American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Ruth Gorge, London BRidge, On the Frozen Roads of Our Incertitudes, and Various Repeats

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2004

London Bridge, On the Frozen Roads of Our Incertitudes, and various repeats. P.J. from Doug Geeting Aviation dropped Jerome Mercader and I on the Ruth Glacier, below Mt. Barrill, on May 1. The following day we climbed the Ham and Eggs Gully (15h round trip from our base camp) to warm up. But then clouds came from the south, bringing bad weather. Our tent, like a small ship, sank slowly into the fresh snow (8' in 10 days).

When fine weather returned, the peaks were daubed with a white that slid with the first rays of sun. With all that fresh snow we had doubts, and when the time for action returned, we still had doubts. We wanted to attempt the west face of London Bridge (7,380'/2,250m), which is on the east side of the lower Ruth Gorge, across from Mt. Bradley and just north of London Tower. Our alarm clock didn’t wake us. It was half-snowing but the sun appeared, so we headed down the glacier. On May 16 we started up a 1,300' approach snow couloir with steepness up to 45°. Where the couloir turns right, we climbed a narrow gully straight up (350' high, 60°snow and ice) in the middle of the face to the base of a headwall. Here Jerome lost a glove. We traversed a thin icefall on the left, climbed a thin but well-protected WI5 pitch, and reached the crux: an uncertain pitch (WI 5+) with a final M6 section poorly protected with knifeblades and short ice screws. I hung my backpack on a Friend, and, while gathering the two bags, Jerome dropped his, with our food and some water. Above was a nice pitch (WI4) and a 90' traverse to the left to join another gully, which is the wall’s exit key. Two pitches in the gully (WI3; 70° max) brought us to the final snow slope (490', 50-55°), which we followed to the left to gain a corniced col and the summit ridge (M5 on the left side of the cornice). From the col we climbed the rocky ridge (5.8) and a short snow ridge to the rocky summit.

We downclimbed and rappelled the short east face to the Coffee Glacier, then walked south along its right side (don’t try to cut across the northeast slopes of London Tower), up to the pass below Hut Tower, and down the other side to the Ruth—a long journey through deep snow. Our passage On the Frozen Roads of Our Incertitudes (3,110', V WI5 M6,9:30 on route) left us two old vegetables in our small tent 20+ hours after leaving it, under the sunrise on McKinley.

On May 19 we made the second ascent of The Trailer Park (Cordes-DeCapio, 2000), with two variations, on the west face of London Tower (7,500'/2,286m). It was 3,200', VIM6+ WI6, and took us 14 hours for the climb and 22 hours round-trip from base camp. It’s a long and sustained route that keeps giving, a cocktail of snow and ice with hard dry sections. We respected the spirit of the first ascent by removing all our gear. It’s still a wild and challenging mixed route. The logical descent is by the east side and then the same way back as for the London Bridge. It’s a long way back, but more aesthetic.

Seb Constant, France

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