North America, United States, Alaska, Valdez Glacier Region

Publication Year: 1960.

Valdez Glacier Region. Although the Valdez Glacier region is one of the most historical areas of Alaska because it was used by thousands of prospectors during the gold rush of 1898 as a route into the interior, apparently no climbing party had ever visited the area before our 1959 expedition. Our party consisted of Charles D. Warren, Boyd Everett, Ralph Marron, and Lawrence Nielsen as leader. The members arrived in Valdez about the middle of June, and a few days later bush pilot Layton Bennett landed us about 20 miles up the glacier near the pass between the Valdez and Klutina Glaciers. We immediately started for the extreme head of the glacier about eight miles to the west, dragging a sled and carrying packs. Our objective, Mount Cashman (8200 feet), rises a half mile above the pass between the Valdez and Tazlina Glaciers as an immense pile of rotten slate and gray- wacke rock. Though technically not difficult, the climb took 23½ hours of continuous, careful, roped climbing because of the treacherous nature of the rock. In addition to Mount Cashman, two other climbs were made on the peaks along the north wall of the Valdez Glacier; these were named Mount Brown (6300 feet) and Mount Mahlo (6300 feet) after Lt. Brown, who was in the party that explored the glacier in 1898, and Emil Mahlo, who made the first map of the glacier in the same year. Brown was a thrilling snow climb made in a "white-out.” Mahlo, which is just east of Brown, was climbed from Base Camp by its east ridge. This was an easy climb, alternating between snow and rock. Nearly the full length of both the Valdez and Klutina Glaciers was visible from its summit. The same day Boyd and Ralph also climbed Townsend Peak (called Summit Peak by the 1898 prospectors), which rose about 700 feet above our base camp.

After exploring the whole Klutina Glacier, camp was moved down the Valdez Glacier to a point about 10 miles from its terminus. Along the way we found hundreds of items, such as shovels, oil stoves, and pieces of tents melting out of the ice from the gold rush days. Our next objective was Abercrombie Mountain (6950 feet)—a spectacular peak with great rock faces a mile high on its south and west sides and with its north face covered by ice broken into a maze of crevasses and icefalls. The only safe route required a hike of nearly 16 miles and as many hours. The first four hours of the climb were in a "white-out,” which, to say the least, made route finding difficult. Eventually we climbed above the clouds into bright sunlight. From the summit of Abercrombie only the tops of the highest peaks showed through the clouds. This mountain, which is between, the first and second tributaries of the Valdez Glacier, was named for Captain Abercrombie, who led several expeditions to the area and who was the builder of the Government pack trail up the Lowe River which spelled the end of the Valdez Glacier route in 1899. The final climb was of Prospectors Peak (5516 feet). This peak was mostly a pleasant walk with some fast glissading on the return trip. Prospectors Peak is south of the first tributary of the Valdez and north of the Camicia Glacier. It is visible from the town of Valdez.

The Valdez Glacier offers no difficulties to an experienced party. Although there are several icefalls or badly crevassed areas along the way, routes can be picked through or around them. During the course of our various wanderings, we traveled nearly 150 miles on glacier ice. The climbs of Mounts Cashman, Brown, Mahlo, and Abercrombie Mountain were undoubtedly first ascents. Prospectors Peak and Townsend Peak may also have been first ascents, but some prospector may have reached their summits ahead of us.

Lawrence E. Nielson