American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, St. Elias Mountains, Mounts Illinois and Vermont, and Hawaii Peak, First Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Mounts Illinois and Vermont, and Hawaii Peak, First Ascents. Under clear skies on May 8, Kelly of Wrangell Mountain Air flew Brad Metz, Keith Schumacher and me onto a small unnamed glacier north of the Walsh Glacier near the Alaska/Yukon Border. This area is part of the Centennial Range in Alaska’s St. Elias Mountains. The Centennial Range originates in Canada and consists of a series of peaks that were climbed as part of Canada’s centennial celebration. For the Canadian section of the Centennials, the first ascensionists named the peaks after the Canadian provinces. While the range continues into the United States, the mountains have remained unnamed and unclimbed due to their relatively small size and remote location. Our group’s objective was to continue the Canadian tradition on the U.S. side, climbing and naming the peaks after states in the U.S.

Upon landing, we set up camp and made a reconnaissance of the area. We found significant new-route opportunities.

On May 9, under a beautiful warm sun, we climbed all day to make a probable first ascent of Peak 9,547' (which we are calling “Illinois Mountain”) on the U.S.-Canadian Border. The route followed a snow gully under a hanging glacier, where we climbed fast to avoid serac fall. We then simulclimbed a fourth- to low fifth-class snow/ice/rotten rock gully, gaining about 1,500 vertical feet. A ridge and open snow slopes led to the massively corniced summit. After punching two holes through the summit cornice, about 2,500 feet above the glacier, we decided to leave the last 30 feet of the cornice to bolder climbers. From the summit, we had a great view into Canada of the Mt. Logan Massif and all the satellite peaks. We also could examine the ridge route (hard but doable) that we wanted to make on the other side of the glacier. This ridge led to our main objective, Peak 9,874', labeled by our group as “Mt. Vermont.”

We spent several days moving camp up the ridge, exploring the route and climbing the surrounding peaks. Unsettled weather prevented us from completing the route, and lack of supplies forced us to move camp back to the glacier.

On our last planned climbing day, the weather cleared in the morning. We headed off on skis and back up the incredible ridge, enjoying awesome glacier and mountain views, and great mountaineering over snow, ice, and rotten rock. At about 6 p.m., the clouds moved back in. We kept going. At around 7 p.m., light snow started, and one of our group fell in a crevasse. We found the key to the summit to be a couloir around the back of the mountain (now known as the Metz Couloir). We kept going, setting a turnaround time of 9 p.m. At 8:30, we were on the summit of Mt. Vermont, engulfed in the clouds and snow. Our descent involved multiple rappels and lasted until 2:30 a.m.

Along the ridge toward Mt. Vermont, Peak 8,580' (which we named “Hawaii Peak”) was also climbed. The climbing involved near-vertical snow climbing to a cornice en route to the summit.

We believe that these were all first ascents. The only other climber that I am aware of who has been active in the area is Danny Kost, who climbed Peak 8,984' (see 1998 AAJ, pp. 226-7). Forty-seven peaks remain to be named to complete the U.S. side of the Centennial Range.

Sam Nelson

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