Bat's Ears, First Ascent

North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve
Author: Ben Gilmore. Climb Year: 2008. Publication Year: 2009.

Paul Roderick of TAT landed Maxime Turgeon, Freddie Wilkinson, and I on the eastern edge of the upper Yentna Glacier, right at the edge of the wilderness boundary and about four miles from where we made our base camp. In this same area the previous year, Freddie and I climbed the Fin Wall with Peter Doucette, and we were back with Max to try another new route on a nearby unclimbed peak we had started calling the Bat’s Ears (Peak 11,044', 2.6 miles due south of the Fin Wall).

We installed base camp under blue skies and reveled in the quiet, remote feeling of the place before the weather shut down for about five days. On the first clear day we explored the 3,000' approach to the Bat’s Ears and carried some gear to the base of the wall. Back at base camp it snowed on and off for another two days. Our preview of the approach, combined with more tent-boredom angst, convinced us to try the route in a single push when the weather cleared.

Stars were out on May 1, and we skied out of camp at 1:30 a.m. After the approach, the climbing was fun and hard enough to stay interesting, but not desperate. The route follows mixed and thin-ice terrain up the obvious gully system in the middle of the south-southwest face. It was mostly 60° to 80° in the gully, with several short vertical cruxes. We switched leads every two or three pitches for a total of about 15 pitches and two sections of simul-climbing. Rock quality on the sides of the gully was excellent fractured granite, but the gully seemed to be a rotten dike. A lot of the ice climbing felt like climbing frozen gravel, and our picks constantly bounced off rock. Max kicked steps up the last section of simul-climbing and brought us to the summit at 6 p.m. The panorama was amazing, especially the straight-on view of the Fin Wall just north of us. It was tempting to start down right away, but we had ascended almost 6,000' that day, and we were still unsure about the descent. Freddie fired up the stove, and we consumed fluids and a meal that made a big difference. As we traversed the summit ridge clouds started building again, intensifying both the views and our feeling that we should start down while we could still see our descent. Luckily the descent turned out to be an easy walk-off down the southwest ridge, with only one rappel in a short gully. We were happily back to base camp at 12:30 a.m., and it started snowing about an hour later.

With a week remaining, we called for a bump flight over to the Kahiltna Glacier, where, in 52 hours round-trip from base camp, we climbed the Moonflower Buttress to the summit of Mt. Hunter.

Our deepest thanks to the American Alpine Club for supporting our climb with the Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Award.

Ben Gilmore, AAC

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