Back To Experience

Copp-Dash Inspired: Craig Muderlak’s Alaskan Adventure

Friday, November 11, 2016
At Black Diamond, we’re passionate about empowering climbers to not only push their limits in the mountains, but to also share their stories of inspiration when they come home. That’s why we sponsor the Copp-Dash Inspire Award. Established in the memory of Jonny Copp and Micah Dash—two leading alpinists, BD brothers and storytellers who lost their lives in the mountains in 2009—the award is a way to keep their vision alive. Craig Muderlak, a filmmaker, artist and climber, won the 2016 Copp-Dash award to document a rowdy plan to put up first ascents in Alaska … but that was only half of the story. His team would also travel by homemade skis, burn ‘em to lose the weight and then pack raft back to civilization. This is his story, told with the help of artwork he created after his adventure.

“I wanted to do a lot more than just your typical ‘fly in, climb a peak, fly out’ style expedition,” says 37-year-old Craig Muderlak.

And by “a lot more,” Muderlak wasn’t kidding. Well, actually he was … at first. For example, when he initially proposed the idea of building skis that he and his partners Drew Thayer and David Fay could burn once they left the snowy mountains, Muderlak says he was sort of “joking.”

“But I was also kind of serious,” he told BD. “I was really concerned about how heavy our loads would be, and we knew we wouldn’t need skis once we descended the Pitchfork Glacier.”

So Muderlak, Thayer and Fay planed down, shaped and steam-bent their “glorified planks of wood” he says. Then they loaded up climbing gear and pack rafts and headed into the bush.

Images: Craig Muderlak

The team was dropped by plane in the Aleutian Mountains on May 9th and set up basecamp on the north fork of the Pitchfork Glacier where they could access what they dubbed the Neacola Bells—a cirque of bomber granite peaks ripe for the picking.

By strapping skins to their skis, they toured from base camp, going on one to three day missions where they put up four first ascents over a span of three weeks.

“Probably the most substantial routes we put up were on the Dogtooth Spire,” he says. “It was just pure rock climbing. Grade IV, thousand-foot, eight-pitch climbs.”

The team established Red Dihedral, a 1,200-foot 5.10+ that Muderlak says would be a five star climb in the Bugaboos.

“Oh my god it was so good,” he says. “It felt like cheating.”

They also managed three more first ascents, including another 1,000-foot, 5.11a rock route on the Dogtooth called Birthday Jorts, and two snow and mixed lines on the previously unclimbed peaks of Spearhead and an unnamed spire they dubbed The Wing.

What’s impressive is that these first ascents were accomplished amid two serious attempts to climb The Citadel—a gnarly peak that BD Ambassadors Matt Helliker and Jon Bracey attempted last spring. Unfortunately, the weather was a little “too good”, according to Muderlak, who explained it was simply too warm to mix climb on the Citadel.

Despite being rebuffed, Muderlak is stoked on the routes they managed to pull off.

But the adventure was hardly over.

After climbing for several weeks, the team shouldered loads they guess to be around 100 pounds and began the arduous ski, hike and raft out. Oh, and they had roughly 70 miles to travel with eight days worth of rations.

Once they descended the Pitchfork Glacier, they burned their skis and began a heinous bushwhack.

“It was insanely slow,” says Muderlak.

At their worst, the team was only moving a mile a day. They began to doubt if they’d even make it.

But eventually, they reached raft-able water. And by raft-able, they were still running class three rapids.

“But we knew we were going to make it,” says Muderlak.

And on June 9, after seven days of skiing, bushwhacking, and rafting, the boys floated into the ocean … and civilization.

When asked if he’d do it all again, Muderlak responds:

“I’d love to go back, but we got so much done that I don’t have the need to do anything more there."

"It was by far the most successful expedition I’ve ever gone on.”

To see more of Muderlak’s art, visit