The prime conditions on eastern aspects in the Ruth Gorge, result of heavy snow- and rainfall last year and cold temperatures this spring, enabled another new line, this time on a 7,500-foot satellite peak of Mt. Johnson (8,460′). Peter Doucette and Silas Rossi climbed Twisted Stair (V WI6 R/X M6+, 2,300′).
They flew into the Ruth Gorge on April 10 in the bone-cold temperatures that have settled into the range this season. They waited on the glacier for one week as the temperatures ranged between 0 and -35 degrees Fahrenheit, “skiing and scheming and [waiting] for a bump in the mercury.” Huge snow mushrooms quelled their several attempts on Mt. Bradley and Mt. Dickey, despite clear weather.
On April 20, Doucette and Rossi pointed their skies toward a “clean and obvious” direct line on a 7,500-foot peak in the back of the east-facing Johnson/Wake Amphitheater. Already bisecting this north face was the legendary Elevator Shaft (Alaska Grade 6: 5.7 A3 AI5+), put up by Doug Chabot and Jack Tackle in 1995. The 2,400-foot couloir enchanted Chabot when he flew by it in 1992. When he and Jack Tackle flew onto the Ruth Glacier three years later, Mt. Johnson had only been climbed once, and recent attempts on a second ascent had ended badly. Dave McGivem and Charlie Sassara climbed low on the mountain when blocks of ice and avalanche detritus knocked them down the mountain. Their rope wrapped around Sassara’s neck three times. His partner resuscitated them and they returned to the Ruth Glacier. Two years later, Jim Sweeney broke his hip in a 90-foot fall. The eight-day retreat that followed nearly killed him and his partner, Dave Nyman, but they survived multiple avalanches and crevasse falls and a plane crash. Despite two imposing-looking cruxes and a menacing serac, Chabot and Tackle finished the climb with relative ease, marking Mt. Johnson’s second ascent and its first traverse.
Earlier this month, Doucette and Rossi started their ascent on the 2007 Giri-Giri Boys’ route, The Ladder Tube (V 5.10 R A3 WI4+ R M5, 3,000′), one of three new routes that Fumitaka Ichimura, Yusuke Sato and Tatsuro Yamada fired off in the Ruth Gorge over a two-week period. Before the end of the first pitch, Doucette and Rossi split right to follow what they believe to be unclimbed ground. They found “physical and committing ‘blue-collar’ Alaskan climbing” sustained for the height of the wall.
“Bergschrund to summit cornice, there was little reprieve as we navigated steep snice, sporadic mixed terrain, and a dizzying and delicate WI6r/x crux smear at two-thirds height,” Doucette wrote. They bivied in a snow cave just below the crux, then finished the climb and returned to camp the following day, happy to have the same number of fingers and toes with which they started.