Two Weeks on Alaska Peaks
Alex and I climbed in Peru together in 2014. We managed to summit Yannapacha in difficult conditions, and Chopakalki in friendly conditions. On our trek out, Alex asked me my favorite place to climb. “The Alaska range!” was my answer. I went on to explain the ski plane access, huge alpine features, and short approaches. Alex was intrigued to say the least.
The trip started just as a monster high pressure was ending. But, we managed to fly on the first day and climb the Ham and Eggs very quickly the following day (11 hours camp to camp). The route provided good ice and neve for us. We took the rock option in the crux, which was fun and well-protected climbing with only a move or two of 5.9; maybe even a bit easier. The skies stayed clear for us all day, up to the summit and back to camp. The following day the clouds rolled in, making us glad we caught the tail end of the high pressure.
Alex climbing Ham and Eggs. Alan Rousseau photo
At the end of our fourth day on the glacier, a plane was able to bring us to the West Fork airstrip, about 20 minutes from the start of the southwest ridge of Peak 11,300.
The forecast showed 50% chance of precipitation for the next seven days. We spent one day in camp, then decided we might as well give it a shot. The next morning we woke to clear skies and started into the route. We moved quickly for a few hours before being overtaken by clouds. Fortunately, the precip rates were never very high. Ten hours of climbing brought us to the grey rock bivy, a well-protected spot a little over halfway through the route. We spent the night there and got some good rest.
The next morning we got started in a cloud with light snow, but we could tell it wasn’t very thick. The clouds would rise and fall, giving us glimpses of the difficulties ahead, then putting us back in the white. We passed through a major point of commitment: The second col. This would require some hard mixed climbing to reverse.
The second col on 11,300. Alan Rousseau photo
We continued to move well with a mix of pitched climbing and simul climbing. Seven more hours of effort landed us on the summit (in a whiteout). After summit photos that could have been anywhere on earth given our featureless background, we began a difficult descent to the east. Watching our progress on the GPS as we navigated crevasses, I tried every trick I know to mitigate whiteouts and we eventually found ourselves on the steep, defined ridge where a series of ten awkward traversing rappels begin. A mix of v‑thread anchors and bollards brought us to our second bivy at 10,100′, just above the rock rappels of the south ridge.
On the upper slopes of 11,300.
11,300 cornice. Alan Rousseau photos
After a cold and clear second night, we started the final installment of our 11,300 adventure by descending to the glacier. It was a time-consuming descent, as we were the second team to climb the route this year and all the new snow buried the existing rappel line. This forced us to leave some cord and gear behind, but other than one stuck rope, progress was steady. It felt great to hit the glacier, and we made short work of the walk back to camp.
The next day was a well-deserved rest day in camp. We ate a bunch of food, enjoyed some bourbon, watched a movie, and let the excitement to climb rebuild.
The following day, we loaded up sleds and started walking towards “Mount Dan Beard,” an additional objective Alex and I had planned in case we finished the first two. It was nice to be walking slightly downhill; even with snowshoes the trail break down the west fork was thigh deep.
Camp at the West Fork; Ruth and Peak 11,300 in the distance. Alan Rousseau photo
I woke at midnight to heavy snowfall. By 3am, we had a few inches of new snow. In addition to avalanche concerns, the cloud cover and new snow insulated the warm mush and prevented a solid refreeze. We decided quickly to descend early that morning. The weather cleared by mid-morning and as we were hauling sleds across the West Fork, the indefatigable Alex asked if we could climb the Japanese Couloir on Mount Barille the following day. The forecast showed low pressure moving in, so we settled on taking a walk into the lower gorge. After staring at the impressive feature that is the east face of Mount Dickey for a while, we walked back, picked up our sleds, and moved to the Mountain House airstrip. We were picked up that evening, and made it to Talkeetna in time for pizza and beers.
Thanks for a great trip Alex. I hope to share a rope again soon.
~MM Guide Alan Rousseau