MT. GROSVENOR AND BROKEN TOOTH

Posted on: September 1, 2006


In 2005, when Eamonn Walsh and I opened two new routes on Mt. Grosvenor (8,460') in the lower Ruth Gorge, the unsettled weather prevented us from attempting the best and most obvious line: an enormous left-leaning corner that splits the east face. On April 14 we returned for another attempt. At 2:30 a.m. we cached our skis in the bowl under the east face and climbed several hundred feet of steep snow up and into the huge corner, reaching the first belayed pitch as the sky began to lighten. Firm snow/ice ("snice") and occasional ice patches angled consistently at around seventy degrees, with frequent, near-vertical sections. The climbing, while fairly secure, was usually runout, and we were forced several times to simulclimb to find better anchors. The crux arrived on the seventh pitch, when the corner steepened and the snice thinned to crusty snow patches over steep rock. After runouts—up to forty feet—on M5-ish terrain, Eamonn excavated some good cracks to protect the exit into a small notch.

Eamonn Walsh chimneys past a snow-filled slot on the East Couloir (V AI5+ M6-ish A0, 3,300') of the Broken Tooth (9,050'), Alaska Range, Alaska. The 600-foot, shoulder-width ice hose was the route’s highlight. Though a massive gendarme blocked access to the true summit, Mark Westman believes the climb is a classic nonetheless. [Photo] Mark Westman

A snow bowl took us to the upper corner and a steep and unprotectable thirty-meter slab with a half inch of rotten ice (70-80 degrees). Eamonn again demonstrated a cool head, climbing for sixty meters without protection until a piton crack appeared.

After sustained but more moderate terrain, the corner ended in another snow bowl. I led a block of physical pitches, including a short M5 step that required a point of tension. A fun mixed runnel brought us to a cornice on the ridge crest; we dug through it, in classic Alaska style, then surmounted another M4 section. Eamonn took us to the summit ridge by way of a steep mixed chimney, and of course, one final cornice tunnel. We dropped our packs and continued up our 2005 south face route to stand on the summit in the fading twilight. As we descended the south face to the Church/Grosvenor Col, I set off a slab fracture and narrowly missed going with it. We were back in camp nineteen and a half hours after leaving for The Warrior's Way (V M5 R A0, 21 pitches).

Two days later we made the third ascent of Mt. Johnson's Escalator (Alaska Grade 3: 50 degrees, 1220m, Shaw-Wagner, 2000), then in early May we climbed Kahiltna Queen (12,380') and (most of) the Mini-Moonflower (a subsummit of Mt. Hunter), before we were flown to the Coffee Glacier to attempt a new line on the east face of Broken Tooth (9,050'): an enormous cleft dividing the face up to the ridge between the main and northeastern summits.

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On May 10, 4 a.m., we climbed 1,000 feet of steep snow into the deep cleft and the start of the first pitch. Eammon followed a snice flow up to a long, sustained, vertical section with some slight—and somewhat thin and hollow—overhangs (AI5+) that took mostly short screws of questionable quality. Easier ice and mixed climbing in a narrow slot exited to a seventy-meter snowfield, then to the route's highlight: a 600-foot, shoulder-width hose of squeaky ice.

The final lead in this feature brought me to the base of a long snow bowl, and we climbed together for several easy, fifty-degree ropelengths. The couloir above ended in vertical to overhanging rock festooned with dangerous snow mushrooms. Eamonn led an A0 chimney filled with unstable snow blobs, exited on M5 terrain and climbed up beneath the last, grim headwall. A miraculous, hidden weakness then revealed itself: a deep slot/ramp slicing up and to the right. Here Eamonn found the crux of the route, a small chockstone roof with M6-ish moves on thin ice and granite slabs. Another pitch of steep, bottomless snow attained an aesthetic perch on the exposed, knife-edged summit ridge.

An immense, monolithic rock gendarme completely overhung both sides of the ridge, barring access to the true summit, 100 vertical (and 250 horizontal) feet away. After some consideration, we decided to forgo the summit and began descending our route, the East Couloir (V AI5+ M6-ish A0, 3,300'). We made twelve rappels, with some down climbing, leaving many piton anchors: in total, a sixteen-hour round-trip.

—Mark Westman, Talkeetna, Alaska

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