FIVE FREE ROUTES IN TWO WEEKS IN ALASKA'S RUTH GORGE

Posted on: July 5, 2007


Cedar Wright on "The Tombstone" during the first ascent of Ballad of a Dead Soldier (V 5.10+), a direct finish up the headwall to Dream in the Spirit of Mugs (V 5.10, 2,800', Bonapace-Orgler, 1994) on the west face of The Eye Tooth (ca. 9,000'), Ruth Gorge, Alaska Range, Alaska. During their June 2007 visit, Wright and Renan Ozturk established five new climbs and and two miles of climbing, most notably The Beholder (V 5.12 [5.10X], 3,000'), an independant line that climbs the central pillar of the west face of The Eye Tooth. [Photo] Renan Ozturk

Renan Ozturk and I landed on the Alaska Range's Ruth Glacier on June 14 in a dream state. The weather was perfect, and we skied our sleds to the "Spider Camp," so named for the unusual spiders that moved into our tent as soon as we arrived. This great camp is about a five-minute ski from the beautiful, 1,500-foot Stump, a subpeak of The Wisdom Tooth, just south of The Mooses Tooth. The next day we were attempting a new route on The Stump that Renan had been stormed off the year before; it lies to the right of Chris McNamara and Joe Puryear's Goldfinger (IV 5.11a, 12 pitches, 1,800', McNamara-Puryear, 2004). We each got a couple of wet, vegetated, dangerously run-out dihedral-stem-sketching pitches, but the big surprise was that most of the route was spectacular, with smooth but feathered, weather-polished edges and footholds and a plethora of thin-cam placements. Fifteen hundred feet later we topped out on a beautiful new free line, which shared the last pitch of Goldfinger, which incidentally turned out to be an ultra-classic lieback-to-roof encounter. We called the route The Stump Man (aka The Brown Finger, IV 5.11, 1,500'), a slight jab at my good friend Chris' Goldfinger route, but also a nod to the reality of muddy fingercracks. We descended Chris' route back to our skis and boots.

The weather just wouldn't get bad, so one rest day later, we were back on the Stump to tackle the next dihedral system left of The Brown Finger. The line we took avoided the dihedral for the most part, as we found the better rock, and the path of least resistance, weaved drunkenly up world-class rock on either side. We explored both faces of the dihedral and then ventured onto the arete of the right dihedral toward the top. This is probably the best route on the Stump, with an impossible-looking, runout 5.10a pitch through a steep but featured golden face with luscious flakes and in-cuts near the top. Stump Jumper (IV 5.11a) features four classic and unique 5.11a pitches and much bullet 5.10.

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It still wouldn't storm, and now The Stump was pretty played out. The El Cap-size Eye Tooth loomed above our camp, letting us know of her presence by dropping the occasional avalanche down one of her huge gullies. Just to the right of the biggest avalanche gully lies Dream in the Spirit of Mugs (V 5.10, 2,800', Bonapace-Haas-Orgler, 1994), a world-class, 3,000-foot alpine rock climb, which, 1,500-plus feet up, breaks right on easier ground, avoiding a more direct line up a 1,500-foot golden headwall pillar with numerous finger-sized splitters streaking up its face. After simul-climbing the route to Pitch 13, where the Dream breaks right, we continued directly for eight long pitches, encountering world-class stemming and fingercrack climbing, with bomber Stoppers and thin cams. We were amazed to find that the direct line went at 5.10+, as from below it looked like 5.13 for sure! Renan, who has done Dream in The Spirit of Mugs, recommends our line, which we called Ballad of a Dead Soldier (V 5.10+), as a much more direct and enjoyable finish. This is also a much better rappel route, though it's still a flake- and block-ridden pucker-fest in spots (pray when you pull). "It's pretty amazing we haven't core shot a rope," I said to Renan as I rapped off the last pitch. By the time we pulled the ropes they were both miraculously chopped.

Cedar Wright on the 5.12- crux crimp move of the overhanging "zebra headwall" pitch during the first ascent of The Beholder (V 5.12 [5.10X], 3,000'), The Eye Tooth (ca. 9,000'), Ruth Gorge, Alaska Range, Alaska. During their June 2007 visit, Wright and Renan Ozturk established five new climbs and and two miles of climbing, most notably The Beholder, an independant line that climbs the central pillar of the west face of The Eye Tooth. The route is the second integral route on the 3,000-foot formation. The year before Renan Ozturk had attempted it, only to pop two tendons dynoing for this crimp, which exfloliated on contact, resulting in a whipper onto a grey TCU. [Photo] Renan Ozturk

By the time we skied the hour and a half back to base camp, it was snowing, and the next three days were spent in the tent in a state of delirium. And then... the sun peaked through the clouds and the rain stopped. We wandered toward Denali to the next formation north of the Root Canal, where we found one of the best routes I have ever done in my life. I had the pleasure of leading the first two pitches, which both clock in at 5.12. The first pitch entails a classic 5.12 crimper traverse from one crack to the next, and the second is an out-of-this-world, 170-foot finger crack, that I barely onsighted and estimate to be 5.12b or c. Strangely enough my winter in Indian Creek came into play as the perfect training. We called the pitch the "Indian Creek Trainer," due to its sustained, splitter nature, and called the route The Great Transformation (V 512b/c) in honor of a comparative literature book I read while on the glacier.

