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North America, United States, Alaska, The Tusk Atttempt, Merrill Pass Area

“The Tusk" Attempt, Merrill Pass Area. In USGS Bulletin 862 by Stephen R. Capps of 1935 appears a faded black and white picture of a magnificent rock spire captioned: “The Tusk, a glaciated granite pinnacle in the basin of Another River.” A detailed search through the Bulletin reveals another clue: “A lofty spire of granite in the southern Alaskan Range near Merrill Pass … the mass towers as a great tusk with sheer walls nearly 2500' high.” With these clues and two reconnaissance flights, Bob Smith and I organized a trip for the first week of July. Our group consisted of six Mountaineering Club of Alaska members: Bill Barnes, Steve Jones, Barry Kircher, Wendell Oderkirk, Bob Smith and me. After three fully loaded float-plane flights from Anchorage to shallow Lake Kunibuna on July 3, we waded and maneuvered from sandbar to sandbar across the swift Igitna River toward the Another River valley. For the next two days we fought our 60-to 80-pound packs through a jungle of alders before reaching camp near the base of our objective, “The Tusk”. A day of reconnoitering the north, east and south sides of the granite spire revealed a possible fifth-class route following chimney and crack systems on the southeast face. The following day we all packed ropes and hardware to its base. Kircher and I climbed a series of F5 to F9 chimneys and crack systems. Loose rock and grit continually fell, causing our second rope to abandon its attempt to follow us. Four long leads of strenuous and shaky climbing led us to a saddle about half or two-thirds of the way to the summit. One more lead brought me to a series of bulging overhangs of highly weathered and decomposed granite. Uneasy nerves caused by numerous portable handholds plus the physical and mental wear of the previous days of alder thrashing dictated our decision not to proceed up or around the rotten overhangs that cut across the face. Four 165-foot rappels in fading light brought us to a deep couloir, which we descended down steep soft snow.