American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, St. Elias Range, Mt. Alverstone, West Face

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

Mt. Alverstone, west face. In early May Simon Yates and I climbed a new route on the 6,000 west face of Mt. Alverstone (14,565'/4,439m). We knew very little about the mountain, except that the west face was huge, and apparently only two routes had been done on it. A couple of inspiring aerial photographs kindly supplied by Mick Fowler tipped the scales. Alverstone is a border peak, and the west face [At least its lower portion—Ed.] technically belongs to Alaska. However, we flew in from Kluane Lake, on the Yukon side. After being dropped off on a high lobe of the Alverstone Glacier by ski plane on May 5, we set up base camp, then made an initial reconnaissance of the approach and studied the massive wall for plausible new lines. The prominent west buttress to the left side of the face had been climbed in 1995 (Diedrich-Pilling), and the main gully system to its right in 1998 (Blanchard-Wilford, to summit ridge). Both these routes intersect the final ridge/glacier fairly far from the actual summit. On the right-hand boundary of the main west face we spied a classic unclimbed couloir that lead almost directly to the top of the massif—definitely the route to do.

On the evening of May 7 we left base camp with four days’ food and fuel and bivied below the face. We started climbing early the next morning in perfect weather, soloing up good névé and trying to gain as much height as possible before the sun hit the upper rock towers, and projectiles began to launch. At one point, about 2,500' up, the couloir narrowed, and Simon was walloped on the forearm and shoulder by several falling stones. This resulted in a swollen, badly bruised arm, but thankfully nothing more serious. The sun was now out, the plush névé was turning into bare ice, and a well-fatal drop yawned below, so we decided to pull out the ropes and start pitching. An alarming number of rocks continued to whiz past in the hot sunshine. Late in the day we excavated a tent platform in a snow bank atop a mini-icefall, about 4,000' up the route. From our bivy site we could look out over the blue Pacific and watch the sunset.

Due to general sloth and the need to rehydrate, we got less than an alpine start on the second day of climbing. But seven pitches of good 55-60° ice eventually led to a col in thesummit ridge. We dumped our sacks at the col and reached the summit on the evening of May 9, again in perfect weather. After descending back to the col and bivying, we took another two days to return to base camp on the Alverstone Glacier. Our route, while not particularly technically difficult, was long, serious, and committing, with a complex descent [their descent included downclimbing north to “The Great Shelf” and onto the Dusty Glacier, then west to a fork of the Hubbard Glacier and a miserable climb up a long ridge to regain the Alverstone Glacier and their camp]. We reckon it warrants an overall alpine grade of TD+.

Paul Schweizer, Alpine Club

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