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Mt. Dickey, northeast face, No Such Thing as a Bargain Promise

For me, the story of Mt. Dickey started in 2009, when Doug Shepherd took a chance and agreed to a Ruth Gorge trip with a complete stranger: me. I first met Doug in the Seattle Airport, en route to Anchorage; he was easy to spot standing in line at Starbucks wearing his double boots. I introduced myself, and six days later we had ticked off two Ruth Gorge classics and laid the foundation for one of my great climbing partnerships. More importantly, for me, this trip set the Alaska hook that is still firmly planted; I return as often as other obligations allow.

In spring 2010, I returned to the Ruth Gorge with Dylan Johnson. We spotted a line on Mt. Dickey’s northeast face during our ski recon the first day. Unfortunately, a prevailing cloud layer sat firmly parked at ca 8,000’, preventing us from seeing the critical exit from the 5,000’ face. We decided to place a safer bet and opted for a “first mash-up” on Mt. Bradley’s southeast face, linking parts of Season of the Sun with the east buttress via some new terrain. Following a rest day, we blasted up Ham and Eggs on the Mooses Tooth. In addition to an enjoyable day out, Dylan and I were rewarded with a full view of the Mt. Dickey line, where it appeared that steep snow slopes funneled into a deep chimney and, more importantly, climbed left of the serac overhanging the northeast face. We snapped photos and made plans to return the following year.

Unfortunately, when 2011 rolled around, work conspired against me and our attempt was shelved. It might have been a blessing in disguise as 2011 was a very dry year for Alaska and the lower pitches likely would have been impassible. In 2012, a solid, early-season weather window presented itself. Dylan was unavailable but encouraged me to give it a try if I could find a partner; Doug Shepherd and I were sandwiched into a plane a few days later. Paul Roderick was kind enough to “fly slow,” and we were able to scope out several possible lines en route to camp on March 30. We settled on trying the Dickey line.

On April 1 we launched. We crossed the bergschrund at 7 a.m. and were immediately faced with challenging terrain. Thin ice, vertical to overhanging s’nice, and snow mushrooms made for slow progress and minimal gear-placement options. Doug, just off a long winter of writing his thesis and numerous three-day weekends of ice climbing, fired off pitch after pitch despite minimal protection. I took over and hammered out a long section of technical wallowing before nightfall. We were forced to chop a bivy ledge and settle in for a chilly night of spooning. Our best efforts over a full day produced only 3,000’ of climbing. We both wondered if we would be able to finish the following day before our food ran out.

On day two, we started climbing with the hope of the chimney exit above. But we discovered enormous snow mushrooms choking the chimney system. Rather than bail, we opted to traverse north around the northeast ridge, hoping for a different exit off the face. A 30m rappel (A0) deposited us in a runnel system splitting the north aspect of the northeast ridge. We followed this up to the serac that overhangs the true north face, nicknamed “Walmart” [Stover, AAJ 2005]. After a brief food, water, and psych-up break while still sheltered from Walmart, we blasted two quick pitches through the serac onto the summit slopes. After some trudging, we reached the summit around 8 p.m., 37 hours after crossing the bergschrund, completing No Such Thing as a Bargain Promise (5,000’, VI WI5 R M6 A0). We descended the west ridge, and around 1 a.m. on April 3 we reached our camp back on the Ruth Glacier. Later that morning Paul Roderick brought us back to Talkeetna, making for a brief four days in the range.

John Frieh, AAC