Lifestyle

Climbing and Riding Alaska's Peaks

XTRATUF | May 31, 22

IG: @jimmy_couloir

Howdy! My name is James Buehler. I'm a climber, snowboarder and ex restaurant owner. It's been my dream to climb and ride some of the biggest and wildest mountain peaks in the world. The past few years I've been making my way from Utah up to Alaska to climb and ride on the steepest, gnarliest and biggest mountains I can access by foot. As sort of a “training ground” for the world's largest peaks.

Carrying snowboards by a snowy peak

This year I recruited two of my close friends on a month-long journey in Alaska. We would spend all April living on the road in a rented RV, Climbing and riding the biggest, steepest and wildest mountains we could find. We would do it all on splitboards, walking our way to the bases of the mountains and climbing our way to the top. The weather and snow conditions would decide our location and routes. For me it was a chance to ride lines that I had found last year that were too dangerous to ride alone. For them it was a big mountain steep riding boot camp that would test us all.

First night in the RV was magical! Tanner Stretching out after a long flight

When it comes to backcountry snowboarding Alaska has its own unique set of challenges that Utah and most of the lower 48 don’t have. One of them is Glaciers, Crevasses and bergschrunds. In the lower 48 to backcountry snowboard you really only need the Avalanche safety kit, beacon, shovel, probe and first aid kit.

In Alaska you need your avalanche kit, and you need a crevasse rescue kit which includes ropes, pulleys, ascending gear, harness and if you're really getting after it ice axes, crampons, and ice screws. Most importantly you need to know how to use it all.

So, before getting too far into the deep end we met up with my buddy Nick on the Matanuska Glacier. He is a local glacier guide and all-around badass Alaskan. He showed us the ins and outs of how glaciers work and what to look out for when traveling across glaciers.

We also worked on our rope rescue techniques and plans if something were to go wrong.

Matanuska Glacier training with glacier guide, Nick Practicing rope techniques

After dialing in our systems, it was time to hit the road. Alaska is a big place! We had to make the tough call on where to go! With so many different mountain ranges and options for snowboarding it really all boils down to the weather and current avalanche conditions. The weather was looking intense! (see screen capture below).

(The harbor, the storm and a depth check!)

(The harbor, the storm and a depth check!)

In Alaska, when the weather comes in it can be the best thing to ever happen or the worst! The weather can go from the most beautiful day ever, wearing your t-shirt under blue bird skies basking in the sunshine to clouds so thick you can't see 5 feet in front of you! Huge temperature drops with raging winds can catch an unprepared person in a bad spot. So always be prepared!

Anyways, the weather for us wasn't looking that bad. Valdez weather was saying 2 days of snow then sun and wind. Everywhere else was looking cloudy for the foreseeable future, so Valdez it was! I was hyped to be back in Valdez after spending almost a month there the previous spring. Valdez feels home, I was hyped to share it with my friends!

Birdseye shot of snowboarder riding on a steep mountain

Straight to business.

The storm started off perfectly leaving 3 feet of fresh snow from the tops of the peaks all the way down to the road. Everywhere was deep deep! Almost too deep! Often the snow was so deep that breaking a trail through it felt like fighting. Boot packing up anything steep was like climbing and swimming at the same time. Leading was exhausting!

We often resorted to switching leads every 20-30 steps to save energy. We were beyond stoked with these conditions. This deep of snow everywhere makes you feel invincible. It didn't matter if you fell while riding, everywhere was soft!

Holding a snowboard in knee deep snow Climbing to the mountain peak

As fast as the good snow came, it left. A two-day 50mph wind storm came through in proper Alaska fashion. Blasting the snow into a textured piece of art with soft and hard spots peppered throughout.

The bright sun overhead

To some this wind event may have been a terrible thing but for us it was a great thing. We could travel fast on hard packed snow, making our way back onto the glaciers to climb and ride the real deal big Alaskan peaks I've been spraying about all year. It was time to push our limits!

Nearly at the top

We have a saying and it goes like “don’t climb up what you can't climb down”. Basically it means to know where your limit is and don't go beyond it. Well don't go beyond it without proper safety measures.

Standing on the peak looking towards the vast, snowy landscape

One of the first big lines we rode was the North East face of Acapulco. A quote from my friend Ronnie- “Welp, that's the next level. Yesterday’s line was the steepest scariest thing I’ve ridden this season and today's line is the steepest scariest face I’ve ridden in my life.”

Birdseye shot of the mountain Carving some powder on the way down

The scary factor or fear and doubt that comes with attempting climbs like these is a major reason we do this. How we overcome or manage the fear on these mountains translates back into our everyday lives as ambition and energy.

When you put yourself in tough situations like these you force yourself to live in the moment. Forced to be hyper aware of your surroundings. I believe living in the moment is the secret to life. The “present” ya know? :) Blessed are those that can find the moment in everyday life.

The group gathered around a camp fire, aurora borealis visible in the night sky

For the next few weeks, we rode and filmed as much as possible. We rode pillow lines down to the Ocean and climbed some of the steepest peaks of our lives. We had a few friends come and go, met new friends, and did some Alaskan things if you know what I mean! :)

We all faced tough challenges physically and mentally throughout our trip. Alaska has a neat way of humbling a person and we all have the utmost respect and gratitude for not only the mountains but also for the locals and those who came before us as well.

I have a ton of riding and lifestyle video from our trip saved up and I will be sharing a short story series via Instagram @jimmy_couloir, TikTok @ClimbingSnowboarder and YouTube.

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