Only in Alaska! Our Volunteers: Cindi Squire
Alaska Section Co-Chair Cindi Squire wrote to us about her experiences climbing in Alaska.
From the belay, I smile and look back over my shoulder at the immense, sweeping view of the mountains around me. It is amazing to think that some people never get to see this view or experience the immense scale of Alaska’s mountains. I am climbing the Lost Marsupial route overlooking the Pika Glacier in the Alaska Range with immense towering mountains all around me. My partner and I are almost to the top of the route with one pitch remaining, and, as I complete my ‘look about’ I see the bad news coming. Our sunny bluebird day is about to change into wind, sleet, rain and snow and challenge us every step of the way back to the tent. The storm clouds billow up from below and we are forced to forgo the summit to begin the many rappels down the mountain.
Back at the tent, we strip off our soaking wet clothing in the vestibule and dive into our sleeping bags. Chattering teeth are quickly replaced with smiles as we begin to thaw and reflect on our escape. We toast the mountain for winning the day when our rope ‘stuck’ on the second to last pull of the decent. Thirty feet above the ground we were forced to leave the first rope and use an extra line from my pack to lower down to the skis where another surprise awaited. A painful lesson learned as I dumped water and snow out of the ski boots before donning them for the ski back to camp. Do not be lulled by the sunshine, next time turn the boots over before starting the climb.
How could anyone not love being in the mountains?
Alaskans wrap themselves with love for the journey, embrace the challenges, and make it fun along the way. In addition to weather and the landscape, adventures often include unusual dilemmas. For instance, how do you repair mountain bike handgrips, gear shifters and brake handles after a porcupine chews all the plastic off during the night? What do you do when you encounter a brown bear in the middle of a glacier crossing? Will you keep from falling off the mountain when a buried Ptarmigan bursts out of the snow, inches in front of your ice tools?
These unusual experiences and more can be had on any Alaskan trip. Living in Alaska is an incredible experience. Alaskans are just twisted enough to voluntarily live in this place of winter dark, summer light, snow, rain and worst of all: alders—Alaska’s most pervasive weed! Most Alaskans are here because we want to be. Our unique mindset opens doors and the adventures roll in! Because the state is so big, the adventures tend to be big as well.
It was during an ice climbing trip to the Eklutna Glacier area that I stayed in my first hut. The Serenity Hut sits perfectly poised to launch teams into a valley of multi-pitch ice climbs. Great planning had resulted in a hut with a fantastic location. During that trip, members of the original work crew told stories of how it was dreamed up, financed, and built. A few months later I found myself invited to join the team that was planning the fundraising and construction of a hut on the Snowbird Glacier in the Talkeetna Mountains.
The Alaska Section of the American Alpine Club had an opportunity to purchase an existing land use permit with an aging ‘space dome’ shaped hut in dire need of repair. The state would allow us to build a new hut on the land and then retire the old, unsafe structure. The next two years were a blur of fundraising, coordinating volunteers, helicopter drops, and dozens of hikes to and from the hut.
This project was very gratifying because it introduced me to many generous people, young and old, in our local climbing community. The Snowbird Hut was built with $40,000 in donations and hundreds of volunteer hours. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. The hut would not have been built without the Alaska Section Members, contributors, and volunteers. Their enthusiasm and support is a true reflection of the Alaskan spirit. Do not miss a chance to visit the new Snowbird Hut. The home page of the hut is sponsored on the AAC site: www.snowbirdhut.com. There are pictures of the work parties and the hut’s construction on the Section’s blog.
Being an AAC member has expanded the sense of community that I feel living in Alaska. Though our local community is small compared to some groups in the lower 48 states, its small size allows good communication and exchange between many groups of climbers and mountaineers. It is a great way to pass the history, culture, and love of the mountains from one generation to the next. The climbing culture encompasses many types of groups, but the love of the mountains and the outdoors is the common bond. I am thankful to the AAC for all their support as our outdoor community came together to build the Snowbird Hut.
Think of this story as your invitation to live big and plan an adventure in Alaska! See what it is all about because, once you experience this state, you will understand its unique status. The mountain culture in Alaska thrives on self-reliance, exploration and determination (the latter being most helpful when confronting a matted, thicket of alders on the endless approach to the route).
So get out there and enjoy your summer and plan your trips! Summer in Alaska is beginning and everyone is launching into twenty hours of daylight and celebrating until they drop from lack of sleep! The Midnight Sun provides plenty of time to enjoy adventures in the Last Frontier.
— Cindi Squire
Hut Mistress ~ Snowbird Hut
Cindi moved to Alaska in 1970 and was hooked on the outdoors at the tender age of 10 on her first backpacking/camping trip on the Kenai Peninsula. This love of the outdoors has been an ever-expanding area of her life. Winters find her ice climbing and skiing while summers are completely filled with rock climbing, biking, hiking, roller-blading, fly-fishing, backpacking and camping. For the last two years she has been involved with the fundraising and construction of the Snowbird Hut as a way of giving back to the outdoor community. Cindi is actively involved with the Alaska Section of the AAC, the outdoor community in Alaska and is always planning the next trip.
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