American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

United States, Alaska, Mount Fairweather, East-Southeast Ridge and "Sabine"

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1990

Mount Fairweather, East-Southeast Ridge and “Sabine.” Gaping crevasses made it impossible to land near our chosen objective. A snap, mid-air decision left us at the base of an ideal consolation prize, the unclimbed east-southeast ridge of Fairweather. (This is clearly seen on the photograph on page 33 of AAJ, 1981.) With the weather unusually fair, Jim and Kevin Haberl, Alastair Foreman and I began climbing almost immediately. The first day took us up gullies, shattered rock, cornices and occasional towers over the summit (8860 feet) of the sub-peak which rises on the lower arm of the east-southeast ridge. On Day 2, we followed a spiny ridge leveling onto a hanging glacier, which then reared up onto a 1500-foot-high, 50° snow-and-ice face. Again established on the ridge, we found a fragile perch for the evening tucked into the lee of a rock tower at 11,300 feet with vistas of chaotic ice swirling below. Day 3 was Alaska at its finest: delicate climbing and breath-taking exposure as we threaded our way up pinnacles and cornices in blustery weather to a roomy bergschrund bivouac at 12,300 feet. From here, a short ice step opened up to broader slopes leading to the 13,820-foot sub-peak. Near here, we joined the route which had been descended by Jim Wickwire, Greg Markov and Dusan Jagersky in 1973. Not far beyond P 13,820, we turned back in a blizzard. The wind still howled on the morning of Day 5, but the sky had cleared. On May 20, in a few hours from camp we reached the point where the southeast ridge abuts into the Carpé Ridge, which we followed up its impressive ice nose to ripping wind on the summit, the highest point in British Columbia, an important point for us from Vancouver. We took another two days to descend the Carpé, including a final half-day of scouting a way through bewildering and dangerous ice cliffs that guard the bottom of the route. Spent, we arrived back in Base Camp just as huge lenticular clouds heralded the collapse of weather for almost two weeks. In a quick non-stop dash just before pick-up time, Foreman and the Haberl brothers climbed the beautiful and sharp southeast spur of “Sabine” (3172 meters, 10,405 feet) in a 28-hour return-trip. This was probably the third ascent of the peak.

Michael Down, Alpine Club of Canada

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