TRIP REPORT: Imperial College Alaska Expedition: Baldwin-Fraser glaciersby Arnaud Sors Dec/2012
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The Wrangell-St Elias National Park is the largest in the United States, comprises several high summits, and offers great potential for exploration. The area they focused on is not far from St Elias and Logan but much lower in altitude (the higher summits rise to just under a reasonable 13000 ft). However it is very remote and has scarcely been explored so far. It appeared to offer great skiing and snow/ice mountaineering potential.
The little multinational group, made up of Boris Khorz, Sam Thompson, Sara Arbos Torrent, and Arnaud Sors set off for the glacier in the beginning of June and stayed in the area for thirty days (a loooong time, according to the locals!). Drop-off and pick-up was organised with Paul Claus, the only pilot operating in the region with his 1000hp Super Otter. Even though he has a monopoly and typically charges a higher price than what is asked for in other regions of Alaska, the service was very good.
This time of the year had seemed to be a good compromise between the allegedly worse weather of the previous month and the fact that glaciers start to open and become more difficult to travel on later in July. Great spring snow conditions were indeed encountered for skiing, and the climbing ranged from cold ice in north faces to standard snow gullies. Only rock routes were avoided, due to poor overall rock quality. The weather was mitigated, sometimes excellent, but long whiteouts and several cloudy days in a row were also encountered more than once. The group had the occasion to climb a variety of peaks, with a number of first ascents and new routes (to our knowledge) with difficulties ranging from F to D. A main base camp was set on the large upper Baldwin glacier corresponding to drop off location.
After a week to get their bearings at base camp (area whilst achieving a few routes, they moved away to Fraser glacier for two weeks of itinerant mountaineering, alternating between three secondary camps and moving from one to another with the help of sleds.
The upper Fraser area appeared to be packed with top quality ski routes. It also contains some of the highest summits in the area, and the team was very successful on these.
The last week was dedicated to coming back to the main base camp and mountaineering around it, but no major ascent was carried out due to poor weather conditions. (However, the team managed to keep busy with activities ranging from crevasse ice climbing to kite-powered aerial video)
Below is a list of routes that the team completed, either all together all together or in groups of two, and whether it was a first ascent or a new route (to our knowledge). Some of the mountains in the area were already named (Baldtop Peak, Siri's peak, Mount Short, Mount Porky, Flight Path Peak). For the ones that the team climbed and that did not have clear names, they are suggesting some.
The team is very thankful to its different financial and equipment sponsors. These include Imperial College, MEF, the Alpine Club, Andrew Croft Memorial Fund, Eagle Ski Club, BMC, Photonics Academy, Black Diamond, Zag Skis, PLUM, and Lyon Equipment .