American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Coast Mountains, Juneau Icefield, Ski Traverse

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

Juneau Icefield, ski traverse. As a mechanical engineering undergraduate, I studied glacial mechanics on the southern portion the Juneau Icefield of southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia with Dr. Maynard M. Miller’s Glaciological Institute. I always dreamed of returning, with my father to traverse the entire length of the Icefield, commencing with the northernmost glaciers and, after traversing 120 miles along the spine of the Boundary Range, to disembark from the Icefield at its southernmost terminus and Alaska’s capital, Juneau. The lure of exploring vast expanses of wilderness, some of it virtually unexplored, has always captured my imagination.

Standing at sea level in the old gold-rush town of Skagway, looking up thousands of feet into the rugged snowy mountains, I could only think that the toughest part of our expedition would be gaining the “high ice”; we were not to be disappointed. On the morning of May 27, 2001, four of us, including Charles B. Daellenbach, Allen H. Throop, and John P. Parsons, loaded our skis onto our 801b. + packs and walked out of town past amused townsfolk and cruise ship tourists, up a forest trail and onto our first snows. For three punishing days, our team progressed upward past Upper Dewey Lake and the Devil’s Punch Bowl, then in a southerly direction above headwaters of Kasidaya Creek and finally east onto the locally named “Dog Sled Glacier.”

We aspired to make our traverse completely self-contained and unsupported. However, on the fourth day, just as we were about to finish our grueling ascent and access the massive Denver Glacier, we found ourselves stymied by a seemingly impassable mountain face. Avalanche tracks laced the face and, high above, a corniced palisade seemed to protect the interior. We reached the unappealing conclusion that the only way to continue was to use our satellite phone to call a local helicopter charter and be deposited on the other side.

Generally our route ski-traversed the Denver, North Branch Meade, and Meade glaciers, a large unnamed glacier, and Bucher, Llewellyn, Matthes, Taku, Southwest Branch Taku, Norris, Lemon Creek, and Ptarmigan glaciers. We had a couple of days of nearly complete whiteouts during which we relied solely on map, compass, and GPS to follow our course over the huge glaciers. Leaving the accumulation area of the upper Bucher, we crossed the international border between Mt. London and Border Peak 99 and then skied across the Llewellyn’s upper névé and over the highest point reached on the tour, a col on the east flank of Mt. Nesselrode at 6,960'. As we started to exit the southern Icefield, we crossed Echo Pass into Death Valley (Norris Glacier), around the east flank of Nugget Mountain past Split Thumb and dropped down onto the Lemon Creek Glacier. With nostalgia we passed Dr. Miller’s research station at Camp 17 and then continued our descent of the Ptarmigan Glacier and into the steep Lemon Creek drainage. We arrived in Juneau on the 15th day after leaving Skagway.

We are grateful for the financial support provided by The American Alpine Club Research Grant and a Mazama Expedition Grant, as well as the resources of the Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research.

Keith K. Daellenbach, AAC

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