Steamboat climbers conquer challenges at Moose’s Tooth in Alaska |

Steamboat climbers conquer challenges at Moose’s Tooth in Alaska

Dan Smilkstein climbs through a rocky pitch on Moose's Tooth.
Courtesy Matt Tredway

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After climbing Mount Denali in Alaska years ago, Matt Tredway peered out the window of his plane ride out, spotting the iconic Moose’s Tooth.

It’s not like Tredway didn’t know about the iconic rocky peak, but seeing the way the sharp, jagged walls converged on the surface was a special type of wonder.

“The allure of those giant walls, you can’t get them out of your mind.” Tredway said.

Growing up in Gunnison, Tredway grew a natural affinity for the mountains. He went on his first solo backpacking trip at age 12 in Mill Creek, or anywhere his parents could drop him off and pick him up a few days later. His first winter climbing trip was in the same place with a few friends at age 14.

At 61 years old, his passion hasn’t dwindled.

“It doesn’t need to be climbing, but to have something looming on the horizon and push your boundaries a little bit, your life is so much better,” Tredway said. “It keeps me active and conscious and living in the present. It’s really fun to live that way.”

Tredway committed to the idea of climbing Moose’s Tooth and asked friend Dan Smilkstein to come along. The two spent months preparing themselves physically: skinning up Mount Werner at Steamboat Resort 70 times this season, climbing up ice in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, weight lifting and honing their skills at the climbing gym.

Smilkstein and Tredway spent 10 days in Alaska in early May, a prime time to climb Moose’s Tooth since it receives optimal daylight and the snow is melting.

After flying into Anchorage, they had to take a plane equipped with skis as landing gears to an access point for Moose’s Tooth. The mountain is southeast of Denali within the Ruth Gorge of the Central Alaskan range. The closest town is Talkeeta.

Upon arrival at the access point, the flurries of a blizzard descended upon them, trapping them in a tent for four days before even beginning the climb.

“We got along great, which is a challenge when you sleep in a tent with somebody,” Smilkstein said. “We skied twice a day on a nice hill behind us. We had music to listen to, and it’s the modern age, so we had audiobooks. It sounds like a spa, but if you wanted to get out of there, you couldn’t.”

During that time, one of their two stoves broke, and they shared with neighboring campers to boil water and cook meals. While they still had a spare, it was an uneasy feeling to only have one working stove.

After four days, the two began their ascent at 4:30 a.m. While they had full intent to reach the summit, conditions said otherwise.

“You make some hard decisions, and ours were based on a lifetime of experience,” Tredway said. “I love that phrase: there’s old climbers and there’s bold climbers, there’s not old, bold climbers.”

The two had climbed 1,500 feet in seven hours and stood at the top of their seventh pitch, gazing at the ominous skeletal rock before them. Could they climb it? Yes. But at the summit was a large pile of sludgy snow that could very easily fall.

Their neighboring climbers bailed on the hike a long time ago, yet they had pressed on without one of their belay devices. Tredway’s modifications could only get him so far. But despite not making the Summit, Tredway and Smilkstein have no regrets about their journey.

“As you go up, you realize how exposed you are, everything falls away at a very steep angle,” Smilkstein said. “We got to use all of our variable skills. Good trip considering what went on with weather. It was like one step at a time leaving Steamboat, pitch one was the decision to go and pack everything out, get to Anchorage, then Talkeeta. Then you just want to get on the climb and out of the there.”

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