American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Devil's Thumb and Mount Burkett

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981

Devil’s Thumb and. Mount Burkett. On May 21 Michael Bearzi and I began skiing up the Baird Glacier. We reached our airdrop at the base of the southeast face of the Devil’s Thumb (9077 feet) on the 24th and established Base Camp. We then had a go at a 3500-foot new route on the south and west sides of the Thumb. Taking minimum food and gearin order to move fast, we descended 1000 feet from Base Camp to a point below the south face. We then ascended 1400 feet of steepening snow to the base of a narrow couloir which ends 200 feet above the Cat’s Ears-Devil’s Thumb notch. The couloir offered ten roped pitches consisting of difficult, hard-to-protect, mixed climbing on several vertical water-ice sections and a chockstone at the top. Difficulties were frequently F9. We bivouacked at the top of the couloir. Next day we ascended four pitches of rock on the west buttress, with some F6 to F8 hard-to-protect climbing, to a point 500 feet below the summit. In the face of a storm, we were forced to retreat to Base Camp. After waiting out the four-day storm, we decided that we were not up to reclimbing the unprotected pitches. We then climbed a direct mixed route up the southeast face which took us to the upper east ridge. After several more pitches on the ridge, which often consisted of blocks cantilevered into space, we found ourselves on the summit gendarme. We spent two full hours up there taking in the magnificent view. We descended back to Base Camp that afternoon in extremely high winds, taking 18 hours round-trip. After receiving an unexpected airdrop box of fresh vegetables from a friend in Petersburg, we moved Base Camp to the base of the south face of Mount Burkett (9730 feet). I then made an ascent of P 5350 (Throne Mountain) to the west of Mount Burkett. Next day Michael and I climbed up the south side of Burkett and dug a snow cave at the base of a 2000-foot couloir—the “Golden Gully.” The next morning after a relaxing bivouac, we climbed simultaneously, due to heavy rockfall in this area, through the bergschrund, then continued unroped up the couloir. We came to 700 feet of 60° black ice which we climbed unroped. We belayed the last 60 feet of the couloir due to extremely rotten rock. Seven more pitches on shattered rock with up to F8 difficulty brought us to the summit, after 7½ hours of climbing. This was the third known ascent of Mount Burkett. We spent an hour on top, and descended in a storm back to Base Camp that night. The storm kept us tentbound for five days. We then began the long process of hauling two loads each the remaining 24 miles to the snout of the Baird Glacier. Michael and I spent 3 days before pickup relaxing on the tidal flats of Thomas Bay, savoring our 35 days in the Stikine Icecap.

Dieter Klose

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