Institute and Minya

Institute and Minya: two more of the awesome Gulkana Glacier Peaks. And while my favorite Gulkana Glacier peak remains to be Icefall Peak; that doesn’t mean either of these two peaks were slouching. It just means that all the Gulkana Peaks are super amazing. And the reason for this is because the Gulkana Glacier peaks have amazing access and a high density of action, so you’ll be very surprised how little milage your trip actually racks up compared to how much cool terrain you get to see.

For this trip, a Rowland Powers had assembled a conglomerate of local Fairbanks mountain junkies with a clear objective being Institute. To boot, he also picked the date for this peak almost 3 weeks in advance (at 3 weeks, weather is a total toss-up). In the Delta Mountains, which are infamous for their raking winds, you might get only 4 good weather days per month, and half the time those days won’t even fall on a weekend. Well, what had been happening in the deltas in the days prior to this trip was some freezing temperatures and precipitation (snow!). The forecast looked like it would lift entirely by our Sunday.

The party split in two. The ski enthusiasts among us were my token Anchorage friend: Sophie Tidler, a telemark skier whom this would be my first trip with: Nathan Fogell, and this fool named Shane Ohms (myself). We would carcamp at the trailhead Friday night and go in early Saturday with a ski objective of 7500′ Minya Peak. The second party (Rowland Powers, Adrian Jones, Gwendalynn Macander, and Alanna Greenwell) would arrive to the Gulkana trailhead Saturday afternoon and meet us at base camp in order to do Institute Peak the following day in Sunday prime weather.

Friday July 9th, 2021

Friday after work, myself and Nathan drove down, stopping once on the Delta River to collect driftwood for a fire. Two more Fairbanks friends, Ben Holmgren and Mitchell, would also carcamp with us and then do Donelly Dome the next day. Sophie drove up from Anchorage.

Saturday July 10th, 2021

Nathan, Sophie, and I started out with backpacks as loaded as they possibly could. We went across the suspension bridge, then across the Gulkana River flow, broken into 3 braids and lower on this morning than what they would be on Sunday night. We ascended into the valley south of Ogive Peak (more about this approach can be seen in Ian Borowski’s video from our September 2018 climb up Ogive).

Unlike Ogive, we pushed further up this valley to the toe of the glacier, where we would rope up and skin to 6600′ where camp would be made. We cached camp gear and continued on to Minya.

Over at Minya, clouds rolled in a bit as we booted up the south ridge. At the top, we hung out long enough to get out from under the clouds. I believe it was a little windy up top too. We skied the south ridge as we had come up, favoring its eastern side. The snow was amazing, and it was July. This July snow on Minya, and Brooks Range 2.0’s May snow on Dan Peak, would be the best snow I skied all year -beating everything from Winter and Spring.

Back at 6600′ camp we erected a tarptent. The daily total was merely 4200′ vertical and 6.5 miles. Like I said, on the Gulkana Glacier you cover a lot of epic territory in very few miles. Sophie went and skied some more on a slope. Ever since we had reached the toe of the glacier we had been in communication with Rowland and Adrian by walkie talkie. Apparently Alanna and Gwendalynn hadn’t arrived at the trailhead in their separate vehicle, so Rowland and Adrian started up on foot. Later that night we would, surprisingly, have cell service and talk on the phone with Alanna and Gwendalynn. It turns out they didn’t catch the memo about crossing the river and had instead gone up the main Gulkana Glacier. Thus, they would not be joining us on Institute Peak the following day, but we would do a walkabout to run into them later on the Gulkana Glacier.

Sunday July 11th, 2021

The morning was calm. The sky was high. Institute Peak beckoned. We roped up and made way to the east face and east ridge.

The east ridge of Institute Peak went smoothly, with some steep cramponing nearest the top. Sophie carried her skis with her nearly to the top. I regretted not bringing mine. Although at the very edge of my comfort zone, with the perfect conditions I would have made it down alive, maybe at the expense of a short and inconsequential fall. The views of the freshly snowed July landscape were beautiful:

The descent simply retraced our route to camp. For the three of us on skis this took all of about three minutes. Zoom zoom.

We packed up 6600′ camp. And from camp we began our exit downglacier. Nathan and Adrian made straight for the cars via the same Gulkana River crossing. Sophie, Rowland, and myself flirted with the idea of doing Ogive before ultimately deciding we (or at least I was) were too tired. We saw two folks down on the main Gulkana Glacier (must be Gwendalynn and Alanna) and skirted the southeast flank of Ogive to get down on the Gulkana Glacier to them. We linked up, exchanged tales, and greedily ate some of Gwendalynn and Alanna’s excess butter tortillas (yup, butter in a tortilla, delicious). Once back at the cars, we departed. The six of us from Fairbanks stopped at Black Rapids Lodge (where Gwendalynn works), happily eating more food and equally happy for any excuse to delay the inevitable return to the Fairbanks flatlands. Till the next escape!

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