American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Coast Mountains, Devil's Thumb, First Winter Ascent and epic, Solo

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

Devil’s Thumb, first winter ascent and epic, solo. On March 11 Zac Hoyt had an early breakfast at his home in Petersburg and helicoptered to base camp below the southeast face of the Devil’s Thumb (9,077'). Immediately he soloed the Krakauer route, calling me on his sat phone from the summit before lunch. Afterward he started on the three-day ski to tidewater, and his luck changed. While negotiating an icefall, he fell 100 feet into a crevasse, deeply injuring a shoulder and bloodying a hand.

The climb had gone quickly in calm, sunny skies, at 0°F, but the crevasse incident happened during a vicious, unpredicted storm, with 70 mph winds and temps of minus 24°F.

Zac spent the night in the 2½'-wide crevasse on a false floor, alternately shoveling out the tent and warming himself. The amount of spindrift pouring in was suffocating at times. His fingers became frostbitten. In the morning he climbed out of the crevasse with just one axe and crampons; he says it was the hardest climbing he’s ever done. Standing there in the raging tempest, he called me again.

“Hey Dieter, it’s Zac!” “Zac, where are you?” “In the middle of the icefall.” “How’s it going?” “Not so good.” Then the phone went dead. I initiated a rescue.

Zac rappelled back into the crevasse and packed only the very essential items. After a grueling ascent of the free hanging rope with a Tibloc and a prussik, he had an exhausting episode hauling the pack up and over the lip of the crevasse. He managed to set-up the tent. Using snow that had remained in the tent, he brewed tepid water mixed with blood, hair, and detritus. “It was really gross, but it went down just fine,” he said.

He soon heard our helicopter (they invited me on board), a Coast Guard Jayhawk, and called in on his VHF radio. He couldn’t see us, nor could we see him. He said he couldn’t get his frozen boots on with frozen fingers. I hung out the open door, since the windows were too frosted to see thru. Finally, after 20 minutes of harrowing flying I spotted his half-buried tent. It took two tries to get to him, with the chopper operating fully at its margins. The flight crew displayed extraordinary heroism, saying, “We pushed ourselves to our maximum limits. The pilot radioed Zac: “This is a one shot deal. If you can’t get your boots on, forget them.” They lowered the basket, and he got in with socks on. Immediately after the basket became airborne, a gust of wind blew the helicopter sideways. The basket slammed into the side of a serac, almost ejecting Zac. A minute later he was on board, saying, “Hey! What’s up?”

He is expected to make a full recovery from his injuries. Zac left about $4,800 worth of gear on and in the glacier. I am accepting bids for the Booty Trip. Winner gets the GPS coordinates.

Dieter Klose, Stikine Icecap Manager

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