On May 26 Ben Chriswell, Sam Johnson, and I flew to the Pitchfork Glacier. The Neacolas are a largely unexplored group southwest of the Alaska Range. Ben and Sam had received a McNeill-Nott award for a trip and kindly let me tag along. During our 14 days on the glacier, we had little climbable weather. The first two days were the best but were mostly consumed by reconnaissance and ski-touring, exploring beautiful objectives on both sides of the Pitchfork. The next day we attempted an aesthetic peak we dubbed the Triangle. The climbing was slow, the weather was poor, and we only brought supplies for a single-push attempt. When the rain/snow and wind became more persistent, and we discovered that climbing the gorgeous 600m rock buttress would not be lightning fast, we descended.
On the 30th we climbed the northeast ridge of a peak we called Mystery Mountain (ca 2,145m/7,035’). We are guessing the mountain had not been climbed, as so few parties have been to the Neacolas, but it is not difficult, so it may have been climbed. The first half of the ridge was nontechnical, but on the second half we belayed eight pitches, including simul-climbing, with difficulties up to 5.8 (a fun step) and 70° snow. We called the moderate 900m route Where’s the Gas.
We then spent a week mostly in the tent, waiting out weather. On June 2 we reconnoitered a striking rock spire and made some ski turns during a short break in the weather. This stimulated the psyche and allowed us to endure more tent time.
On the 6th we woke at 4 a.m. and set off for the spire. The temperature was -7°C and the glacier and peaks frozen. We made quick time to the base of the east ridge, where Sam led a long traverse pitch to gain sunny rock. He also led the first rock pitch (5.8), then I took over for five pitches, with climbing to 5.10 and A1, the aid in a 12m wet corner that I suspect would go free at 5.11+. With high-quality stone, we made quick progress. A headwall, which had looked questionable from the glacier, held a perfect two- to four-inch splitter. Back on the ridge Sam took over for the next block, which we did relatively quickly, booting in snow with our rock shoes between rock steps.
After five pitches (up to 5.8) and snow climbing, Ben took over for the last two pitches to the summit. The weather had been deteriorating all day, and it was gusting to probably 80-100 km/ hour and snowing. Sam and I had been discussing the best descent route, and with the wind, we were concerned about pulling our ropes. I had scoped a descent off the back of the summit and rapped 60m to a rock pedestal. After rapping we decided that the wind was too strong to pull the ropes, so Sam jugged back to the summit and fixed one rope at the anchor, guaranteeing we would have a second line for the rest of the descent. Three more rappels deposited us in a snow gully, which we descended easily. We recommend this quick descent route to future parties. We took 20 hours camp to camp.
We are calling the ca 2,180m (7,150') formation Dog Tooth. The 14-pitch, V 5.10 A1 route salvaged the trip, with its splitter cracks more like what one is likely to find in the Sierra than in obscure Alaskan mountains. On the 8th Paul Roderick flew us out, and I made it back to Anchorage that evening for an Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros show.