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

Publication Year: 1964.

Mount Gerdine, Alaska Range. The ascent of Mount Gerdine (10,765 feet) was finally completed on May 5 after two previous unsuccessful attempts. The first was made in September, 1961, by Helga Bading, Dr. Rod Wilson, Gregg Erickson and John Dillman, all of Anchorage, and Bob Byhre of Seattle, who landed by float plane on upper Beluga Lake, 100 miles west of Anchorage and 20 miles east of Mount Gerdine. Technical difficulties and lack of time forced them to abandon the attempt after three days. The second party consisted of Rod Wilson, Lowell Thomas, Jr., Dave Kimball, Dr. George Wichman, Paul Crews, Jr., and Paul Crews, Sr. To avoid problems of the first attempt, on March 18 Thomas made two flights in his Cessna 180 and landed us on the east branch of the Hayes Glacier at 5200 feet. This placed us below the only bend on the glacier, where it turns almost 90° to due west and rises into a mass of crevasses and séracs at 6500 feet. By seven p.m. we had camp set up, the plane tied down and “glacierized” until our return. The following morning, roped and on skis, we proceeded up the left side of the glacier for about three miles, stopped short of huge piles of ice avalanche debris, and after changing to crampons, started ascending a snow chute on the left that we hoped would ultimately lead us to the snow plateau above the main glacier’s icefall. About 500 feet higher, at 7500 feet, the chute brought us to what we thought was a fairly well protected snow and rock ridge, where we camped. We had just started the platform excavation when we were unfortunately inundated with loose snow and ice chunks. As it was too late to move camp, we altered activities from platform building to cave excavation, on the theory that it is less painful to suffocate than to roll down a mountain inside a tent. A quick reconnais- sance the next morning indicated the avalanche hazards and counselled a strategic retreat back down the snow chute. After the loss of a day’s time, at ten a.m. we started laterally through the main icefall to the left (south) side of the glacier. This route went exceedingly well, and with only minor difficulties we reached the upper plateau and camp, alternately skiing and cramponing. A deceptive route caused a leisurely pace the next day to our defeat. After ascending the upper plateau by 1:30 to the base of the final summit pyramid at 8000 feet, a wrong route in an icefall at 10,000 brought unnecessary delays; at 5:30, with a temperature of -5°, we gave up the route, 600 feet from the summit, and began the retreat to camp and Anchorage. It was dark an hour later, but with the aid of flashlights, trailmarkers, shouting, intuition and hunger pangs we were in camp at 9:30. We all flew back to Anchorage the next day.

The third attempt culminated in success on May 5, thanks to experience gained on the two preceding efforts. The party was the same as in the last climb except for Dave Kimball, who was “outside” in Colorado. We landed on May 4, made camp on the upper plateau a little higher than on the previous attempt and left at five a.m. for the summit. We took a slightly different route on the upper ice wall and with no major difficulties reached the top at 12:30. The descent started an hour later in a +10° gale with lowering clouds, and we were at camp by 3:30. The next day we skied to the plane and flew home on schedule. It should be mentioned that the route climbed is considered not safe from the middle of May to October because of falling rock loosened by melting ice during the warmer months. (This mountain had previously been given the altitude of 12,600 feet, but the new map of the region, Tyonek 1958 1:250,000, reduces its height to 10,765, which makes it lower than its neighbor, Mount Torbert, which is now given as 11,413 feet. — Editor.)

Paul B. Crews