Various ascents and ski descents. The name, bestowed in 1778 by the range’s discoverer, Captain James Cook, is itself a curiosity. The Fairweather Range experiences some of the world’s worst weather, including over 100 annual inches of precipitation. It can snow during any month, as low as 6,000' during summer. Overcast days and rain predominate.
We flew in on April 20, planning to ascend the west ridge and ski the northwest face of Mt. Fairweather. The day after arriving on the Grand Plateau, though, we were treated to some of the best tent-flattening, snow-pummeling windstorms any of us had endured or wish to experience again. However, after eight days the sun emerged and allowed us to make a seven-hour push to the summit of Fairweather via the west ridge. This is the most accessible and shortest route up the peak. The primary objective hazard is a large serac on Fairweather’s north face that looms over the approach to the west ridge. We skied the northwest face directly back onto the Grand Plateau. The skiing was never steeper than 45°, and the climbing was Alaska grade 3 to 4. As far as we know this was a first descent. Now, with a month to spare, we set out to climb and ski some adjacent peaks, including Mt. Root (12,860', 3,920m), Mt. Watson (12,516', 3,815m), and Peak 12,300'. We moved camp approximately five miles northwest, down the Grand Plateau and into an amazing cirque, close to all three peaks. Next up, a 3,200' face on Peak 12,300' looked to hold steep, albeit skiable, terrain. Our route up started with a short traverse, followed by a large bergschrund and a northwest-facing couloir on the left side of the west face. The climbing in the couloir was steep, with one 50' pitch of vertical ice. The couloir deposited us halfway to the summit. We continued up the face, still favoring the north, climbers’s left, ridge. The climbing there was consistently 40°-50°. The summit is a small knife-edge ridge with great views north to Mt. St. Elias. We skied from the top, down a slope that was about 50° for the first 200-300' and then the low to mid 40s for the remainder of the descent. As far as we know this was a first descent. The climbing was Alaska grade 2/3+.
Mt. Watson has one of the most impressive couloirs any of us had ever seen. The line cuts into the south/southeast side of the mountain for 3,000'. This was to be our final climb. We accessed the couloir via snow ramps to the west, as the bottom cliffs out. We ascended the steep hallway, and descended the same way. The climbing was again Alaska grade 2/3+, with slush giving way to hard, granular snow as we ascended the 42°-47° couloir. To the best of our knowledge this was another first descent. We believe that our routes of ascent on Watson and 12,300' were also firsts, as we could find no documentation or sign of previous passage.
On May 17, with time to spare we packed our belongings and started walking back to Haines. The seven-day, 120-mile traverse was a whole other story in itself.
For further specific information contact the Yakutat District Ranger, Glacier Bay National Park/Preserve, P.O. Box 137 Yakutat, AK 99689 (907-784-3295) or the Glacier Bay Chief Ranger at (907) 697-2230. We flew in with Drake, a professional pilot from Haines. We recommend him and his services to anyone going into that area. Drake’s Phone # is (907) 723-9475.
BJ Brewer, Mad Dog, and Jamie Laidlaw