American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Chugach Range, Mount Zeke, Northwest Arête

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1998

Mount Zeke, Northwest Arête. In early April, local Natanuska Glacier pilot Billy Stevenson and I flew an aerial recon for Nova Adventure Company, scoping mountain and glacier routes for guiding. After looking at peaks in five major drainages, we flew over Monument Glacier, which is surrounded by some of the most rugged peaks in the range. As we passed over the glacier, I noticed the largest (unnamed) mountain on the southeast corner of the glacier. It had a spectacular 400-meter-plus ice face high on its north face. I had Billy leave me on the glacier five minutes later with my survival gear. Karen Hilton flew in later that afternoon with the rest of our gear. After several days of unstable weather, we got a break long enough to make a one-day attempt of the face.

After moving camp to above a small icefall below the northwest ridge proper, we bivied for a couple of hours. Early the next morning we ascended a 350-meter couloir that averaged 50-55° and led directly to the ridge. Traversing the 500 meters along the ridge to where it joined the face involved chest-deep sugar snow. Upon joining the face, the ridge and deep snow quickly faded out, becoming a steep S-shaped ice arête leading directly to the summit 500 meters above us. Soon we were frontpointing leads up the densest, hardest, most brittle 55-75° ice I had ever encountered. Six full 60-meter pitches on the face, which was so smooth as to not have a foot hold to rest on anywhere, found us on a small rock outcrop with calves flaming. Time was not with us at this point. We had three hours of good light and still had to get down the mountain. I set our time limit at an hour and a half and took off on lead. The ice steepened, and after two more pitches I had more than used up my allotment. I set the first rap anchor about a rope length from the summit ridge. I could see we were high above adjoining peak “Moe” and were very close to the summit. The sky to the west was black with incoming weather and the sun was gone. We rapped as quickly as possible and ran down the unstable snow of the ridge and couloir. After a couple days of storm, we skied off the glacier into Monument Creek with avalanches pouring down all around us. After two and a half days of Class V bushwhacking with heavy packs and skis, we crossed the Matanuska River on the last good ice bridge and hiked up to the Glenn Highway. We had crossed some ski tracks in the drainage; as it turned out, Willi Peabody and Mike Wood had been in a week earlier and made an ascent of Mt. Awesome (the major peak on the west side of the lower glacier) via a couloir on the south side with horrible snow conditions.

The peak we climbed (ca.8500') was unnamed. Sizing up a rare opportunity, I named it after my five-year-old son, who is growing up in this region of the world.

Paul Turecki

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