American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, McKinley, South Buttress Alternate

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1989

McKinley, South Buttress Alternate. Our route may be a valuable alternative for attaining the crest of the South Buttress from the Kahiltna east fork. Our choice was based upon a desire to avoid the objective avalanche hazards to be found on the Japanese Ramp. Bill Alexander, John Chaklos, Chuck Crago, Zach Etheridge and I were landed on the strip on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna on May 1. We established a camp below Kahiltna Notch on May 10 and from that vantage point we could observe the well-known Japanese Ramp as well as a broad rib farther southeast, which appeared less threatened by séracs. Its pronounced crest, as opposed to the almost bowl-like concavity of the Ramp route, might also give us protection from slab avalanches. A band of séracs at the start of our spur was the first obstacle. Steep ice, crevasses and some route-finding resolved the problem. A camp midway up the spur at 14,500 feet was made beneath an enormous ice block adrift on the snow slope. From there, the final sérac band at 15,000 feet was the major question before attaining the crest of the South Buttress. We carried through this obstacle on May 18 and continued along the buttress to an exposed campsite at the top of the Japanese Ramp. We then followed the regular route directly from Thayer Col to the summit ridge, reaching the summit on May 24. We believe our route was safer, though perhaps more difficult, than the Japanese Ramp.

Andrew Carson

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