Fanny Schmutz, alpinist and mountain guide from Chamonix, went for expedition in Alaska. We asked her to share the memories of the trip with us. Behind the climbing, strongly blocked by bad weather, she showed us the expedition daily life and the feelings of a super motivated female alpinist.
Fanny, what does Alaska mean for you?
Alaska is huge and beautiful mountains... a dream for every alpinist! It’s also a lot of work because you stay on a glacier for a long time with no rivers, or grass for a while! Also no one cooks for us and that's very different from climbing in Himalaya!
As always, a diary is linked with the page before...
“Last spring I had my first experience in Alaska. The goal was to climb the east ridge of Bradley on the Ruth Gorge but it snowed everyday and we shoveled and stayed in the tent for two weeks. People said it has been the worst storm they had for a few years there. The third week we tried to climb but just managed to climb 300 meters in 20 hours because the face was plastered of snow! Coming back to France I said I won’t go back to Alaska for a few years...so here we are!”
“The idea of going back to Alaska this spring was mostly Damien’s idea, my husband and for sure my best climbing partner. We want to try to climb the incredible north buttress of Begguya (Mount Hunter). We plan to stay one month on the Kahiltna glacier to have a chance to climb this 1700 meters face.”
Every expedition starts with a very simple little step: the shopping of the supplies:
“We try to stay less time as possible in Anchorage for shopping, and manage to do everything in one day. Buying food for one month on the glacier is not so easy when you are not used to it. You really don’t want to forget anything because there will be no shop there! 20 hours of plane and 10 hours of jet lag doesn’t help either, Alaska is really on the other side of the world!
The next day a shuttle brings us to the very small village of Talkeetna, a cute little and very
touristic place. We want to fly the next day on the glacier because we can’t wait to see the face! We have only 2 things to do before. First go to “Talkeetna air taxi” to register, and weight and tag all our gear and food, which is a lot! Then go to the rangers to fill a few papers and mostly to take our boxes we have to use for the toilets!
The dream of expedition...
“It’s true, it’s quite tempting to get dropped on the Kahiltna base camp, after not even an
hour of plane from the small village of Talkeetna. Then walk just 50 meters to be out of the crowd of people heading to Denali and set the base camp, 1 hour and 30 minutes walk from the bottom of the face! No acclimatization, just climbing! On the paper, it’s paradise for any climber. The face is big like the Eiger north face, and then 600 meters of easier terrain leads to the top.
We plan to stay one month on the glacier. Of course it’s enough time to get good weather and
climb we think. It won’t snow all the time like last year, right?”
And the reality.
“Today we wake up very early all excited about going on the glacier. The first thing we do is look at the forecast and... it seems like it’s going to be bad for 15 days! Shall we go back now to
France?! Or wait a bit in Talkeetna? We call our friend who will send us the forecast when we
will be on the glacier. It’s actually his job. He reassures us and says it won’t be a huge storm like last year and he sees a bit of good weather. We feel a bit better and decide to go.”
“The flight is incredible and we are lucky, our pilot is happy to bring us just next to Begguya mountain to have a good look at the conditions. It looks really good. It has been good weather for 15 days and it looks like the gully are nice and icy. What an incredible line. So happy to be in such a beautiful place to climb this impressive mountain!
We make a bit of work to set the camp. In particular we have never had a tent to cook before, so we have to look to our neighbours and copy. But we are now comfortable and very motivated!”
Glacier’s daily life:
“As every morning we wait to get the forecast from our friend before going out of the sleeping bag and have breakfast: a few days of not so goodweather and then he sees 3 or 4 days of sun. What a good news! We will rest one or 2 days because we are tired from the trip while its bad and snowy and then go to the base of the mountain and have a look at the conditions.
The life on the glacier is mainly made of:
- making water with snow
- cooking with this horrible and stinky white gas stove (Damien’s job... I would wash dishes!)
- reading and sleeping
- making plans for the attempt
- talking with other climbers from all around the world who are in the same situation as you!
- ...and most of all, talking about the weather forecast!
We can also watch all day long big avalanches going, washing the face we would like to climb…”
Continuous bad weather
“The day we are ready to carry our bags at the bottom of the face to make an attempt the day after, our friend tells us there is no more weather window and again bad weather for one week... Again doubts and hours of speaking if we should go back to Talkeetna. Even if it’s part of the game staying in a tent for days can be long... We decide to wait one week.
Waiting at the base camp is not so hard for me... I always have a lot of good books which I never have time to read at home. It’s also a good excuse to sleep a lot and rest between very busy guiding seasons.
Shoveling, making plans, reading, Shoveling, making plans, reading, ...!
When the good weather arrives, we go to the base of the wall and watch the conditions: it’s a nightmare!
We figure out it will never dry. It looks really dangerous and we can’t imagine climbing now. We would need so much sun to make it possible... And finally the forecasted window is not a window anymore, the following 2 weeks are also bad. It the end of the adventure!”
“It’s always hard to go to the other side of the world and not being able to climb. Lots of investment of time, money, training, motivation, dreams... But I guess that’s why it’s so good when it’s successful! For me Alaska won’t maybe see me again soon... Maybe the next projects will be in the Himalaya, where I always manage to climb, at least to acclimatize!
I can’t wait to plan a new trip, For now I’m heading south of France for rock climbing!”
Credits Damien Tomasi