American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mt. Bertha, northwest ridge; Fifty Years of Alaskan Statehood, south face

Alaska, Fairweather Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Paul Knott
  • Climb Year: 2009
  • Publication Year: 2010

The Johns Hopkins Glacier is one of the major glaciers of the west arm of Glacier Bay, southeast Alaska, and is surrounded by major summits of the Fairweather Range, from Mt. Quincy Adams in the north to Mt. Crillon in the south. Thanks to the local knowledge and enthusiasm of our ski-plane pilot, Paul Swanstrom, in April Guy McKinnon and I became the first climbing party to access this glacier. The price was an inconvenient 2,000' descent, from the landing site on the west shoulder of Mt. Abbe to the 2,000' contour on the south arm of the glacier. A number of earlier parties had been thwarted by the broken tidewater area and, from the south and east, by crevasse-strewn cols. The only previous climbs even overlooking the Hopkins Glacier appear to be those in the Mt. Abbe group by the 1977 Wickwire party. (The 1991 Gove-Pilling ascent of Mt. Abbe was on the north side, accessed from the inlet via a side glacier and overlooking Hopkins Inlet.)

Our aerial reconnaissance showed problems with icefalls and seracs on the approach and descent from our original objective, the long-coveted north ridge of Mt. Crillon. Instead, we took advantage of the stable forecast to tackle the unclimbed northwest ridge of Mt. Bertha (10,200'). Bradford Washburn’s 1940 party was the first to climb Mt. Bertha, and the mountain had since received three more ascents, all from the Brady Glacier to the east. Four miles long and rising 7,100' from the glacier, the undulating northwest ridge turned into a trial of stamina as we successively encountered unconsolidated winter powder, breakable melt-freeze crust, and compressible wind deposits. Long sections of ridge also featured typically exposed southeast Alaskan cornices. We reached the summit on our fourth climbing day, April 26, enjoying panoramic views from the expansive Brady Ice Cap to the mixed alpine faces of the Mt. Fairweather group. Our descent was rapid, down the same ridge.

After two days refueling our bodies at base camp, with continued good weather we tackled the striking unclimbed 8,599' peak that lies north of Mt. Crillon and east of Mt. Orville. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, we propose the unofficial name “Fifty Years of Alaskan Statehood” for this peak, following an old Russian naming tradition. Taking the only amenable line we could see, we waded up isothermic snow on the shallow east rib. We stopped early at our second camp, at 7,560' in the bowl below the upper south face, and spent the day watching avalanches let loose on the face. Early on May 2 we crossed the bergschrund above the bowl and continued up the south face via a couloir and snowed-up rock rib to reach the summit in pre-dawn light. We left a three-foot trench as we descended the lower east rib through wet snow that was close to sliding.

With the sea-level pressure falling rapidly, we flew out on May 5, before bad weather set in. The next day, Juneau reverted from record high temperatures to cold, wet, and windy.

Paul Knott, New Zealand

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

Photos and Topos Click photo to view full size and see caption