American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Denali National Park, Ruth Gorge, Mt. Dickey, South Pillar, Crime of the Century; and Mt. Bradley, Northeast Spur, Welcome to Alaska

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Ruth Gorge, Mt. Dickey, south pillar, Crime of the Century; and Mt. Bradley, northeast spur, Welcome to Alaska. Our group flew to Ruth Gorge on May 4 with Doug Geeting Aviation (they were impressed by the amount of food we took!). We were nine members of the national youth group of Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l’Escalade*. Our expedition lasted from May 4 to May 25. Before departure we all studied photos and imagined the most awesome new routes.

It was funny then to see our faces after the last plane vanished, leaving us alone on this cold and windy glacier! Our two objectives, Mt. Bradley and Mt. Dickey, were in front of us, like dark giant ships, covered with snow. The awesome new routes did not seem so realistic any more.

We first experienced a week of storm and snow. But morale remained high, thanks to the big dome tent and palatable food. The weather then became totally clear and warm for 15 days. However, avalanche risk remained high, and we always met rotten snow in the mixed sections. Five of us climbed Mt. Dickey, while the four others climbed Mt. Bradley. Both routes had been attempted previously (we found gear on each), but not, to our knowledge, completed.

On the south pillar of Mt. Dickey (2,909m), the climbers were Guillaume Avrisani, Yann Bonneville, Cédric Cruaud, Paul Robach, and Romain Wagner.

The route we opened (Crime of the Century, 1,550m, 27 pitches, VI 6c A4) was located in the middle of Dickey’s huge south face. We think this line may be the only safe one on the face, much of which is threatened by a high snow and rock avalanche risk, due to rotten schist slopes above.

The route consisted of a 1,050m big wall, followed by 500m of mixed climbing with loose schist. We fixed ropes for three days (May 12–14), spending nights at base camp, then ascended in capsule-style from May 15 to May 20. The rock varied from excellent to awful. Some aid pitches were on very poor “sugar” rock, from which bolts could be removed by hand. The aid climbing was often hard. However, we also free climbed several pleasant sections on excellent granite. A wonderful terrace is located one-third of the way up the route, but bivouac sites are virtually nonexistent above. Above the wall we spent unpleasant hours digging into rotten snow and climbing on moving schist. After an afternoon rest we reached the summit on May 20, at 9:00 p.m., then went down by the easy Dickey Pass route.

The climbers on the northeast spur of Mt. Bradley (2,775m) were Victor Charon, Alban Faure, Christophe Moulin, and Jérémie Ponson. They called their route Welcome to Alaska (1,400m, 31 pitches, snow/rock/mixed, VI 6b A3+ M6-). After three days (May 11–13) of preparing 300m of fixed rope, the group ascended May 14–19. The conditions (a lot of snow) made this ascent a hard trip. The route corresponded to what climbers from the Alps might expect in Alaska: incredible snow formations, such as huge mushrooms and cornices, and a 350m wall of good rock on the ridge. Since bivouac sites were lacking on the 350m wall, the team made a 35-hour nonstop push to reach its top. From there they were obliged to rappel to gain the following ridge, which involved hard aid and mixed climbing, before joining the east ridge (the final part of the Orgler route). They reached the summit at 4:00 p.m. on May 19. The team spent a full day descending to the pass between Mt. Bradley and Mt. Wake, then rappelling to the glacier and base camp. Although this route is safe to climb, we believe that a retreat from it would be quite hazardous.

Paul Robach, Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l’Escalade, France.

*This expedition was part of the program of the national young climber team of the Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade. The coaches were Christophe Moulin (expedition leader, FFME) and Paul Robach (ENSA). Each two years, nine young climbers (age 20–25) are selected to compose this group (testing in rock, mixed and ice climbing, endurance, mountain experience) and participate in several courses and an expedition, supported by FFME.

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