MT. GROSVENOR

Posted on: September 1, 2005


Eamonn Walsh on the crux pitch of Once Were Warriors (V WI6 mixed, 17 pitches), Mt. Grosvenor (8,460'), Alaska Range, Alaska. [Photo] Mark Westman

On March 25 Eamonn Walsh and I flew into the Ruth Gorge. Mt. Grosvenor (8,460') had had only one known ascent, in 1979, when Gary Bocarde and party climbed the avalanche-prone gully between the peak and Mt. Johnson to the north, then ascended moderate ice slopes on the mountain's north face. On March 31 Eamonn and I climbed the broad snow gully between Mt. Grosvenor and Mt. Church. From here, we continued, unroped, up exposed but nontechnical mixed terrain (unconsolidated snow over black shale) to make the first ascent of Mt. Grosvenor's south face (III 55 degrees). We traversed the mountain by descending Bocarde's route. We had to make four rappels to pass the broken icefall in the gully between Mt. Grosvenor and Mt. Johnson. The route took ten hours round-trip.

On the descent we scouted a fine-looking line through a deep gash in Mt. Grosvenor's northeast face that begins halfway up the Johnson/Grosvenor couloir. The line is hard to spot from the Gorge since it is hidden behind Mt. Johnson.

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At dawn on April 6, we cached our skis at the foot of the gully and climbed 2,000 feet of steep snow to reach the start of the Gash. Four hundred meters of high-quality technical climbing on consistently thin ice, interspersed with short, challenging mixed moves on good granite, brought us through this amazing feature. At the Gash's exit, a short pitch of rotten ice led to a bizarre cave belay behind an ice curtain. Eamonn led with virtuosity, climbing difficult mixed inside the cave, then punching a hole through the ceiling, through which he squirmed to the outside. He continued up a nasty, leaning, vertical squeeze chimney packed with snow and plastered with thin ice. The ice became a veneer as the chimney opened; vertical snow excavation coupled with hard mixed climbing ended in powerful moves past a small roof. Eamonn protected this section, the crux, with hard-won rock gear.

The terrain eased above. We made a high traverse to bypass a rotten ice pillar and climbed a snow gully to a short, difficult rock wall. A leftward finish on snow led to excellent fifty-five-degree ice and an aesthetic, abrupt exit to our route, just minutes from the summit. Our climb, Once Were Warriors (V WI6 mixed, 17 pitches), had taken eleven hours from the start of the Gash.

A snowstorm caught us on the final pitches, resulting in an enchanting ordeal of whiteout navigation on rapidly loading snow slopes in fading light. We reached the bergschrund in the dark to find Eamonn's skis had been carried away by an avalanche. We arrived at our tent at midnight as the stars came out.

— Mark Westman, Talkeetna, Alaska

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