Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Cobra Pillar - first one day - speed ascent, Mt. Barrill, Alaska Range

In mid-June, Chris McNamara and I traveled to the Ruth Gorge in the Alaska Range. Our first objective was the 2,700-foot Cobra Pillar on Mt. Barrill (VI, 5.11, C1, 23 pitches). After much work and many tries, the first ascent of this route was made by Jim Donini and Jack Tackle over 6-days in June of 1991. Two subsequent ascent were made in 3 and 2 days. Our goal was to make the 4th ascent and do it in a single-push, using Yosemite-style speed tactics. Leaving the ground at 3 p.m. on June 13 with one 60-meter rope, a double set of cams, one wall hammer/ice pick each, and no crampons, we made the ascent in 15 hours and 10 minutes, summitting the next morning just after 6 a.m.

The east face of Mt. Barrill, showing the line of the Cobra Pillar:

We climbed the route in 2 blocks, switching leads at around 10:30 p.m. Chris took the first block, which included much of the difficult free-climbing.

Chris leading the 1st pitch off the glacier:

The pendulum traverse on pitch 3:

Chris leading pitch 5, we dubbed this belay the "gravel shower" belay, due to home much loose rock poured down on me:

Pitch 8 leading toward the huge cleft on the left:

The huge cleft:

Chris leading the 10th pitch, which is a dead horizontal 100-foot right traverse to reach the splitter headwall cracks on the huge shield mid-route.

Chris leading the splitter 5.10 finger crack on pitch 12.

It's not as dark as it looks in this picture. I took over the lead here, but didn't need a headlamp (we didn't even bring them) due to the long Alaskan summer days. Unfortunately though, it was too dark to take anymore pictures of my leads till morning.

Chris walking the last slope to the summit. Mt. Dickey behind.

Our descent was difficult and scary. High avalanche danger, no crampons, no real ice-tools, no snow-travel gear, we descended this slope (the northwest face) with a bit of luck and post-holed back around to our camp in the Ruth Gorge, returning to camp about 20 hours after we left.

A final look at Barrill with a lenticular cloud over Denali in the distance.

First Ascent - Goldfinger, The Stump, Ruth Gorge, Alaska Range

After climbing The Cobra Pillar, The Southwest Face of Hut Tower, and the West Pillar of the Eye Tooth, Chris and I were ready to get on a new route. We found that the rock in the basin of the Eye Tooth, Wisdom Tooth, and the Stump was exceptionally good. After two tries we put together the route Goldfinger (IV, 5.11, 12 pitches), which takes a direct line up the left of two major dihedrals splitting the face. The climb was challenging and sustained with splitter cracks and good protection.

An overview of the south face of the Mooses Tooth massif, with the route Goldfinger on the Stump marked:

Looking up the route from the base:

We swapped leads the whole way - each pitch was close to a full 60 meters.
Chris leading on the initial dihedral:

Joe leading another dihedral pitch:

Splitter cracks everywhere...

The crux of the route came on the 9th pitch. A very thin finger crack led to a dyno to an off-width, then an airy traverse left to a horizontal roof crack. Chris cruised the pitch onsight!

Chris on top of the Stump:

Chirs, with Mt. Barrill and Denali in the background.

We made 12 long rappels down the route and installed good anchors so the route could one day be repeated and become classic.