American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Hayes, Southwest Face of the South Summit

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1977

Mount Hayes, Southwest Face of the South Summit. Fred Beckey, Benno Ochenski, Dougal McCarty and I were the second group flown this summer by Wilson Air Service to the middle fork of the Susitna Glacier. At 7000 feet, it was an ideal location below the southwest face of Mount Hayes. The higher of Hayes’ summits, the 13,832-foot north peak, rises above Hess, Deborah and Moffit in this eastern extension of the Alaska Range. Our circus was headed toward the southwestern part of the mountain, where pictures showed several possible routes to the lower south summit. We were landed on May 25. At first we followed the wands left by the Tokyo Technical College around a buttress, but then turned north as we climbed a 1000-foot-high ice slope. Above, atop a gentle ridge at 8500 feet, we placed a camp on the southern end of a bench which traverses much of the southwest side of Mount Hayes. From our last camp further along the shelf, a big couloir trucks 3500 feet to the south summit. Out of the lower end, avalanche debris spreads its way across the bench before disappearing into an icefall. Traveling between the last two camps, we had crossed an even larger avalanche track. Good, hot sun had improved the snow conditions. After eliminating the west ridge as a possible route, we still had either a steep glacier or an equally steep couloir just south of it. Fred and Dougal wanted to climb the glacier while Benno and I opted for the couloir. On the evening of June 1, in the couloir, Benno and I were impressed. A foot of good hard snow covered the ice. Not using the rope, we quickly gained 800 feet. Returning, we paused part way down to gain the rib separating the couloir from the glacier. Out of its usual wild pattern, the evening weather was windless, cloudless and still. Fred and Dougal were encountering problems. The steep ice layers peeled off like the skin of an onion. That night in camp we agreed on a route. Starting at ten o’clock the next night, we would ascend the couloir for 1800 feet, cross the rock rib and continue for 1200 feet on the glacier to reach the saddle. From there the north peak would not be much farther. The four of us had barely started when Benno, Dougal and I found ourselves dividing Fred’s essential items. There is no way to comprehend fully why Fred descended back to camp. Three hundred feet wide and 3500 feet long, the big-time couloir was capped by a cornice, which only slowly grew larger as we climbed higher. The initial easy traveling gave way to loose powder. The ice underneath was unconsolidated and would not hold ice screws well. We belayed along the right side. Two leads higher, I hid behind a snow fluke while Dougal climbed the shale rib on crampons. We were relieved when we were over the crux and out of that monster. From there to the saddle, where we arrived at 5 P.M., we found no major obstacles. A squall line of thunder storms was approaching from the north. Should we go on? Dog tired, none of us was eager. The top is 800 feet higher. Underneath is wind crust. It is probably three hours and three-quarters of a mile away. We trudged on for three hours and we were not even halfway. The wind crust gave way to increasingly deep powder. We were wading through two-and-a-half feet of snow. Was it worth it? Fourth down; we decided to punt and for us the ball game is over. It was time to start the disagreeable task of returning.

Brian Leo, Dirty Sox Climbing Club

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.