American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, McKinley, East Buttress

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

McKinley, East Buttress. On May 29, Don Lee flew Scott Hartle, Joe Terravecchia and me to 7700 feet on the northwest fork of the Ruth Glacier. For the next week during unstable weather, we ascended the 1963 ramp to Thayer Basin. Rather than to attack the dangerous icefall at 11,800 feet directly, as was done on the 1963 climb, we traversed to the right into a beautiful couloir for six pitches of moderate ice up to 50°. The couloir ended at a prominent pinnacle along the ridge. We followed this ridge to rejoin the 1963 route above the icefall at 13,000 feet. After five days of poor conditions in Thayer Basin, the weather cleared on June 11 and we summitted in a long day by climbing the upper section of the South Buttress route. We then descended the lower South Buttress to Kahiltna Base. The lower East Buttress, is more difficult and committing than the lower South Buttress, but is better protected from objective hazards. In our ascent, we did 19 belayed pitches, but with careful route-finding found no rappels necessary on the South Buttress. On the lower East Buttress, on the route we took, only in the easy section around 10,500 feet is there much objective danger. We climbed alpine-style with two weeks of food and saw no other climbers the entire time, except for two on the summit. There has been some confusion about climbs on the East Buttress. The A.A.J., 1983, lists the “fourth” ascent. I talked with Bill Krause of that expedition. He said that they went up the lower section of the South Buttress and the upper part of the East Buttress, the opposite of what we did. Although both routes have been listed as “East Buttress,” they start miles apart on different glacial systems.

George Bell, Jr.

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