American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, St. Elias, Southwest Buttress, Second Ascent

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

St. Elias, Southwest Buttress, Second Ascent. The Tahoma-St. Elias Expedition was made up of Cy Perkins, Stewart Ferguson, Jim Price, Jim Witte and me. From research done during planning we thought the southwest buttress would be a new route. Upon our arrival at Kluane Lake, we learned that Japanese had successfully climbed it in 1978. We found fixed line and other evidence of their climb on the upper portion of the mountain. On June 15 we were flown by Phil Upton to the north side of the mountain at 6500 feet on the Columbia Glacier. Our route to the southwest buttress was up an unnamed glacier located below the western end of St. Elias’s main east-west ridge. The route was first explored in 1913 by the International Boundary Survey party, which wasturned back at 16,000 feet by bad weather. The glacier rises quite rapidly and terminates at 13,500 feet, providing access to a small shoulder on the south side of the mountain at the base of the buttress. Getting there was no easy task; the glacier was badly broken up due in part to two serious earthquakes in the winter of 1978. We made the following camps: I at 6500 feet on the Columbia Glacier at our landing site; II at 7500 feet at the base of our glacier; III at 10,000 and IV at 12,500 feet both in the center of the glacier; V at 13,500 feet on the shoulder. Four of us climbed to the summit (18,008 feet). Jim Price was kept in camp with a throat infection. The climb of the buttress itself was slow since we fixed line over most of the route, as we anticipated the descent would be difficult because of its steepness, the 3000-foot vertical rise to the top of the ridge, the 2½-mile and 1500-foot climb along the ridge and up the summit cone, unstable weather and our exhaustion after reaching the summit. We made one bivouac on the buttress, one at the top of the ridge during the ascent, plus spending 24 hours in a snow cave at 16,500 feet waiting for a break in the sudden storm during our descent. We four got to the summit at 8:15 A.M. on July 5. The total climb took 31 days. We could not climb on 13 of them.

John Skiwing, Mountaineers

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