American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Spurr, Alaska Range

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

Mount Spurr, Alaska Range. Looking straight west from Anchorage, the southern part of the Alaska Range appears to rise like a phantom out of Cook Inlet. Its southernmost peak, Mount Spurr (11,070 feet), is an active volcano which erupted in 1954, throwing black ashes over Anchorage, 50 miles away.

On September 3 Erik Barnes, Gregg Erickson, Bob Bailey, Chuck Metzger and I of the Mountaineering Club of Alaska, with Bert Puchtler of the Wesleyan Outdoor Club, landed by floatplane on the east end of Chakachamna Lake. After 2½ hours of packing uphill, we reached in total darkness a 3000-foot plateau. The next day was spent climbing the “wrong” ridge and so, after a retreat to the “right” one, we established high camp at 7500 feet on the night of September 5. Skies cleared and it was only +8°. Shivering, we admired the peak, illuminated by a full moon. The view of the lights of our city glimmering far below across Cook Inlet was one of the highlights of the trip.

The alarm sounded at 2:30 a.m., but it took till five for us to thaw out, cook breakfast and tie frozen crampon straps. Just as we reached the ridge above camp, the sun rose and we felt warm and confident of success. Getting off that ridge was not easy. It dropped sharply for 500 feet and we could not see the bottom, but by sheer good fortune we found the only possible descent, an iced-up avalanche chute, where we could crampon down without knocking off loose snow. On the actual summit plateau we took turns breaking trail through heavy snow in brilliant sunshine with a light north wind blowing. Near the peak we circled around crevasses and several false peaks, admiring the beautiful, 100-foot walls of crystals caused by sulphur steam escaping from numerous vents. The largest of these incessantly sends forth lemon-yellow steam and a murderous smell. One last effort of step-chopping brought us to the summit at exactly twelve noon. Clouds had risen from the valley, but we were far above and admired an unrestricted view of our beloved Alaskan mountains. With only 24 hours left till the rendezvous with our pilot, we had not time to linger. At four p.m. we struck camp and after a quick cup of tea hurried back as fast as we dared. Darkness found us camped by a moraine lake with the northern lights playing over the peak of Spurr directly above us.

Helga Bading, Mountaineering Club of Alaska

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.