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North America, United States, Alaska, Thorn Peak, East Face, 100 Years of Solitude

Thorn Peak, East Face, 100 Years of Solitude. During late July, 1992, I traversed the Gakona Range from the range’s high peak (mislabeled on most maps) of Gakona over to Thom Peak (Peak 9200'). My main memory of the climb was banging in a ringing angle piton, taking a peek down the east face of Thom through the mist and then blindly rappelling down the south face.

February, 1995. Convincing neophyte climber Rick Studley to attempt a winter ascent of the unclimbed and unseen east face of the Thom was easy. Skiing 40 miles up a frozen river covered with a foot and a half of water was not. Five miles from the road and two days into the slog from hell, we turned around.

February, 1996. Ian McRae didn’t want to ski 40 miles to climb a face I had no photos of. When we got a grant to fly in, he bit the hook. After taking all our money, our pilot landed us a week from our objective. Ian and I proceeded to spend the next 17 days in -50°F weather hating life, digging snowcaves, and trying to stay warm. By the time we got to the base of the face, we were completely spent. Climbing 3,000 feet of technical ground at those temperatures was not going to happen.

April, 1997. Photos in hand, I thought it would be easy to get a partner for the obvious gem of a line. Landing in a Super Cub at the base of the face alone, I knew I needed to work on my salesmanship. Climbing half the face and finding the crux rock band devoid of ice and me devoid of aid gear left me nowhere to go but down and out. Skiing the 40 miles to the road was a chore—then one of my skis broke in half. Let’s just say I had an adventure.

Early March, 1998. Rick Studley, an old man by now in the climbing world of Fairbanks, was once again easy to convince to try the still-unclimbed east face of the Thom. With a paved snowmobile trail leading two-thirds of the way in, the ski took only three days. When we reached the base of the rock band, it was obvious that March was the month. Thin but climbable ice headed straight up for 800 feet. After fixing our one rope and a few aiders on the crux two pitches (WI5 5.5), we dug a cave and holed up for the -30P night. The next day the sun was strong. We ate ramen, then swung leads up thin, but plastic ice. Soon the ice was behind us and two pitches of scary snow tunneling brought us onto an arête near the summit. Rick ran up the snow and rock arête and belayed from a place I had reached six years ago. Descending the highly corniced north ridge and than down a 2,000-foot snow gully quickly brought us back to our skis at the base of the climb. Skiing out in a marathon two days was uneventful.

The route was named 100 Years of Solitude for the only book I had to read on my solo attempt and because it will probably be 100 years before this hidden gem gets climbed again.

Jeff Apple Benowitz, unaffiliated