North America, United States, Alaska, Fairweather Range, Burkett Needle, Voyage of the Celestial Tramps

Publication Year: 2000.

Burkett Needle, Voyage of the Celestial Tramps. From May 6-31, Sébastien Foissac and I put up a new route capsule-style on the southeast face of the Burkett Needle. Drop-off and pick-up by boat was made from Thomas Bay. We spent 41 days in the Coast Range, without any radio or assistance. The approach took us six days to ferry more than 200 kilos, first by foot (triple portage) and after with skis and two pulkas each. At first, we went to have a look at the northwest face of Devil’s Thumb, but it was really out of condition. So we decided (and did not regret) to go to the Burkett Needle. A blizzard destroyed our tent on Baird Glacier while we were inside, and we had to dig a snowcave in a hurry. Our pulkas disappeared, taken away by the wind, despite the big stones we put on them. Nevertheless, we started the climb, living from then on in our portaledge. The climbing, mostly free, was sustained and committing. Moreover, we felt it was harder due to the snow and cold. After a 300-meter buttress, we followed a very aesthetic snow ridge to the bottom of a forbidding gendarme, from which we escaped via two long rappels. The junction was made later after having hauled our gear to the little col between the needle and the gendarme. We kept on hauling our stuff to the middle of the needle, traversing snow bands. We even did a tyrolean. We spent 14 nights in the Negresco Bivouac (named after a very famous five-star hotel in Nice). After a few days of excellent climbing, the weather, which was not very good at all, became really bad. We stayed several days “portaledge-bound” in a continual snowstorm. We had to evacuate the snow around the portaledge in order not to be buried. On May 29, the weather finally improved and we passed the headwall. Unfortunately, storms came back in the late afternoon and we stopped 50 meters below the top, covered by ice. We were incredibly motivated to reach the summit, which we did the next day. The pitch I completed was one of the hardest I ever did, due to the weather conditions (terrible wind, snow, ice). After six or seven hours of fierce fighting, a gift awaited us at the top: no wind! The way down was hellish: ten centimeters of ice on a fixed rope I left on the headwall. We finally reached our portaledge at 2 a.m. We had very little time to return (we could not miss our meeting with Dieter and his boat), so we walked 15 to 17 hours a day, using our haulbags instead of our lost pulkas. The Voyage Of The Celestial Tramps (VI 7a+ A3+, ca. 1200m) took 41 days in total. A special thanks to Dieter and Ken for their hospitality. (A complete account of the voyage appears earlier in this journal.)

Lionel Daudet, France