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[TR] Backside Glacier- Alaska Range - 4/11/2007


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Trip: Backside Glacier- Alaska Range -


Date: 4/11/2007


Trip Report:

Backside Glacier, Alaska Range, AK

April 11-24, 2007

Mike Bromberg, Ben Traxler


W Ridge Mt. Grosvenor and various attempts


Recent activity on the southern end of the Ruth Gorge captured our attention and enticed us to explore new routes and ski mountaineering potential of the large peaks on the western side of the gorge via the seldom visited ‘Backside Glacier’. Located west of the Great Gorge and unnamed on most maps, the Backside Glacier affords access to the large peaks Mt. Bradley, Mt. Wake, Mt. Johnson, Mt. Grosvenor and Mt. Church by their comparatively tame western rampart. The lower angle glaciated slopes and sweeping westerly ridgelines appeared the perfect venue for numerous Alaska sized ski mountaineering objectives. Backed by Mountain Fellowship Fund grant from the American Alpine Club, on April 11, Ben Traxler (Boulder, CO) and I were flown into the Backside Glacier by Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi. This being our first visit to the range, we were surprised and admittedly a little intimidated, to learn that in the veteran pilot’s many years of experience, we were the first party to be delivered onto the Backside Glacier.



Our first several days were spent exploring route options and evaluating the unstable snow conditions at lower elevations and on the unnamed peaks to the west. The dry and cold February and March weather contributed to unstable snow conditions with cohesive snow perched atop of a 15cm layer composed of greater than 5mm advanced facets (like Colorado depth Hoar near the snow surface!), producing some alarmingly large collapses but no significant avalanche activity.




After skiing up the glacier and making a ski descent from 8,500 ft on the West Face of Mt. Dickey we directed our attention to our first objective, the West ridge of Mt. Wake. Ascending the low angle glacier to gain the west ridge proper, we climbed low fifth class rock and moderate rock and technical post-holing to 65 degrees before being thwarted by unstable snow and rock with Butterfinger® like characteristics in a prominent notch at 7,600 ft, just below Mt Wake’s glaciated summit dome. Descending near our route of ascent, we discovered a more direct couloir up to 50 degrees in steepness.



The following day, we skied south toward ‘Backside Lake’ and attempted the S face of Mt Church in low visibility weather. After crossing several massive old wet slides, we ascended fully isothermal snow to the glacier between Mt Grosvenor and Mt Church, skiing to just below the prominent Church-Grosvenor Col, before retreating as inclement weather and complete lack of visibility began to take hold. From the Church-Grosvenor col, the route intersects the South Face on Mt Grosvenor (III 55 degrees, Walsh-Westman, 2005)



Making the most of several weather induced ‘rest-days’ we skied a few of the numerous E facing couloirs to 50 degrees off the unnamed summit 6,500 ft bordering the west side of ‘Backside Glacier’. This summit is likely unclimbed and would make a nice short daytrip from basecamp.



As high pressure began to take hold on April 21, we focused our attention on the West Ridge of Mt Grosvenor and under clear skies, we skied and climbed the snowy ridge (to 50 degrees), before intersecting the striking summit pyramid. From here we climbed the SW face via moderate rock and snow to 75 degrees before again intersecting the South Face route (Westman/Walsh 2005) below the first of two prominent fingers near the summit. We descended the route of ascent on skis encountering perfect ski conditions with brilliant exposure and striking views of Mt. Huntington, The Rooster Comb and Denali. Upon return, we both agreed that this elegant line is comparable in commitment to the West Face of Mt Dickey and only slightly more technical. (West Ridge, Mt Grosvenor, III 65 degrees)



After succeeding on one of our main objectives, we spent our last several days exploring lines on a peak we named ‘False Bradley’, a prominent snow dome that dominates the head of the glacier in the 747 pass area, which in reality is only a false summit on the Mt Bradley massif. Our first attempt was to ski a striking 1500’ couloir we dubbed ‘the pencil’. Ascending on foot, through old avalanche debris with an unwelcome greeting of falling rock from above, we retreated after only climbing the first half. On the descent we encountered what I consider to be perhaps the worst snow I have ever skied, in one of the most beautiful lines I have ever attempted.



On our final day, we skied again to the base of ‘False Bradley’ to attempt a mixed line in a 2000’ X shaped cleft. Just prior to roping up, we encountered a trio of Japanese climbers who had descended the West face of Mt Bradley and had bivouacked just below our route. The liveliest of the three greeted us warmly through broken English and modestly described their achievements with a new route on the E side as well as their equally impressive descent line. We wished them the best for their inevitable post-holing adventure over 747 pass before continuing with our line.

Taking the rightmost line of the X, we climbed 600’ of mixed terrain to WI5 M5 before retreating due to the garbage chute nature of the warming route, and a mishap with a malfunctioning ice screw racking system.



Overall, the Backside Glacier offers many possibilities for moderate ridge climbs in a superb setting, perfect for those looking for seldom explored and/or new route possibilities. Mid-April or earlier seems to be the most appropriate time to visit this area, as we experienced a significant shed cycle on solar aspects towards the end of our trip.

The skiing possibilities remain limitless, although your safety in this area is entirely contingent on your ability to assess snow conditions as most routes involve prime avalanche terrain. Many obvious routes remain unclimbed and each summit has seen only and handful of ascents. With convenient base camp locations and easy access, the Backside Glacier is perfect for a short foray into the range, a multi-day adventure from the Gorge over 747 pass, or a shuttle trip from another nearby destination. For logistical support and knowledgeable air service for this area, contact Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi.



Lastly, Ben and I would like to express our gratitude for being chosen as recipients of a Mountain Fellowship Fund Grant. Without which, the expedition would not have been possible.




Mike Bromberg

Crested Butte, CO















Gear Notes:


Edited by peeton
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