American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Four Ascents in the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1980

Four Ascents in the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier. Some ten miles southeast of Denali lie the Ruth Amphitheater and the Great Gorge. Here rise Mount Huntington, the Moose’s Tooth, Dan Beard and the peaks of the Great Gorge.* The peaks of the Ruth Glacier offer a variety of alpine climbing, from superb snow and ice to waist-deep sugar snow and rotten rock. Since 1973 I have visited the area every year, but 1979 was my most successful one. In February Nick Parker, Paul Dendewalter and I were flown to the Ruth by glacier pilot Doug Gesting. We had high hopes of climbing the German ridge on the Moose’s Tooth. High winds kept us in Base Camp for several days. Then we made a carry to the plateau just below the main couloir leading to the German ridge. The wind picked up in the afternoon; while I was skiing back to Base Camp, a gust caused my Ramer bindings to release! More wind and more waiting, but we did manage to climb the southeast couloir on Mount Dickey. Tired of waiting for calm days to climb the Tooth, we abandoned that climb in favor of a shorter route on either P 8460 or P 9100. We decided on the latter, climbing the northeast couloir to a 7300-foot col, arriving after dark. We dug in and spent a comfortable night in —15° F. Our day began with much cold and slowness. We finally got off and climbed 60° ice for several pitches to another col. From there we followed ridges and snowfields to the summit pyramid, which gave two pitches of exhilarating climbing. The descent was uneventful, except for cold feet and early darkness. Several months later, in May, Charlie Head, John Lee, Jon Thomas and I flew to the Great Gorge for two weeks of climbing and skiing. We were surprised when we managed to climb all our objectives. Our first and main objective was P 8460, which had been attempted a number of times before. We chose the southeast couloir which lies between P 8460 and P 8450. We followed this 3000-foot couloir to a col between the two peaks and slept in a bergschrund. More good weather gave us no excuse for a rest day. Due to a warm spring, the snow conditions were very poor; sometimes we sank to our waists in the soft snow. Above the col the warm sunshine caused numerous avalanches and made the snow soft but still climbable. We ascended a snow slope to the west ridge, which we climbed to a short rock band. The climbing was moderate, but the rock was loose and crampons made it difficult. After a large hand-hold pulled out, causing a 10-foot fall, we made it past this section. Several more pitches of loose rock, soft snow and a very rotten chimney brought us to a small platform just below the summit. We all took turns on the small corniced summit. We descended as rapidly as possible, arriving at camp close to midnight. After an enjoyable rest day, we began to plan for P 8450. The weather had turned bad, but since we didn’t want to give up the climb or climb the 3000-foot couloir a third time, we went on. The climbing was mainly on good glacier ice and firm snow, getting as steep as 70° in places. The weather remained poor with high winds and blowing snow. After only two-and-a-half hours of climbing we were on top. The storm had become more serious. As we descended the couloir, spin-drift avalanches hit us from all sides. This descent was the most dangerous part of these climbs. After several days of rest, powder-snow skiing and an ascent of the northeast ridge of Barrille, we looked at possible routes on P 7500 on the eastern side of the gorge. It looks so much like the Grandes Jorasses in the Alps that we referred to it as the “Grandes Asses.” Since several days of snowfall had filled with snow the main ice chutes we had planned to ascend, we settled for the safer southwest couloir. We had no idea if it would lead us anywhere, but it was a choice. The couloir went fast and above it things looked good. We followed the south ridge up steep snow and one pitch of rock to the corniced summit ridge.

Gary Bocarde

* The peaks on the western side of the Great Gorge were given names by Dr. Cook when he claimed to have made his spurious first ascent of Mount McKinley. These names have never been officially accepted. They are from south to north P 8233, “Mount Church”; P 8450, “Mount Grosvenor”; P 8460, “Mount Johnson”; P 9100, “Mount Wake,” and “Mount Bradley.” Bocarde and friends climbed all but P 8233. P 7500 is the second peak from the south on the eastern side of the Great Gorge.—Editor.

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