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New Route on the East Face of Jezebel

Posted on: May 12, 2015


Over three days starting on April 3, UK climbers Peter Graham (poking out of the tent) and Ben Silvestre ascended the previously unclimbed east face of Jezebel (9,650') to reach the northeast summit (9,450'), completing the third ascent of the formation. They named their route Hoar of Babylon (WI6 M6 A0, 1,200 meters). [Photo] Ben Silvestre

Alaska's Revelations Mountains, tucked 130 miles southwest of Denali and home to more than 50 granite peaks, have seen a flurry of visitors recently. Since March, three independent teams have climbed in this region notorious for high winds and heavy snowfall. Below is a report on the UK climbers Peter Graham and Ben Silvestre's new route on the east face of Jezebel. The Americans Chris Thomas and Rick Vance's climb on Seraph will be in the next report.

[We reported on Clint Helander and John Giraldo's ascent of the Obelisk in a NewsWire on April 7. More info on the region is available in an Alpinist NewsWire here. To read more about Helander's adventures in the Revelations, see his story "The Question: The Direct East Face of Golgotha" in Alpinist 49. The issue is available for purchase online here—Ed.]

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Clint Helander and John Giraldo arrived in mid-March and "spent fourteen of sixteen days cowering in their tents and in a snow cave, wearing down emotionally from the strong winds," Alpinist reported. Meanwhile, Graham and Silvestre flew in with Talkeetna Air Taxi and landed on Fish Creek Glacier. Third to visit were Americans Rick Vance and Chris Thomas, who flew in on a powerful, lightweight Super Cub, operated by Hesperus Air Service, and landed on the Revelation Glacier after Helander and Giraldo left the area. (Super Cubs hold only one passenger at a time. "They are the quintessential Alaska plane," said a pilot at Talkeetna Air Taxi.)

9 a.m. on Day 1, Peter Graham on Pitch 3, rated WI6 and crux of the route. [Photo] Ben Silvestre

Because Graham and Silvestre had ended up landing twenty steep and rugged miles from their original objective—the central couloir on Pyramid Peak above the Revelation Glacier—they set out to climb Jezebel instead.

The two teams never saw one another, because of the giant peaks separating them, but could see planes flying overhead, alerting them to other activity in the area.

Silvestre climbing the chimney pitch, M6 A0, on Day 1. [Photo] Peter Graham

Graham and Silvestre climbed a major new route over three days on the previously unclimbed east face of Jezebel to reach the north summit, making the third ascent of the peak. They called their route Hoar of Babylon (WI6 M6 A0, 1,200 meters). The peak was named Jezebel by Peter Sennhauser and Janet Smalley after they made the first ascent of Peak 9,650', it's original name, in 1981, back when the region was called Lime Hills (D3) Quad.

Meanwhile, Thomas and Vance climbed Seraph (8,540') by their new route Mandarin Mounty (5.10 WI5+ A2, 2,300') to complete the first ascent of the peak on April 14. And Helander and Giraldo established their new climb, Emotional Atrophy (WI4 M6 WI5 A0, 3,280'), on the southwest face of the Obelisk (9,304') on March 22.

"The one thing all of our trips had in common was atrocious weather," Helander wrote in an email to Alpinist. Helander, who has spent hundreds of hours performing research on the area, continues, "In the two-plus weeks each of us spent in the Revelations, we all only really had two or three stable days of climbable weather."

Silvestre leading up to the "Ice Pencil" pitch on day 2. [Photo] Peter Graham

David Roberts first visited the area in the summer of 1967 with Art Davidson, Ned Fetcher, Matt Hale, and George and Rick Millikan, all members of the Harvard Mountaineering Club, and named the range after the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. Roberts and his partners climbed several non-technical peaks, spending 52 days in the range, but failed on The Angel (9,265'), their main objective. Roberts described the Revelations in his book On the Ridge Between Life and Death, tempting future Revs climbers with visions of wild and remote first ascents on giant, icy granite walls. After Roberts' expedition, likely no one else came until Peter Sennhauser and Janet Smalley visited in 1981 and reached the summit of Jezebel.

Fred Beckey first visited the Revelations in 1981 with three partners, and gave Jezebel the name Ice Schooner. Beckey returned again in May 2000 with Kirby Spengler and Ryan Hokanson. On that trip, Beckey's teammates made the second ascent of Jezebel, climbing its southwest ridge and naming their 50-degree snow- and ice-route Ice Schooner.

Graham and Silvestre skied to Jezebel's north face for a recon—a face that had been described to them as "the Grandes Jorasses of Alaska"—on March 29 but turned back after four hours at a col, because clouds and falling snow blocked their view. At camp they decided to change their objective to the east face, to avoid a long approach. They attempted the equally aesthetic and much closer—a mere 20-minute ski from camp—east face on March 31, but retreated two-and-a-half pitches up when they encountered a steep, sustained ice section that required more ice screws than they were carrying.

Peter leading the "Ice Pencil" pitch, the third pitch on Day 2. "This 50-meter pitch of steep ice was the best of the route and reminiscent of Exocet in Patagonia" said Graham. The team climbed Exocet together in January 2014. [Photo] Ben Silvestre

"The face is quite complex, with lots of couloirs and pinnacles, so it took a lot of viewing from different angles to pick out our line," wrote Graham in an email. "Our main concern was what we thought was a small step at the start of the couloir."

