American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mount McKinley, New Routes on the Southwest

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1978

Mount McKinley, New Routes on the Southwest. In addition to the route described above by Patrick Morrow, our CLOD expedition made several climbs. Jon Jones soloed the West Buttress from 14,200 feet on June 9 and 10. Roger Marshall and Dave Reid climbed the Western Rib from May 28 to June 4 and Eckhard Grassman and Allan Derbyshire climbed the upper part in 11 hours from 16,000 feet on June 10. Morrow and Ehmann made the second ascent of Messner’s couloir on June 8 and 9. The two new routes were as follows: Southwest face, 8500-feet-high (from 11,100 to 19,600 feet). This route climbs the upper 5500 feet of the face, using the first 3000 feet of the Western Rib route to avoid the hanging glacier in the centre of the face. (A diagonal start from the head of the northeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier to the Western Rib at around 14,000 feet was done by Wickwire in 1971, and a separate, direct start up the 3000-foot rock-and-ice wall to the immediate left of the Cassin Ridge may be possible, but this whole lower area of the southwest face is exposed to immense avalanches.) Apart from a short rock step at 15,700 feet and 100 feet of rock at 19,500 feet, the climbing was mostly on snow or ice at angles similar to those encountered in the initial Western Rib Couloir, i.e. 40° to 50° (not 50° to 60° as indicated in the Mt. McKinley Climber’s Guide published by Alaska Alpine Co.). From the flat crest of the Western Rib at 14,000 feet, angle up and right, then traverse between two prominent bergschrunds to reach the crest of a subsidiary rock rib at 15,000 feet, about 2000 feet right of the Western Rib (possible campsite). Follow the crest of the rib past a short rock-and-ice step at 15,700 feet, till it blends with a snow-and-ice slope at 16,200 feet (possible campsite). There are two prominent, large boulders in this area: one 300 feet to the left of the top of the rib and the other 300 feet above the rib (possible campsite under the higher boulder at 16,500 feet). Now angle up and right across mixed slopes to the base of a steep rock buttress at 17,000 feet. Follow the upper edge of the hanging glacier in the centre of the southwest face, at first horizontally right, then diagonally up right to its apex at 17,800 feet. (Possible bivouac in bergschrund.) (A very prominent, wide couloir leads up off the lower right side of the hanging glacier towards the Cassin Ridge. This is not the route.) From the apex of the hanging glacier, move right across a rock shoulder into a steep, shallow couloir. From this point to the plateau at 19,600 feet, there are probably several possible routes linking various couloirs separated by rock outcrops. The most prominent skyline feature is a long, square-cut cornice with a huge block at its right end. Aim to emerge from the face to the immediate right of this feature where a shallow rock-and-ice chimney at 19,500 feet leads to the plateau at 19,600 feet, about half a mile from the summit. Jon Jones, Eckhart Grassman, Allan Derbyshire and I did this route from May 27 to June 3. McClod’s Rib: on the west face, the 4500-foot-high rib left of the Messner Couloir, which I climbed solo (the rib only) on June 10. (14,700 to 19,200 feet.) Seen from the 14,200-foot camp on the West Buttress route, the west face of McKinley is dominated by a prominent, central couloir. There is a small icefall at its base and it is pinched in the centre by two rock buttresses before fanning out into a huge snow-and-ice bowl. Both this couloir and the narrower one to its right, close to the Western Rib, have been climbed previously. McClod’s Rib, the third route on the west face, defines the left edge of the central couloir. Half a mile up from the 14,200-foot camp, work past several bergschrunds below and to the left of the icefall to gain access to the face. For the first 2000 feet, the rib is barely defined as a few rock outcrops, protruding from a broad, 40° to 50°, snow-and-ice face. At 16,700 feet, a steep, rock buttress is bypassed on the left by a wide couloir which trifurcates several hundred feet higher. Take the right branch (up to 60°) to regain the crest of the rib. This is now followed by straightforward, mixed climbing, till it merges with the face a few hundred feet below the summit ridge, where the route emerges at 19,200 feet, about a mile from the summit of the South Peak.

A full report will appear in the Canadian Alpine Journal.

Bugs McKeith, Canadian Alpine Club

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