American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Alaska , Eastern Alaska Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 1952

The Alaska Range E. of the Richardson Highway was explored during the summer of 1950 by Austin Post and Gottfried Ehrenburg, of Spokane, Don MacAskill (Sierra Club) and the writer. Base camp was set up at the end of the Castner Glacier, near the Richardson Highway where it crosses the Alaska Range by a low pass. Up the Castner Glacier, the beautiful snow dome of the White Princess and the rock summit of Black Cap towered a mile and a half above us; in the direction of the Canwell Glacier rose Mt. Min, with a striking knife-edged ridge.1

A preliminary reconnaissance by Post indicated that the Eel Glacier, between the Castner and Canwell Glaciers, should afford a relatively easy route to the heart of the range. Two days of backbreaking work established us in Camp 1, about halfway up the Eel and opposite a group of hanging glaciers from which great quantities of ice fell, with a roar, from time to time. Unfortunately, our beautiful weather began to turn into snow and rain. From Camp 1 we made ascents of Triangle and Wind Peaks, which are secondary peaks along the ridge between the Castner and Eel Glaciers. Even though the major summits only occasionally emerged from the clouds, Triangle was an excellent point from which to look at the dozens of mountains around us.

Several miles farther up the Eel, we established a cache in the hope that we might eventually attempt Snowhite. The part of the glacier around Camp 1 was either smooth or broken by open crevasses. Here the surface was very treacherous, with lightly bridged crevasses that made it important to travel only when roped. Moreover, the weather grew even worse. After a thorough soaking, we decided to retreat and enjoy for a few days the relative luxury of the Rapids Roadhouse, about ten miles from base camp.

When good weather returned, we again started relaying supplies up the Castner Glacier. The first few miles were very exasperating: the glacier is covered with brush and a thin, spongy layer of mo- rainic material. Farther up, the ice was bare and separated into longitudinal bands by the medial moraines. Near the point where the three main branches of the Castner Glacier come together, we set up a camp on a remnant of a large lateral moraine overlooking the beautiful streams of ice. Being still two or three miles from the base of the White Princess, our objective, we moved part of our equipment and supplies to that point.

On August 7th we were up at 3.30 A.M. The sky was cloudless. Everything appeared favorable for the climb. From a distance, the S.W. ridge of the White Princess looks like a suitable route; but closer inspection shows that it is broken by a giant pinnacle. Seeing this, we crossed the small glacier in the basin between the S.W. and S.E. ridges and started up the latter. The going was quite easy, and we made good time. After a second breakfast, we climbed the face of the mountain, just off the summit of the ridge. The rocks were covered with about a foot of snow, and there was a little danger of starting an avalanche. One large avalanche did start near us, but on the opposite and steeper side of the ridge. We lunched at the highest outcrop of rock near the junction of the S.E. and S.W. ridges, with the summit still well over 1000 ft. above us. Then we donned our crampons, roped, and started up the spectacular corniced ridge. Since the cornice hung many feet out, over a drop of several thousand feet, we had to keep off the crest of the ridge and climb on the snow face of the mountain. The snow was in perfect condition. We reached the summit at 2.15 P.M. Our altimeter read 9760 ft. Corrected, the altitude would probably be about 10,000 ft. To our surprise, we seemed to be on the highest mountain in the region E. of the Delta River. Even the rugged peaks to the S.E. appeared to be below us, despite the evidence of the (incomplete) maps available to us. We spent an hour on the summit and then had a quite uneventful descent —even though we had to move with greater caution over the now softened snow on the rocks of the lower reaches.

The White Princess was our main climb, but we did considerable scouting before we left the area. We spent some time exploring the Slide Glacier, with its icefalls and giant séracs; and two of us climbed a secondary peak called Ideal, for the sake of the view. Post used a number of secondary peaks as triangulation stations. Our conclusion was that the eastern Alaska Range, though not comparable with the great mountain areas of Alaska, has much to offer the climber—dozens of peaks S.E. of the White Princess that are rugged, unexplored and, at the same time, very accessible. A determined party could reach these peaks by any of several routes. The region is extremely interesting also from the geologist’s point of view. We are still at a loss to explain some of the phenomena we observed on the Castner Glacier. The beautifully banded and folded rocks— found everywhere—were endlessly fascinating.

Lawrence E. Nielsen

1 Most of the names used in this article are our own, as no satisfactory map of the region was available. A map covering about 100 sq. mi. was made by Austin Post during the expedition.

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