Keystone Canyon is a waterfall ice climber's paradise, with numerous climbs on both walls of the canyon accessible in minutes from the Richardson Highway,
the main artery into the town of Vaidez. Before the winter of 1975-76, there had been no ice climbing in the area. That winter my friend John Weiland and my girlfriend, Christie Northrop, were working in Vaidez, the former as a carpenter and the latter as a tugboat cook in Prince William Sound, In late December I drove from Colorado to visit them. John had recommended I bring my ice-climbing gear, as "there's a lot of water ice around here, better than anything in Colorado." Although that statement is not necessarily true, Alaskan ice climbing is different and the climbs are often more massive.
When 1 arrived, 1 found that there is an incredible amount of water ice in the region. With the short days, John and I ended up retreating in the dark from Bridalveil Falls, our first attempted climb, from just below the top of the crux fourth pitch. A few days later, accompanied by our friend Scott Etherington, we climbed the first pitch of the more difficult Keystone Green Steps. After 1 had led the pitch and John and Scott had followed it, it became obvious that, as a party of three, we were climbing too slowly. Scott generously offered to let John and me finish the route as a twosome. It was already near 3:00 p.m. and almost dark, so we came back the next day and climbed three pitches to the big ledge, hauling a pack full of bivi gear. We then made an eighteen-hour, brandy-assisted bivouac on a flat floor of ice in the cave behind the upper curtain. We finished the climb in three short pitches the next day, Altogether we had made six leads, but the climb is normally done in five pitches with 165-foot ropes. We had spent a total of about eight hours climbing.
The combination of dramatic line, massive blue and green ice, and easy access guarantees that the
Key stoite Green Steps IIHY, WI5
Topo: Richard Rossiter
Keystone Green Steps will always be a sought-after route, even though it is no longer at the cutting edge of difficulty. It was the first major climb in one of North America's premiere waterfall climbing regions.
Location; Keystone Canyon is about 15 miles north of Vaidez, Alaska. On the east side of the highway two main falls are visible: the Green Steps is on the
205 ▼ Grand Central Couloir of Mount Kitchener, Canadian Rockies right; on the left is Bridalveil Falls (there seems to be a Bridalveil Falls in every Western statel). First Ascent: Jeff Lowe and John Weiland, December (975 Elevation Gain: About 600 feet Difficulty; Grade II1-1V, WIS Time: 4 to 6 hours on the climb
Equipment: Eight to ten ice screws, 165-foot ropes, head lamps (if you are climbing in December or January) Season: November to April
Comments: The waterfall ice climbs of the Valdez area could easily keep the most voracious climber busy for an entire season. A special trip to Alaska just to climb there is entirely justified. Approach: Simply park your car and walk or ski across the ice of the Lowe River to the base of the falls, a 5-minute approach. Route: The long (140-foot) first pitch takes the left side of the falls to a belay at a low-angle area (WIS). The second pitch diagonals up and right to a belay partway up the next steep section (Wl4). The third pitch climbs a long, steep pillar to a huge "halfway" ledge (WI5) with a good bivouac cave behind the curtain of ice, then walks left on the ledge behind the icy curtain. The next pitch again goes up the left edge of the ice for 75 feet to a belay ledge (Wl5). The sixth pitch is long and leads (Wl4) past a low-angle area at the base of the final 60-foot wall. The final wall brings you directly to the top (Wl5). Descent: Two long rappels from trees down the south margin of the ice deposit you onto the halfway ledge. Walk north along the ledge and down into a gully. Down-climb or rappel the gully. Alternatively, you can make three rappels from the halfway ledge to avoid the down-climbing.
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