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Americans Top New Route on Unfrequented Alaska Range Glacier

Mt. Laurens (10,042′) on the southwest fork of the Lacuna Glacier in the Alaska Range. The routeline shows the Northeast Buttress (V A1 AI4 M7, 4,650′), put up by Mark Allen and Graham Zimmerman May 20-22 over 67 hours. [Photo] Mark Allen

Mark Allen and I have just arrived back in Talkeetna, Alaska after an excellent and fruitful expedition into the Alaska Range in which we climbed a new route, the Northeast Buttress (V A1 AI4 M7, 4,650′) on Mt. Laurens (10,042′), off the southwest fork of the Lacuna Glacier. Mark states that it is “his favorite Alaskan adventure thus far into the range.” A combination of an adventurous approach, exploratory alpinism and challenging climbing gave the trip a fabulous flavor. The positions looking out over the range were of the most marvelous either of us have witnessed.

We flew with Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi into a new landing strip in the Ramparts between the Lacuna and Kahiltna Glaciers and then approached for two days up the Lacuna to the confluence with the southwest fork ( ca. 14km).

Our research has shown that we were the first people to visit this area with climbing intentions and possibly the first people to visit the southwest fork at all. The only information that we were able to ascertain on the peak Mt. Laurens was from Paul Roderick who flew an Austrian climber, Thomas Bubendorf, into the nearby Yetna Glacier in 1997 where he ascended the southwest ridge of the peak in a push, solo. He reportedly named the peak, Laurens, after his son. This appears to be the only other ascent of the peak, which lies very predominate on the ridge line running south from The Fin, between the Yetna and Lacuna Glaciers. We have begun referring to this group of peaks running south from The Fin as the “Fin Group.” Other than Laurens, it also includes Voyager Peak (12,213′, FA: Allen-Zimmerman, 2011), The Bats Ears (11,044′, FA: Gilmore-Turgeon-Wilkinson, 2008) and another unclimbed peak (10,020′).

Mark Allen climbing ice on the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Laurens. [Photo] Graham Zimmerman

Mark and I first sighted the very impressive east face of Mt. Laurens while making the first ascent of Voyager Peak (12,213′) in 2011. At that point we coined it “The Mastodon Face” and have continued to refer to it as such.

Between May 9 and 15, Mark and I made two attempts on the precipitous east buttress of Laurens, getting turned around both times at overhanging walls and very dangerous climbing on an unformed ice hose after 1,500 feet of climbing.

On the evening of May 20, we started up the Northeast Buttress. The first half of the route was comprised of difficult mixed sections separated by long sections of excellent, steep ice and snow climbing. At the top of this section we bivied on a beautiful prow. The second half gained a steep snow arete that we ascended to the confluence with the north ridge. We continued up the ridge to a second short bivy on top of a bump in the ridge. This bivy was superb affording excellent views of the Alaska Range, including Foraker, Denali, Hunter and Russell. The ridge both before and after this bivy involved wild, unprotected climbing on steep snow in and around huge gargoyle cornices.

Graham Zimmerman at the second bivy during the first ascent of the Northeast Buttress of Mt Laurens.[Photo] Mark Allen

The ridge led to the summit plateau where we were caught in a very cold wind storm that forced us to hunker down for three very uncomfortable hours in our tent to wait for the short Alaskan night to abate. With the coming of the sun, the wind died and we were able to climb one final pitch of 70-degree snow to the summit.

It seems that the summit of Laurens had not formerly been ground-truthed, and we were able to take care of this with our GPS and altimeter. We found the summit to be 10,042′.

We descended the southern margin of the east face following a series of couliors. We made 12 rappels on ice, snow and rock and then down climbed steep snow for another 2,000 feet to the glacier. We then rested for a day and a half before skiing back to our landing strip.

The route took us a total of 67 hours: 59 hours up and 8 hours down.