Pete Graham and Ben Silvestre: how to climb a new route in Alaska

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 22/04/2015
Hoar of Babylon
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Brits Pete Graham and Ben Silvestre have climbed a new route on the east face of Jezebel, in the relatively unexplored east part of the Revelations Range at the south west end of the Alaska Range. Jezebel west summit 9650' has been climbed twice before, but the east summit 9450' and the east face were unclimbed.

In line with the area's biblical theme, and the British tradition of mixed climbing puns, they named the route 'Hoar of Babylon' after the prostitute who rides a serpent with 7 heads and 10 horns in Revelation chapter 17. They graded it VI WI6 M6 A0 1200m.

PG: As British alpinists we are very lucky to have a number of grants available that enable climbers with big ambitions but small wallets to climb in remote and adventurous locations. Many thanks to the BMC, MEF and AAC(UK) for their generous financial support, which made our trip to Alaska possible.

Myself and Ben both have jobs which allow us plenty of time to climb and travel. I'm 28 and a freelance site engineer in the Lake District; he's 25 and works in rope access in Sheffield.

We've been keen to climb in Alaska for a number of years, but wanted to find somewhere relatively unexplored and remote. I first heard about Pyramid Peak from Lise Billon who climbed a new route there last season. An article by Lindsey Griffin highlighting the recent activity there over the last few years set the ball rolling.

We initially wanted to climb the central couloir on Pyramid Peak, which begins from the Revelation glacier west of Jezebel. This year however there was not enough lying snow to land there so we looked at peaks further east in the range where there are more reliable glaciers to land on.

The north face of Jezebel initially attracted us to the peak - it's been described as 'the Grandes Jorasses of Alaska.' But then we were dropped on the Fish glacier directly below this amazing east face that we didn't even know about and which had never been climbed before. After a bit of scouting we decided the east face looked as good if not better than the north face, and wouldn't require an approach day.

The next few days we got mostly mediocre weather, but skied up and down the glacier to check out potential lines on the east face. It's quite complex with lots of couloirs and pinnacles, so it took a lot of viewing from different angles to pick out our line. Our main concern was what looked like a small step at the start of the couloir.

We made our first attempt on the line with 1.5 days food and 8 ice screws. 180m of steep snow led to the the base of what we though was the small step, but it turned out to be a 30m+ pitch of vertical and overhanging ice which weeped around a roof!

With three screws in the belay we only had 5 screws to climb the pitch.  Lesson 1: things in Alaska are bigger than they seem. We both had a go at climbing it, but realised we'd need more ice screws and more food, so we abbed off and spent a few more days waiting out bad weather.

With 14 screws, the first hard pitch still put up a good fight and turned out to be the crux of the route. It was very steep with quite a lot of hollow organ pipe type ice and some structural dubiousness. Not something I'd run back to lead again, but an awesome pitch.

The next pitch was overhanging up a fin of ice, like an aeroplane wing tilted 95 degrees, through which screws went in and out the other side. After that was a steep chimney pitch filled with overhanging snow that required a good two hour effort of stubborn excavation, precarious back-and-footing and convoluted aid techniques from Ben. 

This put us into the couloir proper. A few hundred metres of more straight-forward gully climbing up this led to an excellent bivi on a prow to the right of the couloir, which we reached at around midnight.

The next day a couple of easy pitches led to the base of an ice chimney - maybe the best pitch of the route. A 50m pitch of good, steep ice in the back of a tight chimney reminiscent of Exocet in Patagonia.

A few more pitches up mixed ground led to the top of a tower we had nicknamed the 'Tower of Commitment'. When checking out the line we'd seen an easy couloir behind and to the left of the tower, but weren't sure we'd be able to easily descend into it without horribly committing ourselves.

We were disappointed to find a steep rock wall between us and the couloir, but could see there was then only easy climbing left to the summit. Fortunately our 60m ropes just reached the couloir so we fixed one of our ropes and abseiled into the couloir leaving the rope so we could reascend it on our way down. After continuing with one rope, we topped out on the east summit of Jezebel just before dark and descended a few pitches to a chopped out sitting bivi.

We reached the glacier in bad weather just after dark, feeling very relieved to be back on the ground. A short elated glide on skis led us back to our tent, where we gorged ourselves on fried food and booze until the early hours. A fitting end to an awesome adventure.

After spending the next three days getting repsyched to climb something else, a big storm dumped over a metre of snow and we realised it was time to escape. After another five tent-bound days with occasional trips outside to dig our tent out of the rapidly building snow, we finally got picked up and were on the way home.

FACEBOOK: Shots of the Hoar of Babylon by Pete Graham and Ben Silvestre

READ: More about Pete and Ben

Peter: I enjoy all aspects of the sport, even esoteric micro bouldering. In my view the best three crags in the world are Gogarth, El Capitan and the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses.

I guess my highlights of the past few years alpine wise are:

  • Mate, Porro on Fitz Roy with Ben.
  • Making the first ascent of Partners in Grime (ED2 5.10+ A1 1500m) on Serra 2, in the Waddington Range in British Columbia with Malcolm Scott in 2012, also supported by a BMC grant.
  • Climbing all 6 great north faces in Alps.
  • The 4 routes I've climbed on the Grandes Jorasses.
  • An attempt on the Lesueur route (ED3 800m) on the Dru in 2013 with Ben where we had to retreat near the top in storm is up there with my best mountain experiences as well.

Ben: I'm drawn to exploratory climbing where there are few people, but the travel and meeting people that goes with expedition climbing is all part of the fun, and it makes sitting in a tent shivering more manageable!

In recent times my best climbing experiences were:

  • Every route I've ever done at Millstone.
  • Finding the first abseil anchor on the top of Domo Blanco in a fully raging Patagonian storm.
  • Managing to climb Fitzroy and getting back down 6 hours before our bus left El Chalten for the airport.
  • Climbing the Magical Mystery Tour over high and choppy seas with my girlfriend Tessa.
  • Climbing the first ascent of 'The Ultraviolent Junglist' (VII 8) on Bowfell Buttress last winter, mine and Pete's first new route together.
  • Everytime I've assumed I wouldn't be able to do something, stopped caring, and then done it.

WATCH: Jon Griffiths presents a short video about climbing the West Buttress on Denali and the huge Cassin Ridge on BMC TV



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