American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park, Denali, Attempt, and Ascent of Browne Tower; Mt. Koven, Second Ascent; and Mt. Tatum, North Rib

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1998

Denali, Attempt, and Ascent of Browne Tower; Mt. Koven, Second Ascent; and Mt. Tatum, North Rib. Our goal was an ascent of Browne Tower and the subsequent rocky ridge line to the summit of Mt. McKinley. The upper portion of this ridge (above the mound at 17,425’) previously has been climbed during various ascents of the East Buttress and Traleika Spur. Browne Tower itself and the ridge line to 17,425 feet remained unclimbed. From April 29 to May 20, Stephen Leary, Peter Way, Paul Weber and I, all from New Zealand and Australia, established a camp at the base of the tower following an approach via the Muldrow Glacier and Karstens Ridge. Before attempting the tower, we ascended the Harper Glacier by the standard route, acclimatized at a camp at 16,500 feet, and placed a food cache at 17,200 feet on the upper ridge before returning to camp at Browne Tower. On May 16, we climbed the Tower via a direct line up from the crest of the upper Coxcomb. After initial scrambling on mixed ground, we encountered three pitches of mixed rock and ice-filled cracks (5.7) followed by more mixed scrambling to the top of the tower. The rock was of excellent quality, beautiful orange granite blocks that continued to stud the ridge for almost a mile beyond the tower. Progress along this ridge was free and fast with spectacular views of the east face and steeply down to the West Fork Traleika icefalls. Unfortunately, strong afternoon winds forced us to abandon the ridge at 15,800 feet via a couloir onto the Harper Glacier. The storm that followed kept us tent-bound for four days and prevented completion of the route.

We made camp for the ascent of Mt. Koven’s Northwest Face at 10,000 feet on the Muldrow Glacier. On the morning of May 22, it was snowing lightly and we left camp at 11:30 a.m., intending to reconnoiter the route. Access onto the face proved to be straightforward. A large bergschrund wall at about 10,400 feet was negotiated via an ice pitch up a convenient serac and an airy step across to the iceslopes above. At 11,200 feet, another ‘schrund cut across the entire face but still was bridged in places by the season’s snowfall. At this point, we broke through the morning cloud layer into a gloriously calm and sunny afternoon. The ice before us swept to the summit ridge at about 60° and tempted more than a reconnoiter.

A broken rib protruded from the face just left of center. Our line followed hard ice up to the right of this rib, then onto the blocks of the rib itself at about 12,000 feet. Negotiating the seracs and crevasses of the upper rib, we arrived at a beautiful summit icecap at about 6 p.m. With breathtaking views of Karsten’s Ridge, Browne Tower and the summit of Denali less than five miles away across the Harper icefall, it is remarkable that this peak has received so few visitors. Descending by the same route with several rappels, we were back at camp on the Muldrow by 11:30 p.m., content to enjoy a most memorable cheesecake prepared by Paul for his 26th birthday.

A prominent ice rib protrudes from the jumbled crevasse fields and icefalls of the north face of Mt. Tatum (11,140'). The rib has a north-northwest aspect and leads directly to the summit. On May 25, we left our base camp at 6,300 feet on the Muldrow Glacier and ascended firm snow on the lower rib. Progress was fast and the terrain interesting with seracs and gaping crevasses on both sides. At about 9,600 feet the rib runs straight into a 45-meter ice cliff with crevasses and fragments from the wall peeling off either side. Just below this, we placed a high camp and spent a beautiful evening exploring the wall.

The 26th dawned clear and we set about finding a way through the blocks above. We followed the snow-bridged bottom of the long crevasse bordering the right side of the ice cliff. The crevasse curved right, the wall relentlessly overhanging above us on the left. Eventually, the wall laid back, allowing a single 90° ice pitch up and out of the crevasse onto a small plateau at 9,800 feet. This whole section of the rib could have been traversed widely either to the right or left. The remaining slopes were straightforward except for another crevasse head- wall immediately below the summit, which we were able to bridge at the right end. After an early evening summit, we descended via the same route and a magnificent 45-meter rappel off the lower icecliff, still bathed in the orange glow of an Alaskan midnight summer sunset.

Ned Norton, unaffiliated

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