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North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Ruth Gorge, Snowpatrol Second Ascent, Cornhole Couloir, and British Invasion

Ruth Gorge, Snowpatrol second ascent, Cornhole Couloir, and British invasion. It’s late March and only six days into a three-week trip in the Ruth Gorge, with beautiful unclimbed lines towering in every direction, and my partner decides to throw in the towel. He misses his girlfriend. So here I am, watching Paul’s Beaver plop into soft snow, and out tumble two clean-shaven Brits in bright new Gore-Tex suits. This is their first visit to the Ruth, and they crane their necks and mumble questions as we unload their kit and throw our gear in. I avoid answering their queries about the virgin lines. I promise to return in a week.

Back in Talkeetna my luck changed. Ben Gilmore and Kevin Mahoney returned from their epic first ascent on the Moose’s Tooth [see feature article in this Journal], and despite having just knocked off one of the burliest routes in the range, Ben, a true hardman, only needed a three-day bender to prepare for more action. Paul landed us where I had left from seven days earlier. Andy and Sam, the Brits, were camped in the middle of the Gorge, and we noticed skis cached at the base of one of those magnificent lines on Dickey. The weather was unsettled. Three days later, at an unruly hour, we heard the pitter-pat of footsteps past our camp. The next day we collected their skis for them and called on their base camp. The Brits managed to bag a 5,000' continuous couloir weaving up the southeast buttress of Dickey, climbing for three days through almost continuous spindrift. Why aren’t they more psyched? Andy chain-smoked cigarettes. “There was lots of snow up there,” Sam explained.

Over the next week Ben and I dodged collapsing snow mushrooms while attempting several other unclimbed lines (I won’t tell you, either!) and consumed all the alcohol. Returning tired and distraught to camp after another ass-kicking, we noticed two new tents. More Brits. What’s with these guys? We met Guy and Owen. Turned out Guy had a bad back and was going home. Owen Samuel asked if we would consider collaborating. The three of us romped up a fun and probably undone couloir across the valley, on London Tower. It is the first continuous line left of Trailer Park, and is right of the larger snowfield that’s used to access the two routes done by the Swiss and French in 2003. The route is mainly 50° snow, with a memorable “cornhole” chockstone crux. It ends on a beautiful gendarmed ridge. The Ruth Gorge is not lacking in hardman routes, but fun moderates like the Cornhole Couloir are in short supply.

With one week left, Ben, Owen, and I decided to investigate Sam and Andy’s line, Snowpatrol. We split overnight gear into two loads, so the leader could climb packless. On the first day we managed about 3,000' and woke the next morning to building clouds. Climbing through pouring spindrift, we summited late on the second day. Despite complete darkness and full whiteout, Owen navigated us down to 747 Pass and our snow cave on the glacier.

Snowpatrol has miles of moderate terrain sprinkled with several grade 5 cruxes. But buyer beware: It’s a long route, with tricky routefinding through the shale band on top. And there can be lots of snow up there.

Freddie Wilkinson, New Hampshire