American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Gilbert, Chugach Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1962

Mount Gilbert, Chugach Range. In two successive flights, Lowell Thomas, Jr. took our party, consisting of Helga Bading, Hans Metz, Bob Bailey, Steve Foss and me, from Palmer to 2500 feet on Surprise Glacier. From there our route lay up a tributary glacier, which is broken up by two badly crevassed icefalls and terminates against the south face of the final ridge. The summit of Mount Gilbert (9646 feet) is the highest point of this 1000-foot high knife-edged ridge, about a quarter mile long and shaped somewhat like an inverted shovel blade. The route finally led up a steep ice chute to a point about 500 feet below the summit on the west side of the shovel and thence along the ridge to the peak.

We pitched our first camp at about 3500 feet at the foot of the first icefall. On May 27 we breached the icefall right through the middle and, in lowering weather, made camp at 6000 feet at the foot of the second fall. That evening Metz and I reconnoitered a possible route up the west side of the glacier and found it bombarded by falling rock and ice. We returned to camp in blowing snow, hoping that the icefall could be circumvented on the east side of the glacier. The storm worsened in the night and not until 30 hours later, at 4:15 a.m. on May 29, were we able to start our bid for the summit. The hoped-for route went and soon we waded in thigh-deep snow on the upper plateau, setting markers at 100-foot intervals. Shortly after, the bergschrund at the foot of the ice chute was overcome, Foss decided to wait for us as he was not well. He bivouacked in our emergency sleeping bag and tent, tied to the rocks. The rest of us continued the climb in sporadic snow flurries, reaching the summit at 12:15 after a delicate front-crampon-point climb of the chute and ridge. We started the descent immediately in deteriorating weather, but countless belays delayed us. After picking up Foss, we continued the retreat in furiously blowing snow and not more than 50-foot visibility. The trail-markers were lifesavers, although only about half of them remained. Camp was reached at five that night and for the next 36 hours we waited out the worst snowstorm that anyone in the party had ever had the misfortune to endure. The tentpole was lowered to keep the tent from being ripped apart by the wind; blowing snow cut visibility to ten feet. No one slept; the entire time was spent kicking snowdrifts off the downed tent to keep from being buried. On May 31 the storm gave signs of slackening. We broke camp and staggered in the fog down to our emergency food cache on Surprise Glacier. As the clouds broke temporarily, we heard the roar of an airplane and, two days behind schedule, Lowell Thomas, Jr. landed at our rendezvous point. The 35-m.p.h. wind prevented take-off until it dropped late that night and let us return from an eventful first ascent, a technically difficult climb in extremely poor weather.

Paul B. Crews, Mountaineering Club of Alaska

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