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North America, Canada, Yukon Territory, St. Elias Mountains, Mount Waddington, the Dalgleish Face

Mount Waddington, the Dalgleish Face. Being blessed with more brawn than brains, John Harlin and I decided to attempt Mount Waddington from the sea. And, being accustomed since adolescence to biting off more than we could chew, we also decided to attempt the first ascent of the last unclimbed face on Waddington. And, being genetically predisposed to madness, we decided to forsake a food drop or gear drop or any other kind of assistance.

We staggered off the gravel airstrip at the mouth of the Klinaklini River on May 2. Naturally the old logging road that our map claimed meandered up the valley had turned back into jungle, so we wound up on a bear path where we encountered first massive bear poop then shortly thereafter the massive maker of the poop. That first day we managed a good four miles. The second and third days were a fine blend of thrashing, cursing and stream crossing. Getting up onto the Franklin Glacier was, quite simply, terrifying. Tails tucked tightly between our legs, we ran a gauntlet of building-size boulders teetering at the angle of repose on vast sheets of black ice. Day four was spent skiing up the Franklin Glacier in the rain. Day five we snuck through two icefalls to gain the Corridor Glacier and camped high in the cirque at the base of the "true" south face of Mount Waddington — what we dubbed the Dalgleish Face after A.H. Dalgleish who died attempting the wall in 1934. The morning of the sixth day we cached skis, extra food and fuel and climbed up through the jumbled icefall of the Buckler Glacier, John insouciantly pulling off some fine leads over dangling ice bridges. We made camp at around 9,000 feet at the base of the wall and spent the afternoon working on our tans and eating.

At 2 a.m. on day seven we peeked out, saw stars and starting brewing up. We left camp at 4 a.m. and proceeded to climb non-stop for 20 hours. It was a 4,000-foot wall. Straight out of the tent we simul-climbed up over two bergschrunds and then diagonally left across moderate mixed terrain for several ropelengths to gain the obvious center couloir. The first 1,500 feet of the couloir were steep snow with constant spindrift avalanches requiring both of us to flatten against the chute every 20 minutes to keep from being dragged off. We simul-climbed with no pro until the couloir veered left, steepened again and turned to ice. From there we belayed four long pitches of moderate ice, using one screw at each belay and one in between. Above the ice we simul-climbed two to three long pitches of windpacked snow to gain the Southeast Ridge by noon. (This is the ridge that connects Spearman Peak with Waddington.)

We were too stupid to find the Standard Route up the summit spire, so John pulled a directissimo, leading three absurd mixed pitches in doubleboots, mittens and pack, his pro consisting largely of tied-off pins in rotten rock and slings looped around pebbles frozen to the wall. At the notch in the spire we regained the standard route and climbed four pitches of mixed, icy terrain in a frigid pounding wind with enormous blades of ice hanging menacingly over us at all times. We reached the summit at 5:30 p.m., a point of snow so tiny only one of us could go up at a time. Then it was down, down, down. Seven raps back to the shoulder, stumbling hypothermic but happy down the Southeast Ridge in blood-red dusk, four long raps down the face hanging in utter darkness making bad jokes about one-piece anchors, six more down ice and snow in the moonlight and then the dreadful obligatory stretch of post-holing back to camp.

Having a masochistic desire to retreat from Waddington via some other route, we skied up Ice Valley and down the Waddington Glacier, eventually dropping into the Scar Creek drainage where we had gads of fun bashing into trees and rapping down waterfalls. Not two miles from the Scar Creek logging camp-cum-airstrip, a griz of remarkable proportion and humorous disposition sprawled out across the road. He lay there and smiled at us for an hour before we got out our pots and pans and hurt his ears. We named the route The Cowboy Way (IV 5.9 AI WI III).

Mark Jenkins, Crimes and Exhibitions