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North America, United States, Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, Various Ascents

Wrangell Mountains, Various Ascents. On April 3, Paul Claus of Ultima Thule Outfitters flew Anchorage climbers Paul Barry, Kirk Towner and me from Chitina to “Bona Basin” at 10,500 feet on the upper Klutlan Glacier.

From this base camp we were able to summit three peaks during the next week. We made the third ascent of Mt. Tressider (13,315') up its northern slopes (Alaska Grade I). (The 1969 AAJ details the first and second ascents.) We also completed the first ascent of Peak 12,610', approaching the col below its west ridge from the north (Alaska Grade II). Interestingly, its summit contours are depicted accurately but mislabeled on the USGS topographic map; we confirmed that its true elevation is 500 feet lower than its name indicates. We unofficially named it Mount Pandora, in tribute to the people and history associated with an abandoned mining claim in the nearby upper Kotsina River valley. Finally, we made a one-day ski ascent of Mt. Churchill (15,783') up its southeastern slopes (Alaska Grade I), enduring -70°F wind chill.

On April 9, we loaded up our sleds and spent two days skiing 25 miles down the Klutlan Glacier toward our final objective, Mt. Riggs (11,738'). Riggs is located one mile west of the Alaska/Yukon border, and, until our ascent, was the highest unclimbed named summit in Alaska. We established our base camp just off the Klutlan Glacier at 6,700 feet on the southern slopes of Mt. Natazhat. A fourth friend, Harry Hunt, flew in and met us for this second week of our trip.

On April 11, Harry, Paul and I set out toward Mt. Riggs with four days of food and fuel, while Kirk remained in camp due to a foot infection. Our intended route up Mt. Riggs was the south-southeast ridge, still five miles distant. That evening we placed our camp at 7,200 feet in a beautiful valley due west of the south ridge. Riggs’ impressive south face loomed overhead. An encroaching low pressure system convinced us to try for the summit from this camp the following morning. By noon we had reached 9,500 feet and could finally view the 2,300- foot crux leading to the summit. We roped up and began climbing the narrow and slightly corniced ridge using pickets and ice screws as running belays. The exposure was impressive, with 3,000-foot drops looming on either side of the ridge. Two short ice bands at 10,500 feet and 11,000 feet defined the technical cruxes of the route. (We would later rappel each of these barriers on our descent.) A final 300-foot, 50° snow face prolonged the uncertainty of our success until the very last moment. Finally, at 5 p.m. on April 12, we could climb no higher. We had succeeded in making the first ascent of Mt. Riggs via the striking south-southeast ridge (Alaska Grade 4-). We returned to our valley camp at 9:30 p.m., just after dark. Six days later, Claus returned for the four of us and brought our 16-day Klutlan Glacier adventure to a close.

David Hart, Mountaineering Club of Alaska