American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Coast Mountains, Mt. Burkett, South Face, Solo

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Mt. Burkett, South Face, solo. After waiting in town for three weeks of unsettled spring weather, Leo Smith (Paines Ford, New Zealand) and I (Petersburg, Alaska) flew via helicopter on April 23 to the Baird Glacier below the southwest face of Mt. Burkett (9,730'). The moon was full, the weather unseasonably warm with little to no wind, and the forecast for extended good weather. After much scrutiny from both the helicopter and spotting scope, we determined that only the south face was in condition. The three- plus weeks of unsettled weather had left the upper reaches of the mountain heavily rimed, and with warming conditions the southwest face and Golden Gully (Bearzi-Klose, 1980) had great objective hazards. I left camp at 22:30 with a bivy sac, 40m of rope, and two days worth of food and fuel. The snow was soft and the going slow for the first 400m. Near 00:00 on April 24 the temperature dropped, conditions improved, and climbing was superb, with the full moon lighting the south face until sunrise. The climbing remained moderate until the final 200m, where the face grew steeper. Gaining access to the southeast ridge was challenging, and finally I left my pack and dug a small tunnel through the rime. The rime allowed for fast travel over the exposed ridge, below the south summit to the middle summit (which was believed to be the highest; however, the south summit may be higher). Using the 40m rope, I fixed the exposed and rimed summit pitch for the descent and reached the summit at 6:30 a.m. Once off the ridge and reunited with the pack, I called Leo at base camp via VHF and enjoyed views of the northwest face of the Devil’s Thumb and Cat’s Ears, along with a breakfast of smoked salmon and Snicker bars, before making a rapid descent by the ascent route. I made six 20m rappels along the summit ridge and upper headwall. I down- climbed the remainder of the route, except for two raps over ‘schrunds on the mountain’s lower reaches. I returned to camp extremely exhausted at 12:00 p.m., before the mountain shed its skin that afternoon. Difficulty AI3, Alaska Grade 4.

On the afternoon of the 26th Leo and I put up five new routes on Burkett’s Boulder (15m), a large erratic on the lateral moraine closest to Mt. Burkett, from grade 14-22. The next two days consisted of skiing south-facing slopes, eating, and sun bathing, before we were whisked back to Petersburg on April 27.

Zac Hoyt

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