American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Cathedral Spires

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1971

Cathedral Spires. Hank Abrons and I took off on a whim in June for the Cathedral Spires. Hank had only three weeks, and we knew June was the wrong month, but greed at the prospect of Middle Triple Peak, second highest of the Spires and a splendid prize, interfered with our judgement. Don Sheldon got us onto the Shadows Glacier the evening of June 8. Our plan was to ferry all our gear over the pass between Gurney Peak and Kichatna Spire, set up Base Camp on the southern glacier (“Pass A” and “Glacier No. 1,” respectively, in my June, 1968 Summit article), and bag Middle Triple from there. We got stuck on the pass in a fearsome blizzard for four days. Getting the last load up nearly became a disaster, when we had to paw through more than a foot of new snow on an avalanche slope, feeling for the previous day’s footsteps. After the storm, we staggered on snowshoes down to a moraine boulder at 4700 feet and set up Base Camp. The rest of the trip was a porridge of white-out, drizzling snow, and insincere patches of blue sky. We called our home “Sunshine Glacier,” counting on future climbers to share in the irony (Pass A, by the logic of our experience, became “Credibility Gap”). We made first a half-, then a ¾-hearted attempt on Peak 6885, the easiest thing in reach; slabs covered with dump-truck loads of new snow stopped us cold. At the end of the expedition we went all-out for Peak 7295, circling it on the south side in order to sneak up on a western weakness. Just as we were congratulating ourselves, we ran into a typical Spires knife-edged ridge and had to quit 400 feet below the top. In twenty days we never set foot or piton on Middle Triple Peak. The snow conditions were consistently hideous, but probably typical for June. On the hike-out to Rainy Pass Lodge we were stopped by Morris Creek, an ankle-deep trifle in October, 1966. It took a detour nearly to the creek’s headwaters, an exhausting day’s march down Threemile Creek, and a truly hairy crossing of the Happy River at the only possible ford to restore us to our civilized responsibilities.

David Roberts

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