American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Ruth Gorge, Mt. Bradley, Vitalogy

Alaska, Alaska Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Mark Allen
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2011

Graham Zimmerman and I landed in the Ruth Gorge on March 28, and soon spotted a virgin line on the southeast buttress of Mt. Bradley. We made an initial attempt on March 31. On the evening of April 2, we left camp carrying 40 hours of food and fuel in a 20-pound seconds pack and a 15-pound leaders pack, regained our highpoint, and established five more pitches. At mid-day we bivied on a prow, sheltered from what loomed above. The 1,500' day included Zimmerman climbing several M5 pitches and me dealing with sustained 5.9 rock, an A1 tension traverse, and a transition from boots and crampons to rock shoes and back.

Later that day the temps cooled and we climbed the beautiful ice ribbon that had initially drawn us in: 1,000' long and averaging WI4 with cruxes of M5+ and WI5. We climbed into the dark and established a second bivy. We awoke to lenticular clouds on the horizon and continued up a steep, blocky mixed ridge when the first of three storms hit. We climbed through to the base of a large 1,000' gendarme, which contained the crux of the route. The storm broke while we pushed seven pitches of sustained mixed climbing until we were spent. We fixed a line and rapped down to bivy on an exposed ledge. The next morning we finished the tower and simul- climbed steep, exposed snow slopes and spines.

At 4 p.m. on April 5, after 66.5 hours, we summited Mt. Bradley via Vitalogy (AK grade V, M6+ WI5 5.9R Al). Our 4,600' mixed route required 29 pitches, 19 of which were at least M5 or WI4. We finished our remaining food and began descending the west ridge, but a second storm closed in quickly, forcing us to downclimb and rappel 2,500' of uncharted terrain down a headwall and icefall to the Backside Glacier. We found ourselves under fire from increasing spindrift and sluff slides. Lower, and still exposed to full-track avalanches, we found a safe bivy beneath a rock overhang at the base of the steep glacial-carved walls. The storm lasted an entire day, pinning us down without food and with little fuel, and brought 12" of new snow and waist-deep drifts. The next afternoon we were awakened by a sizable slide poring over the rim of our rock awning during a clearing. We used the break in the storm to wade through new snow for seven km, along the upper Backside Glacier, through 747 Pass, and down to the Ruth. Once in the Gorge a third and strongest storm hit, requiring us to navigate a whiteout at night to find our camp. After 99 hours away from camp, we began consuming the remainder of our 21 pounds of pork products. Visit www.markallenalpine.com for more details.

Mark Allen, AAC

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