Ruth Gorge June 2009 TR

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drdave

Trad climber
SoCal
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 3, 2009 - 12:27am PT
October 2007 - I’m flying to Portland on Alaska Airlines and they announce a deal for a free roundtrip ticket if you sign up for their credit card. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska and this looks like a great opportunity to do it, so I pick up applications for myself and my brother Aaron. But now the question is “What should we do when we get there?” My impression of Alaska climbing is big cold mountains with stuff like the Infinite Spur. Stuff that I like looking at in magazines, but have no desire to actually get on myself.

Spring 2008 - On a slow day at work I’m surfing the web, take a look at the SuperTopo AK book, and realize that in addition to big cold mountains Alaska has big alpine rock routes! Somehow after years of climbing in the western US and even a trip to the Bugaboos the Ruth Gorge has escaped my attention. A few quick emails to Aaron and we’ve got a rough plan to go the next summer.

Winter 2008 - We set a date in June and put together plane, shuttle, and air taxi reservations. We also note that we’ve got 6 months to get ourselves back into climbing shape. Although it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that we were solid 5.10 climbers, the reality is that work, kids, girlfriends, wives, and life in general have conspired to keep us off the rock a lot more than we’d like.

Friday, June 12, 2009 - It’s time! I’m on a flight to Anchorage where I’ll do food shopping on Saturday before meeting Aaron and catching an evening shuttle up to Talkeetna.

Sunday - We’re at TAT early in the morning and raring to go, but because of weather all the planes are sitting idle on the tarmac. Not only that, but nobody’s been flying for the last couple of days, so there’s a backlog of parties waiting to get in and out. Suddenly the 7 days that we allotted for the trip look like they might not be nearly enough. We repack and weigh our gear, then head back into town to kill some time, but by midday we’re back at TAT, waiting impatiently for something to happen.

Finally in the early afternoon there is some activity and we see the first groups starting to load gear into the planes. We’ve got our fingers crossed that the weather window will stay open, and finally a few hours later it’s our turn and we’re loading up the Beaver with our gear.


Our plane at Talkeetna Air Taxi.

The flight up the gorge is amazing, and soon we’re being dropped off at the Mountain House landing strip.


Packed up and ready to roll.

A few hours of skiing gets us to Stump Camp where we pitch our tent and get ready for an early start the next morning. The scale of the cliffs is unbelievable, the face of Mt. Dickey soars over 5000 feet above the glacier directly opposite our camp, while the Stump and Eye Tooth loom behind us. There’s a nagging feeling in the back of my head that my home climbing wall and toproping at Malibu Creek may not have gotten me in quite the shape I need to be in, but no matter, tomorrow we’re climbing!

Monday - We’re up early for a quick breakfast, and then start threading our way through the maze to get back to the middle of the glacier so we can ski to our first objective, the Hut Tower. We’ve only been traveling for a few minutes when I suddenly hear “Sh!t! Dave! Get Me!” I lunge forward until the rope comes tight, then look back to see Aaron on his back with his arms and one ski visible, while his body and other ski have disappeared into a small crevasse. With the tension on the rope he manages to flop sideways onto more stable snow, where he sits while we wait for the adrenaline to subside. Although the crevasse itself wasn’t that big, Aaron reports that it was full of watery slush just a foot below him, which would certainly have been a miserable experience had he fallen any further. The rest of the ski to the hut tower is uneventful, and a few hours later we are taking off our skis near the base.


At the base of Hut Tower.

A steep snow slope leads up to where the climbing starts, and we are glad to have our ice axes.


Steep snow at the start of Hut Tower.

The first pitch is the crux (and wet), but a bit of French technique gets us through. The weather and rock are beautiful and the pitches go by smoothly although not especially quickly.


Aaron climbing.


Dave climbing.


End of the technical climbing.

We make it to the top of the technical climbing and decide “we ain’t no peak baggers, that’s good enough”, then rap back down to the glacier. The ski back up the glacier is slower than on the way down and then on the way through the maze back to camp it’s my turn to break through a small snow bridge, although this one is fortunately slush free and I’m able to take off my skis and chimney my way out of it. By the time we get back to camp it’s 3 AM (but still light out).

Monday - The weather is beautiful again, but it’s rest day all the way. Then in the evening dark clouds and light rain move in.


Relaxing at camp with Barrill and part of Dickey in the background.


Weather moving in.

Tuesday - Light rain and fog greet us in the morning and continue throughout the day. We hang out in the tent with books and iPods and discuss climbing plans. Originally we had intended Hut Tower to be a warm up for the Eye Tooth, but it seems like we need to be cruising 5.9 in order to do that, and right now 5.9 feels doable but hard. So we decide to take a shot at the first 7 pitches of Goldfinger when the weather breaks.

Wednesday - The sky is overcast, but it’s not raining so we head up to the start of Goldfinger, and I head up the first pitch, 200 feet of beautiful dihedral.


First pitch of Goldfinger.


Aaron following the first pitch.

I make the first pitch OK, although Aaron slips at one point while following. But for some reason I’m not having much fun. When Aaron gets to the belay we run through the usual litany of excuses, “there’s a lot of wet moss in the crack, it’s misting and the rock is kind of slippery, etc.” but the bottom line is that we’ve lost our psych, so we tuck our tails between our legs and rap back down. Once there we decide that we’re out of motivation and objectives and that our time might be better spent getting to see some other parts of Alaska, so we break camp and head back to the Mountain House.

We get a message back to TAT, and are encouraged when we see two of their planes come in for a landing, but they are both full and we’re told we’ll have to wait until morning.
Thursday - Fortunately the good weather holds, and we get a plane ride back early on Thursday.


