Alaska New Routes for BMC supported team

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 10/06/2009
Meltdown on Grosvenor. Jon Bracey

One of the 10 British teams to receive a BMC Expeditions Award in 2009 has returned from the Ruth Gorge in Alaska with two fine new routes under its belt.

Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker planned to attempt the huge unclimbed gully system on Bradley, parallel and to the right of The Gift (That Keeps on Giving), a 23-pitch offering that the authors, Jonny Blitz, Steve House and Mark Twight, gave 5.9 A3 WI 6 X. Both gullies face south and in 1998 the first ascensionists of the Gift elected to climb during an usually mild March.

The British pair arrived in the Ruth at the start of May to a long spell of stable weather. Unfortunately, this had the downside of soaring temperatures, and the proposed line, attempted previously by American Freddie Wilkinson, was deemed objectively too dangerous.

With north faces offering the only safe options, the pair turned to Grosvenor (2,572m), where they forced a line up the centre of the North East Face between the two existing American-Canadian routes, Once were Warriors on the right, and Warrior's Way to the left.

Both climbs were put up by Canadian, Eammon Walsh, and Alaska resident Mark Westman. Once were Warriors, climbed in 2005, starts well up the Grosvenor-Johnson couloir and gave 17 pitches up to WI 6 and M5. Warrior's Way was climbed a year later and is best described as splitting the centre of the East Face. It is 1,300m high and had difficulties of AI 4, M5 R and A0.

Bracey and Helliker started up the Grosvenor-Johnson couloir but broke out left well below Once were Warriors to climb a series of thin ice runnels through steep granite slabs. The crux, led by Bracey, was a pitch of steep rotten ice over equally rotten rock and graded M6 R. The two exited high on the East Ridge and reached the summit after only 12 hours climbing.

Descending south to the col between Grosvenor and Church, they down-climbed a couloir back to the Ruth and were in camp 20 hours after leaving. The new 1,300m route was named Meltdown and given an overall grade of ED3.

A week later they started up the North Face of Church (2,509m), the most southerly major peak on the west side of the Ruth Gorge. This magnificent pyramid was climbed from the west in 1977 by Bocarde, Henke, Taniguchi and Wheaton: it's not clear whether the summit was reached again for another 30 years.

In 2007 the Japanese Giri-Giri boys, Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Tatsuro Yamada, climbed directly up the middle of the North Face via the 1,100m central couloir to create Memorial Gate (AI 4 R/X).

Bracey and Helliker chose a prominent 'slot' on the left side of the face, slanting left up good quality snow to reach its base. The crux was an overhanging chimney packed with snow. It was well-dispatched by Helliker. Flutes led to the East Ridge, where typical Alaskan corniced terrain and rotten rock gave access to the summit. The 1,150m line, named For Whom the Bell Tolls, took 10 hours and gave difficulties of M6 with an overall grade of ED2. They were back in camp 17 hours after leaving.

The pair would like to thank the BMC for their generous support, and also the continued support of Adidas Eyewear, DMM, Maximuscle, Osprey, Patagonia, Scarpa and Suunto.

More information on the teams that received a BMC Expedition Award in 2009

 



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