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North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Gakona, Eastern Alaska Range

Mount Gakona, Eastern Alaska Range. March found Steve O’Brien, Mark Hottman, Toby Wheeler and me planning the first and the first winter ascent of Mount Gakona (9850 feet) in the Delta Mountains. Gakona has two peaks a mile apart along a hairy knife-edged ridge. We had to go up the correct peak the first time since our leave from the University of Alaska did not allow time to move to the other side of the mountain. We skied in from the Richardson Highway 25 miles over the Canwell and West Gakona glaciers to get to the Gakona Glacier basin with sub-zero climbing gear and two weeks of food for our one-week excursion. (Later five days of storm made us consume all of our food.) From the Gakona basin our route was up an icefall to the southwest of the main peak (the southwest peak as it luckily turned out). We navigated the icefall in a whiteout in avalanche-prone snow. The whiteout made it easier to poo poo the icefall’s problems but hardly helped us with our fears of avalanches. When we were above the worst of the icefall, the air cleared and we saw we were not far off route. After my ropemate took a fall on an icy spot, we switched from skis to crampons. Our last camp was pitched amid crevasses above the icefall at 9000 feet, an easy run to the summit. On summit day, March 24, Steve fell 30 feet into a crevasse just as we were leaving camp. It gave us a weird feeling to do a rescue standing next to our tent. After this, the summit seemed anticlimactic. It took us two days to ski out to the road. It turned out to be a 12-day “one-week” climb.

Daniel Osborne, Alaska Alpine Club