“The whole Broken Tooth thing got started back in ’93 when J.J. Brooks and I were stuck in Talkeetna trying to get into the Kichatnas,” says Jay Rowe, a 50-year-old schoolteacher in Anchorage. “On our fourth day of hanging out at the Hudson Air Service, we noticed a photo on the lobby wall of the south face of Broken Tooth. Jay Hudson had flown Mugs Stump and Steve Quinlan into the Coffee Glacier for their first ascent of the south face, and Stump had tacked the photo to the board. The more we studied the photo, the more we became convinced that there was a climbable line to the right of the Stump-Quinlan route (VI 5.10+ A3).”
Over a 20-year period, Rowe and his various partners would return to pursue that line up the Broken Tooth 11 times. “I thought we either needed to tag the summit or have an intercession,” says Peter Haeussler, who roped up with Rowe on the climb last month.
After spotting the line in the airport lobby for the first time two decades ago, Rowe wasted no time. He and Brooks hired Hudson to fly them to the Coffee Glacier below the Mooses Tooth massif. It took them two days to ferry their loads to the base of the mountain. “It was here that we had our first encounter with the Broken Tooth kitty litter,” Rowe says. “The rock was so rotten it just rolled under your feet and hands.”
They would end up climbing nine new pitches on the south face, but were ultimately halted because of the rotten rock. “The crack I was following just kept getting worse,” Rowe says. “The sides were so crumbly cams would just pull right out.” Instead of rappelling off a tube chalk he had hammered in near the end of the crack, he pushed on to the top of Pitch 9. “The crack eventually petered out, and I was forced to use my hammer to beat out hand- and footholds to reach the ledge. It was the scariest lead I have ever done. That was the end of the line.”
Their first failed attempt at establishing a new line was all Rowe needed to get hooked. In 2000, he returned with Christian Sieling and climbed 12 new pitches, this time left of the Stump-Quinlan route. “We were way up there and thought we had it in the bag, then the rock went bad.” They would push the line two more pitches before giving up. “It was just stupid. We rapped off of four separate camming units strung together with a third of our rap webbing. Even then we pretty much down climbed. We didn’t want to weight that anchor.”
Thirteen years late, this May 30, he finally summited the peak. With Peter Haeussler as a partner, Rowe climbed a new, six-pitch variation through an incredible and thin-looking ice flow in two parallel chimneys, approximately 200m left of the West Ridge route (IV 5.9). They found difficulties up to WI4+ and M6+. “Warm temperatures had turned the ice to running water and slush through two overhanging sections,” says Rowe. “I ended up taking a 20-foot lead fall on Pitch 3.”
Haeussler took the lead on Pitch 4, two pitches away from the West Ridge. While Rowe was seconding the pitch, a wet slab let loose, sending him tumbling. “I heard Peter yell, and had just enough time to go in to the fetal position,” says Rowe. “The wall of snow hit me hard, everything went white, and I felt myself tumbling. Then the rope came tight and pulled me into a back bend. The snow pummeled and bent me as it crashed by. I thought my neck was about to break, then it was all over.”
The two shaken climbers joined the West Ridge where they setup camp to dry their wet gear out and sleep for five hours. The following morning they continued to the summit via the original West Ridge route. They made it from their high camp to the summit and back in a 23-hour push.
Rowe finally brought this 20-year project to a close, but it’s just a piece of his larger scheme: to climb routes on each of the major peaks that make up the Mooses Tooth massif. In total, Rowe has climbed five of those summits with Haeussler. “Of all the guys I have climbed with, I’m glad Peter was with me. He has been on more adventures with me than anyone else, and certainly deserved to get up Broken Tooth.” With the Broken Tooth now under his belt, he just has the Eye Tooth left.
Read more Mooses Tooth massif adventures here: