American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Traverse along Alaskan-British Columbian Border from the Stikine to the Samotua

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1994

Traverse along Alaskan-British Columbian Border from the Stikine to the Samotua. On May 7, fingers were crossed that Craig Hollinger and our ski-plane pilot, Ron Janzen of TelAir, would complete the food placements and meet Markus Kellerhals, Steve Sheffield, Peter Stone, Brian Wood and me at the Scud River airstrip on the banks of the Stikine River. The noise of the jet boat did not fulfill my dream of a relaxed float down the Stikine from Telegraph Creek. After we whiled away time, waiting aboard at the Scud River’s mouth, the ski plane flew overhead. A short while later, Craig appeared from the bush, assuring us that the food was safely placed. We traveled south by boat until we were landed just north of the terminus of the Stikine Glacier. From the glacial deposits on the banks of the Stikine, we entered a tangle of birch and willow. Skis sometimes on, sometimes off, melt ponds and ancient terminal moraines. Then, the semi-frozen terminal Great Lake appeared ahead of us. Initially, the lake provided us with safe and easy traveling. However, our plans to ascend the Great Glacier from its toe were thwarted by the deteriorating nature of the lake ice. We were forced to abandon the watery lake for a bushwhack onto the ridge system just north of the glacier terminus. The next morning began with rain. By lunch time, we entered the wet and steep forest. Thankfully, after several hours, snow covered the ground. Skis worked fine as we broke out of the trees. After a night of wet snow flakes, on the third morning the weather cleared for almost four weeks. We skied down an enormous gully onto the Great Glacier. Two days of exhilerating plodding saw us over the headwall. We camped just over a mile south of Mount Pratt and that evening climbed P 6475'*. The days that

followed saw us traveling in a heavily glaciated land. We made a rather pathetic attempt to climb the south ridge of Kate’s Needle. We did, however climb P 2644m, 2 km south of Kate’s Needle, P 9102', 3 miles to the west, and Mount Gilroy (2748m).

Our first food cache, 3 km southwest of Gilroy, gave us a few extra tasty morsels. From the cache, on Day 9, we headed north up the Baird Glacier. On the evening of Day 10, we camped below a col on the southerly ridge system of Mount Ratz. Getting to the col was a slog, but we descended onto the southernmost tributary of the Dawes Glacier. We camped early for an afternoon jaunt up P 2160m on the west ridge of Ratz. On Day 12, we sledded 6 km down the Dawes to place us within striking distance of two elegant peaks. A steep intimidating ascent of a small glacier to the west of camp led to an ice plateau below P 8025' and P 8030'. We quickly ascended P 8025', mostly on skis but with a wonderful Coast-Range scramble on the top, and traversed to P 8030' on an exposed ridge. To the south, we viewed terrain that we had covered: the Devils Thumb, Burkett, Mount T; to the east, Ratz, Noel, Mussel, the Boundary Ranges and interior plateau; to the west, the glistening ocean of Stephens Passage and beyond to Admiralty Island; to the north, immense wilderness with somewhat less rugged summits sticking out of the widest section of the Stikine Icecap. On Day 13, we made camp 6 km northwest of Noel Peak. Before dawn, wind and rain arrived and we had 2½ days of rest. On Day 16, a small break in the weather enticed us out. Within an hour, the clouds were back and the compass out. We picked our way below the rock face of P 2249m to a col and P 2018m and faced a horrible white-out downhill run. On Day 17, we had easy going followed by a steepish rise to a col between P 2494m and P 2480m. A steep exposed ski put us on top of P 2480m, overlooking Dirst Creek. A thrilling ski down led us to the less than perfect snow on the east ridge of P 2494m, our second summit of the day. Our second food cache lay 7 km below, just east of Sheppard Peak. After munching on remnants, we were off to climb Sheppard (2519m). The route went from the bowl south up a steepish snow gully and onto the southeast ridge. Day 19 dawned lovely and we headed northwest. That evening, with more than 20 km traveled, we camped below the northwest face of Owens Peak. The following morning, Kellerhals, Wood and I took off for Owens (2476m), a lovely climb up the northwest face and ridge. On Day 21, we headed northeast on a tributary of the Sawyer Glacier, heading for a lovely pyramid. First, though, a side trip to the east took us up P 2265m, northeast of Owens. We continued on to camp on the very flat glacier. In the morning, we looked forward to the 16-km round trip to the pyramid, P 2420m. The wind made for a pleasantly cool morning until the final snow slope. South-facing and sheltered, the slope was for me the most disagreeable half hour of the trip. It was followed by horribly loose scree on the ridge to the summit. Our eyes turned to the northeast, scanning for a route through a questionable section of the traverse. A rugged area with two attractive peaks, P 2779m and 2715m stood between us and glaciated country that would lead us to a tributary of the Samotua River and onto Bearskin Lake (known locally as Muddy Lake), the Golden Bear Mine and an airstrip. The following morning, Day 23, we moved north. A deep, narrow valley separated us at the “end” of the icecap from a more interior glaciated landscape ahead. Initially the descent was fun, but it became difficult. Eventually, we arrived on the lower narrow glacier and made camp. The next day, we arrived at the pass that separates the Whiting and Chutine drainages. On variable snow, we boot-stepped, kicked, skied and ice-axed from the Chitine valley up onto the southern slopes of dominant P 2779m. A long, steep gully led to easier ground and the summit. P 2715m stood waiting to the north. On May 31, Day 25,1 took a higher meadow route while the others stayed lower on the glacier. We all met on a small glacier west of P 2715m. We made our way to the 1920-meter col, 2 km northwest of P 2715m. The climb was straightforward with some tiring trail-breaking and one section of steep ice. On Day 26, it rained and we did not move. On Day 27, we broke camp in a drizzle and headed down the glacier to the northeast, hoping to break out to some visibility. We descended to near the glacial tongue and headed up a ridge to the north over old moraines and lovely meadows that smelled gorgeous. From the ridge crest we went down to near the toe of the next glacier north and up to camp on a col 1¼ km northwest of P 2440m. The 28th and last day of the trip was crisp and clear. We skied over very hard snow to the base of the west ridge of P 2440m, a great peak to finish off with, rubbly at times but aesthetic. Below snaked the Samotua River. We skied down the glacier to the northeast from camp to near its tongue at 1160 meters. Beautiful greens and “life:” birds chatting and chirping. We had several rather difficult creek crossings. Thrashy bush-and-alder bashing and boulder fields ensued. Eventually we arrived at gravel flood plains, an airstrip and mining equipment. From the Golden Bear Mine headquarters, we were allowed to use the radio and contact Ron Janzen, who ferried us out.

David E. Williams, Alpine Club of Canada

*Peaks in Alaska are given in feet and those in Canada in meters.

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