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North America, United States, Alaska, Mount Steller, Eastern Chugatch Mountains

Mount Steller, Eastern Chugatch Mountains. In 1991, our expedition, shortened by weather delays on the fly-in and awed by the complexity of the route, had diverted away from Mount Steller and we instead made the first ascent of P 8263, eleven miles to the north. On May 18, 1992, we flew over the vast icy wilderness of the Bagley Icefield toward Steller. Paul and John Claus landed Bob Jacobs, Gil Anderson, Mark Bowling and me at 7250 feet on a tributary of the Steller Glacier, below the northwest ridge of Steller. The next day, we found and gently crossed a bergschrund on a snow bridge and gained an arête which led steeply to the ridge at P 8761. From the ridge we were treated to spectacular views of the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Glacier and our first sight of the summit ridge of Steller and the icefall guarding its western flank. The following day, we retraced our steps and camped at 8550 feet. Our third climbing day found us heading along the northwest ridge, using pickets to protect the steep climb to P 10,096. Beyond the peak, the ridge broadened, allowing access to the upper glacier west of and below the summit ridge. The next day, we repeated the climb up the ridge, crossed a tricky schrund and dug in a high camp on the upper glacier at 9650 feet. A rest day was followed by four days of snow, wind and zero visibility. Finally, at noon on May 27, the sky cleared and we reconnoitered the crux of the climb, the steep snow-and-ice west face. Later, at camp, our dinner was interrupted by the roar of an avalanche sweeping the face below the summit ridge, 100 yards south of our route. Early the next morning, we gingerly retraced our steps. Rising above a schrund, the 500-foot face gradually steepened from 45° to nearly 60°. Protecting with pickets, deadmen and a screw, we gained the airy crest of the summit ridge and climbed to the summit at 8:30 A.M. on May 28. We planned for our descent the next day but awoke to falling snow. At midnight it cleared. The descent was marked by one crevasse fall, thigh-deep snow on the arête and a rappel over the changed schrund at its base.

Robert Wesson