American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Wilbur, Fairweather Group

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1976

Mount Wilbur, Fairweather Group. Ken Loken flew David Jones, Clark Gerhardt, Craig McKibben and me from Juneau to Lituya Bay on May 19. We disembarked on a rocky beach near the snout of the North Crillon Glacier. A few hours of unpleasant toil through brush and over moraine got us onto a pressure ridge, which we climbed to its end and on up the glacier. The next morning we continued traveling in a miserable, wet snowfall. By that night we had Base Camp in a basin below Mounts Wilbur (10,821 feet) and Orville (10,495 feet). Wilbur was almost 6500 feet above us. Its south ridge snaked down from the summit in a series of cornices until it was blocked by an enormous monolithic gendarme. Below, the ridge broadened for a few thousand feet. The lower part of the route almost resembled a face. Orville did not look at all promising. The 21st was an inside-the-tent day. The morning of May 22 was cold; the sky was an intense blue and no clouds were in sight. While Clark, Craig and I organized food and gear for a five-day push, Dave snowshoed over to the head of the basin and, to our surprise, up the slope next to the icefall to check out a glacial plateau 1500 feet above camp. That afternoon we waded through deep snow past the icefall to the top of the plateau, where we camped. Early the next morning we were off. Each successive pitch became steeper. Some unprotected mixed climbing took us to a narrow gully, which led to the second plateau. Above, the route ascended for 1000 feet up a rock-studded face to the huge gendarme. We passed the gendarme on its southwest side, a delicate maneuver because of the thin, unstable mantle of ice and snow. We continued up along the narrow, knife-edged ridge on hard ice and deep snow. There was absolutely no place to stop and so we kept moving up the ridge, sometimes over, sometimes around the cornices. Finally I surmounted a hump of snow to find Craig and Dave on a section of cornice large enough for all of us to stand on. We scooped out a platform for a bivouac. The morning of May 23 was cold and breezy. Two quick pitches got us around the last cornice and onto easier ground to the summit. The descent was interrupted by my unroped 100-foot fall into a crevasse, from which I escaped luckily unhurt.

Gregory C. Markov

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