American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mt. St. Elias, Summit and Sea

Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Peter Inglis
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2011

At 18,008' and 12 miles from salt water, Mt. St. Elias offers the worlds biggest summit to sea drop. Canadians Marcus Warring and Ryan Bougie and I (Telluride, CO) wanted to climb the southwest ridge (Harvard Route) and then ski as much of the mountain as we could. Although parts of this route have been skied and climbed, according to my research, no one has completed the entire route both up and down. Most recently, in 2008, an expedition heavily funded by Red Bull did summit and ski most of the mountain—to within 600' MSL—but it was over the course of two expeditions and they did not ascend from the sea to their base on the Haydon Shoulder.

On June 6, pilot Paul Claus dropped us on the Haydon Shoulder (9,750'), where we set-up base camp. On June 10, we summited and descended, two-thirds on skis, to our base. Above our 13,200' high camp we deviated slightly from the Harvard Route by going far to climbers right on the south face, where we found better snow conditions for skiing.Back at base camp, we spent a week waiting for the cloud sandwich to lift. On June 18, we made a break for it. As best we can tell, we followed the Harvard Route, including the loose shale ridge, to a wonderful grassy camp at 3,500'. From there we descended to the Tyndall Glacier. At 2,300' the guidebook shows a base camp and landing area, which was melted out. I had found no descriptions of how to reach Icy Bay from there. We continued along the glacier’s edge. At 1,500' the snow ran out and we abandoned our skis. At about 1,000' the route necessitated ugly alder-whacking. At one point we stared over a 750' cliff to the sea below. We continued alder-whacking up and over a small hill and scrambled down steep, rocky slopes to Icy Bay.

With the Tyndall Glacier calving in front of us, bear prints in the sand, and no humans for miles, it was idyllic wilderness at its best. We spent three hours at Icy Bay, making a big fire from an endless supply of driftwood and roasting NY strip steaks and marshmallows. We chose a slightly different route back to our skis, then ascended a gully to a ridge at 2,500', where we cruised across an open glacier and snowfields. This may be a better route with the possibility of skiing to the sea.

On the final ascent back to base camp, while ascending the shale ridge at 6,000', I touched a loose rock and rag-dolled backward for 100'. A flap of skin hung open under my left eye and I sustained a compression fracture of my L2 vertebra. The guys took part of my load and we continued up. Above the shale ridge at 7,800' we made camp and waited for flyable weather. On June 23, the weather improved and we ascended to our base camp and flew out.

Peter Inglis, AAC

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