American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Ice Pyramid, Southwest Ridge

Alaska, Revelation Mountains

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Seth Holden
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2010

In April, Clint Helander and I flew onto the Big River Glacier in the remote Revelation Mountains. The previous year we had attempted an unclimbed 9,250' peak we called the Ice Pyramid (AAJ 2009) but were turned back by deteriorating weather after 18 pitches. In 2009, with the help of a Mugs Stump Award, Clint and I planned to finish our route on the southwest ridge.

We left base camp on May 2, with three days of food, and climbed 15 long pitches of unrelenting mixed terrain to a small alcove. Our second day dawned clear, and the crux came early and hard on stiff fingers and brittle ropes. The hours slid by in 12 pitches of mixed rock and snow, with a final 80° snow mantle to the summit. After topping out we made one rappel down the mountain’s southern flank to scope future objectives in the Swift Valley. On a seemingly non-glaciated sub-summit we unroped and Clint punched into an 80' deep crevasse up to his chest. After extracting him and carefully stepping across the hole, we re-climbed our ropes and made several rappels down the ridge. An airy rock outcropping served as a cramped bivy, with half of our tent hung hammock-style over space.

The third morning dawned cold and gray, and we rappelled into a deep gash on the south side into the Swift Valley, rather than descend the extremely technical and unknown 2,500' west face. Streaks from rockfall and avalanches painted the gash’s huge walls. Racing to get out of danger, we rapidly downclimbed unroped 2,000' of steep snow and ice. We found ourselves safe from the mountain, but one valley south of our skis and base camp. We needed to climb over the mountain’s lower southwest ridge and ski the final 2,500' to base camp. A critical pass on the ridge, which we believed to have been used by Dave Roberts as part of his Butterfly Traverse in 1967 (AAJ 1968), proved more technical and dangerous than it had appeared.

Nasty avalanche conditions and zero visibility hindered us. Hungry and exhausted but relatively safe, we camped on the flat glacier. The next day, on wooden legs and fueled with the last of our hard candy, we tediously climbed over the pass, where only steep snow and a 70° cliff separated us from our skis. Four rappels (three on single-picket anchors) brought us to the Big River Glacier in a whiteout. We stumbled to find our skis, but in our base camp an hour later we enjoyed the best Cinco de Mayo fiesta ever. Southwest Ridge of Ice Pyramid, AK Grade IV+, 2,800'.

After several days rest, we further explored around the three main forks of the Big River Glacier and climbed a gigantic couloir on the west face of the Ice Pyramid. We climbed snow and ice up to 70° to the top of the couloir, which we called Cataclysmic Couloir, at about 9,000'. A gendarme-like ice feature blocked easy access to the upper ridge and without adequate ice protection we bailed.

Two days later we hiked 22 miles down the Big River to Rob Jones’ lodge and flew out from there.

Seth Holden

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