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Alaska Peaks with Mountain Madness

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. 

Last fall he reached out to ask about climb­ing in Alas­ka, and we start­ed plan­ning objec­tives that would give him the Alas­ka expe­ri­ence as well as test his rock and ice climb­ing abil­i­ty in the alpine. We set­tled on Ham and Eggs (V, 5.9, WI4) on the Moose’s Tooth, and the SW Ridge of Peak 11300 (V, 5.8, WI3). We allot­ted two weeks for these objectives. 

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

After a few hours we reached the south flanks of Dan Beard, ditched our sleds, and got our climb­ing kits togeth­er. Our hope was to reach the col of the SW Route that evening. We trudged along through warm snow, and even­tu­al­ly start­ed up the Access Couloir which was very deep wet snow. Walk­ing up these steep slopes I was find­ing myself chest deep at times. We decid­ed to sleep near the base of the couloir in hopes a cold night would hard­en the snow. 

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