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North America, United States, Alaska, Ruth Gorge, Mt. Barille, East Face, Orgler-Bonapace, probable third Ascent

Mt. Barille, East Face, Orgler-Bonapace, probable third ascent. On June 21 Ken Sauls and I flew into the Ruth, where we made a second ascent of the 1988 Orgler-Bonapace East Face route on Mt. Barille. Just gaining the rock was tricky, involving a complicated icefall at the base of the mountain. About 280 feet up the rock, at the start of huge dihedrals, weather moved in quickly, so we fixed our ropes and left a small amount of gear at this high-point.

A few days later, on about July 1, we returned to good cracks and a mixture of free and aid climbing. Ken led the first block of about 10 pitches in eight hours. By 11:15 p.m. we were on a reasonable ledge, when small clouds dropped a little precipitation. Snail eye clouded my vision. “Ken, I don’t know about this,” I said. Ken replied, “If we’re gonna climb this peak, we’re gonna have to deal with some weather.” I imagined a soaking-wet rappel epic down the grainy granite we had just climbed. When we opened our pack, we found that one of our water sacks had leaked its entire contents onto Ken’s fleece jacket. “Jingis,” Ken stated. Now we had only four liters of water, instead of six. Then it was my turn to lead. It was good free climbing up cracks and chimneys, pitch after pitch, fixing short where possible and aid soloing. With dawn approaching we reached the first pendulum point. I tensioned off 70 feet before gaining a series of small ramps and ledges that led toward the target crack system. Within 10 feet of the crack was a chimney, and I crawled in. Yahoo! After several more fine pitches and another series of tension traverses, at about 1 p.m., about 24 hours after starting up, we were seated on top of the first-ascent team’s first bivy ledge. We lazed in the sun and drank nearly all of our water. By 3 p.m. we switched leads, and Ken set out onto the upper half of the wall. We were so thirsty we drank water trickling down the rock. Ken, like a bulldozer, kept the upward progress happening. His shout of “Line fixed!” broke my delirium, as I fought and struggled with the back-breaking pack. Instead of hauling, we had the second jumar with the pack. By 4 a.m. we reached the first-ascent’s second bivy ledge, at the top of the face proper. We ate our last few energy bars. Belaying Ken became torture, as I could hardly stay awake. Every 10 minutes or so I would feel dizziness. Many outstanding 5.9 and 5.10 rock pitches zigzagged us to the top of the east face of Mt. Barille. By 10:30 a.m. we were on top of the formidable rock wall.

Up the steep snow face Ken went, into the mist, until I could hardly make him out. We stood on the flat snow summit with no view except thick Alaskan fog. What now? We were in a frightful position; no food, no bivy gear, and fog preventing us from going farther. Feelings of impending doom: Are we gonna perish here? We lay down and rested. My weariness prevented clear thought. Small things seemed impossible. Then false starts in the fog and snow, huddling from the wind and rain in an alcove, trying to nap, until the mist settled a little around midnight. Suddenly we could see Mt. Dickey. Realizing we could leave this cold place and make it to base camp got us going. We managed to figure out the descent—down the southwest ridge, through the Sheldon Amphitheater, and around into the Gorge and our camp by Dickey.

Variable stone quality, a couple of whippers, and some heart-pounding rock fall kept the descent interesting. We returned to camp 64 hours after leaving.

Jon Allen