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Norwegians “Go Small” in Ruth Gorge

Kuriositeten (AI5 M3+, ca. 800m), on a nameless peak between Mt. Bradley (9,100′) and Mt. Dickey (9,545′), Ruth Gorge, Alaska Range, Alaska. Norwegians Nils Nielsen and Eiliv Ruud made the first ascent on April 28, 2008, finding “interesting and fun” climbing on relatively moderate terrain; they believe the line has potential to become an area classic. [Photo] Nils Nielsen

From April 7 to May 3, Eiliv Ruud and I made attempts on several routes in Ruth Gorge. Though we climbed some outstanding classics, our best memories are from Kuriositeten (AI5 M3+, ca. 800m), our new route on the shorter mountain between Mt. Bradley (9,100′) and Mt. Dickey (9,545′), aka Peak-747. Alaskan climbing luminaries Kelly Cordes and Joe Puryear confirmed that there were no previously recorded ascents of this line.

We arrived in Ruth Gorge in early April. The first two weeks were terribly cold, and the mountains were covered with more snow than ice: not good for climbing. We started with Ham and Eggs (V 5.8 AI4, 850m, Davies-Krakauer-Zinsser, 1975) on the Mooses Tooth because we hoped that a south-facing wall would have better ice. Ours was the first ascent this year, just before Tomaz Jakofcic and Tina Di Batista climbed the route (read the May 7, 2008 NewsWire for more information), and we spent a great deal of time snow digging to find the fixed anchors for the descent. But we had to do “face lifts” on most anchors anyway, as many were in such bad shape that they fell apart when we tested them. We ended up spending nearly as much time going down as going up, in total about eight hours camp to camp.

On a “rest day” with not-so-good weather we climbed the Japanese Couloir (III 55-70 degree snow/ice) on Mt. Barrill (7,650′). For us the route was snow all the way, and we only used a rope for passing a crevasse at the upper ridge.

We then climbed Freezy Nuts (TD+ 95 degrees, 800m) to the top of London Tower on April 19, the day after Jakofcic and Di Batista did. Like them we found this climb much easier than the grade, but nonetheless the climbing was fun, and the summit was beautiful. We descended the route, which I believe is the best way to descend London Tower, not the glacier on the backside that some have used in the past.

On April 28 we made the first ascent of Kuriositeten, which means “rarity” in Norwegian, on the east face of the peak between Dickey and Bradley. I don’t know if the mountain has a name, but we have been calling it Litlefjellet which means “small mountain” in the Romsdalen dialect. The mountain is not that small, but it appears that way next to its enormous neighbors.

We left camp at 3 a.m. and started climbing two hours later. The first pitch consisted of 20-30 meters of vertical snow that I dug through. I then climbed over a huge chockstone. This was interesting and fun, and I would give it a grade of M3+ ST4 (ST = Snow Tunneling). After that the couloir widened, and we simulclimbed steep snow with sections of ice (AI3-4) for 300-400 meters. I was the lucky winner–I got the sharp end on the crux pitch, which had 60 meters of steep, perfect ice through the couloir’s narrowest point, just when the sun hit. This has to be one of the best ice pitches I have ever climbed. A little higher the couloir opened again, and we followed the ridge with short steps of mixed to the summit, which we reached at 9 a.m.

Nielsen takes the crux pitch of Kuriositeten (AI5 M3+, ca. 800m). He considered it “one of the best ice pitches I have ever climbed.” [Photo] Eiliv Ruud

Since the top of the couloir has a big southeast-facing snow flank, and the temperature was rising, we deemed it safer to descend via the west face of the mountain and walk through 747 Pass. We were back in camp by 1 p.m. The route was repeated twice in the next two weeks, first by Matt Tuttle and Jason Kue and later by a French team. Due to the route’s short approach from the Gorge, its moderate difficulty and the fact that most parties can easily climb it in a day, I believe Kuriositeten has potential to become a classic.

A couple days before going home we climbed the right of two neighboring ice lines on Mt. Dickey’s northeast face. The route was first climbed by Karen McNeill and Christine Byrch in 2003 or 2004. After a long approach, avoiding seracs, we climbed eight pitches up to AI4. We climbed to the northwest ridge, then descended the route.

During our stay we also attempted an unclimbed line on Dickey, two attempts on a new route on Eye Tooth and one try on a line farther left on the same mountain as Kuriositeten. Each time we had to turn back, however, due to bad ice conditions and long sections of vertical or overhanging snow.

It was my first time in Alaska, but from what I’ve seen in pictures and what others have told me, I believe that this April was generally poor for ice and mixed climbing in Ruth Gorge. One of the Giri-Giri boys, now missing on Denali (read the May 29, 2008 NewsWire for more information), told us it was his third season in Alaska, and he’d never seen so little ice in the area.

We didn’t climb any of the big faces we hoped for, but we had a great time in the Gorge. And hopefully we can come back another year when there’s ice “all over the place.”

Nielsen fights the fear of mushroom climbing on the east face of Mt. Dickey (9,545’). [Photo] Eiliv Ruud