Andy Sharpe signaling retreat on the initial attempt of Snowpatrol (VI WI5+, 5,250′) on the southeast face of Mt. Dickey. Despite being virtually flushed off the route, Sharpe and Sam Chinnery returned a week later to complete the route in a two-day push. [Photo] Sam Chinnery
After hearing vague rumors concerning a gorge with mixed lines 5,000 feet high, half an hour from camp, Andy Sharpe and I packed a spare pair of socks and headed out to the Ruth Glacier this spring to see what we could find.
On April 1, we set off on a line of ice and snow gullies on the southeast buttress of Mt. Dickey (9,545′) that ran almost continuously down from the summit. After ten sixty-meter pitches we reached a good snowfield, dug out a bivy and were soothed to sleep by the northern lights flickering over the west face of The Mooses Tooth.
In the morning the previous day’s good weather had been replaced by an ominous layer of lowering cloud. Two pitches later the snow hit. All the lovely ice and neve we had been climbing serves, we quickly discovered, as the drain for 5,000 feet of steep granite; soon after the first flake landed, spindrift began pouring down the gully with impressive force. Four hours later, after being virtually flushed out of the base of the gully, we could breathe and see again.
We waited patiently for stable weather. After seven days we headed up on the first moderately good day. We thought that if we could get much higher on the first day, before the snow started, perhaps the force of the spindrift wouldn’t be so great.
Between April 9 and 11 we established our route, Snowpatrol (VI WI5+, 5,250′), which involved approximately forty pitches, mainly on neve, snow and water ice, all up to ninety degrees, with some mixed pitches through the shale band guarding the summit slopes. The climbing was excellent and sustained with the crux pitches involving teetering, round, large snow mushrooms in the upper gully system. We climbed through heavy spindrift for the first two days, but fortunately we were then granted some sun and summited under clear skies at 6 p.m. on the third day. Descent was down the normal West Face route via 747 Pass, in deep, but easy, snow. We arrived back at camp on the Ruth at midnight.
The route was of very high quality and in theory should be climbable early in the season until about mid-April. Just watch out for that snowfall.
Editor’s Note: Ben Gilmore, Owen Samuel and Fredrick Wilkinson repeated Snowpatrol on April 25 and 26 with one bivy.
— Sam Chinnery, Dumfriesshire, United Kingdom