American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, WRangell Mountains, Peaks 9,035', 9,400'+, and 9,436', First Ascents. Peak 11,000', Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Peaks 9,035', 9,400'+, and 9,436', first ascents. Peak 11,000', attempt. On June 2 Kelly Bay of Wrangell Mountain Air flew me into the upper Nikonda Glacier at 7,200 feet for reconnaissance. I soloed the east face of Peak 9,035'. The climb started with easy snow, to around 8,000 feet. From here the slopes continually steepened, and I climbed a couple of mixed pitches to reach the summit ridge at 8,700 feet or so. I followed the broken rock ridge with some fifth-class moves for a couple of pitches, before it became easy snow again to the high point. I tried to stay in safe terrain, because of extreme avalanche conditions. On the summit ridge the slopes settled with me, and when I returned to camp I noticed that the whole northeast face of the peak had slid. That was my other choice of a route!

In late August I returned with Kevin Smith to attempt the peak I had been scouting in June. This time we had to hike in to reach my previous camp at 7,200 feet. It took two and a half torturous days to walk in from the Nabesna River landing site at 2,800 feet. We spent most of our time in the creek and climbing the canyon walls with heavy packs. The weather for the rest of the trip was unsettled. It started out clear and extremely windy. On August 28 Kevin soloed Peak 9,436' northeast of camp while we waited for the winds to subside. On August 29 the two of us climbed Peak 9,400'+, which is exactly two miles east of the terminus of the Nikonda Glacier. On August 30 we tried for an early start on our main objective, Peak 11,000+, but again the winds and weather were unsettled. We waited a few hours, and the weather looked better, so we gave it a try. We ascended from camp on a long snow ridge. At around 8,700 feet, we were forced to do a few pitches of fifth-class rock before getting back on snow. At 9,000 feet we began a long traverse across moderate slopes, past Peak 9,903'. We then ascended a short slope to re-access the ridge proper and followed the ridge to around 10,500 feet, where the ridge narrowed to paper thin. It was extremely corniced, and the right side of the ridge was maybe 60 degrees, with the left side approaching vertical. We traversed the ridge on the right side for a few pitches before I decided to turn around. There was nothing but clouds in every direction, and we heard thunder in the valley to the east. It was a tough decision to turn around within an hour or so of the summit. As we were getting off technical ground onto the easier ridge, the summit disappeared in the clouds. After descending for a few pitches we were caught in a total whiteout, with high winds and blowing snow. This continued until we reached base camp. After an hour or so in camp, the clouds lifted again. We’ll have to return to finish the last 400 feet to the summit. I believe the ascents we did make were all firsts.

Danny Kost, AAC

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