American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, University Peak, North Ridge

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

University Peak, North Ridge. University Peak (14,470') is a relatively unknown pyramid-shaped mountain lying within the University Range of the St. Elias mountains; its south, west and east faces rise more than 8,000 feet above the glaciers. If University were in a more popular or accessible region, it would be highly prized and often attempted. The mountain was first climbed in 1955 after a failed attempt the year before. The first ascent party scaled the peak via the Hawkins glacier and intimidating upper icefall to reach a basin northwest of the peak at 10,000 feet. The party then ascended the north ridge. This group also made the second ascent of Mt. Bona (16,421') by a new route on the south ridge, and the first ascent of P.12,980'. University Peak and Range were named for the University of Alaska Fairbanks by Terris Moore.

Having grown up with the mountain at his back door, Paul Claus had wanted to climb University Peak for most of his life. He had always dreamed of climbing the awesome south face, but this year finally decided it was more realistic to climb the north ridge. We made tentative plans revolving around Paul’s schedule for early April. On April 6, Paul picked me up in Chitina and we flew in to his lodge near Bear Island. Later that day Dave Staeheli, Ruedi Hornberger, Paul and I flew to “Beaver Basin” at 10,500 feet just northwest of the peak. On April 7, we all skied up to the col between University and P.12,980' at around 11,500 feet. We traversed the col and ascended about 500 feet of the north ridge to reconnoiter before stashing some gear and returning to camp. On April 8 we got an early start in clear weather with some hanging clouds and light winds. The temperature was around -10°F. We retraced our route of the previous day, then ascended the north ridge proper. The ridge is not technical, but requires a lot of route-finding to surpass the many crevasses and seracs. We climbed most of the route unroped (at times traversing either face, climbing the ridge crest, or descending and ascending inside crevasses or through seracs) until Dave fell some 20 feet into a crevasse while leading at around 13,000 feet. We had light snow and some wind, but the cold temperatures allowed for steady progress. The snow was deep powder or sugar. At around 14,000 feet we left some gear to lighten our packs, and proceeded to the summit. By mid-afternoon we had all reached a summit that for each of us had significant meaning.

Our ascent of the mountain was the second, and would be followed by the third, by Charlie Sassara and Carlos Buhler, a few weeks later.

Danny W. Kost

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