Flying over the Alaska range in a small plane was spectacular. Landing roller-coaster style on a beautiful glacier was even better. Seeing a bunch of unclimbed walls and peaks around got us dizzy. I was already content with the trip and it was just the beginning.
After landing on the south fork of the Fish glacier, we spent a few hours digging serious trenches, since we read many scary reports (such as this one) about the might of wind in this part of the Alaska Range. As the afternoon came, I was getting tired and was about to go to bed early.
Frieder, however, was on some sort of drugs (Benzedrine I suppose) and he was keen to try to climb something immediately. I agreed to follow him and belay where needed. We chose a peak next to our landing spot. We skinned up to a col and ditched our skis. A pleasant ridge with a few rocky steps got us to the summit and the long Alaskan day still gave us time to have a look at the other objectives in the valley. The peak was a great vantage point and we called it the Prophet for all the promises that it gave us.
|The Prophet (6905 ft). "It's a girl!" follows the left ridgeline.|
|One of the two highpoints. We couldn't figure out which one was higher so we tagged both.|
|First summit, two days after leaving the office|
|Still need to work on my skiing|
It was midnight by the time we were back in our camp. Our jetlag compounded with the tiredness had us craving for some warm food. We set up our XKG stove and … It failed to start. After a few abortive attempts, we were both reminiscing about the view of our plane taking off from the glacier earlier in the day. The remoteness of the place sunk in. We melted some water with the Jetboil and crashed into our sleeping bags.
When I woke up in the morning, I saw that Frieder had slept with his avalanche beacon. The sun was warming us up, our heads were recovering too and we managed to get the stove working. The game was on, the weather was holding and we picked the objective for the next day - a plumline on the east face of a neighboring peak, which we started calling Mephisto.
|Mephisto (8568) with the line "Langstrasse", ~800m, up to M4 and WI4|
Perfect neve led us to the two crux pitches. Frieder quickly dispatched an ice pitch which was more rotten than I would have wanted it to be. I got a few meters of thick and solid ice which was followed by some tricky mixed climbing. Although feeling wobbly, I managed to get up the pitch which got us to the upper part of the gully. More of the squeaky snow led us to the summit.
|First technical pitch|
|Easy start to the mixed pitch.|
|Last meters of the gully.|
|Frieder on the final slopes to the summit with Jezebel on the left and Obelisk on the right.|
|The crescent shape of the final part.|
The weather rolled in and we were forced to rest. Nevertheless, we made use of our skis to get a few powder laps in. During a few half-decent days we made several attempts to climb a peak south of Mephisto. Despite checking out a couple of different options we could not find a good passage through the many crevasses and avalanche-prone slopes. Once Frieder even got to test the functionality of the ski-leashes. I’ve never heard of anyone falling into a crevasse while wearing skis, but there he was, dangling on the rope in the freezer. Luckily his skis were still hanging from the leashes and we could enjoy some good skiing on the way back.
|The unclimbed peak 8620|
|Approaching the 8620.|
|Where is the secret passage?|
|+1 for the leashes|
|Downhill is faster.|
|The time in a tent..|
When the sun came out a few days later, we changed our sights to a rocky peak north of the Prophet. After a few recon trips, we decided to try its east ridge. Getting to the ridge itself was not as easy as we had hoped and involved some steep and deep snow climbing as well as a few pitches of ice.
