French new route on Augusta

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 12/06/2010
Augusta from the north. Paul Knott

Four members of the Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne, Sebastien Bohin, Sebastien Ratel, Sebastien Moatti and Emmanuel Pellissier, have climbed a major new line in the St Elias Range,

The four French climbed 4,289m Augusta, c30km east of Mount St Elias on the Alaska-Canadian Yukon border, by what they refer to as the East Pillar, but might best be described as the North East Spur leading to the North Ridge.

The four completed the ascent on their fourth attempt, making what is believed to be only the fifth overall ascent of this high mountain.

After travelling 15km across the glacier from base camp, the four set up camp at the foot of the ridge, in the lee of a rotten rock buttress.

While sheltered from major avalanches spilling from the flanks, the site was potentially exposed to stonefall, prompting the climbers to sleep with helmets firmly in place on their heads.

Leaving at midnight, and profiting from their previous tracks, the French gained height rapidly, despite the abysmal quality of the rock.

There was also an additional urgency to the climb, as they had to gain enough height on the route before warm sun made conditions too dangerous to continue.

After 10 hours climbing, with the main difficulties behind and at a altitude of 3,400m, the four were forced to stop, put up their tents, and wait out the day. At this point they had joined the upper section of the North Ridge.

When they recommenced their ascent, it took only three hours to climb the remaining c900m to the main summit. The first c1,300m of the route, on poor rock and steep snow, was graded TD, while the final 900m was thought to be AD.

The team then returned to their tents for some R and R before leaving early for the descent, which they made by the North Ridge, reaching their starting point on the glacier at 7:00 the following morning.

Augusta was first climbed in 1952 via the North Ridge by Pete Schoening's American expedition. It had previously been named Augusta after the wife of Israel Russel.

Russel, who was a distinguished geologist, made two audacious attempts on Mt Saint Elias in 1890 and 1891, before it was first climbed.

The second ascent of Augusta, via the North Rib to West Ridge, did not take place until 1987, when it was climbed by Carleson, Foweraker, Marshall and Serl. Americans Mark Bebie and Bill Pilling made the third ascent in 1990 via the long South Ridge, and then traversed the mountain by descending the North Ridge.

Britons Paul Knott, Paul Mead, Ade Miller and Rob Wilson made the fourth ascent in 1993. They had hoped to follow the unclimbed East Ridge, but gave up when faced with dangerously corniced terrain.

Instead they repeated the North Ridge, which they found in far worse conditions than suggested by the photos and information from the 1953 and '87 trips.

In the photo the North East Spur is the sharp arête rising in the centre. The North Ridge comes in from the right and joins the spur at a shoulder above the narrow section. The unclimbed East Ridge is the left skyline, while the North Rib is the prominent snow/ice spur on the right, rising to the West Ridge (right skyline).



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