American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Climbs above Upper Black Rapids Glacier, Mount Hayes Area, Alaska Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

Climbs above Upper Black Rapids Glacier, Mount Hayes Area, Alaska Range. During the week of August 20 to 28, Buck Wilson, George Oetzel, John Dawson, Rick Litterick and I made two first ascents in the upper Black Rapids area but where unable to climb a 12,360-foot peak lying between Mount Hayes and Mount Shand. The goal of the expedition was to put a base camp in a high snowfield from which six unclimbed peaks over 10,000 feet might be attempted. Three days of walking brought us 30 miles up the Black Rapids Glacier to the large icefield, where the Susitna Glacier also starts. Our proposed routes to the high camp proved to be impossible cirques at the ends of two tributary glaciers on the north side of the icefield. The ridge between these two glaciers offered a possible route, which traversed a 10,065-foot peak. A third evening reconnaissance up the ridge showed that we could probably climb the peak, but very likely not with packs. On the fourth day we moved our camp up the ridge to just below a gendarme at 8600 feet. Since the snow was deep and wet, we arose at midnight to take advantage of the night’s freezing. Buck Wilson and I were on the lead rope skirting down-slope of a heavily corniced narrow ridge when a 50-foot crescent of cornice broke away from where my ice axe was placed. Finding the rest of the ridge fairly difficult under the snow conditions, we reached the summit at about 5:30 as the sun was hitting the peaks. We realized that a descent in warm sunlight would be dangerous because of the snow and that trying for the next peak (11,288 feet) or the 12,360-foot peak would mean staying up more than 24 hours. From the peak we could see a route dropping down 1000 feet to the high snowfield and two miles across to the 11,288-foot peak. Because of the snow conditions we decided to retreat but only after seeing almost every mountain range in Alaska under perfect viewing conditions. We then moved our camp back down the ridge and across the Black Rapids glacier in order to climb an 8574-foot peak the following day, returning at about 11 P.M. The next day the party traveled 10 miles down the glacier, putting camp in position to try an unclimbed 11,500-foot peak on the north side of the glacier but closing weather and poor snow conditions weakened our enthusiasm for this peak. The last day we walked all the way out to the Black Rapids Roadhouse. Because we had a tremendous auroral display and a meteor shower during our trip, the suggestion has been made that we call the two peaks we climbed “Aurora” and “Meteor” Peaks.

Gene Wescott

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