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SECOND ASCENT OF ALASKA'S SUGAR TOOTH
Posted on: August 28, 2007
On June 20, Jay Rowe and Peter Haeussler made the second recorded ascent of Sugar Tooth (8,000') in Ruth Gorge, Alaska Range, Alaska, via a new route: the South West Buttress (V 5.10, 50 degree snow, 20 pitches). This image, taken from the Coffee Glacier during Rowe's second attempt in 2006, shows the prominent southwest ridge. The spire below the summit Rowe and Haeussler named Sweet Tooth Spire. The larger peak that continues up past the summit of Sugar Tooth is the Eye Tooth (9,000'). [Photo] Jay Rowe
Over a three day period in mid June, Anchorage climbers Peter Haeussler and myself established a twenty-pitch free climb on the southwest buttress of the Sugar Tooth (8,000'), in Ruth Gorge, Alaska. This climb also marked the second ascent of the peak. The first ascent of Sugar Tooth was completed by Austrians Andi Orgler, Tommi Bonapace and Raimund Haas via the West Face (5.10b/c with short sections of A2, 16 pitches) in 1994.
My first attempt of the southwest buttress, in 1995, ended in rain and sleet after six pitches. Peter Haeussler and I returned in June of 2006. After sitting out five days of rain we made a stir-crazy attempt in marginal weather. We dashed up to to the 1995 high point and managed two more pitches before turning back in sheets of rain.
On June 14, 2007, Peter and I landed at the Sheldon Amphitheater for another go at the Sugar Tooth Buttress. Our approach took three days due to rain, and involved a fall into a water-filled crevasse and a spooky climb over Espresso Gap. On the third day, the weather cleared, and we were treated to full on views of the 3,000-foot rock buttress.
The first day we climbed fifteen sunny pitches on solid, moderate rock. Our pace was slowed considerably by the packs, and we were forced to haul them through a few short, hard sections. Most of the pitches were slabby 5.6 and 5.7. The crux of the first day was a steep, left facing dihedral on Pitches 5-8, which had free climbing up to 5.10. Shortly after the sun left us, we encountered a long ledge system upon which we were able to excavate a perfectly flat tent site, complete with snow for water.
Peter Haeussler leading through Pitch 5's easier terrain. Haeussler and Rowe hoped to link Sugar Tooth and Eye Tooth, resulting in heavy packs that slowed their ascent. [Photo] Jay Rowe
We slept fitfully and awoke on June 20 to another cloudless sky. As we broke camp, the buttress once again became engulfed in sunlight. Before the climb, we kicked around the idea of trying to link the Sugar Tooth and the Eye Tooth (9,000') together in one route. The conditions were good, so we carried the packs with us on the second day to keep the option open. The second pitch that day was the most serious of the route with a series of roofs that required much traversing and route finding. Protection was sparse, and the twenty-five pound pack made every move seem harder than it actually was. Halfway through the pitch I considered leaving the pack behind. Unable to find any gear to hang it from, I trudged on.
Pitch 17 brought us to a pinnacle on the ridge which we named Sweet Tooth Spire. From here, a horizontal ridge traverse led to the summit snow slopes. Peter took the sharp end and led a long pitch through bottomless, wet snow. With both of us soaked to the bone, we were grateful for the warmth of the sun. From here, one more pitch of steeper snow brought us to a spectacular summit ridge. This was also our first glance at the proposed Eye Tooth link up. From our angle it appeared that it would involve at least two long rappels to reach the Sugar Tooth/Eye Tooth notch, and then another eight to ten pitches of challenging rock and snow to the summit of Eye Tooth. We both agreed that the link up was a bit more than we were willing to bite off, so we decided to drop the packs and enjoy the remaining three pitches of exposed, knife-edge summit ridge.
Without the packs, we felt like cats tiptoeing along the top of a fence. The exposure was incredible, with two to three thousand foot drops on either side. The ridge culminated after three pitches to a perfectly symmetrical pyramidal summit. The final moves involved a dicey 5.8 friction lieback in wet mountain boots to a summit so sharp I could hardly balance on the apex. The top was void of any protection, so I down climbed back to Peter, and he took his turn on the summit. We spent the rest of the day establishing a direct rappel line down to Pitch 15, where we spent a second night. We finished the rappels the next day.
The South West Buttress (V 5.10, 50 degree snow, 20 pitches) of Sugar Tooth was worth three trips to complete. The moderate grade, location, and spectacular summit make for a memorable climb. The route is shorter and technically easier than the West Pillar of the Eye Tooth, and a competent party could climb the route in a long day from the Ruth Glacier.
The bivy site atop Pitch 15. The "long ledge system upon which we were able to excavate a perfectly flat tent site, complete with snow for water," convinced the pair to stay there one night on the ascent, and another night on the way down. [Photo] Jay Rowe
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