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North America, United States, Alaska, Valley of the Pillars, Wrangellia

Valley of the Pillars, Wrangellia. After nearly a decade on Valdez waterfalls, Carl Tobin and I stepped up to the big ice of Wrangellia. Carl had known of the ice for years, but after an October traverse through Wrangellia I substantiated the rumors with photos. The most beautiful waterfall in the world I told slide show audiences, flashing a shot of an eight-tiered marvel plunging down a forested escarpment. Excited by the photos, the Alaskan Alpine Club put together a six-man expedition. Club president Jeff Keener, secretary Carl Tobin, and members Eric Breitenberger, Chuck Comstock, Keith Echelmeyer, and I made up the team. In early January Keith flew all of us in with his Cessna 185. After tying down the plane, the six of us skied three miles to the Valley of the Pillars and established Base Camp. The following day Carl, Chuck, and I started up Broken Dreams, the beautiful eight tiered waterfall. The climb was 1500 feet long with each tier ranging in length from 75 to 200 feet. Carl said the climb was reminiscent of Polar Circus. The eighth and final tier was a free- hanging pillar for at least 60 feet with a big crack and some obvious stress deformation. Moments after Chuck backed off the noisy ice the pillar collapsed! A bit shaken we finished the route on rock to the right. The climb had one bivy on the ascent, complete with wood fire. We rated Broken Dreams a water-ice VI. Meanwhile Eric led Full Bore (WIV, 165 feet) across the valley. This single pitch of very big ice is especially impressive. Eric claimed it more difficult than Rigid Designator, yet easier than The Fang in Colorado. Eric, Jeff and Keith also climbed Lone Wolf (WI III, 1500 feet) just upstream from Broken Dreams. On January 7 and 8 Carl, Chuck, Eric and I climbed Star Babies (WI V + , 1000 feet) which offered four tiers ranging in length from 165 to 300 feet. Carl’s lead on the second step was particularly spectacular with huge cauliflower ice bulges reminiscent of Colorado’s Bridal Veil Falls. Star Babies also yielded one splendid campfire bivy. On January 7 Jeff and Keith climbed Boys of Summer (WIIV, 1000 feet) to the right of Star Babies. The day before flying out, Carl, Eric and I made the second ascent of Full Bore while Keith and Jeff climbed Asian Lady (WI II, 165 feet). In total the Alaskan Alpine Club Expedition to the Valley of the Pillars made six first ascents.

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