Waiting for our ride.


View of Hut Tower on the flight out.

Friday-Sunday - Back in Anchorage our first stop is the Moose’s Tooth (highly recommended) for pizza and beer, then a hotel and shower to get ourselves feeling civilized again. We drive down to Seward for a day, and see the wildlife conservation center (just OK, although the bears are pretty cool) and the Alaska SeaLife Center (definitely worth a visit).

So even though we didn’t climb as much as we had originally planned it was still a great trip. Just visiting the Ruth is an incredible experience and we had good weather, made it up a route, and made it back safely. Plus I got to hang out with my brother for a week in a place we’d always wanted to visit.


Brothers

So if you’re complaining about the lines of people on the 5 star SuperTopo routes, just get yourselves up to the Ruth. Yeah there’s planes flying around, but we only saw one other party in our week there and there’s a whole bunch of rock.
survival

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Aug 3, 2009 - 01:04am PT
Nice job fellas!

I suppose you'll be chomping at the bit to get back in there at some point soon.

You all know how addicting this stuff is....
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:03am PT
smooth, like a good bottle of wine on a warm sunday afternoon.

thx
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:34am PT
nice goldfinger photo... makes the lower pitches look better than i remember (although it was a fun route)

i added a link to your trip report to this page http://www.supertopo.com/rock_climbing/Alaska_USA_Hut_Tower_Southwest_Face

LOVE the ruth. if only i could count on the weather, id go there every year
apogee

climber
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:44am PT
Kudos! ST needs more home-grown/grassroots adventures and TR's like this one.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:45am PT
hey there drdave... say, thanks for this share... this is WONDERFUL....

i can surely understand though, that one small "wrong weather move", could really do harm...

seeing you both kicking back, though, in the snow, without a care in the world (if one keeps one's thoughts of the weather at bay, perhaps)----is precious!


love them rocks! and with the snow embelishing the groundwork, and all, it paints a nice spot to deep-think on... you can near feel the atmosphere there, in the shadowy areas of the "rock art" before one, and around one...

really something...
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Aug 3, 2009 - 10:06am PT
Great tr!

Be nice to get back there some day...maybe for a ski tour...ha ha...

-Brian in SLC
mooser

Trad climber
seattle
Aug 3, 2009 - 10:14am PT
Really great TR! What a breathtaking place, even in photos. I climb with my brother, too, and it always makes for a positively memorable time.
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 3, 2009 - 10:48am PT
Sweet !!!
Way to get out there and knock around: modest but productive, a good way to go all in all.
That had to feel pretty darn cool.

Thanks for putting this together for us.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Aug 3, 2009 - 10:56am PT
Nice!!! Brings back memories of many trips to the Gorge. The noise pollution from sightseeing planes has made a return trip for me unlikely- too bad.
elcap-pics

climber
Crestline CA
Aug 3, 2009 - 11:32am PT
Wow!! that looked like fun....
I figured Alaska was all epics!
thanks for posting the TR
Tom
Alpinista55

Mountain climber
Portland, OR
Aug 3, 2009 - 12:16pm PT
Nice TR,Guys. Reminds me of the way my buds and I started out in Alaska. But who knew in 1978 that the Ruth would become a destination rock climbing area!

For the record, in 7 expeditions, never a crevasse fall when skiing on glaciers. But in April/May back in the day there was a LOT more snow. WHat could be worse than falling into a pit of semi-frozen slush?
le_bruce

climber
Oakland: what's not to love?
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:30pm PT
Good God look at that granite
Zander

Trad climber
Berkeley
Aug 3, 2009 - 02:49pm PT
Wow, beautiful place!
Thanks for posting.
Zander
Nohea

Trad climber
Aiea,Hi
Aug 4, 2009 - 08:13pm PT
Beautiful Alaska! Thanks for the tr. I have been there once but have high hopes for going there more often.

Aloha,
wil
bluering

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Aug 4, 2009 - 08:33pm PT
Very cool. Beautiful area, holy shit!!!!

The rock looks really nice too on the routes you did.

Good times, man!!!!
Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

Trad climber
Bay Area
Aug 4, 2009 - 10:43pm PT
Awesome TR! Enjoyed that a lot.
Prod

Trad climber
A place w/o Avitars apparently
Aug 5, 2009 - 07:36am PT
PFC.

Prod.
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
Aug 5, 2009 - 08:22am PT
Yep, nice job and thanks for sharing...just what I needed on a hot afternoon in Delhi...

cheers,
DD
Daphne

Trad climber
Mill Valley, CA
Aug 5, 2009 - 12:10pm PT
Great trip report. Thanks for posting it--
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Aug 6, 2009 - 07:48pm PT
First of all, thanks for a great photo trip report! McTopo needs a lot more posts like these, eh?

Now - here's the question. Please note that I am not trying to be a smartass, and I do not write this in a spirit of condemnation, I'm just wondering. And it's none o' my business, so please only answer if you feel comfortable.

But what happened? Why did you guys bail? You seemed to be climbing fairly well together and all, the weather looked good enough, it didn't look too cold or miserable. But you guys made a huge investment in time and money to get there, so why knott try to get in more pitches?

I'm a fair weather climber - big time! I'm a total pussy in the cold, and if it gets too miserable, I'd just rather be home. Is that what happened? I always try to figure out the psychology of bailing, so I wondered what you guys were thinking and feeling.

My long-lost partner Jon Fox went up to Baffin Island and climbed some stuff in really cold and miserable conditions. Silly me, I told him I would go up there and climb with him the next spring. Thank goodness I had ONE miserable cold experience in New Hampshire to bring me to my senses, and avoid a Baffin misery epic.
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