Friday, May 30, 2008

Neacola Mountains, Alaska - May 10-16, 2008

Yeah, hard work pays off … in vacation time! I had put in some seriously long hours over the past 12 months, and the two-week trip to Alaska was the icing on a spring cake that included the trip to Kalymnos with Kristin. I managed to wrap in a work detour to Barrow, and the whirlwind came together as they always seem to do.

I went up to visit my friend Brian Litmans, who moved back to Anchorage about a year ago. Brian’s into the free-your-hell stuff, so we looked to put together primarily a ski trip. We tossed around a couple of options, including Little Switzerland, but we eventually settled on the Neacola Mountains just outside Lake Clark National Park. We went back and forth on the decision, but we settled on the Neacolas for a couple of reasons. First, we could find very little information about where we wanted to go. Second, we were almost guaranteed not to see a single person while we were there. And third, it looked sweeeet!

Background Research:

We looked around a bit and found some limited information.

These guys went in with Beckey to climb what he recently named Mt. Chakachmna. Apparently, it was Beckey’s second trip to that area, and I’m fairly certain I actually interviewed one of the guys he went with the first time for a job we had open several years ago.

These guys had recently flown in to the same area for a ski trip earlier this year. Their photos definitely encouraged us.

The AAJ also had a bit of information, but not much to go on.

In the end, we decided to land on the same glacier that Beckey’s group and the skiing group had landed on, because it looked like incredible terrain and a good jumping off point for other adventures. Here’s a couple topos of where we were.

We flew in with Doug Brewer of AK West in Nikiski, and he dropped us off just to the southeast of point 7530 – also known now as Mt. Chakachmna.

We got dropped off on May 10th under clear skies and calm winds – a beautiful setting – but we could already see the lenticulars forming over the summit of Mt. Spurr to the North. Hmmm … I wonder what it will look like in the morning.

Well, we woke up to about 8” of fresh snow, strong winds, and limited visibility. We wanted to go for a ski tour, but we couldn’t see anything, and the wind was howling, so we decided to hole up for the day. Little did we know it was only going to get worse. Over the next 3-4 days, we got probably 2.5-3’ of snow. We spent most of our time shoveling snow, building walls, drinking beer and bourbon, reading and playing cards.

On the 4th day (5th day?), the weather finally improved enough for us to head out for a tour to check out the surroundings. The weather cleared as the day wore on, and by 1-2 pm, we were headed up the couloir behind our camp, which leads up to a col on the ridge leading to the NE from the summit of Chakachamna. We took one run from halfway up the gully to check on stability and feel it out, and then once we reached the bottom we decided to throw the skins back on and point the tips back up the 2000’ run.

We topped out a couple of hours later in strong winds and decreasing visibility around 5 pm. The soft snow turned to wind buffed hardpack and ice at the top of couloir, and we bootpacked the last couple of hundred feet. We snapped a few photos and then I dropped in, side slipping for a turn or two before getting to the good stuff. Despite the worsening conditions, we had a great time skiing down through the rock towers, surrounded by the seracs of a remnant glacier and soaring turrets of granite. Fun!

The next day we woke up to even better weather.

The sun had hammered the south facing lines, so we went across to the other side of the glacier, where we hoped the conditions would be better.

We had made a quick tour over there in pretty bleak conditions on day three, and knew there were some great lines to be had and that the snow was fairly stable. Some of the shots from an excellent day.

That afternoon, Doug picked us up around 5 pm.

and we got the rare pleasure of checking out our lines from the air.

We considered sticking it out for another couple of days, but we were getting bad weather reports and decided to take our weather window.

All in all a great trip! We didn’t get to climb anything, because the mountains were shedding feet and feet of snow like a winter skin, but the skiing was incredible, and we had a great time.

This area has incredible potential! Especially if you have the time and patience to wait for the weather window. Drop me a line if you want any additional information – lots of climbing and skiing objectives to be had from that base camp and the surrounding glaciers.

Here are some more pics.

And yet more pics from Brian.

Go freakin' get some!


  1. I'm glad I'm viewing these photos after your trip rather than before. Very impressive. Your mother.

  2. Hi Chris,

    My name is Bo and I am going to be hitting up Kalymnos in a couple of weeks with my girlfriend. I stumbled upon your Blog while doing some research on the place. Thanks for the recommendations and info. very helpful and inspiring.

    One question: You mentioned that you only brought 15 draws. Was this enough? What gear would you recommend?

    Thanks. Bo (

  3. Hey Bo -

    Have a great time in Kalymnos - definitely an incredible sport climbing destination.

    15 draws was plenty. All the routes are equipped with anchors. The only other thing I would recommend is a 70 meter rope, which opens up some of the longer pitches.

    - Chris

  4. nice trip - my friend and i skied in the neacolas in april 2006 for 2 weeks and were also dropped by doug brewer...check out my facebook photo album!
    daron huck

  5. did you guys ski roped up or was it filled in enough to avoid that fun endeavor? I'm looking for a "no rope required" adventure...or minimal rope required, at least


  6. Hi Sarah - We had gear for glacier travel but didn't need it.