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Tuesday
Mar112014

Ski Mountaineering Skills

Cody and Matt are US Army Officers. That means they're smart, tough, fun and there's no BS. In the same league as the Seals and PJs, who I often work with. 

Matt Hickey and Cody Pittman at Bombardment Pass in the Western Chugach. Cody and I met last year on a level one avalanche class. This year, Cody wanted to learn technical skills for climbing and skiing Chugach peaks. He's on a month vacation as he transitions to working logistics at BP. 

Matt and I have been on three avalanche classes together. He's currently training an Army team for a Denali ascent, and then possibly the Big E. Last week Matt fat biked the Su 100 in 11:07 hours. It was his first time on a bike in six months. The next day I saw Matt pumping laps at Tincan like an unleashed sled dog. 

 

Sunset over Rumble and Benign from Bombardment Pass. Big, seldom-climbed peaks in Anchorage's backyard. We camped two nights in the moraine below Bombardment Pass. 

 

The snow was deep in the high Ram Valley.

 

Matt practicing his short-roping on Cody, a guiding skill Matt will use for work. A secure guide can stop a slip from turning into a fall, but cannot stop a fall.  

 

Chugach climbing is rarely about solid anchors. It's about climbing decomposing piles of choss, where the roots of climbing are applied: body belays, terrain belays and not falling. Here's Cody terrain belaying using the friction of the rope around frozen blocks.

 

As Matt leads the next pitch, he's secured Cody to a horn with a couple wraps of the rope.

 

Attempting to drop a cornice. It refused to budge and we remembered that cornices should never be trusted, and we left it alone. 

 

Cody using modern rappelling technique, with his belay device on an extension, an autoblock backup and saddle bagged ropes. See Rob Hess's article in the 2012 Accidents in North American Mountaineering for details on this technique. 

 

For our last day, Cody and I climbed the northwest ridge of O'Malley Peak above Anchorage. 

 

We used O'Malley's relatively solid rock to practice placing rock gear, making EARNEST anchors, belaying and pitching.  

 

Cody topping out on the route. 

 

 A perfect day in the Chugach Front Range. 

 

We even found some good snow on the descent. Thanks for a great couple days Cody and Matt!