On April 3 they set out on another attempt on the east face—the start of what would become their successful three-day climb. Armed with 14 ice screws, they prepared to ascend the pitch they backed off before. The "small step turned out to be a 30-plus meter pitch of vertical and overhanging hollow ice, which weeped around a roof." Graham described the pitch as containing hollow, organ-pipe ice. "A lot of the ice had a frozen crust and snow underneath the aerated ice," said Graham.

The next ropelength climbed "an overhanging section up a fin of ice like the wing of an airplane tilted 95 degrees, which screws went in and out the other side," wrote Graham. The next section required snow excavation and awkward aid climbing, which brought them to an easier gully leading to their bivy. The pitch had only two moves of aid: first Silvestre pulled on a cam, then, in order to get around a chockstone, he "hooked a small bit of ice, clipped a sling to it and stood up in the sling," said Graham. The following morning greeted them with a steep, 50-meter ice chimney, reminding them of the Exocet route on Cerro Standhardt in Patagonia.

"That's me on the summit not being bothered to stand up," said Graham. [Photo] Ben Silvestre

The "Tower of Commitment," similar to a gendarme, came next, which required a full 60-meter rappel to get around. Overcoming this feature brought them left of a steep rock wall to a couloir and the top. Here, they fixed one of their two lines as a guideline back down the route. They reached the summit at last light, then downclimbed and rappelled a few pitches before chopping out a bivy ledge. The next day, they retrieved their fixed line and continued down the wall as bad weather rolled in. They made it to their base camp after dark, in poor conditions.

As Helander commented, "Ben and Peter's route on the north summit of Jezebel looks like a tremendous and challenging line." He said it sounds consistent in quality and condition to many lines in the Revelations: mostly good rock and sparse, thin ice. "I thought of them often, knowing they were being beaten down by the same relentless wind while confined in shadow and cold. We at least had frequent sun," said Helander. "They're British, though—they know how to suffer."

After their climb on the Obelisk, Helander and Girlando had seven days remaining in their trip, and so they decided to attempt a new route on the northwest face of Jezebel. Treacherous winds and chaotic spindrift, however, forced them to retreat. "For the second year in a row, I had intentions to attempt the peak, but never got off the ground due to poor weather," continued Helander.

As for Pyramid Peak—Graham and Silvestre original objective—the central couloir still remains unclimbed. The mountain received its first ascent in 2014 by French climbers Lise Billon, Pedro Angel Galan Diaz, Jeremy Stagnetto and Jerome Sullivan via the Odyssey (5.10+ M7 A1, 3,300'). Kris Irwin, Darren Vonk, and Ian Welsted later attempted the peak and were nearly killed by "a full-height avalanche triggered by a cornice collapse," Welsted told climbing.com.

Silvestre wrote in an email, "It seems the central couloir [on Pyramid Peak], is just waiting for someone to turn up at the right time. Although I think we're both really attracted to the mystery of Jezebel's north face, which provides equal [plane] landing difficulties."

The east face of Jezebel (9,560'), showing Silvestre and Graham's line of ascent, Hoar of Babylon (WI6 M6 A0, 3,937'). They bivied at the second snow field at the end of the dotted section during their descent. [Photo] Peter Graham

Sources: Clint Helander, Peter Graham, Ben Silvestre, Chris Thomas, Rick Vance, americanalpineclub.org, alpinist.com, climbing.com, thebmc.co.uk, ukclimbing.com

Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.
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Comments
Steve Gruhn

Clint, you're correct on both points (the elevations of the peaks and whether P9450 is an independent peak), but my point was in the incorrect digit transposition of Jezebel's elevation as 9560 feet instead of the more correct 9650 feet.

And yes, it was, indeed, a fine route and the first ascent of perhaps the highest unclimbed peak in the Revelation Mountains.

2015-05-13 18:46:13
ClintHelander

For clarity, Steve, it is my understanding that Ben and Pete climbed to the Northeast summit (P. 9,450') of Jezebel. There would have been no point to traverse to the higher Southwest summit (9,650'). Whether or not P. 9450 is identified as a separate peak, that's up for debate, I guess.

None of that takes away from their fine route. Congrats boys!

2015-05-13 18:11:16
Steve Gruhn

I have to say that I've come to regard Alpinist's reporting as well researched and thorough. Unfortunately, this article misses that mark.

1. The elevation of Jezebel Peak is 9650 feet, not 9560 feet. 2. They are the Revelation Mountains, not the Revelations Mountains. 3. John's surname is Giraldo, not Girlando. 4. The glacier is known as the Fish Creek Glacier, not merely the Upper Fish Glacier. (A minor point, to be sure.) 5. The region was called the Lime Hills D3 Quad because the USGS quadrangle map of the area was - and still is - called Lime Hills (D-3). 6. In 1966 David Roberts visited the Kichatna Mountains, not the Revelation Mountains. 7. The biblical book is Revelation, not Revelations. 8. Roberts and his partners were not near Jezebel Peak in the 1960s or 1970s, so any attempt, if there was one, didn't get close to the peak. 9. Fred Beckey's first visit to the Revelation Mountains was in 1981, not 1982 (I don't think any climbing parties visited the Revelation Mountains in 1982). 10. Beckey's name for Jezebel was "Ice Schooner," not "Ice Shooer." 11. The first mention of the name "Ice Schooner" in the AAJ was in the 2001 AAJ. 12. Thomas' and Vance's original objective - at least the one for which they were awarded a 2015 Mugs Stump Award - was the southwest face of Obelisk. 13. Rather than reporting the "Hoar of Babylon" route was 3,937 feet, it's probably more accurate to say that it was 1,200 meters.

2015-05-13 14:58:02
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