American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Ruth Gorge, Various Ascents

United States, Alaska, Alaska Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Kelly Cordes
  • Climb Year: 2000
  • Publication Year: 2001

Thanks to a Mugs Stump Award grant, Scott DeCapio and I were dropped by Talkeetna Air Taxi on May 10 at our new home below Mt. Dickey in the Ruth Gorge. Despite much base camp laziness, we made numerous attempts (as defined by at least carrying our gear to the base of nine different climbs and actually getting off the ground on many before cowering away) and managed three ascents (one new) during our four-week sojourn. The first ascent was an easy, fun Bugabooesque rock route on Hut Tower, a relatively small peak on the lower east side of the lower gorge. A 1,000-foot easy snow couloir led to the 800-foot South Ridge route, which went at about 5.8, but was mostly easier, with snowy rock to gain the summit. We rappelled from fixed stations.

Serious thought and soul-searching followed Seth Shaw’s death (see below), before we decided to stay and climb. On May 27, we climbed a 3,200-foot new mixed line on a relatively unknown peak called “London Tower” (Peak 7,500'; square 29 Talkeetna D-2 map) in the lower east side of the Ruth Gorge. The route ascends a rocky couloir on the west face, left (north) of the summit and the 1990 Neswadba-Arch rock route. Of course, the groveling proved considerably harder than it looked from the glacier. In the conditions we found, the five crux pitches felt like one WI6, two M6, and two M6+. Some were without protection, but most were fairly short and appeared to have soft-snow landing zones. Many pitches of moderate, fun mixed climbing, often with good gear, and a snow slog in the middle rounded out the route. We mostly simulclimbed, taking 12 hours ’schrund to summit. After an awesome hour on top relaxing, we found an easy downclimb off the backside (east) to the Coffee Glacier. An easy walk southwest led around and up to the col south of Hut Tower (where the south ridge of Hut Tower begins, mentioned above). We butt-slid back to our skis, arriving in camp 18 hours after leaving. With thoughts of our friends, rest-day antics, and the appearance of our camp, we named it The Trailer Park. Like our existence in the Ruth, the climb proved a bit surly at times.

From midnight until 4 a.m. on a day in early June, we repeated the 1996 French route Wake Up, a 3,100-foot snow/ice climb to a subsidiary peak (Pt. 8,130') on the shoulder of Mt. Wake (near the Wake-Bradley col). Zack Smith and Aaron Martin had also climbed the route a few days earlier, between attempts at a new route on Dickey’s south face. The route gave us the willies, felt spooky, and proved more dangerous than we had anticipated or wanted. We simulclimbed the route in two pitches, finding mostly easy climbing with a few tricky sections up to about WI4. The bad vibes continued on the descent, as I blew the bergschrund jump and was launched down slope, ass over tea kettle. Scott, a baseball player in his pre- climbing-bum days, saved the day by fielding me and making a tackle. Fortunately, I only tumbled 50 or 60 feet. The Ruth had grown weary of our foolishness, so Paul Roderick picked us up later that day and delivered us to the bustling metropolis of Talkeetna.

Kelly Cordes

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