Wrangell-Saint Elias, Various Activity. Climbing and skiing in the Wrangell-Saint Elias mountains yielded a wide variety of adventures for 1997.I started with a relaxing family trip to a side valley east of the Barnard Glacier, one valley south of Mt. Bear. Shawn and Michele O’Fallon, Carlos Buhler, Siri Moss and I spent a week ski touring and exploring side valleys near the north face of Mt. Donna. Maintaining our strict, self-imposed rule of no movement before 1 p.m., Shawn, Carlos and I left camp at 1:30 on April 23 to attempt the first ascent of an 11,300-foot peak just north of camp. Climbing sans rope and with a single ice tool per person, we ascended more than 5,000 vertical feet up the southeastern slopes and stood atop the summit at 7 p.m. While not technically demanding, the exposed summit ridge and elevation gain blew the carbon out of our systems. We named it Mt. Benkin, after Carlos’s climbing partner who died while descending from the summit of K2 in 1996.
After Paul Claus picked us up, we helped entertain a North Face marketing team by leading the pack up a splendid 450-foot waterfall on the south side of the Chitina River. A highlight was Siri leading a rope team that included Paul’s eight-year-old son, Jay Claus, who gave ice-climbing beta to The North Face crew.
Carlos and I then turned our attention to the season’s big project, the unexplored 8,500- foot east face of University Peak. We successfully completed the new route on May 4, then traversed the peak and downclimbed the north ridge. (A full account of this climb appears ear- lier in this journal).
Along with the customary climbs of Sanford, Blackburn, Bona, Saint Elias and Logan, Paul Claus and Ultima Thule Outfitters helped a number of people with their adventures. The most notable achievements included (besides other climbs listed in these pages) the first one- day ski ascent of Mt. Wrangell, by Auden Endestad and Andy Embick in early May, and the first guided ascent of Mt. Saint Elias via the south ridge (by guide Bill McKenna with clients Paul Sharwell and Larry Krutko) in mid-June.