More success for BMC supported teams in Alaska

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 25/06/2009
Peak 11,300, Central Couloir. James Clapham

James Clapham and Gavin Pike, who received awards from both the BMC and Mount Everest Foundation, climbed two major new routes in Alaska.

The pair arrived in the Ruth Gorge at the start of April, well before Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker, whose ascents have already been reported. They'd hoped to try one of the unclimbed snow/ice lines on the huge East Face of Dickey, but even at that time of year temperatures were unusually warm and ice conditions lean.

Their second planned objective, the Central Couloir on the East Face of Peak 11,300 (3,444m), north of the Gorge in the Ruth Amphitheatre, looked objectively dangerous, so instead they tried a line on the North Face, retreating after meeting powder snow over steep granite slabs.

Time for a rethink and something to boost moral. This came in the form of a successful ascent of Shaken, Not Stirred (Crouch/Donini, 1997: 750m: WI 5) on the South Face of the Moose's Tooth, after which they decided the East Face of 11,300 might be justified if they climbed at night.

Six hundred metres of 45-50° snow led to the narrows, which provided two pitches of vertical climbing before 80° ice led into the upper couloir. This proved straightforward until the final pitch onto the ridge - blue ice and scary, unconsolidated snow at 75°.

After rappelling from a snow-mushroom, a final 55m gully led to the top of the overhanging summit cornice. The pair descended the South Ridge to their tent on the Ruth, naming their new line Night of the Raging Goose (1,400m: ED, 90°).

Over the years Peak 11,300 has become a relatively popular objective due to its classic South West Ridge, which rises 1,300m from the Ruth Amphitheatre. Although dubbed the Japanese Route, after a 1975 Japanese ascent, it seems to have been first climbed in 1968 by Swiss, who descended the adjacent South Ridge.

The East or East South East Ridge has also seen ascents, and during 1982 and '83 Americans climbed several couloir lines on the West Face. Americans also climbed a new route on the South Face in 2001 but there seems no record of any previous exploration of the East Face.

Clapham and Pike then turned to the North Face of Mt Church (2,509m) at the southern end of the Ruth Gorge. At the time only one route breached this steep mixed wall; the Japanese line Memorial Gate (Ichimura/Sato/Yamada, 2007: c1,100m: AI 4 R/X), which takes the prominent central couloir.

The British pair started up the snowfield left of the Japanese Route (but right of the line later climbed by Bracey and Helliker) and then followed a gully of excellent ice and névé (80°) through the rocky section to the fluted upper face. This was tricky with the usual unconsolidated Alaskan snow, and led to the upper East Ridge.

The crest to the summit was heavily corniced and proved eventful, with one snow formation collapsing under Clapham and giving him a memorable ride over the North Face. Fortunately, he was only badly bruised, but later attempts in the range (which proved unsuccessful) had to wait a further two weeks until he was fully recovered.

The new route was named Amazing Grace (c1,100m: ED, 80°+) after Pike's niece. Descent was by the North West Ridge to the col between Church and Grosvenor. This may be only the third ascent of Church (with Bracey and Helliker's later ascent the fourth), though there is a rumour that the North West Ridge (the route of the first ascent in 1977) may have been repeated.

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



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1) Anonymous User
19/11/2015
I've some dissapointing news for messer's Clapham and Pike. Peak 11,300's east faces central couloir was not a first ascent. Partner and I climbed in late April 1982. I've the dated Kodak slides in proof. The climbing was pretty much as Clapham describes. We ascended it as a warm-up for Huntington. The temp was brutal -35- 40 below entire climb. On the summit in a white-out I realized we had no idea of our intended descent...we dropped off the mushroomed summit and somehow found a way down the SW ridge. My name is Donnie Black and Scott Wade was partner. I'd done other routes nearby in the early 1970's, including Mt. Hunter's south ridge, first ascent. I am the Happy Cowboy. Please contact if interested.

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