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Featuring

Greg Boswell

Greg Boswell is at the cutting edge of Scottish winter climbing and has been consistently pushing the boundaries, season after season.

Freshly returned from climbing on the Buckskin glacier, Alaska, Rab athlete Greg Boswell could be described as little other than "buzzing". Greg and his climbing partner, Will Sim, were blessed with that rarest of things in Alaska, perfect conditions. A period of sustained high pressure lead to the team climbing not one, but two, new routes. We caught up with Greg to find out what he made of Alaska on this, his first trip to the region, and how it felt to live, explore and climb in such an incredible part of the world.

So, first thing's first, Why Alaska? Was it somewhere you'd wanted to go for a while?

Yes I’d been wanting to go out to Alaska for years. I’d even semi-arranged a trip in the past but it fell through, so when Will messaged me earlier this winter to ask what I was up to in the Spring and if I was keen for AK, I jumped at the idea and just said yes!

Why did you choose to go to the Buckskin glacier in particular?

A few reasons really; Neither of us had ever been to this area of the Alaskan range before, so there was the ever-intriguing new land aspect. The Buckskin also has a bit of a reputation for being home to some hard and gnarly mountains, as well as lots of unclimbed lines to explore, so this was also pulling us in. And finally, one of the main reasons is that it is pretty unpopular with the masses, a trait I always look for in the mountains as it’s nice to have a bit of peace and solitude whilst away on trips.

Did you have any idea on the lines before you got out there or was it a case of showing up and seeing?

It was definitely a bit of both. We had a rough plan to look at one line that we had very minimal info on, but didn’t really think it was a safe or viable objective. So we were going with our usual Scottish winter approach of, climb what looks awesome when we get there!

We were keen for routes that looked like they would have a mix of everything from ice, rock and mixed terrain. But also we wanted to get on technically challenging stuff, rather than snow plodding and summit bagging, we were there to CLIMB!

How did you get out to the glacier itself?

Despite it being a long way from home and having lots to organise to allow us to be on the glacier for the best part of four weeks if needs be, the journey went fairly smoothly and everything went pretty much to plan. I flew from Edinburgh with two other friends who were joining us on the glacier. After 3 flights and 26 hours we were in Anchorage airport where we met Will who had flown from Geneva and arrived an hour before us. He had picked up the hire car that we needed for the following day.

We then headed to a local hotel and crashed out. The next day was all about shopping and supplies! We picked up our hire skis, sat phones and a whole lot of food. We then did the obligatory UK tourist trip to the American gun shop to look at all the death bringers that were on offer. It was cool in a very not really OK sort of way, very scary what you can get so easily!

After another broken jet lagged sleep in the hotel we returned the hire car to the airport the next day and got picked up by the shuttle van we had organised to take us and all our gear to Talkeetna.

Next it was to the Talkeetna Air Taxi office to arrange our flight into the mountains, and weigh all our stuff ready to fly the following day (Sunday) into the Glacier. We did have one no fly day due to the weather, but on Monday we finally made it onto the Buckskin and proceeded to set up our basecamp, then went for a wee ski tour to scope out objectives whilst the sun shone.

To put it mildly, you had a pretty successful trip. Can you walk us through the two new routes you climbed?

Yeah we had an amazing trip to the Buckskin. We managed to climb two outstanding new routes, both with very few hiccups and zero failures. We did a strong line up the South East face of the Bears Tooth ( Beastiality) that follows a huge couloir system high up onto the summit ridge. This was our main objective and due to a high level of objective danger lower down from the huge hanging seracs, we weren’t sure we were even going to be able to access it. But after some open-minded exploring, we managed to gain the main wall fairly safely and then it was game on. We tried to follow the couloir throughout but were forced onto the right wall for 10 pitches or so due to rotten and unstable rock in the overhanging chimneys. We weren’t sure we’d be able to link back into the couloir, but luck prevailed and it was meant to be. Once back in the main fault line it was pitch after pitch of world class mixed and ice climbing up to the snowy ridge and then finally the summit!

Our second route (Shark Fishing) was one that we had spied previously whilst climbing on the Bears Tooth. It was a splitter snow/ice line that forged its way up a small peak on the opposite side of the glacier. We got on this with very relaxed thoughts of success. We had had such an amazing time climbing for 4 days on our previous route that summiting anything else would have just been a bonus. But after another two awesome days of immaculate granite mixed climbing and a rather cold bivi, we were sat on top of yet another world class new route and potentially (still waiting for confirmation) the first ascent of that mountain. The cherry on the cake!

How did Alaska measure up to your expectations?

The only way to answer this question is with, “Off the scale”! The trip blew my expectations out of the water. It might be because we had such good weather and success on our climbs, but it was one of the best trips and climbing venues that I’ve ever been to! The views and landscape were breath-taking and I think you’d struggle to find more helpful and friendly people than the locals that we met. I might be filled with false ideas of the range due to the high pressure that we had whilst on the glacier though. I’m interested to go back and get my views changed rapidly by potentially spending 4 weeks at basecamp trying to keep my tent from being buried in one of the usual Alaskan snow storms. That sounds like a more regular occurrence.

As it was your first time there, how did the region compare to other places you've visited?

The scale of the mountains was hard to get your head round. Things that looked like a ten-minute ski on the glacier took an hour and a half to reach and the faces that looked impressive but amenable put up a huge fight especially on the easy looking sections.

My pieces of advice to anyone going to the range would be:

  • Looks can be deceiving.
  • Snow mushrooms are hard, tiring and bloody scary.
  • Always hide under your rucksack whilst belaying.
  • Whenever you think it’s cold, remind yourself that it’s Alaska. (Will did this for me on many occasions)
  • And finally, when you are food shopping for the trip, you’ll always need more bagels!

Best and worst parts of the trip?

Best part of the trip was definitely sitting on top of the Bears Tooth watching the sun set behind Denali after just climbing the best route I’d ever been on.

The worst part, was definitely flying home on a cramped plane for multiple hours in the sweltering heat after spending 3 weeks in virtual solitude and minus temperatures. It was a bit of a shock to the system!

And finally, the most important question, is there a return trip in the works?

Definitely! It would be hard not to return to such an inspirational place. Will and I have already been murmuring about some return plans in the not too distant future. Let’s just hope next time will be just as successful.

Kit used on this trip

Aerial LS Tee
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Aerial LS Tee

The Men's Aerial Long Sleeve Tee is a silk-weight, fast drying long-sleeved technical baselayer.

€44.95
Upslope Pants
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Upslope Pants

The Upslope Pants are mid-weight softshell pants designed primarily for ski mountaineering but are versatile enough to be used for all active mountain pursuits.

€199.95
Firewall Jacket
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Firewall Jacket

The Firewall Jacket is a fully-featured, stretch waterproof in a breathable Pertex Shield® + 3-layer fabric, for active year-round mountain use.

€279.95
Zero G Jacket
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Zero G Jacket

Introducing the Zero G Jacket, our first ever 1000FP technical alpine down jacket, made with ultra-fine 7d fabric, this specialist piece is the ultimate fast-and-light alpine piece.

€499.95
Neutrino 800
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Neutrino 800

The Neutrino 800 is a light-weight, minimalist down-filled sleeping bag, designed for light-weight end uses, where warmth-to-weight is a prime concern.

€559.95
Latok Mountain 2
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Latok Mountain 2

The Latok Mountain 2 is a 2 person waterproof bivi, designed for multi-night use at base camps, or in high mountain and polar environments.

€899.95
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