Well we’re back from Alaska and 9 days on the Ruth Glacier. The purpose of this trip was twofold, to learn expedition type skills and to complete several climbing objectives. We took a small plane to the glacier (it was a Beaver – the first time in one for my friend Jay). I road shotgun. We landed on the glacier and carried/dragged all of our equipment (about 90 to 100 pounds per person) up a small slope to our first camp. Our first day we learned how to set up camp on a glacier. We dug out a bathroom (5 x 5 x 5 hole with a plastic canister and bag – see pic), a sleeping platform, and a kitchen (complete with benches and cooking surface) in the snow. Day two we went for a walk among the crevasses (large ice holes that you don’t want to fall into but are great places to throw your potty bags). We learned how to set up different types of anchors. We also found a fairly steep hill to go sledding on. It was freakin’ hilarious as we tried to control the sleds and wound up flipping them, rolling them, and almost dropping one into a crevasse.
On day 3 we broke camp, packed up our stuff, and headed out, sleds in tow to another part of the glacier 4 miles away so we could practice moving along the glacier in line, towing 40 to 50 pound sleds. It took over 3 hours, and when we got there, we had to build a new camp. There were two other groups there already, but we had the best bathroom.
The weather was very warm, which makes climbing conditions very difficult. The snow/ice doesn’t bond well, making the conditions more prone to avalanche. We saw many small avalanches during our time on the glacier. We decided that if we couldn’t climb by day, we would wait until it got colder at night to climb (if you can call the 3 hours of dusk from 1am to 4am night time). We chose the south side of Dickey as our first climb, as the inclines only got as steep as 40 degrees. Our goal was to leave at 9pm, hit the 747 pass at around midnight, summit by around 3 or 4 am, and get back down to the pass at around 7 am. We were going to wait at the top of the pass for about 10 hours until the snow started to freeze again and then off; a 24 hour trip. When we set out, the snow was still soft, so this made the push up to the 747 pass a little tough. Even so, we got there a little earlier than scheduled. We were feeling pretty good as we started our ascent up the next steep slope. Unfortunately, the snow didn’t want to cooperate. We began punching through the snow up to our knees, then our waists, and finally sinking to chest level. There was no way we were going to be able to wallow our way up to the summit and still meet time deadlines necessary for safety, so we were forced to turn back. At 4am we returned to our camp … even though we didn’t summit, our first day of climbing was fun.
We decided we would shoot for the Japanese Couloir up Mt. Barrill the next night. This was a 12 to 15 hour hike up steeper slopes (as steep as 60 degrees) but it had gotten a little colder and we had hope. Once again, we set out at 9pm and started the 1 hour march across the glacier to the start of the Couloir. Conditions were soft up the Couloir, and our guide got the Jambalaya (that’s what we had for dinner) revenge on a steep 60 degree incline … so we had to stop while he made an offering to the mountain gods. We were able to summit by 5:00 am, just in time for sunrise. (see summit pics). The sun was hitting pretty strong so we had to rush to get down before conditions got too dangerous. We made it back to our tents around 10 am, and pretty much spent the rest of the day eating and sleeping.
Saturday we got up and did some crevasse rescuing. We started with a sled with our poop buckets attached, and after mastering that, I took the place of the buckets and jumped into a crevasse and was rescued. Honestly, after a week of wearing the same close, you probably couldn’t really tell the difference between me and the buckets from a smell perspective (actually, they probably smelled better). We all got a chance to go into the crevasse, arrest the fall, and set up the system to pull the person out of the crevasse. This was good training, because at midnight we set out for another climb, which required us to meander through a crevasse field to get to the Couloir. We climbed a 50 degree couloir to the top. Unfortunately, the small ice tunnel needed to get above the rock wall was melted out. We tried to do a 40 foot rock climb to get to the summit ridge, but it proved too difficult and we had to turn back. On the way down it started to snow, and by the time we hit the crevasse field we were in a white out, with about 40 feet visibility. Even so, it was a pretty uneventful 2 – hour trek back. It continued to snow and sleet all day Sunday and into Sunday night.
It cleared up enough on Monday morning for a pilot to land a plane on the glacier. When he tried to take off, however, he was unable to because the snow was too soft and the tires were sinking. The pilot had to split us up. Myself and the guide had to leave the plane while he dropped off the 2 other members of the group on a more sturdy part of the glacier and came back for us. We then flew to pick up the other two and then back to Telkeetna, where we had a warm shower, meal, and bed waiting for us. Our Alaskan adventure was over.
Next stop …. Hawaii.