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Nick Aiello

[TR] Central Alaska Range, Mooses Tooth - Ham and Eggs 4/5/2013

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Trip: Central Alaska Range, Mooses Tooth - Ham and Eggs

 

Date: 4/5/2013

 

Trip Report:

After a long 10hr day working my crap job as a high-rise window cleaner, my mind can't help but wander back to the Alaska Range, where I've explored, worked, suffered, and smiled each Spring since 2010.

 

Here's a brief report from one of this year's expeditions, when my partner Paul Calabro and I climbed the 3000' route "Ham and Eggs," on the Mooses Tooth, to the col, making the first ascent of that route of the season.

 

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My trusty all-wheel-drive Chevy Astro work van was outfitted for the 4,700mi drive from North Conway, NH, to Talkeetna, AK. This is the second time Paul and I have driven from New England to Alaska.

 

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Entering the Yukon on day 4 of 5 of driving. We hit a good April snowstorm here.

 

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The frigid sky in Talkeetna was clear as I've ever seen, and we could easily see Denali from the river.

 

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Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi tried to get us into the Root Canal airstrip right below the route, but some insane turbulance landed us...

 

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At the Mountain House, where we waited for 3 days....

 

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In temps of negative 40 to negative 15 (low and high) Fahrenheit.

 

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Until Paul (Roderick) could swoop in and bump us up to the Canal. Here's a shot looking South down the West side of the Ruth Glacier's Great Gorge, where I spent a couple weeks bailing off stuff in 2011

 

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Coming in to land at the Root Canal

 

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Finally at the Root Canal! But it's still crazy cold.

 

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But the views of Denali are to die for.

 

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After a few more days for temperatures to finally get above zero degrees F in the daytime, an interesting event occurred. We were amazed as a pair of very strong climbers, Fabrizio and Roger (sometimes called Lil' Rog.) of Colorado, were repulsed low on the route! When they descended, their report was dire: Deep unconsolidated snow leading to a giant snow mushroom that blocked the typically-easy ice ramp on pitch 3.

 

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The route follows the central gully, approached from the left. Photo by Paul Calabro, used with permission.

 

Luckily, I was moving out West, and had all of my climbing gear in my van with me. Most of that I had flown onto the glacier, and so I dug out my aiders, cam hooks, daisies, and tiny cams, intent on taking up where Fabrizio and Lil' Rog. had left off, aiding around the snow mushroom.

 

The next morning, I was treated to one of the scariest, spiciest pitches of my 12-year climbing career, replete with aiding off of pickets, a bolt from the original Krakauer ascent 40 years prior, and scratching ice out of a crack so that my cam hook would bite. I won't bore you with the details, but it was so weird that I had to take selfies.

 

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But, we had made it above the mushroom!

 

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Here's Paul following, I think he freed the icy crack.

 

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We then climbed a few pitches of easy snow to put in the boot pack up to the base of the AI4 crux pitch, which looked fat and good. A solid recon done, we retreated to camp.

 

The next day, a storm blew in, and dumped yet more snow on our route. Thankfully, Celine Van Breukelen and partner Brian Shum (of Wasilla and Anchorage) were chompin' at the bit, and went up the route next. Though they only got in a handful of pitches that day due to the deep snow, they were instrumental in the ascents of the parties that followed by cleaning deep drifts from the route.

 

DSC00358.JPG A day later, Paul and I got an early start and gunned it for the top. The first six pitches flew by quickly.

 

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But then, the AI4 crux turned out to be a bastard. The "fat ice" we saw was nothing but a crust over powder snow, which was plastered over the prior years black, bulletproof ice. Oh, and there was another honkin' snow mushroom near the top! This 100' of "AI4" took me nearly an hour to climb. A single ice screw took nearly 20 minutes to place. I thought this was supposed to be a trade route!

 

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This is the kind of rat's nest that we had to dig out from under all the powder snow while searching for belays in the rock walls. There were very few other visible cracks for rock pro.

 

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After a couple more spicy steep steps, which required serious excavation of vertical snow to climb, I'm feeling better.

 

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A couple more pitches of wallowing in deep snow...

 

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And we've made it to the col!

 

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That's the East Buttress of Denali in the background.

 

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Now just sixteen rappels to go to get down! We made the trip in 16 hours round trip.

 

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Check out that thin, bulletproof ice!

 

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Back in town, we rub shoulders with the "real" climbers; guys like Scott Adamson and Pete Tapley, who'd just made big first ascents on the 5,000' East Face of the Mooses Tooth.

 

I later heard from a friend who climbed Ham and Eggs a week after us that conditions were perfect for him. The weather had warmed, the route had avalanched and sloughed, and he even mentioned that there was plastic ice! I don't believe this to be a case of better timing, as my prior trip to this part of the Alaska Range was in late April and early May. People that year were getting stymied by the too-hot conditions, and Ham and Eggs was declared "out" pretty early. You get what ya get!

 

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As for me, I had to guide two Denali trips before I was done with Alaska this year. After a long season, I was ready to swear off glaciers forever. But just a few short months later, I find myself jonesing for it all over again....

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Gear Notes:

We carried something like 6 cams to 2.5in, 8 nuts, 4 pins, and 8 screws (mostly stubbies) and two pickets on our ascent. I would consider this a very heavy rack for the route, but I was glad for the extra gear since we had no info on the condition of rappel anchors.

 

With two 60m ropes, every rappel was a serious rope-stretcher. Next time, I'd bring a 70.

 

Approach Notes:

Talkeetna Air Taxi is the best for flying to the Root Canal. Parties did ascend the icefall from the main Ruth Glacier, and found it not crazy difficult, but objectively dangerous.

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Killer report, looks cold! We did some very tenuous drytooling around the P3 snow mushroom later in the year. Pretty much everyone was aiding around it. I'd heard a soloist climbed the snow mushroom the week before us.

 

 

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Aiding on pickets?! :shock: nice job sending when the pros went packing! :tup:

 

Thought you might be interested to see what the AI4 pitch looked like on Memorial Day weekend a few weeks later... That snow mushroom turned into a fat ice mushroom!

 

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Wow I am pretty damn jealous of that ice mushroom! We encountered pitch after pitch of steep snow and snice (to 85 degrees) that had to be tenuously cleared away, revealing only poor thin ice underneath. The only vertical powder snow I'd seen like that was under a giant chockstone while attempting the Cornhole Couloir on the nearby London Tower a few years ago. That bail lead to one of the sketchiest rap anchors (a small bollard in sugar snow) of my life.

 

As for the time of year, it's a crap shoot. Three years ago, it was so warm in the Ruth in late April and early May that we couldn't even skin -- much less climb -- until the sun went down. Most of the ice routes melted out fast that year.

 

 

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