American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mount McKinley, Ridge of No Return

United States, Alaska

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Renato Casarotto
  • Climb Year: 1984
  • Publication Year: 1985

The Ridge of No Return is the southeast-trending ridge which descends from Point 15,000 on Mount McKinley’s South Buttress before ending on the west fork of the Ruth Glacier. It lies approximately one kilometer to the south-southwest of the Isis route. From Base Camp on the Ruth Glacier, I passed solo under the north face of Mount Huntington to arrive at the foot of the route. It begins on a 1000-foot-high triangular snow face at the southern or left end of the enormous snow-and-ice wall which forms the vertical east face of the southeast spur. After reaching its top, in order to continue along the southeast ridge, it is necessary to pass through a series of enormous cornices of all shapes and sizes, overhanging in different directions. Several grade-5 rock towers were passed in this section, although the climbing was predominantly snow and ice. The climbing was always very exposed and dangerous, with many vertical and overhanging sections on both snow and ice, some of the most difficult I have ever encountered. 

The last 3500 to 4000 vertical feet were climbed first along a snow-and-ice wall, then on mixed ground, and finally on snow and ice again. The steepest part of this section reached 65°. I left Base Camp on April 29 and reached the top of Point 15,000 at 9:30 P.M. on May 11.I was hindered by bad weather on the first seven days; this was followed by five days of good weather. The ridge is three miles long and rises 7000 feet. I used five rock and six ice pitons along with one deadman for protection. I used no fixed rope, left nothing on the mountain and climbed alpine-style.

I made a new descent which lies about 1/3 mile to the east of the standard descent route on the steep portion of the South Buttress route. My descent involved about 3500 feet of 70° water ice and is not recommended. During the descent I watched a team of three fall from an ice wall. I realized it was impossible for me to give any immediate help and so I decided to get to Kahiltna Base Camp as fast as possible to call for the rescue helicopter. I walked all night and the next morning met some climbers who lent me skis. The rescue team, which I joined, could save them.

Renato Casarotto, Club Alpino Italiano

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