North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mt. Dickey, Snowpatrol

Publication Year: 2005.

Mt. Dickey, Snowpatrol. After hearing vague rumors concerning a gorge with mixed lines 5,000' high, half an hour from camp, Andy Sharpe and I packed a spare pair of socks and headed out to the Ruth to see what we could find.

We flew in and got dumped off below the south face of Dickey on March 28. Few places have the potential for instant impact like the Ruth. One minute you are trying to drown last night’s beers with strong coffee in Talkeetna, and next thing you know that nice sun has been blotted out by walls of shear, ice-streaked granite towering up into the sky all around you. You can’t even tell how big they are. There is nothing to scale them against. Everything is just huge. It took us all afternoon to set up camp because we couldn’t keep our eyes from craning upwards. Does it link? Will it go? How strong you feeling? How much whisky we bring?

On April 1 we set off on a line of ice and snow gullies that ran almost continuously down from the summit of Dickey, just to the right of the 1974 Roberts-Rowell-Ward route up the southeast buttress. After ten 60m pitches we reached a good snowfield, dug out a good bivy and were soothed to sleep by the northern lights flickering over the west face of The Moose’s Tooth. In the morning the previous day’s good weather had been replaced by an ominous layer of lowering cloud. Two more pitches and the cloud hit. With it came the snow. We were aware that all the lovely ice and nevé we had been climbing was there only because our line serves as the drain for 5,000' of steep granite above. What we didn’t realize was just how little time you have after the first snowflake lands. Almost immediately spindrift started pouring down the gully with impressive force. Four hours later we could breathe and see again, after being virtually avalanched out the base of the gully. Dickey bites.

We waited patiently for stable weather. After seven days we got impatient and headed back up on the first moderately good day. We thought perhaps if we could get much higher on the first day, before the snow started, the force of the spindrift wouldn’t be so great.

Between April 9 and 11 we made the first ascent of Snowpatrol (1,600m, VI WI5+). It involved approximately 40 pitches of climbing, mainly on nevé, snow, and water ice, all three up to 90°, with some mixed pitches through the shale band guarding the summit slopes. We climbed using a normal Scottish winter rack and one snow stake, which was invaluable. Although we used bivy bags, with a bit of digging we could have used a small tent. The climbing was excellent and sustained at an interesting level, with the crux pitches involving teetering round large snow mushrooms in the upper gully system. We climbed through heavy spindrift for the first two days, but were then granted some sun and summited to clear skies at 6 p.m. on the third day. Descent was down the normal west face route via 747 Pass, in deep but easy snow, and we arrived back in the Ruth at midnight.

The whole route was of high quality and in theory should be climbable early most seasons until mid-April. Just watch out for that snowfall.

Sam Chinnery, United Kingdom