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  • Writer's picturePascale Marceau

Carpe | Alaska - My First Taste of "Real" Cold

Updated: Dec 24, 2019

An attempt at the first winter ascent of Mt. Carpe, deep in the Alaska wilderness on the north side of Denali

Located in the shadow of Alaska’s Denali, Mt. Carpe (12,552 ft) can be brutally cold. The two person team Dupre and Marceau, can expect minus 50 degree temperatures, high winds and 10 hours of daylight. The attempt at Mt Carpe’s first winter ascent will be a test of human will, mountaineering skills and 25 years of polar expedition experience.   

Aerial shot of Traleika & Muldrow glaciers intersecting at the base of Tatum Ridge

Route Description: The duo will fly into Kantishna, the last stop on the Denali Park Road which is closed during the winter.  On skis, they will make their way onto the Muldrow glacier via Wonder lake, Turtle hill and McGonagall pass.  This was the classic route followed for the 1st ascent of Denali in 1913.  

Once on the glacier, the team will glacier ski travel around the Carpe ridge to the Traleika glacier.  They will then work their way up that glacier and take its west fork.  They will tackle the mountain via a spur off the west fork and climb via the SW face of Carpe.  This route was climbed in Aug 1995; Carpe has never been climbed in winter via any route.

Last minute musings...

Am currently in Talkeetna AK, doing last minute preparation before we fly into the Alaska Range on Friday (weather permitting).  Filling fuel bottles, weighing gear for flight costs, cinching down the sleds such that when we get dropped off in the middle of nowhere, we can start skiing right away, no fiddling in the cold.

This project was conceived last spring when we came off of the Mt Hunter climb early.  After extensive research of American Alpine Journals, Google Earthing, Googling, map work and LOTS of networking with local Alaskan mountaineering legends, I concocted this 1st winter ascent dream... .and now it's become a reality.  Nobody has ever climbed this mountain in the winter, in fact very few have even done it in the summer!!

This trip offers a wonderful mix of polar expedition travel and cold weather mountaineering - all in one.  I just checked the weather forecast and we are in for some EXTREME cold.  -40 to -50C with windchills to -60C! OMG!!! Oh... and the aurora forecast is stellar too!

This is a test piece for me, to see if I actually enjoy prolonged exposure to extreme cold.  If so, this could open new doors to exciting exploratory projects in Greenland, Antarctica and who knows where else.

It's been an incredible learning experience so far.  We've left behind the high tech mountaineering clothing and are instead using polar Inuit traditional wear to keep us warm. The fuel consumption calculations are astronomical compared to what I'm used to and our sleds will easily weigh 100lbs each!  We have Nalgene bottles filled with grapeseed oil to keep our fat stores up.  We will "grease up" our toes, fingers and entire body the morning we fly, all tips to keeping frostbite away!  What I wear Friday morning will not come off my body until we arrive back here at the warm & cozy Roadhouse for a hot shower.

I've never been so well prepared for a trip.  First time I'm not screeching in exhausted, stressed, sick and sleep deprived.  I'm in great fitness and have the technical skills to stay out of crevasses, recognize avalanche risk, and set rock, snow and ice protection as required to make our way up the technical sections.  Most importantly, I am STOKED!!!! YAHOO!!!

All I can say is never fear, just trust that things will always turn out better than you can even begin to imagine; it's the most exhilarating feeling on earth!

Love ya all! 



PS.: LOVE these last minute days, I am pigging out on sticky buns, burgers, ANYTHING... packing on the calories :)

A Story To Tell

This ended up being a truly remote, cold and scenic journey. First we encountered thigh deep unconsolidated powder, which slowed our progress to a mere 2-3 miles per day. Then were faced with a tricky crossing of the McKinley river which was a labyrinth of weaving a way through the open channels. Finally, when getting onto the glaciers, we found that navigating the Traleika was extremely hairy - only to later find out that it was surging.

The journey to the base of the mountain was a long, slow journey with extremely cold days to -45C.

Crossing McKinley river

Once on the mountain, we encountered a touch rock band that had us ultimately give it 5 different tries. We'd even packed up camp and descended all our supplies, having decided to abandon the climb, only to wake up re-energized and ready to give it one last attempt. We cleared the rock band!

Ultimately though, we were stymied and had to turn around just 200 feet from the ridge by dangerous rock that did not allow for solid footing, nor to place proper protection. We may have been able to get up safely, but certainly not back down. We turned around at 9,500 feet and began the long haul back to Kantishna.

The decision to turn around was an obvious one, but it hurts nonetheless.

It was a 21-day journey, a formative one for me, and a true partnership building expedition. Bring on the next adventure!

Once we got off the glaciers, thensions should release. I had a long crying session here, sad to see our efforts thwarted, but even more sad to be leaving this magical, breathtaking world of snow & ice.

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