American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, Mt. Fairweather from the Sea

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

Mt. Fairweather From the Sea. Last April our team of five left Port Townsend, Washington on an odyssey to sail to and climb Mt. Fairweather (15,320') without any assistance. We all worked for the Pacific Crest Outward Bound School (which helped us with an expedition grant) and all had experience on boats and in the mountains. Our challenge was to put all our skills and resources together to get ourselves to the summit and back home.

We sailed out the strait of Juan de Fuca on April 21 aboard my 40-foot racing sloop Highland Fling with enough gear and supplies for almost two months. After a relatively uneventful sail up the outside of Vancouver Island, through Hecate Strait and up the coast of Southeast Alaska, we managed (barely) to land our gear through the surf just north of Cape Fairweather on May 2. The Fairweather Slough is much larger than past accounts had reported and the snout of the Fairweather Glacier is now approximately three miles inland. It took us nearly a week to re-anchor the boat safely at Lituya Bay, consolidate our gear and penetrate the coastal vegetation. We then had to cross a swift stream and climb 50° ice seracs to gain the moraine rubble on the surface of the glacier. We made good progress weaving up the dry glacier and skirting ice falls by climbing snow and lateral moraines first north, then south of the Glacier. We saw no evidence of prior expeditions at the usual 5,000-foot base camp at the foot of the south (Carpe) ridge. We chose the southeast ridge because the access looked more feasible and it proved to only require a couple of belays on 50° ice to gain easy snow fields to about 7,800 feet where we camped. The next section required exposed climbing on a beautiful knife-edged ridge and steep snow and loose rock. As food was short and the route was looking difficult, two of us descended to the 5,000-foot base camp. Scott Dinham and Dan Evans summited the next day after negotiating continued steep slopes, cornices and the infamous “ice nose” in perfect weather on May 19. We had the only sustained clear weather right when we needed it.

The 30-mile descent/retreat had its interesting moments with snow bridges melting out, a 150-foot free rappel off the glacier, and crossing the slough with a raft which had been shredded by a grizzly bear. Highland Fling sailed back in to Port Townsend on June 8 after battling headwinds much of the way south.

Stuart Lochner, unaffiliated

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