American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Thunder Mountain, Attempt and Air Time

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Thunder Mountain, Attempt and Air Time. On May 12, Jim Donini and I flew into the Tokositna Glacier to attempt a route on the south side of Thunder Mountain. The climb, which splits two huge rock buttresses, is a 3,000-foot alpine gully capped with a beautiful 600-foot ice ribbon leading to the summit snowfields.

On our first attempt it was still dark when we got to the base of the initial icefall, a pillar of overhanging choss that wouldn’t take any protection and barely held tools. Donini found a traverse to the left that in seven pitches took us around the icefall and deposited us 150 feet above the start of the icefall. A few pitches of steep gunbarrel-type gullies led to the icefield below the ribbon, and by 5:30 p.m., we were looking up at four pitches of incredible ice. Unfortunately, it was dumping heavily on us, the descent was going to be an exploration and Donini had broken a crampon. So we bailed, leaving a fixed rope over the rotten ice so we could cruise it on our return.

The next time up, I was belaying Donini in the gunbarrel when a chunk of something came down and whacked me in the arm. Bailed again.

Finally on May 21, we got ourselves to the ribbon at a decent hour. It was 8:30 a.m. when I swung my tool into the start of 600 feet of perfect Alaskan ice. Donini got the next pitch, a stepped, rampy kind of thing that ended in a hanging belay below the final steep pitch. The first 80 feet was another section of perfect plastic, and I protected it with three bomber screws. Then it ramped back to 50 feet of névé and snow and was capped by the final 15 vertical feet that led to the summit snowfields. The ice here was rotten, though, and a stubby screw that barely held its own weight was about ten feet below me when I fell. It pulled, of course, so there was about 80 feet of slack in the rope when I went flying by Donini, harpooning him with my crampons on the way past.

When I came to, I realized that both my feet were hosed. I put in a couple of screws, equalized them and tied in, and Donini rapped down to me, discovering on the way that I had chopped the rope almost in two. We splinted my feet with an ice tool and two rolls of tape and self-evac’d to the top of the icefield. The splint didn’t work and I started to bleed a lot, so we made the difficult decision to go for help. Donini chopped me a ledge, tied me in, then rapped and downclimbed the gully to base camp. By some miracle, our pilot, Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi, decided to do a late evening fly-by, and Jim was able to flag him down. By 9 p.m., a rescue was underway.

Bad weather kept them from short-hauling me on the 22nd, but they were able to get me off early on the morning of the 23rd. I was admitted to Providence Hospital in Anchorage with two frostbitten feet, a compound fracture of my left tib/fib, hairline fracture of my left talus, a shattered right talus and a broken left pinky. The route still awaits an ascent.

Malcolm Daly

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