(Brooks Range 2.0 : This Time For Snow)
Since it will probably be a few years before I have the time to pictorially retrace the steps of Brooks Range 1.0 myself, enjoy renowned Alaska adventurer Ian Borowski’s film for free at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaptMSyNZG8&t=78s
Again, it was 3 Peaks and 1 big Memorial day weekend. In similar fashion to the maiden voyage, Myself, Sophia Tidler, Gerrit Verbeek, Chelsea Grimstad, and her two dogs Kiva and Bean, hopped aboard the Brooks Range Express (my red truck) on a non-refundable ticket to the North North.
Summary: This time the focus of the trip revolved around skiing Dan Peak, A peak that had piqued my interest during a July 2020 trip over Peak 7226, Peak 6983, and James Dalton Mountain. The skiing on Dan Peak’s north side, I suspected, would keep us on mellow slopes while whisking us through steep walls and impressive geology. Cool I say! This hypothesis came to be correct and Dan Peak is a Brooks Range peak I would rank highly as a ski-focused peak. The second peak was Mt Dillon and, thanks to an Adventures of Lupe article, we knew the southern aspect had some routes that went, and indeed they were easily findable. We were on our way back south early since the majority of this party’s trip needed to be in Anchorage by Monday night, so at the Coldfoot gas station I rapidly conceived plans for a third peak along the way that would take only half a day to bag: Cathedral Mountain. Cathedral Mountain turned out to be a pleasurable peak with only a little bushwhacking. I am not sure why this peak isn’t more popular.
Friday May 28th, 2021
Friday after work we boarded the Brooks Range Express, fueled by Lady Gaga, and motored up to the Brooks Range camping on Sheldon’s Shelf just shy of Atigun Pass in the land of the actual midnight sun.
Saturday May 29th, 2021
We ducked under the pipeline and made way for the inevitable Atigun River crossing. We hopped over some of the rivers flow on ice, but at one spot we’d have to walk across the river. My approach shoe of choice, rubber boots, came in handy, lobbing them over for all but the dogs to use. We continued up the canyon draining the north side of Dan Peak with skis on packs. Eventually the canyon became less of a canyon and more of a valley and we put the skis on our feet. The sun came out too and it got HOT like the inside of a microwave, cooking us contents.
We wove around to the north aspect. Chelsea, Sophie, Gerrit, and the dogs were well ahead of me and had essentially conducted a snow pit test before I got there. As I pen this out, I can’t recall the results, but probably a CT-30 since we continued on up. We kind of all split up at this point, but kept visual tabs on one another. I wanted some specific pictures, so I skinned to the East Ridge and then skinned that to the summit. Gerrit hopped on a center ridge of the NE Face and the dogs chose to follow him. Sophie and Chelsea took the North Ridge. A strong wind that we would’ve paid good money for while we baked down in the valley was now ripping up on the ridge. Gerrit had gotten to the top first and promptly dug in a little wind block while waiting for the rest of us. I took bare minimal photos with cold fingers. I wish the wind was less so we could’ve stayed longer. The ski down was amazing, warmed spring corn. No challenging aspects or steep angles, just a fun giddy time.
Steve Gruhn later brought to my attention an American Alpine Journal Article referencing Dan Peak having first been climbed by Kevin Murray sometime between 1985 and 1988.
Back at the car, we celebrated Chelsea’s birthday with IPA’s and a cake Sophie had managed to stow away. We then drove back to camp at the same spot -but not so fast! At the top of Atigun Pass Sophie and I got out to do a free road lap. Unlike the road laps on Brooks Range Express 1.0, which were done early in the morning on hardpack, the snow was now softened by the afternoon sun. And you already know I had to thread the thermosiphons like a boss again.
Sunday May 30th, 2021
We packed up camp and drove south to the pullout at the big lake west of Mt. Dillon. We arrived early enough that we enjoyed a little shade in the shadow of the mountain on the approach. We tried our best to stay out of the marshes. There is a vegetated wall that guards the south ridge of Mt. Dillon. It’s all fine and dandy to go around it, but Sophie saw something that would “go” and indeed it did, saving us a bit of walking.
Now in the sun, we maneuvered over to the middle of the three south ridges. The ridge was a bit scrambly, but not super exposed. I’d been on trips with these dogs up Tetlin Peak and Donaho Peak before and they had no issues with Dillon Mtn. either. Uneventfully (which is how I like it), the summit was gained. We enjoyed spectacular views of two old favorites; Snowden Mtn. and Sukakpak Mtn (featured in the video I referenced in the very beginning of this text)
The for the descent, we took the modest scree gully to the west of the middle South Ridge. This would actually be the easiest way up Dillon Mtn. from a technical perspective, but the downside is… well; uphill scree. We made it back to the car before 1pm.
Back at the Coldfoot Gas station it was Sunday and still quite early in the day. We all had Monday off, being Memorial Day, but I heard rumors circulating amongst the 5 Skankorage stowaways that there was going to be some mutiny if we didn’t keep moving south. They wanted to cut down on the Monday drive hours since they’d be doing 6 more than myself. But the day was still so young… I yearned for one more summit, just one more! And so, in the Coldfoot Gas station I had a brain child; Cathedral Mountain, which is actually visible from the Coldfoot Gas station. 5 miles round trip, only 2700′ gain, a zero-approach-starts-going-up-right-from-the-road-so-bushwhacking-is-minimal kind of peak. The idea found favor in our party.
At 3pm we were parked on the side of the road and starting up Cathedral Mountain. The brush was mostly the ankle grabby kind and we got out of it soon enough. The plan was to take the West Ridge. From afar it looked intimidating and none of us knew if it went. As it turned out, all the gendarmes are very easy to traverse around. About 20-30 ft below the summit I found some white stuff nestled in the rocks. Strange, sine I hadn’t seen any snow anywhere else on the south aspect. I went to grab it and discovered it was papers! A summit registrar gone astray. Gerrit who was already at the top confirmed finding a red can. The papers must have blown out.
The papers read Richard L. Carey for a first ascent on July 29, 1995. When I got back home, Steve Gruhn would inform me of two more ascents in August of 2017 by Lily Grossbard, then by Stephen Lunde two days later. Since the summit registrar was M.I.A. for some period of time, more ascents may have been made and simply aren’t recorded.
The way down would have been uneventful, except we ran into a black bear which had materialized on a little pass that we couldn’t have been on but only 3 hours prior. The bear didn’t really want to relinquish right of way, but we had him beat, 6 to 1. We reached the car before 8pm.
We continued driving south to camp Sunday night at the Arctic Circle sign campground. We had a good time, complete with a campfire. Bugs and the inability to consume more alcohol made staying up pointless and ultimately drove us stumbling into the tent.
Monday May 31th, 2021
On Monday we drove back to Fairbanks with only one brake (for pie), then the Anchorage contingency did another 6 hours on the road back to the big city.
I went into this trip with some anxiety that the trip wouldn’t live up to Brooks Range 1.0 … Well, I can honestly admit that it didn’t. *sigh* But that’s ok. I suppose diving into a now all-too-familiar mountain zone just isn’t as mind-blowing as the first time. All in all, it was a seamless trip though. We played our cards perfectly, and perfect is good enough.