FA: Chris Wright and Scott Adamson, April 18-20, 20031
The Mooses Tooth*, East Face
Alaska Range, AK
After leaving a balmy spring in the Oregon desert, the first step out of the Anchorage airport reminded me that the far north hadn’t taken the equinox to heart just yet. Regardless, after only a couple days of gloomy weather, the skies cleared and we loaded up the plane, headed for the Buckskin Glacier.
My partner Geoff Unger and I made an attempt at climbing what would become Terror, but didn’t make it. With good weather holding steady after the failed attempt, I was determined to go back. Coming to the mountains with an injured elbow, Geoff was not. Luckily, after a few days of rest, recovery, and a new strategy, I convinced Scott Adamson to have a go with me. We set out at about 3 am on the morning of April 18th and planned to go as fast and as light as possible, and try to climb through the crux corners as well as gain the snow patch on the peak’s southeast shoulder.
We started climbing around 5 am and gained The Racing Stripes by about 6 am. Knowing that they wouldn’t be protectable anyway, we decided to continue climbing un-roped until we reached the headwall. We tied in there and Scott led one long pitch of ice until we could simul-climb to reach the base of the corners. Six pitches and about fourteen hours later, we reached the shoulder in the dark, with a biting wind and a serious fatigue leaving us both feeling completely shattered.
All of the corner’s pitches were difficult, sustained, and overall, poorly protected with each pitch somewhere in the M6-7, WI5-6 range with the occasional A1-A2 section. At one point I placed a nut, pulled over a bulge onto a delaminated sheet of vertical ice, and found no suitable protection for about 40 or 50 feet to the belay. I know Scott had similar moments, drytooling on tiny edges, milking incipient cracks, tiny ice patches, and barely manageable gear. By the time we climbed another pitch of snow to the top of the shoulder, we were both as strung out as either of us can remember.
After a 2:30 am bedtime on a tiny ledge, we finally coaxed ourselves awake around 8 am. We again encountered hard, steep climbing, and barely adequate protection. My second pitch of the day involved climbing up to place a screw, tension traversing down to a thinly iced corner, tapping my way up that, climbing 5.10 crimps with bare hands and bad gear, transitioning to an overhanging ice chimney, and stemming on mushrooms before exiting onto mixed terrain. Five more pitches, which included Scott’s impressive lead of a mega-hard and mega-chossy dry pitch on rotten rock, as well as a funky ice and mushroom traverse, found us a wild bivy on a snow rib above the headwall.
After another 2 am bedtime, we traversed left to trek easier ground and then climbed straight up on mixed terrain for two pitches before getting above the rock, around some monster cornices, and to the top of the face. A very Alaskan traverse on the corniced summit ridge brought us to the top, and after a few words and a few pictures, we retraced our steps back down and started rappelling.
A blur of raps and downclimbs brought us to the glacier with the descent taking only four and a half hours to drop nearly five thousand feet. Exhausted, we rifled through the food, destroyed all the chocolate we could find, grinned like bastards, looked up, and laughed at the wonder of having pulled it off.
By 10:30 pm we arrived back at camp to rye whisky and a warm dinner, coming in from a round-trip of about 67 hours. I estimate we climbed about 20 belayed pitches; most were probably harder than WI4/M5. It was without doubt the hardest, scariest climb of my life, but I wouldn’t change anything – except maybe just a few more pieces of gear. A big thanks to Brooks Range for the support, and especially for the Stubai tent – the finest Alaska Range dining room you could ask for, and for the Alpini 15, which despite the -40º nights kept me warm and happy on route.
– Chris Wright
*The official USGS name of the peak is the grammatically incorrect version with no apostrophe.