American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, The Golden Fleece, First Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1997

The Golden Fleece, First Ascent. The Golden Fleece, otherwise known as Birdman Falls, is a formation of ice that has attracted lots of attention from the minuscule number of people who have had the luxury of seeing it. Tucked into a tight little drainage cirque on the south side of the Chitina Glacier, it is a very impressive 400 foot vertical pillar of ice. Laying eyes on it is extremely difficult. Without the vast services of the Ultima Thule Lodge, 40 miles down the Chitina valley, this sort of objective might just as well be in Antarctica.

Paul Claus, pilot and owner of the Lodge, flew Charley Sassara and I over the deteriorating ice formation in April, 1995, just to make us drool. We were extremely impressed and eager to return. The cost of a couple of such flights for a day climb would inhibit most sane people from even considering the line. Paul, on the other hand, made our attempt possible by dropping us off within a two and a half hour ski of the pillar’s base on his way to another scheduled pickup.

An awkward ski up 2,000 feet through dense underbrush is only manageable because you cannot wait to see the hidden pillar. It is not disappointing. Three impressive pitches of superb steep ice took us to the lip of the vertical cliff. An additional WI 2 pitch completed the falls. We finished the climb by 7 p.m. and rapped off in the fading light. The 2,000-foot descent to the valley floor by head lamp was nasty, as ski descents go. However, Paul’s punctual Super Cub pickup the next day was right on target. How could anyone hope for a more rewarding 24 hours?

Comparable in quality to Hydrophobia in the Canadian Rockies, the route would be quite popular if it were nearer to a road. As it is, it represents a spectacular outing in a very remote setting.

Carlos Buhler

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.