American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Alaska, Alaska Range, Peak 11,300', Night of the Raging Goose, Mt. Church, Amazing Grace

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2010

Peak 11,300', Night of the Raging Goose; Mt. Church, Amazing Grace. After climbing the fantastic ice line of Shaken Not Stirred (2,200', V AI5) on the south face of the Moose’s Tooth, James Clapham and I returned to the unclimbed 5,000' east face of Peak 11,300', which we’d tried upon our early April arrival. This time we rationalized away the objective dangers of the central couloir, the line on the face. Although it looked technically easier than the line we’d tried, much of the couloir was threatened by a large, partially detached serac.

Reasoning that what we couldn’t see wouldn’t hurt us, we climbed most of the couloir at night, emerging past a couple of pitches of steep ice and onto the upper section of the face, out of the firing line, as dawn broke. But the top of the face proved to be a maze of crazy hanging snow formations, some the size of buses, a danger that hadn’t been visible from the glacier below. Clambering happily onto the cornice at the top of the face, we eyed the summit slopes a mere stone’s throw away, at the junction with the South Ridge descent. But the next few pitches were some of the most involved of the route, with vertical serac ice, sketchy rappels from snow mushrooms, and a final overhanging cornice exit. The South Ridge’s endless downclimbing and rappels through hip-deep sugar seemed to take an age, but we knew we were safe. We named the route Night of the Raging Goose (5,000', V WI5).

Returning to the Ruth Gorge, we looked to the aesthetic north face of Mt. Church. Despite its prominence from the entrance of the Gorge, this face had only seen one ascent. We chose a new line to the left of the original Japanese route (Memorial Gate, Ichimura-Sato-Yamada, 2007). Four hours of simul-climbing past several short sections of steep ice saw us high on the upper face. Progress then ground to a halt, as we hit the steep, unconsolidated snow flutings that seem to be a feature on Church. The next 100m took many hours, as we excavated to the top of the face.

As we were learning, ridges in Alaska are not to be sniffed at, and a sizeable section of the unclimbed east ridge lay between us and the summit. The ridge sported extremely delicate cornice formations, proven by James’s ride down the north face when a bus-sized section broke away. Certain death was fortuitously averted by my position on the other side of the ridge, and James, although beaten-up by his tumble, was otherwise uninjured.

Progress from here was slow, and though we weren’t enamored with the prospect of spending the night on an Alaskan summit, with only a survival bag between us and the abyss, the situation necessitated an unplanned bivouac. But the temperatures were balmy by Alaskan standards, and the night proved eminently bearable.

After negotiating the summit the next morning and completing the first ascent of Amazing Grace (4,000', V AI4), we made a slow, water-deprived descent of the north ridge, followed by a long, interminable ski back up the glacier to the safety of our base camp. Our time in the Ruth Gorge had certainly been memorable.

Gavin Pike, U.K.

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.