Monday, December 9, 2019

Moderate Snow Climbs in the Alaska Range: Ruth Gorge

Perusing Alpinist Magazine or the American Alpine Journal, one might be intimidated by the Alaska Range and its incredible volume of difficult routes, but there are indeed options for the more moderate climber. As with any climbing expedition in Alaska, none of these options below should be considered "safe" and involve significant objective hazard including rock, ice, and snowfall. Careful conditions evaluation (including snowpack) is paramount for a successful trip.

Basecamp in the Ruth Gorge, AK

Mount Dickey, West Face (II, 40 degrees- 4,500 ft)

This climb is done in one to three days and is among the most spectacular moderates in the AK range with minimal technical difficulties and memorable views. Start from the Ruth Gorge and ascend moderate snow ramps to 747 Pass, this is a beautiful place to camp if climbing the route in multiple days. Depending on where your base camp is, this involves ~3 miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

From 747 pass, moderate snow slopes continue and several options exist depending on your desired level of adventure. The West Face and the West Ridge are relatively similar (and are even commonly skied) and rarely exceed 30-40 degrees. The "Direct" west ridge is a fun way (though contrived at times) to turn up the climbing difficulty and exposure quite dramatically (though this is much more serious than the standard options). Simply staying on the "true" west ridge involves steeper snow and moderate mixed climbing on rock (~60 degrees with short steps of easy mixed). The direct option of these three will require a different set of gear, experiences, and skills.

A climber on the Direct West Ridge, Mt. Dickey

Mount Barrille, Japanese Couloir (III, 55-70 degrees- 3,000 feet of elevation gain)

This climb lacks any great camping locations and thus is commonly done in one day. While it is shorter and less elevation gain than Mount Dickey, it offers much more technical climbing relatively speaking. Depending on the basecamp location, the approach can be as little as 30 minutes but the crevasse route-finding getting to the base can be involved.

A climber reversing the summit ridge of Mt. Barrille
The couloir itself makes up the majority of the climb's elevation gain (~2,000 feet) with an ever steepening couloir that varies greatly in steepness depending on time of year. At the top of the couloir, a heroic traverse on snow leads to the upper summit slopes. The position is incredible throughout the upper stretch of the climb and is an absolute gift to the moderate climber- being able to experience the grandeur of the Alaska Range without climbing on a cutting edge route.    


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