North America, United States, Alaska, Hayes Range, Mt. Balchen, West Face

Publication Year: 2004.

Mt. Balchen, west face. In early March Michael Williams and I landed on the west side of the dry Gillam Glacier on a snow-covered gravel bar. We hiked and skied 15 miles up to the base of the west buttress of Mt. Balchen (11,140'). Above our base camp at 7,000' we were confronted with a large rotten granite wall that blocked access to the mountain’s upper reaches. On a clear, cold day of 25 below (F) we bypassed the 1,500' rock headwall via a low-angle snow couloir that was topped with fun mixed climbing. Further progress was impeded by a series of large rock gendarmes. We traversed underneath the gendarmes via snow and occasional low 5th class rock moves. The final obstacle to the easier ice and snow above was a dead-vertical pitch of rotten rock and thin ice with sparse pro. Above, 60° water ice, an 80° rime snow dome, and a broken summit ridge (from the 2002 earthquake) led to the top. Rappel anchors were difficult to come by on the descent. The 4,000' climb took us 12 hours and was the third ascent of the peak and first winter ascent.

Jeff apple Benowitz