facing a race against time to climb Mt. Marcus Baker. Unfortunately the German fraction of our crew lost this race as they had to catch their flights back to Germany. Pilot Jim Chaplin flew them out in a tiny weather window shortly before the weather totally shut down everything. The American crew lost two more tents with poles cracking like matchsticks under enormeous amounts of snow being deposited in camp. Winds were gusting over 150km/h with heavy snowfalls. But sitting out this weather for nearly a month should come along with a reward. Finally, after waiting for so long Obadiah Jenkins at least got stable weather to ski mountaineer the 4016m high peak. During this journey Alaska and the Chugach Mountains in particular have shown us repeadidly who is stronger. One cannot try to conquer these mountains, it's true wilderness. Mistakes may have fatal consequences. Even though we did not reach our ultimate goal in the end, this amazing adventure for all that was the experience of a lifetime! Failure is always a part of mountain sports and we will not take this one as a setback. Instead it is pushing our motivation for the next attempt even further.
Thanks to all of our supporters,
The Ataraxia crew