American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Foraker, Winter Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

Mount Foraker, Winter Attempt. On February 15 Cliff Hudson deposited Hank Noldan, Steve Hackett, Kurt Bittlingmaier, John Samuelson, Wendell Oderkirk, Norm Stadem and me with one month’s supplies at 6500 feet on the Kahiltna glacier near the foot of Foraker’s southeast ridge. We elected to attack the south spur of this ridge in order to avoid the traverse under a long row of ice cliffs on the route taken by the 1963 Carter party (A.A.J., 1964, 14:1, pp. 52-5), the only other group to have climbed the southeast ridge. In retrospect, the 1963 route would have been faster and would have required less fixed rope to reach 9500 feet, where the routes joined. A steep snow couloir led to a rotten rock rib which took us to the top of the spur, where we established our first camp in a seven-man, three-room iglooplex. Three days and several thousand feet of fixed rope were needed to push the route over the ¾ mile of narrow, corniced, mixed rock and snow spur to its junction with the main ridge, where Camp II was constructed at the base of a triangular rock buttress at 9000 feet. High winds drove us into our igloos for two days before we could continue. The route then led to the right up a steep, shallow, snow couloir to the crest of the triangular buttress, then up a rib of corniced snow mixed with occasional islands of steep rock and into the icefall which forms most of the south aspect of the upper southeast ridge. Several perlon anchors left behind by the 1963 party still remained among the rocks. Camp III was established in a snow cave about 200 yards below the crest of the ridge, at about 11,000 feet. From there, we ascended a 30°-45° ice slope to the bergschrund, along the ’schrund for several hundred yards, and then to the top of the southeast ridge. The hardpacked snow of the wide ridge crest made easy cramponing, with only one difficult ice pitch just below the large dome which forms the shoulder of the ridge at 13,600 feet. On the dome, we as sembled to survey the rest of the route. The 1 ½ miles from 13,600 to 15,500 feet looked very tough—mostly knife-edged ice. The last 2000 vertical feet looked like an easy scramble. However, we were short on time and food, and almost out of fixed rope, having placed over 9000 feet on the lower parts of the mountain. Our supply of ice screws and pickets was almost gone. Reluctantly, we made the decision to retreat. Hudson managed to get us all out by March 5. We had had three weeks of glorious sunshine, unusual for this part of Alaska in February—and only lost 2 days climbing due to bad weather. The temperature ranged from –30° and –35° at night to an occasional 35° during the day.

Warren Bowman, M.D.

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