Mount Dickey’s South Face
Fabio Leoni, Club Alpino Italiano
AFTER LEAVING ITALY, we first visited for some training climbs the Yosemite, where the weather was bad: snowy and cold. Manica, Zampiccoli and I did manage to climb El Capitan by the Triple Direct: a combination of the Salathé, Muir and Nose routes. We then traveled to the hospitality of the city of Anchorage on May 16 and took several days to complete our arrangements.
On May 14, we were flown from Talkeetna to the Ruth Glacier and landed below the imposing east face of Mount Dickey. During unsettled weather, which lasted several days, we reconnoitered to judge what would be the best route on the face. When the weather seemed to improve, we immediately decided to attack. Our route rises at the right side of the south face and follows a nearly direct line. It seemed to be protected from rockfall.
By taking turns, we kept climbing continuously, thanks to the lack of darkness at that latitude. After four days, we had fixed 700 meters of rope. The difficulties were extreme, whether in free climbing or artificial aid. The frightfully bad quality of the rock made the climb more difficult and exhausting. The cracks appeared to shatter literally as they were touched. Placing protection often required numerous attempts. Every so often at our rest halts, we preferred to place bolts.
We returned to Base Camp for several days of rest and then, on June 5, all seven of us set out in calm weather for the final attack. We ascended the fixed ropes and began climbing again. While two led and another two supported them, the other three, having found a proper bivouac site, stopped and prepared the spot. At midnight, we descended to the ledge and all of us slept a few hours.
The weather deteriorated some the next day, but we continued the climb anyhow. The temperature was not too severe and so, shod in rock-climbing shoes, we forced our way up some very difficult pitches. After half a day, however, we lost several hours on a very dangerous pitch, which we overcame entirely on aid. Toward evening, the first ice-covered pitches obliged us to put on our mountain boots. The face was no longer quite vertical and we encountered many mixed pitches covered by unstable snow.
We climbed through the whole night but at a much slower pace because of fatigue.
A heavy snowstorm transformed the face into a gigantic white plaster cast. Unfortunately, during the last rock pitch, Danny Zampiccoli took a leader fall because of unstable snow and rotten rock. He injured his right hand. By good luck, the summit was near and the climbing progressively easier. On a single rope, all seven of us safely ascended the final mixed and snow pitches.
At eleven A.M. on June 7, we were on the summit of Mount Dickey. The glorious weather let us admire the full panorama, especially Mount McKinley, our next objective.
We descended and after a few days transferred to the McKinley Base Camp. In June 21, Bagatolli and Defrancesco completed the ascent of Denali by the West Buttress. Manica and De Donà meanwhile made a very difficult new route on the Throne in Little Switzerland. Then De Donà returned to McKinley and made the round trip to the summit and back in only four days. With my wife Paola Fanton and Corrado Coser, I reached McKinley’s summit via the West Buttress on June 20.
Summary of Statistics:
Area: Alaska Range, south of Mount McKinley.
New Routes: Mount Dickey, 2909 meters, 9545 feet, via the right side of the South Face, June 5-7, 1991 (Fabio Leoni, leader, Mario Manica, Giuseppe Bagatolli, Danny Zampiccoli, Fabrizio Defrancesco, Bruno De Donà, Paolo Borgonovo).
The Throne, Little Switzerland, via Harmonica Crack, UIAA VI, A3, June 15, 1991 (Manica, De Donà).
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