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North America, Canada, St. Elias Range, Northwest Cook to Mt. Cook, Traverse

Northwest Cook to Mt. Cook, Traverse. Climbers Greg Brown (Canada), Bertrand Eynard (France), Dave Hildes (Canada), and Alun Hubbard (leader, UK) and crew Chris Barnett, Armel Castello, Tobyn Ross (all from Canada) left Vancouver on June 14 aboard Gambo, a 46-foot steel ketch, to sail the Inside Passage up the west coast of North America to Yakutat Bay, Alaska, in 12 days. After a successful drop at the toe of the Hubbard Glacier, we ascended the 40-kilometer, heavily crevassed Valerie Glacier for four days and, by July 5, had established Base Camp at 1650 meters on the Seward Glacier by the foot of Northwest Cook. Carrying seven days of food and fuel, we climbed the 2000-meter north ridge of Northwest Cook using two daytime bivies at 2100 meters and 2700 meters to rest. The climbing was of moderate difficulty, mostly on poor, crusty snow and rotten ice of 30 to 75 degrees with the occasional chossy rock section. We summitted Northwest Cook on our third night in ideal conditions; at the higher elevation, snow was firm. The weather had remained exceptionally stable (but very hazy) throughout.

We then followed the unclimbed ridge to Mt. Cook, with Bertrand leading through the crux of the route, a steep rock notch, during the fourth day. The next morning saw us finish the ridge, and we managed to locate ourselves at 4150 meters, immediately below the summit, at 10:45 a.m. on July 9 in rapidly deteriorating conditions. We set up camp in the lee of the summit ridge to wait out the blizzard. After 15 hours of being buffeted by severe winds, a promising clear patch appeared in the sky at 2:30 a.m. We emerged from the tent at 4 a.m. and jaunted up to Mt. Cook’s broad summit to enjoy a glorious sunrise on July 10. For the next three days we were frustrated by short weather windows and hunger, but on July 13 we were back on the Seward Glacier at our BC. Our plan to descend by the Valerie was quelled by the amount of snow-melt on the tenuous snow-bridges on which we had ascended. Instead, a 50-kilometer ski down the Seward Glacier to where it meets the Malaspina allowed VHF contact with Gulf Air Taxi pilots and we arranged for a pick-up. Return to Vancouver was made in ten days aboard Gambo with (mostly) favorable winds on the outside waters of Alaska and BC.

Sadly, David Persson, a good friend and original expedition member, fell to his death in late May while attempting to telemark down Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier. In memory of David, we have applied for Northwest Cook to be named after him.

Dave Hildes, Canada