If you live in Alaska and are even remotely connected to the outdoor community, you’re aware that Valdez has some of the most fantastic ice climbing there is. So, as someone who’s recently had my first addicting taste of digging tools into the ice, Valdez zoomed straight to the top of my “gotta get there” list. Just one problem – I’m a bit of a rookie. So, choosing a route and finding beta has largely been a matter of combing the interwebs, online forums, Facebook groups, and good ‘ol YouTube. The good news? Valdez is not all that remote and, due to its popularity, there’s a wealth of reliable information for climbers of all levels looking to cut their teeth on all the area has to offer.
Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon. Photo courtesy of AlaskaIceClimbing.com
I’ve visited Valdez in the summer months and – in typical Alaska fashion – it boasts incredible views, a small but inclusive community, and drizzly summer weather. But, from everything I’ve gleaned about Valdez in the winter, its unique maritime climate makes it an incredible area for winter sports, with choice ice and snow conditions unlike anywhere in the world.
The area itself is small – about 300 square miles total – but, a Google search of “ice climbing in Valdez” will lead you to a decent sized list of routes to try out.
Step 1: figure out what area of Valdez to pursue. I started with an inquiry to the Mountaineering Club of Alaska’s Facebook. With few results, it was back to the web, where one look at this video of last year’s Ice Climbing Festival convinced me that Keystone Canyon was the place to check out. The Canyon itself is easy to access with multiple routes all within close succession to one another.
Step 2: Find out how to get there. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been to Valdez before and it’s a scenic five-hour drive from Anchorage – in the summer. While the route doesn’t change, winter driving on the Richardson Highway should always be carefully investigated before attempted. For road conditions, I turned to the State of Alaska Highway 511 website, which is updated regularly to reflect changing weather and hazards.
The Canyon itself lies on the Richardson Highway with several scenic pull-offs right next to the falls, making the approaches short. In fact, most sources quote less than a 10-minute hike out to most routes.
Step 3: Get a read on the conditions. For this one, I’d definitely throw out some feelers on the Alaska Ice Climbing’s Facebook page or their online forum within a day or so of a planned trip. And, for the more detail-oriented among us, there’s the State of Alaska Road Weather Information site, which provides detailed information about temperature, precipitation and wind conditions. It even provides nifty live feed of the canyon area via its highway cams.
There seem to be many route options on the Keystone Canyon, so it seems perfectly reasonable to have your pick once you arrive based on availability and desired difficulty.
Now, on to Step 4: Find some experienced ice aficionados to go with me. Any takers?
Here is a map of climbs in Keystone Canyon.
Landmarks on this map