American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mounts Jeannette and Bering and Peak Northwest of St. Elias

Canada, Yukon Territory

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year: 1976
  • Publication Year: 1978

I was the only Alaskan member of the Polish-Alaskan expedition in 1976 and unfortunately an Alaskan who did not speak Polish. Our primary aim was to put up a new route on Mount Logan, and we established Base Camp on July 24, 1976 with this objective in mind at the southernmost tip of the low rock ridge immediately west of Hummingbird Ridge. Before attempting Logan, we decided to do some preliminary climbs on the south side of the Seward Glacier and traveled there after only a reconnaissance of the rib leading almost directly to Logan’s west summit. From the col between Jeannette and Bering, on July 29 we split into two parties of four each, only our cameraman, Szymon Wdowiak, remaining in the col. Krzysztof Zdzitowiecki, Dr. Jan Serafin, Marek Malatynski and Piotr Skiba climbed eastward, gaining for the first time the summits of Mount Bering (12,075 feet) and an unnamed peak to the east (c. 12,000 feet). They climbed further along the ridge toward the summit of Mount Malaspina but turned back because of the extremely narrow, ice-rimed ridge where protection was inadequate. They returned by the same route. There was much steep blue ice on Bering but the second peak was relatively easy. The second party, consisting of the expedition leader, Bernard Uchmanski, Elzbieta Miszczak-Piekarczyk, Marcin Zachariasiewicz and me, climbed westward from the col. (They were following the route of the Californians in 1968. See A.A.J., 1969, pages 380-2.— Editor.) We had little difficulty with Mount Jeannette (11,700 feet), which was more of a face than a ridge climb. Although averaging 45° with some steep ice, the route was quite straight-forward. We did the 3000-foot climb in 16 hours and joyfully pitched our three-person tent on the summit (second ascent). The next morning, a rappel across a bergschrund near summit of P c. 12,500 (second ascent) to the west. We bivouacked beyond the top of that peak. P 12,800 presented difficulties. Three pitches of steep ice, only 300 yards beyond our previous campsite, proved troublesome because of the poor quality of the ice and the increasing darkness at that time of the year, August 1. Then, upon reaching an ice wall south of us, we were besieged by clouds from the south. After huddling for two hours, we were able to make camp when conditions improved. We climbed steep snow and ice sections between this point and the summit (fourth ascent). We camped past this third unnamed peak, not far from the summit of Mount Newton. Uchmanski decided we must descend rather than continue to Newton. The descent began along a ridge south of and parallel to the north face of Newton. Eventually the ridge, technically more and more difficult to descend, faded into a crumbling ice and rock face, which shed rock onto the glacier, 2000 feet below. We traversed to Newton’s north face to continue the descent. Fear was our constant companion, since tons of hanging glaciers were poised above us, but fortunately we were spared by the thundering avalanches around us. By traveling below Newton’s north face, we reached the Seward Glacier and finally Base Camp. Our proposed new route on Mount Logan was discarded, possibly because of avalanche danger on the lower part of the route or because of the apparent severity of the route. We headed for Schoening’s east ridge but the crevasse bridges were too weak at this point in the season. We decided to cross the Seward Glacier and climb St. Elias and P c. 13,000, just northwest of it. We reconnoitered what appeared a feasible route on St. Elias’ north face, but when four climbers reached our high point, Uchmanski called off the attempt because of avalanche danger in an exposed chute. We turned to P c. 13,000. Our attempt on August 13 was two-pronged. Zdzitowiecki, Zachariasiewicz and Serafin on the east face found little difficulty in the lower portion, while the other six of us were slowed by a formidable berg-schrund near the col at the foot of the north ridge between it and St. Elias. By the time we reached the col, the face climbers, reduced to housefly dimensions, were visible on the summit,* 1500 feet above us. After easy climbing initially on the ridge, we were forced to traverse on 45° to 50° ice below the crumbling rock ridge crest. I had broken one of my rigid crampons and we had to cut steps. When we encountered the descending face climbers 500 feet from the top, they reported several stretches of 55° to 60° ice above us. I chose to descend with them, and all the rest decided to descend too. After returning to Base Camp, we waited out a five-day snowstorm before the helicopter arrived on August 22 with supplies. We began the 120-mile hike to Kluane Lake early the following morning.

Carl Tobin, Alaska Alpine Club

* This was the third ascent, following climbs of 1958 and 1966. It has unofficially been called “Windy Peak.”

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