American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Ruth Gorge, The Stump and Eye Tooth, Various New Routes

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

The Stump and Eye Tooth, various new routes. At the end of June, Renan Ozturk and I landed on the Ruth Glacier. This marked the first leg of our “Alakastan 2007” expedition. Renan and I had both been training for the mission by dialing in Freerider on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, which each of us freed just before leaving. Less than a week after our ascents, we watched the plane disappear down the majestic Ruth Gorge.

Our goal was single-push, all-free first ascents. To Renan and me a free ascent requires each of us to lead or follow every pitch free, which in the alpine setting is problematic because, to make it to the top, you have to lug mountain boots, ice axes, crampons, and water. The second would climb with a small pack, and we would simul-climb as much as possible.

My initial impression was that the 3,000' Eye Tooth, our main objective, looked ominous, pissed off, and ready to serve up a royal beat-down. The year before, Renan had made it nearly halfway up a first ascent on the Eye Tooth’s “central pillar” feature all free, only to blow a tendon on a 5.12R pitch. Before that, Renan had made it 500' up an obvious unclimbed corner system on The Stump, to the right of Chris McNamara and Joe Puryear’s beautiful 5.11 free route, Goldfinger, before being stormed off. The weather had been terrible before our arrival, but the sun had come out for our flight in and The Stump looked good to go.

The day after arriving on the glacier we went for it. For some reason Renan remembered the climbing to be mostly “casual” 5.10. Renan’s memory isn’t his strong point. It was muddy finger locks with no pro. It was heinous run out stemming. It was a total horror show. There were a few classic pitches so I wouldn’t call it a pile…but it was close. We reached the summit of The Stump via the last few crux pitches of Goldfinger. We dubbed our new route Brownfinger (5.11 R/X) in honor of the muddy finger locks and as a playful dig at my buddy McNamara. We rappelled Goldfinger, returning to base camp 12 hours after we left.

The next day was painful. We weren’t fully recovered from our El Cap adventures, Brownfinger had sapped us, and, worst of all, the weather was still sunny. The Eye Tooth still looked horrifying, so we opted for another line on The Stump, the next corner right of Brownfinger. Surprisingly the line followed very little of the actual corner, wandering to both sides, eventually leaving the corner altogether and forging up some high-quality featured face climbing with little to no protection. We dubbed this upper headwall “The Leap of Faith” because there was no obvious line but there was a path. This line was completely independent and had consistently good rock. We called it StumpJumper (5.11R), in honor of its improbable “jump-around” nature. Luckily we climbed fast because we topped out as it started to snow. We descended in mildly bad conditions, and got pretty wet.

Thank goodness for a couple of days of rain. Renan and I wanted to climb the Eye Tooth, but the central pillar looked real scary, so we opted for a direct finish variation to the Dream in the Spirit of Mugs route, which would go directly up the pillar, where the original route corkscrewed to the right. We established a 1,000' direct variant, and found the climbing to be ultra-classic, steep, and surprisingly no more difficult than the original line. Renan had done Dream… the year before and thought that this variant improves the climb. We called our line Ballad of a Dead Soldier (5.10+ R). It should be noted that descending Dream… involves 3,000' of sketch traversing and rappels with plenty of loose rock. Not over till it’s over.

The weather again closed in, and we enjoyed a few rest days in the tent. Finally the weather cleared but still seemed iffy. One afternoon we established The Great Transformation, an ultra-mega-classic located on the southwest-facing rock buttress at the end of the long ridge that extends down and west-southwest from the West Summit of the Moose’s Tooth. (This buttress borders the left-hand side of the entrance to the approach glacier that leads up to the Root Canal.) The route climbs five pitches, including two of solid 5.12, to an obvious ledge. This was one of my best efforts in the mountains, as I just barely onsighted both crux pitches. The crux third pitch we dubbed “Indian Creek Trainer,” as it was a splitter 180' mid-5.12 finger crack straight out of the Creek. This was one of the best routes I’ve ever done, and I hope it gets a repeat.

One rest day later, with one lead line still core-shot-free, we went for the central pillar of the Eye Tooth. We motored through the bottom section and raced across an avalanche gully, just barely making it across before the sun started thawing things and rocks started cutting loose. To get across the gully I led a horrifying 5.10+ X pitch with the best gear being an R.P. behind a loose flake and the anchor being a “bomber” double zero and zero TCU. The upper pillar was dreamy, sustained, high-quality 5.10 and 5.11, with only a few death blocks to stem past. As with our previous Eye Tooth climb, we finished on the highest rock point along the summit ridge, but didn’t slog through the unconsolidated snow to the true summit. The Beholder (3,000', V 5.12 [5.10X]).

We descended Ballad…, as it is more direct (we recommend it), but we totally epiced, taking far longer than the climb. After we down-soloed 300' of easy fifth-class at the top, on the first rappel the middle of the lead line stuck in a crack, and we had to cut it in the middle. For 3,000' we passed a knot at every rappel. On the ski back to base camp, I broke the binding off a ski, Renan broke the tail off one, and we both post-holed like zombies back to camp.

Renan and I have the good fortune of being sponsored by The North Face. We could never have funded the Alaskastan Expedition on our own and are very thankful. A week later we were on the plane to Pakistan.

Cedar Wright

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