Argentinian-Chilean duo summit North America's highest unclimbed named mountain.

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 11/09/2015
The dangerous approach below the north face of Mount Malaspina. Camilo Rada
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Natalia Martinez (Argentina) and Camilo Rada (Chile) have made the first ascent of Mount Malaspina (3,776m) in Canada's St Elias Mountains.

Malaspina, which appears to have received only one serious previous attempt, in 1976 via the west ridge by an American-Polish team, has in the past often been distinguished by the rather awkward title of "highest unclimbed named mountain in North America".

Martinez and Rada were flown onto the Seward Glacier and from their drop-off point shifted loads 12km to a base camp below Malaspina.

Malaspina is tucked away at the back of a glacier cwm west of Mount Baird, and should not be confused with the more well known "Malaspina Glacier", which lies much further south towards Yakutat Bay.

After three days exploring the heavily crevassed side glacier flowing down from Malaspina to the Seward, they found no way through, except for the objectively dangerous passage of hugging the very edge, where avalanche debris had filled crevasses.

They ran this gauntlet in early morning and established a high camp below the north face of Malaspina.

However, bad weather and high avalanche risk forced them to abandon this camp and never reoccupy it.

Seracs falling 1,000m from the top of the face would launch snow and ice projectiles over any apparently safe campsite, and they eventually fled after being hit by strong winds and heavy fall-out from a serac avalanche. One TV-sized block landed four metres from the tent.

They made a summit push from base camp once the weather had improved, working the edge of the glacier by night, and continuing up threatened slopes towards the col between Baird and Malaspina.

The first 300m (45-60°) they climbed together - fast, then climbed two pitches of 55-65° ice to reach easy slopes leading to the upper edge of the col. Close by there was a small serac fall.

After taking a rest they embarked on the most sustained section of climbing, a 350m ramp (nine pitches, 50-65° with short vertical steps) to reach the 3,377m east shoulder of Malaspina.

The two arrived shortly after midnight, 24 hours after leaving base camp, and built a small igloo, where they witnessed a breathtaking display of northern lights.

Leaving at 10 a.m. the following morning they climbed the relatively easy east ridge, with a few technical steps over bergschrunds, over a false summit to reach the true summit after four hours. The GPS read 3,756m

Views extend from Mount Saint Elias to the west, through Logan to the north, to Vancouver, Augusta, Cook, and - in the far distance - Fairweather, to the east.

They reversed the route in low cloud, wind and heavy spindrift, making 15 abseils, and returned to base camp after 55 hours on the mountain.

The 1,900m route, from the north via east col and east ridge, was graded TD AI2, 55-65°. Although they estimate the difficulties corresponded more to a route of D/D+, the pair suggest TD is appropriate given the route's remoteness and many objective dangers.

Martinez and Rada, who with their Uncharted Expeditions, have explored some of Patagonia's most remote mountain areas, have in the last years made the first ascent of Volcan Aguilera and Volcan Reclus on the South Patagonian Icecap, the first winter ascent and overall second ascent of Monte Sarmiento in Tierra del Fuego, and new routes in the Cordillera Darwin.

Martinez is a mountain guide and ski instructor.

Rada, a geophysicist and glaciologist, has also made winter ascents of the two highest summits in Patagonia, San Lorenzo (first winter) and San Valentin, and the first winter ascent of Paine Grande in the Torres del Paine, as well as many first ascents in the Vinson Massif of Antarctica while surveying the highest summits for the Omega Foundation.


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