American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada—Coast Range, The Brother and the Sisters, North Faces, Niut Range

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

The Brother and the Sisters, North Faces, Niut Range. After nearly a month of waiting for the usual “Indian Summer”, Fred Beckey, Bill Lahr, and I at last got our proposed traverse of the Niut Range underway. At ten A.M. on September 15, after being flown in to camp atop Bench Glacier, we set out for the north face of the Brother. Intricate route- finding and a few steep snow pitches, capably led by the rugged and ageless Fred Beckey, found us apparently on the verge of gaining access to the intended ascent route, a rather steep ice arête on the west edge of the face. A seemingly impassable crevasse system yielded via an F6 pitch on a rock buttress emerging from the icy face. An easy traverse led to the undulating 35° to 50° ice arête which was followed to the west summit. After reaching the true summit, in waning sunlight we down- climbed and rappelled the southeast ridge to the unnamed glacier east of the Brother. But it was dark and with three sets of “bad eyes” we soon accepted the inevitable “unexpected” bivouac. After resting for half a day at camp, Bill Lahr and I decided to attempt the north face of the Sisters. On the clear, cold morning of September 17 we set out down the Bench Glacier one-and-one-half miles to the base of the climb. We chose a line that would reach the east ridge about 300 yards east of the true summit. Following a concave section of glacier at the base of a long chute-like ice gully separating the Brother and the Sisters, we soon reached a sharply defined rock arête between adjacent ice gullies. We running-belayed this 1000-foot 5th-class arête until we reached a ramp just below an overhanging section high on the buttress. A tricky, irreversible step-across move, protected by a pin (F8), was the key. A short mixed pitch led to the prominent green-ice couloir three pitches below its top. With only three ice screws for protection and belays, we climbed meticulously. Fog drifted in and out of the notch and resisted our efforts to observe the obviously steep and difficult tower that now barred our way to the summit. We decided to spend the night at the notch. The fog finally dissipated enough for us to see a possible route up the tower. Bill led a continuously steep and difficult pitch with an awkward crux—a small, thin overhang and traverse problem (F8). Storm clouds were now appearing on the horizon as we scrambled up two easier pitches to the top of the large fiat-topped tower. The summit itself was still five pitches away. We down-climbed to yet another notch and crossed an exposed ice slope to the far side. We climbed the summit tower directly up its northeast arête on mostly good gneissic granite. Three interesting and varied pitches on or near the crest of the steep, sharply defined corner went F7, F8+, and F7, with the crux being a short, difficult crack leading through a vertical wall. Clouds and fog were already swirling around the summit whose cairn registered only one previous ascent. Retracing our route back to our bivouac site, we quickly packed and in rapidly deteriorating weather began a long, three-day foodless march to Base Camp. More than two feet of snow had fallen by the time we reached the now empty camp. The others had left for help and returned one-and-one-half days later with the helicopter. Our “Indian Summer” was over.

Gary Brill, Too Loose Alpine Club

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.