American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains, Kayak Ski Mountaineering in Glacier Bay

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

Kayak Ski Mountaineering in Glacier Bay. I left the Salmon River at Gustavus in a single kayak on May 12 with a full load of food, fuel, water, and ski mountaineering gear. My skis and ski poles were mounted on deck in a homemade waterproof bag. The light head winds and counterweight placed deep in the kayak produced a comfortable level of stability. I pad- died mostly with the tide for 26 nautical miles to a small beach near Geikie Inlet. The next day I paddled the remaining 25.5 miles to Reid Inlet. On day four, the slow advance up Reid Glacier began. A mostly sedentary winter spent in Gustavus had shrunk my leg muscles, and progress hauling three weeks of food and gear was slow. On the sixth day a long hard pull under an unexpectedly hot sun brought me to the 2,600-foot plateau three miles east of the northeast spur of Mt. Bertha. On day eight I moved camp to 3,200 feet beneath a spur leading to what I perceived to be the Washburn route. Any attempt on that route was blocked by mushy snow and large moats. A few days of ski laps gave my legs a familiar resilience and I began to wonder what opportunities the Bertha-Crillion col might provide.

On day 12,I followed a low angle route, throwing an avalanche probe out front with each step. A route up toward the col at 6,500 feet looked feasible. I left at 5 a.m., taking food for one day, a liter of water, a stove and fuel, several layers of warm clothing, ice axe, alpine axe, crampons, skis and climbing skins. I progressed northwest up a heavily crevassed slope toward the Bertha-Crillion col and picked up the first couloir to the right. The climbing was easy and quick to approximately 7,500 feet, where the slot topped out on a southeast-facing slope. A turn to the left over loose snow softened by the already high sun brought me to 8,000 feet on the southwest ridge above the B-C col.

Before too long I was on the plateau at 9,700 feet adjacent to the Washburn route. Nearly a mile of dead reckoning was needed to reach the hidden summit knob. Eleven hours of climbing, a switch back to crampons and a quick 600-foot gain brought me to the 10,204-foot summit. After a quick lunch and switch to skis I began skiing down, then switched back to crampons, then skied across the plateau and carved slow survival turns down portions of the head- walls adjacent to the southwest ridge. I got off course and bivied only a few hundred feet above my tent for a few hours until cooler temperatures and brighter skies allowed for a safe descent.

The skies cleared once again the following day and July Fourth Peak proved to be a beautiful ski tour. The descent back to the head of Reid Inlet was uneventful, though travel and navigation was more difficult due to considerably less snow cover. The nearly three weeks my kayak spent resting on the snow near the beach was not kind to it. It had apparently attracted much attention, as evidenced by muddy bear tracks in the snow and a crack resembling a tooth bite on the hull. A quick duct tape repair and I was headed for Gustavus with a stop at Margerie Glacier to check out future routes in the Fairweather Range.

Mike Dziobak, unaffiliated

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