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Jeff Hollenbaugh on the first ascent of The Talkeetna Standard (V 5.9 WI5, 3,300′, Hollenbaugh-House, 2003), Eye Tooth, Alaska Range, Alaska. The climb was made in September; Hollenbaugh?s partner, Steve House, has been a proponent of autumn climbing in the Great Gorge for several years, with some notable results. [Photo] Steve House

This past September, Jeff Hollenbaugh and I traveled to the Great Gorge hoping to find ice and mixed climbing conditions. However, due to a dry summer in Alaska we found something quite different: cold temps and dry, dry, dry.

After skiing down from the Mountain House landing strip (the only available landing this fall) and a short inspection of conditions, we headed up on the Eye Tooth to try a route I have had my eye on. We established The Talkeetna Standard (V 5.9 WI5, 3,300′) from September 18-20, belaying fifteen pitches and bivying twice (once on the way up and another time on the descent) on an excellent ledge at about two-thirds height. The line follows a long system of snow and ice ramps and gullies on the west face for 1,800 feet to the ridge crest. Most of this was soloed (to 60 degrees), but we belayed three pitches to the crest itself, which involved quality mixed climbing (5.7) and some water ice (WI5). Once on the untrod south ridge, we ascended another 1,500 feet with many pitches of climbing on excellent, south-facing, orange granite up to 5.9, interspersed with classic Alaskan ridge traverses. We met up with the Dream in the Spirit of Mugs Stump (V 5.10, 850m, Bonapace-Orgler, 1994) at the base of the last rock tower on the ridge, which we ascended to the summit. The route was of a very high quality and would be a classic in any more-traveled range. The third day we descended seventy-five percent of the ridge and then rapped a steep corner system between our ascent route and the Orgler route to return to the Ruth Glacier. The aurora borealis show over the backdrop of the Ruth during the bivies was memorable. The route was named after our favorite Talkeetna breakfast at the Roadhouse Cafe.

With the splitter weather continuing and with confidence in our ability to rock climb on the dry south faces, we cranked our sights up a notch to the east face of Mt. Dickey. None of the six routes on this 5,000-foot wall had been repeated. Due to continuing cold temps (-10 degrees F at night, 25 degrees daytime) we elected to attempt the first route established on the face, the 1974 effort of David Roberts, Galen Rowell and Ed Ward. This trio made the ascent (with five fixed ropes) in three days during July, sometimes climbing as much as eighteen hours a day. We did little to improve upon their style or their time.

We started the morning of September 23, and the first day climbed, with no fixing, fourteen pitches up to 5.9 A1 using seventy-five-meter ropes. We reached a small bivy at 10:30 p.m., two hours after nightfall. The ledge wasn’t big enough for us both to sit on while the stove ran, so I cooked while Jeff waited off to the side on a neighboring stance. At 12:30 a.m. we both got into our one sleeping bag and rested until 7 a.m.

The second day involved ten pitches, the last three being the crux described by the ’74 party. Rowell had led one of these pitches, chopping steps in the crumbly rock with his alpine hammer and traversing to a stance where he drilled the party’s only bolt, from which Ed Ward made a pendulum into an aid corner. We found the rock to be bad but protectable with large cams. It began snowing on us at 10:20 p.m., two hours after we had completed the pendulum. Jeff finished the last aid pitch at 2:15 a.m. in a full snowstorm after experiencing a short leader fall.

That night’s bivy was on a flattened snow arete too small to cook on. We again shared the bag, but this time rigged a small five-by-eight-foot nylon tarp overhead as the storm was in full blow. We both slept soundly, undisturbed by mid-slumber snow accumulations of three inches. The next morning I led a 5.9 mixed pitch to a large ledge, the first one we’d seen in some time. Despite the unrelenting storm, we spent two hours brewing and eating before continuing. Five more pitches up to 5.9 A0 mixed and a 500-foot traverse that we simulclimbed brought us to the upper edge of the face.

From here some 650 feet of moderate snow brought us to the summit plateau, which we attained at 4:30 p.m. in near-zero visibility. We headed down through complex, glaciated terrain, following a compass bearing. After end-running some huge crevasses and down climbing through seracs we found our way at dusk to 747 Pass, where I fell into a large crevasse. Jeff pulled me out, and we regrouped and continued down. Having reached the Ruth, we faced the problem of finding our small tent in darkness and full storm. We stumbled upon it at around midnight, thus ending our adventure.

— Steve House, Mazama, Washington, USA