American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, St. Elias Mountains, University Peak, South Face, Barnard Glacier, Ascents and Ski Descents

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

University Peak, South Face; Barnard Glacier, ascents and ski descents. On April 1 Paul Claus dropped Bob Kingsley, Lance McDonald, John Whedon, and me at 7,000 feet, below the south face of University Peak. We had come to the St. Elias Range to attempt the first ascent of this 7,200-foot face. As skiers we were also drawn to the fall line, unbroken from top to bottom. God’s own ski shot! Paul had attempted the face several times and generously passed one of his dreams on to us. It felt great having the Claus clan behind us. For the next four days we watched the face, skiing some sweet powder to gain different perspectives on our route. We climbed the bottom quarter one afternoon to an overhanging outcrop that offered the only semblance of protection for a tent on the entire face. A forecast from Paul was for the weather to “fall apart in the next day or two.” We decided to go for it in one push.

April 6 was spent maximizing caloric intake. At 10:30 p.m. we left camp in a light snow. The full moon had risen over Mt. Donna, surrounded by a huge halo. All of us expected this to be just a little full moon ski tour. We reached the outcrop in three hours. As we brewed, stars appeared overhead. Continue we must. Dawn found us covered in frost and level with the seracs that hang from the south ridge. Snow conditions were optimal: six to eight inches of sloughed powder over ice. At around 8 a.m. we traversed left, hoping to find a place to chill on the ridge. Exposure there was even greater: huge granite cliffs dropped to the Hawkins Glacier. At 10:30 a.m. we finally reached a level spot at the very top of the south face. We were still roughly 300 vertical feet below the summit but decided to save our energy for the descent. We climbed down into a tight tube, where we found good ice for a V-thread. A 200-foot rap brought us to skiable snow. The first few thousand feet were 50 degrees or more, tapering to 45 degrees below. As we relaxed on the final 40-degree powder, Paul’s Beaver rounded the corner, carrying the next of several University Peak ski-descent teams.

Just before dark a knock on the Megamid had us revelers tipping over assorted kettles and bottles. Paul, after swapping planes, had cut his engine near the summit and coasted into the alpenglow to bring us congratulatory beers. On the 10th, with six days left, three of us (Lance had frostbite) made a plan with Paul for a pickup to the east. We crossed an easy pass east of University via a straight and narrow glacier. After setting up camp at 7,000 feet on the main Barnard, we skied several 10,000-foot peaks. Incidentally, Paul, having flown very near the summits of the peaks in this area with an accurate altimeter, thinks that actual elevations are higher than those listed on maps. He believes that University Peak is almost 15,000 feet high, rather than the accepted 14,470 feet.

Lorne Glick

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