American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, St. Elias Mountains, Peak 10,170', Attempt, and Peaks 9,695' and 9,720', New Routes

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

Peak 10,170', Attempt, and Peaks 9,695' and 9,720', New Routes. On April 27, John Race and I were flown onto the upper West Fork of the breathtakingly beautiful Barnard Glacier, which sits between two of the St. Elias Range’s highest peaks, University Peak (14,470') to the west and Mount Bear (14,831') to the east. We planned to explore and climb a few of the easier 10,000-foot peaks in the area, many of which have never been climbed and for which there is little to no route information available.

After establishing a base camp at 7,000 feet on the glacier, we attempted Peak 10,170' on April 29 via the 8,500-foot col between Peak 10,170' and Peak 9,695', bailing due to lack of gear. On April 30, we attempted Peak 9,695' from the northeast and climbed up and over several 8,000-foot-plus sub-peaks on the approach. We then came up into a heavily crevassed area that was surrounded by recently avalanched slopes. We made several attempts over the course of the next four to five hours to find a route around these hazards before bailing. On May 1, we again attempted Peak 10,170', but bailed once more due to objective hazard and fear of a possible collapse of a cornice above us. The crux three to four pitches just below the cornice were of steep, black, 60-degree ice. Needless to say, the route was more difficult and committing than we had anticipated.

On May 2, after establishing a high camp at around 8,200 feet in the upper west fork of the Barnard Glacier Amphitheater, we attempted Peak 9,695' and its sister peak, which lay just southeast of University Peak, from the northwest. (Paul Claus indicated that a few years earlier he had climbed Peak 9,695' directly from the col that separates it from Peak 10,170'.) We got off route a couple of times but eventually topped out onto a 9,200-foot sub-peak with a great view of University Peak behind us and the summits of Peak 9,695' and its sister peak in front of us.

We then arrived at a narrow rock-covered ridge that drops off several thousand feet to the glacier floor far below. After topping out above the ridge, we began to place ice screws as we climbed a steep, snow- and ice-covered face for three pitches. We then climbed down 200 feet to a small saddle with a beautiful 70-foot blue ice cliff hanging above it. We crossed another nasty offwidth crevasse, climbed onto the 600-foot knife-edged and heavily corniced summit ridge, and scampered up and onto the summit. We believe this was the second ascent of Peak 9,695', and by a new route. We then headed back down toward the small saddle, from which we climbed up and to the right around the ice cliff and onto a fairly easy 35-degree snow slope of the sister peak. After about 200 feet of elevation gain, we found ourselves on the narrow two-foot by 30- foot summit of Peak 9,720'. We believe this was the first ascent of this unnamed peak. We returned to high camp, broke camp, and headed back down to base camp for the evening.

On our last day, we got hit by a slab avalanche on an 8,500-foot peak due north of base camp. Fortunately we were able to stay on top of the avalanche and ride it out. Both of us ended up with sprained knees and bumps and bruises. We managed to get safely back down to base camp, where the weather had changed for the worse. The weather improved by morning, and Paul was able to fly in and pick us up at 8:30 a.m. the following day, May 5.

Lee Jenkins

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