North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park, Mt. Grosvenor, The Warrior's Way; and Mt. Johnson, The Escalator, Third Ascent

Publication Year: 2007.

Mt. Grosvenor, The Warrior's Way, and Mt. Johnson, The Escalator, third ascent. In 2005 Eamonn Walsh and I climbed two new routes on Mt. Grosvenor in the lower Ruth Gorge, which also were the mountain’s second and third ascents (AAJ 2006). The best line we saw, however, was an obvious yet unclimbed ramp directly splitting the 4,400' east face. Poor weather that season prevented an attempt.

When we returned a year later, two weeks of heavy snowfall ensued. March had been bitterly cold and returning Gorge teams reported virtually no ice, but the new snow would work to our advantage.

Strong high pressure arrived, and on April 14 we arose at 2 a.m. to an astonishing aurora display over the Gorge. By headlamp we departed under a biting north wind and temperatures well below zero. We entered the huge cleft in the center of the east face, climbing to where it steepens into a continuous ramp soaring to the left skyline. Eamonn began a long lead block as the sky lightened, and we ascended many pitches of rolling, 55-70° terrain with occasional steeper sections. The climbing was fast and pleasant but usually runout. The ramp—a major drainage—was plastered with compressed snow (“s’nice”) and scant patches of real ice. Rock protection was equally scarce in the compact granite, and we frequently simul-climbed to utilize the occasional ice for belay anchors.

Our seventh pitch began with our first rock anchor: solid pitons, which were necessary and comforting. Eamonn cool-headedly unlocked this serious pitch, taking long and uncertain runouts on insecure M5 terrain, cleaning rotten snow from crumbly granite slabs.

A snow bowl briefly interrupted the ramp, before its unrelenting continuation. Immediately we encountered the second crux, a steep and unprotectable 30m slab coated with a half inch of rotten and hollow s’nice. Eamonn boldly sent this insecure pitch entirely without protection, running a full ropelength before finding a good crack for a belay.

Moderate pitches, with the occasional vertical step, followed, before the ramp abruptly ended in a snow bowl beneath intimidating black cliffs and wild snow mushrooms.

The exit to the summit ridge had appeared uncertain when viewed from the Gorge, and was equally enigmatic once we were there. Floundering in a meter of unconsolidated snow, I began leading a physical block of pitches on the fluted wall to our left. I surmounted a short rock step with an awkward bulge, using one point of tension to clean snow from the overhang.

A short mixed runnel gave way to two ropelengths of trenching through steep, exposed flut- ings. After tunneling through a cornice onto the east spur of the mountain, I led a traverse beneath the spur to a steep mixed step and more excavating up a narrow arête. Thoroughly soaked, I belayed from pitons and brought Eamonn up for the final lead. A steep mixed chimney, some digging, and we suddenly emerged onto level terrain and an intersection with our South Face route of 2005.

We left the pack and traversed the final ridge to stand on top, 15 hours after leaving the base, at 8 p.m. It was frigid, still, and the setting sun turned the sky amazing shades of red and purple.

While descending, I released an 18" slab above the Church-Grosvenor col, but was able to jump off as it slid away. We continued down without further incident. After 19½ hours away, we happily returned to our camp. We named our new line The Warrior’s Way (4,400', V AI4 M5R A0) [photo on p. 186, AAJ 2006]. Of the three routes we have established on this peak, this was the most demanding and aesthetic.

Two days later, high pressure holding, we made the third ascent of The Escalator (4,400', III 5.5 AI3) on Mt. Johnson. This route is surprisingly moderate and very enjoyable. Mostly soloing or simul-climbing, we reached the summit after eight hours, descended the dangerous Johnson-Grosvenor gully, and reached camp as the weather window collapsed. Twelve hours round trip.

Mark Westman, Talkeetna, Alaska, AAC