Mt. Miller, Double Exposure—Lady With a Fan. In April Mike Lynch and I headed to Alaska for two months of climbing, skiing, and work at the Claus Ultima Thule Lodge. The northwest face of Mt. Miller in the St. Elias Range was our first objective. The mountain had only been climbed once, in 1996, by Paul Claus, Carlos Buhler, Charlie Sassara, Ruedi Homberger, and Reto Reusch, from the south. I had seen one of Ruedi’s photos, which showed only the beautiful top half of the central couloir on the northwest face.
After five days of scouting and observing the face, we headed out from our base on the Bering Glacier at 2:00 a.m. on April 26. Our primary goal was to climb and ski the central couloir, but two large cliff bands in the lower 3,000' made that unattractive. The line we finally decided on started to the left of the central couloir, heading up another, smaller couloir, then widening to a fan-shaped face. From the top of that fan we would traverse right on Grade 3 ice and mixed rock to the central couloir, then on to the summit. The 30' ‘schrund wall took some time, but by 6:00 a.m. we were at 8,000'. Topping out on the fan, we agreed on a high traverse. A near-vertical ice ribbon in the back of a tight gully led to a fairly easy traverse on mixed ground. The central couloir was a beautiful sight: smooth, steep snow led to rime-coated ice blobs on the left, and the couloir continued to the summit on clean ice to the right. By the time we reached the clouds it was around 3:00 p.m. We stashed our packs to the left under rime-crusted ice bulges guarding the summit ridge. Moving on with three screws and two pickets, we ran the rope out, making good time, though the ice was brittle and shattered off in plates. Alternating leads, we took five long pitches to reach the summit ridge. The wind had gone from mild to intense; 60–80 m.p.h. gusts tried to lift us from the ridge, and rime-crusted snow pellets blasted any exposed skin. I stepped onto the summit and out of the wind. Mike joined me, and we celebrated the second ascent of Mt. Miller.
We rappelled the five pitches to our packs. It was 7:00 p.m. when Mike cut the first turn on 50° snow. After we had downclimbed and rappelled to the top of the fan, it was dark and we had 4,000' remaining. A full moon lit the far side of the cirque but did us little good. As we descended toward the 55° crux of the ski descent, the snow became crusted and glazed. We passed the crux cautiously in the dark. Back at the ‘schrund Mike tried to salvage our bollard while I moved down to see what I could. The bridge was still there, as far as I could tell. Mike was satisfied with the bollard, and we rappelled from it. Still on skis, we belayed till we were past snowbridges and on the flats of the glacier. We arrived back at base camp almost exactly 24 hours after starting.