The first time we got to the ridge proper, we realized that it was more technical than anticipated. The weather was not on our side either. We bailed, planning to bring more rock gear next time.
|The Charlatan (~ 7350 ft). The "Piled Higher and Deeper" climbs the col to the left of the peak and then follows the east ridge (hidden)|
|First try. Sunny skies at the beginning.|
|Slowing down on the ridge.|
|Too late, too slow.|
|Going down to ...|
With the arrival of high pressure, we set off again to try the Charlatan (given its deviousness it seemed an appropriate name). This time we knew where we were going and got to the ridge much faster. The sky was incredibly clear and we were impressed by the views all the way to Denali. Having reached the previous highpoint, I clipped all the rock gear to my harness and went on to climb what was to become the crux of the route. A whole ropelength of tufoni-style rock and a few mixed moves got me sweating and I misread the ridge at the top of the pitch. What seemed like solid snow, turned out to be a cornice that I punched through and had a bit of a struggle to wriggle back onto the preferred side of the ridge.
|Getting to the col.|
|The ridge business.|
|Frieder going for the jugs.|
Frieder took over for the last stretch to the summit and we were quickly admiring the fluffiness of the snow on the top. The lightweight feeling encapsulated us and we took our time to admire the views. On the way down, we stopped on a small plateau to brew some coffee and get some tan on. And after we reversed the ridge, there was skiing. Perfect powder on quite steep slopes had us wondering if we ought to have brought a snorkel to the glacier. With the amount of snow and our graduation looming after our return, we called it "Piled Higher and Deeper".
|Fluffy! Mephisto on the left, Obelisk on the right (only top half visible).|
|Ready to POW!|
A couple more days of sour weather followed during which we scouted a potential route between the granite towers of the Obelisk peak. The peak was first climbed a few years ago by Clint Helander and John Giraldo, but the southeast face above our glacier hadn’t been attempted. Using binoculars and photos we took from earlier climbs we pieced together a line of snow gullies cutting through the monolithic towers.
|The Obelisk (9304) with the line "Alternative Facts". ~900m up to M6, WI5 and A1|
When the skies cleared, we skinned up to the base of the face and started up a pleasant snow gully. We were warming up and getting excited for the day. The face was warming up too however. As the sun touched one of the bowls with powder high on the face, it triggered a spindrift avalanche. We saw it coming our way but it looked quite benign. As it hit us, I clearly realized that I had underestimated it. I got knocked off and was carried down quite a bit by the time I could self-arrest. We decided to give the face some time to get rid of all the snow.
The weather stayed good and we were soon back. The neve gully led to some nice mixed climbing that Frieder ate for breakfast. I got a weird steep pitch, where I first used my tools and then switched to the bare-hand rock climbing. That wasn’t enough though, and I had to do a few aid moves. Frieder quickly climbed another mixed pitch but got stuck higher up between powdery snow and a blank wall. I pulled out a few aid-climbing tricks out of the bag and we were up on the ramp that brought us to a good-looking ice pitch.
|Approaching the gully.|
|The white lines linking up.|
|Frieder's mixed breakfast.|
|Beautiful rock around. Need to bring climbing shoes next time.|
|Frieder sprinting up some moderate mixed.|
|Heading up the ramp.|
|Towards the ice pitch.|
Looks can be deceiving though. When Frieder started off the pitch it became clear that the first part of the ice was poorly attached to the rock. With the ice sheets detaching quite easily, I took comfort in my sheltered stance as well as a thick layer of soft snow at the bottom of the ice. If things went awry, I was hoping that Frieder would at least have a soft landing. Fortunately, we did not have to test the cushion and Frieder made the most of his ballet skills to reach the fat ice in the top section. He quickly romped up and set a belay to allow me to strip more ice as I was climbing up.
Above the ice, the conditions played along and we were shortly in the exit gully. It went almost straight to the summit, allowing for an elegant finish of the climb. We had a brew enjoying the last rays of sun and dressed up for the long way down. A funky moon in the backdrop bid us farewell as our abseiling slowly turned into the reentry back to the real world.
|The exit gully.|
|Smagumetris nearly broke.|
|Ready for the take off.|
A bunch of people helped us out with the logistics, planning, training, gear and finances. So BIG thanks to Paul (and the whole TAT crew), AACZ, Ben, Alex, Maria, Steve, Ian, Florian, another Florian, Moritz, Craig, Matt, Vitalija, Rimvydas and Saule!