New Route Aside, Tooth Traverse Thwarts Climbers Again

Posted on: August 23, 2010

Mooses Tooth massif, Alaska Range, Alaska, showing established routes. In late May, Renan Ozturk, Zack Smith and Freddie Wilkinson made the first ascent of the south face of Mooses Tooth (10,335') via Swamp Donkey Express (5.9+ A2+ plus some mixed climbing, 750m). They then attempted a five-mile traverse of the massif, from Espresso Gap to Ruth Gap. The team bailed from the summit of Sugar Tooth, shy of last year's attempt by Ozturk and Smith, after their rope was cut and they dropped an ice tool. [Photo] Joseph Puryear

On May 17, Renan Ozturk, Zack Smith and Freddie Wilkinson arrived in Alaska's Ruth Gorge with ambitions to traverse the full five-mile ridgeline of the Mooses Tooth massif, from Espresso Gap to Ruth Gap. Though they arrived to find ideal conditions—hard freezes every night and relatively warm weather during the day—their luck did not last, and warm conditions forced them to cut the trip short.


After trekking across Ruth Glacier, Ozturk, Smith and Wilkinson established base camp below the southwest face of the Mooses Tooth (10,335'), hoping to climb a new route before trying the traverse. They waited out a day of stormy weather before starting up the spire's fractured south face, navigating the bergschrund and scaling the col between Bears Tooth (10,070') and Mooses Tooth. Two hours of soloing and simulclimbing brought them to the foot of Mooses Tooth's south face. Here, Smith took the sharp end on the first section of runout climbing on loose rock. The subsequent pitch demanded five hours of hard aid climbing to complete, followed by challenging routefinding on more loose rock and some easy mixed climbing. The three climbers reached the summit of Mooses Tooth around 8 p.m. and rappelled to base camp via Ham and Eggs.

This foray is notable as the first ascent of the south face of Mooses Tooth. They named the outing Swamp Donkey Express (5.9+ A2+ plus some mixed climbing, 750m).

Ridgewalking, just before the team's descent off Sugar Tooth (8,000'). [Photo] Renan Ozturk

Freddie Wilkinson on the first ascent of the Mooses Tooth's south face. [Photo] Renan Ozturk

On May 28, Ozturk, Smith and Wilkinson began their attempt of the full Mooses Tooth traverse. But warm weather and isothermic snow "made for frequent and frustrating transitions between rock and mountain boots," Wilkinson said. While climbing the south ridge of the Sugar Tooth (8,000'), a route established last year by Ozturk and Smith while also attempting the Tooth Traverse, Ozturk took an "unexpected" fall, dragging their only lead rope over a sharp rock and cutting it to the core. Soon after, they dropped an ice tool. After bivouacking below the summit of the Sugar Tooth, the team was "somewhat disheartened by these setbacks and our generally slow progress in the sub-par conditions," and made the decision to bail, Wilkinson said. They rappelled back to base camp via the couloir dividing the Sugar Tooth and the Eye Tooth.

The climbers idled in base camp for a few days, considering another attempt on the traverse, but warm weather persisted. On June 2, the trio left Ruth Glacier and flew back to Talkeetna.

Sources: Renan Ozturk, Freddie Wilkinson,,

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