The Eye Tooth (ca. 9,000'), showing the new route The Beholder (V 5.12 [5.10X], 3,000'), established in a push in June by Renan Ozturk and Cedar Wright. [Photo] Renan Ozturk

The weather miraculously continued to hold through our rest day, and even though I was gobied and sore from my all-out effort on the crux pitch of the Great Transformation, I knew we had to go for the objective that had brought us onto the Glacier in the first place: the unclimbed central pillar of The Eye Tooth (ca. 9,000'). The year before Renan had made it up the first third of the route, before blowing two tendons on the powerful last pitch of his recon. The central pillar is unique in that to each side lay ferocious, rock-spitting avalanche gullies. I managed a few fitfully surreal dreams before the alarm clock went off, and then we skied the hour up the side glacier that leads to The Eye Tooth, and soon were simulclimbing up the initial buttress that approached Renan's tendon-popper pitch. Renan got his redemption and led the overhanging crimper pitch first try. On second, I found the crux 5.12 sequence to be reachy and powerful, and I just eeked it out. One more steep 5.11 dihedral pitch brought us to the huge ledge where we planned to traverse under the left of the pillar's two avalanche gullies. The ledge ended and the traverse to the ledge continued in a slow and calculated manner, as every piece I placed would have almost surely ripped out should I have fallen. Meanwhile the sun had hit the gully and Renan was getting pelted by chunks of ice. I finished the final 5.10 X foot traverse moves as quickly and safely as possible, looking nervously left at two rotten RPs in expanding flakes. I reached a thin crack and have never been so psyched to place a double zero and a zero TCU in all my life... they seemed like a bomber belay after the choss I had climbed through. Now we felt committed: up and over was the easiest and safest way off.

Another view of the west face of The Eye Tooth, showing 1. The Beholder (V 5.12 [5.10X], 3,000'). 2. Dream in the Spirit of Mugs (V 5.10, 2,800', Bonapace-Haas-Orgler, 1994). 2a. Ballad of a Dead Soldier (V 5.10+), a direct finish. [Photo] Renan Ozturk

We found the climbing on the pillar to be mostly varied and classic, with that golden, wind-weathered patina that we had grown to love, but the pitch right after the death traverse was strewn with huge blocks, one of which narrowly missed me when Renan accidentally cut it loose. I trundled a refrigerator-sized block which exploded into the gully below. (Thankfully Renan had climbed gingerly past these features and not killed me with them.) The final pitch went right up the center of the thin pillar with 3,000 feet of exposure looming below, and entailed utra-techy stemming and body scumming, with three double zero TCUs and many RPs for pro. We topped out onto The Eye Tooth with an incredible sense of relief.

Things had just gone too smoothly on the climb, and on the descent the very middle of the lead line went into a crack on the third rappel... and wouldn't come out. I was forced to chop the lead line in the middle, and feeling like scared kids who want their mommies, we rapped the 3,000 feet, passing a knot on every rappel. The feeling of relief upon touching down on the glacier and completing our route, The Beholder (V 5.12 [5.10X], 3,000'), is hard to put in words.

On the ski descent back to base camp, the binding ripped off my left ski and I postholed the last mile back to camp in a totally worked, psychedelic state. The next morning, with all our ropes chopped and an amazing two weeks of climbing under our belts, I duct taped my binding onto my ski and we lugged our sleds four miles up the glacier to the airplane pickup point. We had climbed and descended almost two miles of rock, and chopped three ropes, in less that two weeks. Deprivation from civilization and some harrowing rappels made civilization pretty sweet. Renan and I are soaking up the food and rest, because the whirlwind continues: in less than a week we'll be in Pakistan on our way to Shipton and Trango towers for the "Stan" part of our "Alaskistan 2007" expedition.

Renan Ozturk transitioning across the death gullies to the upper central pillar of the west face of The Eye Tooth (ca. 9,000') during the first ascent of The Beholder (V 5.12 [5.10X], 3,000'). The route was the duo's second outing on the Eye Tooth; earlier in their trip they managed a direct finish to Dream in the Spirit of Mugs (V 5.10, 2,800', Bonapace-Haas-Orgler, 1994) that they called Ballad of a Dead Soldier (V 5.10+). [Photo] Renan Ozturk



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