North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve, Coffee Spire, First Ascent, Greater Reward

Publication Year: 2009.

Coffee Spire, first ascent, Greater Reward. On June 13 Paul Roderick, of Talkeetna Air Taxi, landed Cody Arnold and me, both of Anchorage, at 5,600' on the northwest fork of the Coffee Glacier, a.k.a. Middle Coffee Glacier, just east of the Ruth Gorge. Our initial objective was the second ascent of the Southwest Ridge of Broken Tooth, but a rotten rock step turned us back late on the first day. We turned our attention to a 1,700' unclimbed rock spire on the north side of the glacier. A huge sloping dihedral, which looked wide and wet, splits the lower face; a prominent block caps the main face; and farther back on a ridge is a striking summit tower.

When the weather cleared, we made the leisurely 30-minute approach, and at 4 p.m. I started up a series of rotten flakes to the left of the steep white corner situated at the lowest part of the wall. After a couple of pitches we got back in the corner, and the rock quality improved and gave way to 30' of thin 5.11 to a square ledge beneath blocky roofs. I then led right through a series of steep, arching hand cracks and outstanding rock, followed by a leftward easy-fifth-class pitch that brought us to a sharp ridge crest with a perfect 5.9 hand crack. Three pitches of fourth-and easy-fifth-class had us to a waist-deep 70° snow couloir that I tried to lead in rock shoes. It was 3 a.m., the snow wet, and within minutes I was soaked, numb, and shivering. We threw in the towel and shivered through seven rappels back to the glacier.

After three days of foggy drizzle the weather cleared, we left camp early and climbed to our previous high point much faster than before. We started farther left, avoiding much of the loose rock of the first pitch. Once at our high point, we switched into boots and shell gear and climbed the snow pitch to a notch just left of the main face summit block. Two more pitches of fourth-class scrambling brought us to the base of a striking white tower. Initially the rock was some of cleanest I had ever seen, but then three dangerous, rubble-covered blocky ledges interrupted the pitch. The exposed summit offered spectacular views. We believe the next peak to the north is Mt. Cosmic Debris, separated from our spire by a 1,000' dead-vertical plunge into a rotten black gully, complete with a constant barrage of rock and ice fall. Looking over that edge made us feel privileged to be the first people to stand atop what we called Coffee Spire. We named the route the Greater Reward (IV 5.11 70°), realizing that this virgin summit was a richer experience than a second ascent on Broken Tooth.

Jay Rowe, AAC