American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Fairweather, Southeast Buttress, 1986

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

Fairweather, Southeast Buttress, 1986. On June 27, 1986, Tad Pfeffer, Linda Sugiyama and I were flown by Mike Ivers to a camp on the upper Fairweather Glacier at 6000 feet. We benefited from the new rules under which airplane landings appear to be permitted in most areas of Glacier Bay National Park. The east ridge of P 13,820, the south false summit of Fairweather, descends to 11,500 feet where it is abruptly truncated by cliffs to form a giant buttress. These cliffs drop 3000 feet to the glacier which tumbles from the massive high cirque between Fairweather and Quincy Adams. Our route went up a long couloir onto a hanging glacier on the right side of the south face of the buttress to the low point of the east ridge. It then followed the east ridge to P 13,820, where we joined the Carpé ridge route to the summit. The initial 1500 feet and to a lesser extent the rest of the route up the east ridge lay under hanging glaciers high on the face, but we observed little falling ice. The azure skies we had on our arrival soon disappeared and Linda and I waited a week before starting from camp at 1:30 A.M. on July 4, leaving behind Tad, who decided not to climb. An hour-and-a-half’s walk brought us to the base of the face at 6000 feet. A short 60° ice slope and a labyrinth of schrunds and avalanche debris led to a right-trending snow slope, which we followed to the long snow-and-ice couloir. The 45° couloir was cut by a 200-foot rock band, much of which was streaming with water. The couloir, sometimes with only a foot or two of slush and thin ice over rock, continued up to a curving snow arête which formed the right edge of the south face. The danger of a wet snow avalanche was great. We waded through steep snow over ice up and left to the upper part of the prominent hanging glacier in the middle of the face, which gave us six pitches of 45° ice before a snow ramp led right to the sérac-guarded nose of the buttress. After a false start, we found a moderate ramp system which snaked onto the broad ridge crest at 11,500 feet, where we collapsed for the night at 10:30 P.M. Not until two P.M. the next day did we start up the steep part of the east ridge at 12,500 feet. This was an elegant uncorniced 40° knife-edge. We often had our left feet on slush on the south side and our right feet in powdery windslab on the north. At 13,300 feet the ridge broadened to moderate snow slopes which we followed to the top of P 13,820 to camp in the rays of a late Alaskan sunset. On the third day, July 6, 1986, we followed the Carpé ridge to the summit, skirting the ice nose on the right in crampon-balling snow. Lenticular clouds on the peaks far below and high clouds signaled a weather change and we got back to camp as it began to snow. By nine A.M. a snowy whiteout roused us to an uneasy compass-and-altimeter descent of the Carpé ridge, spiced with plunges into unseen schrunds, near-plunges into giant unseen crevasses, ice and then man-eating slush. To punctuate the day, a large wet-snow avalanche wiped out our tracks ten minutes after we reached the rock ridge at 8000 feet, where we bivouacked on a cornice. After a humid but happy night in continuing sleet and fog, we woke to sunshine, descended the remaining 3000 feet of ridge and marched the four miles back to camp. Continued soft-snow conditions and another storm prevented us from serious climbing until Mike Ivers flew us out on July 15.

Chris Bretherton, Unaffiliated

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