TRIP REPORT: Imperial College Alaska Expedition: Baldwin-Fraser glaciers

by Arnaud Sors Dec/2012
This article has been read 6,677 times
Last June-July a team of four students from Imperial College set off to a skiing and mountaineering expedition in the Wrangell-St Elias mountains in Alaska, in the Fraser and Baldwin glacier areas.

Sara Arbos i Torrent downclimbs Cantaloupe Island peak, AD-. Credits Arnaud Sors, 79 kb
Sara Arbos i Torrent downclimbs Cantaloupe Island peak, AD-. Credits Arnaud Sors
© Arnaud Sors

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.

Sam Thompson and Boris Khorz ski-touring on lower Fraser glacier, 115 kb
Sam Thompson and Boris Khorz ski-touring on lower Fraser glacier
© Arnaud Sors

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.

Boris Khorz reaches the summit of Forgotten Peak, PD., 111 kb
Boris Khorz reaches the summit of Forgotten Peak, PD.
© Arnaud Sors

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)

Boriz Khorz on the way to Fraser glacier, 55 kb
Boriz Khorz on the way to Fraser glacier
© Arnaud Sors

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.

  • Peak Alopecia, first ascent, 10213 ft, West ridge, ski descent, PD-, 07.06.12
  • Whale Peak, first ascent, 10730 ft, West face, PD-, ski descent, 09.06.12
  • Ocean Peak, 11050 ft, first ascent, West ridge and Khorz couloir (West face), D- and AD, 11.06.12
  • Mount Short, 11003 ft, second ascent, new route, Thompson route (North face), PD, 18.06.12
  • Eleanor peak, 10153 ft, first ascent, North West ridge, PD, 17.06.12
  • Bald Top Peak, 10273 ft, West face and East ridge, ski descent, PD, 17.06.12
  • Sam Peak, 10112 ft, first ascent, North Face, PD, 18.06.12
  • Boris Peak, 10223 ft, first ascent, West ridge, PD, 18.06.12
  • Canteloupe Island Peak, 11350, first ascent, South ridge, ski descent, AD-, 18.06.12
  • Siris Peak, 12109 ft, New route, Imperial Gully (South West face), AD+, 22.06.12
  • Flying Peak, 11130 ft, second ascent, new route, South face, D, descent North West ridge, 22.06.12
  • Mount Crystal, 9639 ft, first ascent, East face, ski descent, 24.06.12
  • Forgotten Peak, 10985 ft, first ascent, East ridge, ski descent, 2.07.12


Drop-off on Baldwin glacier.
© Arnaud Sors
Sam Thompson on Mount Short, D-., 81 kb
Sam Thompson on Mount Short, D-.
© Boris Khorz
Igloo at base camp, 103 kb
Igloo at base camp
© Arnaud Sors
Arnaud Sors on Flying Peak, South face, D.
© Sara Arbos i Torrent
Sara Arbos i Torrent on her way up to Ocean peak through the west ridge, D-.
© Arnaud Sors
Map of the area and summits climbed (in red)

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 .


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