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North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Deborah, West Face, A Third New Route

Mount Deborah, West Face, A Third New Route. Though virgin summits are fast disappearing, new routes are everywhere and the aura of Alaska retains its remoteness. Remoteness and grandeur increase challenge and reward. A high-mountain bivouac which looks 70 miles to the nearest habitation is true in its wildness, where humanity is on an island and not in a polluted sea. And so we skied the 60 miles to Mount Deborah to savor our Alaska Range in its entirety. Peg Whillet skied with Steve Will and me, while Pete Bowers mushed food, fuel and gear to the Yanert Glacier moraine. Nightly campfires of cottonwood, spruce and birch made a merry scene, complete with eight husky dogs for porters, protection and entertainment. This pleasure skiing ended in the moraine. Big glacial moraines are best avoided, but rarely can be on treks into or out of the mountains. Our pile of gear dumped beneath a granite boulder was as depressing as our short good-byes. Steve and I were to carry our 75-pount packs the remaining 25 miles, alone, in heavy, deep, fresh snow. A single rest-day in honor of the vernal equinox bolstered our spirits. Then the weather cleared and the temperature dropped, sending our commitment high. Dawn of the ninth day was frigid. We walked a mile up the glacier in gale-force blasts, which occasionally knocked us to our knees. In the gully to the left of the first icefall, we kicked steps easily and, sheltered from the wind, made good time. Wandering through the second icefall in the heat of the afternoon, we got our first view of the entire west face. Beneath the bergschrund we dug our cave. The next day we arose late and started for the bergschrund’s bridge. Bad ice and bulges beneath dollops of frothy snow slowed us considerably. Steve’s lead over the schrund was the most difficult of the climb. Once on the face, we moved together on white ice and snow. The ice became gray, then blue and then, in the rocks, became green. Torquing in a screw, I left my ice axe unattended, stuck in the green rock ice. Inadvertently, I knocked it off and watched with an uncanny blend of relief and disbelief as it bounced down. I yelled, “Catch it!” and somehow, 150 feet below, Steve did. Steve swung by and we moved together, first on grey ice and then again on crunchy snow. We had moved only ten rope-lengths when the sun went down. Pretty soon our belay stances were chopped to bivouac platforms as we scratched down to the ice. In the morning the sun chased the shadow up the glacier, and the west face,to us. Leaving the deep snow of the face, we entered the rime-ice crackerjack realm of double cornices of the south ridge. After dumping our packs on the ridge at 12,000 feet, we stepped out onto climbing that was as exhilarating as it was breath-taking. We went over, under, around and through the summit mushrooms for three pitches over rime-covered green ice so hard that a screw would penetrate only halfway. Steve took the third gully to the summit. I swung up and we walked together to the top (3761 meters, 12,339 feet). It was March 27. Our route was the third one on the face. It rose to the right of the Gee-Wisdom route and emerged on the south ridge about 300 feet below the summit. A final aurora-illuminated traverse put us back to our packs and into a cornice crack for the night. We abseiled straight out of our drafty cornice cave with the last of our hearty nourishment in our bellies. The Beckey ridge is spectacular with fine views of both the gargoyle-clad gullies of the east face and the scalloped sweep of the west. We dropped off the basal cornices and climbed down to the third icefall. The ski out was brutally beautiful and cold. We reached the road 19 days after we had left it.

Roman Dial, Alaska Alpine Club