Chamonix-based British climber Gavin Pike is just back from a very successful Alaska trip with James Clapham. They had a productive stay on the Ruth Glacier, which yielded two new routes. Below Gavin details the trip:
Huge cornice near the summit of Mt Church.© Gavin Pike
On the summit ridge of Mt Church, with the scene of the cornice incident visible below.© Gavin Pike
After warming up on the awesome steep couloir of Shaken, not Stirred
on the south face of the Mooses Tooth, we headed over to Peak 11,300 for an attempt at the first ascent of the 5,000ft high east face. Our initial attempt on a line on the right side of the face was ended when the blobs of white we had spied from the glacier stuck to an 80-degree slab turned out to be powder, not ice. So we turned our attention to the obvious central couloir that falls directly from the summit, with the cost of accepting the objective danger of the line (which is overhung by a serac).
We climbed most of the couloir, which we named Night of the Raging Goose
(V WI5 5,000ft), at night to minimize the risk, passing through a crux section of 10m of vertical ice in the narrows halfway up the wall. The top of the face and section of ridge connecting to the normal descent route gave good value. After some involved work climbing and descending steep serac ice and snow mushrooms, an overhanging mantel over the cornice finally landed us on the established South Ridge descent, and we eventually made it back to camp after a 25-hr push. This was the first ascent of the east face, a wall that holds much potential for a number of future lines. The face does take a lot of sun though, so early season (ie. March or early April) is probably best if this season is anything to go by.
After spending a week sitting out a storm and waiting for everything to settle, we turned our attention to the north face of Mt Church (8,233ft). The first ascent of the face was made by a Japanese team last year. After deciding against the deep chimney line that later gave Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker For Whom The Bell Tolls (
we couldn't see into this chimney from our glacier recce), we elected to get on the central line of the face, to the left of the Japanese route, Memorial Gate
. Amazing Grace
(V AI4 4,000ft) gave good quality alpine ice in the narrows, which we simulclimbed, making fast progress to high on the face. The 65 degree snow of the upper face proved hideously loose and unconsolidated, with one particularly funky pitch being christened The Burrows.
Very Patagonian, very time-consuming, and not much fun.
But the fun was just beginning. After we topped out the face, we started up the east ridge towards the summit. This had some very delicate cornicing, which was proved when James took an unscheduled ride down the north face after a large section of the cornice collapsed.
Thankfully, nothing more serious than a bruised leg and coccyx resulted, but we were forced to bivvy near the summit nonetheless. We picked our way down the much safer north ridge the next day, eventually hitting our camp in the Gorge after nearly 24 hours without food or water. A slightly more exciting ascent than we had planned for.
We then lost a couple of weeks while James recovered from his injuries, and this plus the soaring spring temperatures meant the plans for trying a new line on Mt Dickey went out of the window. So we caught a flight over to the Kahiltna Glacier, and got on Moonflower on Mt Hunter. After climbing 14 pitches to a bivvy, we were stormed off the face the next morning (the only bad weather in over 2 weeks, aahh!!). After another period of a couple of weeks of poor weather, we realised that high temperatures and rain to 10,000ft had brought technical climbing on Hunter and Foraker to an end for the season, so we decided to head back to civilisation.
Photo Gallery: Alaska Trip - Gavin Pike & James Clapham
The expedition was supported by the
, MEF and