The Moose's Tooth has intrigued me since I first read about it over 30 years ago in the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America by Steve Roper and Allen Steck (1979). The American Alpine Journal (AAJ) reports over the years on ascents of the Ham and Eggs and Shaken, Not Stirred routes further piqued my interest in climbing the peak. The publication of Alaska Climbing by Joe Puryear cemented my interest in it.
So then, along comes Steve...
I met Steve in Cody, Wyoming, in January 2012. Our partnership consisted of Steve and Ivan's (his partner on his Cody trip) sharing a rope with me for a pitch of Too Cold to Fire. We third-classed the approach pitch (maybe WI 3) and roped up for the WI 4 crux which Steve cruised on lead. Strong and enthusiastic, Steve hadn't climbed in Alaska, but wanted to and was available. With some decent weather, it was clear that we were going to have fun!
Route info? There's excellent information on many of the routes short and long in Denali National Park in Greg Puryear's Alaska Climbing - some Moose's Tooth info excerpted here:
There's additional info on the internet at MtnProject, SummitPost, and in AAJ's, trip reports, and blogs such as this one from Greg Crouch on his first ascent with Jim Donini in 1997 of Shaken, Not Stirred:
And we had first hand information and insights from Harry Hunt who was half of the second ascent party on Ham and Eggs, has also climbed Shaken, Not Stirred, and had been my host and climbing partner for Alaskan waterfall ice in Valdez and nearer to Anchorage in February of this year.
With big hopes and plans, and a reserve of optimistic patience for the crappy weather we were likely to get at some point on our trip, Steve flew up from Denver and I from San Francisco to meet in Anchorage at 12:30a.m. on May 8.
We got our shuttle ride to Talkeetna (sky looked clear!) and were dropped off at Talkeetna Air Taxi's (TAT's) bunkhouse for a couple of hours of sleep.
Breakfast at the Roadhouse is traditional prior to getting flown in and dropped off to climb. Half of the 'Roadhouse Standard' (juice, bottomless coffee or tea, extra thick peppered bacon, honey whole wheat toast, home fries, and scrambled eggs) is a huge meal. The full Roadhouse Standard is gargantuan. We had time available for breakfast since the National Park Service (NPS) and TAT's offices weren't open, yet.
The NPS climber registration notebook showed 13 people on the Root Canal Glacier below the Moose's Tooth as of May 6. TAT had a different tally, but did not include climbers flown in by other services or climbers who hiked up the icefall to the Root Canal from the Ruth Glacier. The two routes we wanted to do were getting some attention and traffic. It could be crowded.
The forecast was for several good, clear days to be followed by unsettled weather and light snow - there was the edge of a low pressure system slowly passing by.
Adam and Rick were also planning to climb Ham and Eggs and Shaken, Not Stirred.
We heard the rock spire in the left middle of the pic called the Incisor. It's a great spot for viewing Shaken, Not Stirred, the Ruth Glacier, Mt. Barrill, Mt. Dickey, and Denali.
By the way, in their devious search for easy food, ravens unzipped and removed and scattered about stuff from the duffle bags we left outside the tent - even though the duffles held no food.
Adam and Rick were going to do an alpine start on Shaken, Not Stirred. The ever-smiling and energetic Freddie Wilkinson (who recently did the complete traverse of the Moose's Tooth and has been climbing with Uli Steck in the Himalaya) and Bruce were going to be with us on Ham and Eggs. The other parties in camp were between climbs... yay!
We had heard from Adam, Steve, and a guy with rock-shredded puff pants (I'll call him Mr. Puffy since I didn't catch his name) that a #3 cam was essential for the 5.9 rock pitch up the slot to the right of Steve. We also heard from one of the 2 partners of Mr.Puffy that when they rapped, they saw steep ice off to the left of the 5.9 grovel.
Easy decision: l chose to go left.
Steve, unable to see me, "How's the ice look?"
Me, "Good, maybe AI 2."
Steve, with some disbelief in his voice, asks me just as I've climbed the short overhanging section above the near vertical bit, "Really?"
Me, "Well, uh, it is steeper here. Call it AI 2+." Actually, maybe, probably 3 something, but super mellow.
Nice view of the air strip and camp from the 8th belay. Good weather, temps in the low teens, and we'd done the crux. Merely 10 pitches plus the corniced summit ridge to go!
Only a minor ouch... confirming the truth in Puryear's cautionary comment that "Ham and Eggs is essentially a garbage chute for the surrounding cliffs and upper snow slopes." Steve and I were pleased to have no one above us adding to the bits of snow and ice zeroing in on whomever of us was belaying...
Above the headwall, Steve got his MSR stove out to melt some snow so we could rehydrate and refill our bottles for the summit push and the rappels. We started out the climb with about a liter each of water.
Steve coming across from 1 false summit towards me and my false summit. The summit ridge extends down and across to the right from Steve to the West Summit of the Moose's Tooth. The last notch is the Englishman's Col - which was to be our next high point several days hence.
We soon wished we had kept rapping from the route directly down over the rock slabs which the approach track had circumvented. About 4 in the morning and still having FUN!
We returned to camp from Ham and Eggs in a near dream-state in the wee hours of the morning of Friday-10th. The climbing had been really fun. We were a tad bit knackered, but quite jazzed. We set no records with our casual pace, arriving at the summit about 10.5 hours after we started.
We rapped forever, using most of the anchors we encountered so that we wouldn't miss any key ones. There were so many anchors it was (almost) confusing. During the time from around mid-night until almost 4, headlamps were key in finding some of the rap anchors and in confirming that we were tying in and setting up our rappels correctly. From my hazy memory, I'm guessing the bottom-most 8 pitches were equipped for 100'-raps. So we must of done more than 25 raps - some silly and short, but none leaving us hanging out in space.
It was easy to decide to devote Friday and Saturday to resting, rehydrating, and socializing with other climbers. Most teams were simply friends climbing together; although, as Steve commented once, most teams also had 1 or more team members who were guides. Friendly people who hailed from Bishop, Boulder, Denver, Salt Lake City, Washington, DC, Honolulu, British Columbia, England, and Switzerland. One of the British guides was spinning tales about some great ice climbing in Norway and some, too in Morocco.
While the McConachie-Towne expedition (catchy name, eh?) was on Ham and Eggs, the Handsome and Well-Hung expedition cruised Shaken, Not Stirred. Rick said that Adam was the 'handsome' part of their team. We took his word for it.
Some climbers pass their free time reading. These two had the choice, stormy-weather, tech setup: they watched movies on Rick's tablet computer (an iPad, I think) which they suspended in the ceiling of their tent so they could watch from their sleeping bags. They had solar panels set up to recharge their batteries and keep the entertainment coming.
Our start up Shaken, Not Stirred just before 9 in the morning on Sunday-12th was definitely not an alpine start. As the weather forecast suggested, it was considerably colder than several days before when we climbed Ham and Eggs - low single digit temps rather than the teens. Also, we wouldn't get any sun for many hours. I happily wore my Koflach plastic double boots for both climbs. Steve wore his single boots for Ham and Eggsand his double Baruntse boots for Shaken, Not Stirred.
We carried an extra liter of water each rather than bring the stove on Shaken, Not Stirred- this saved us the time and effort we'd have expended getting the stove out, setting it up, melting snow, and putting it away.
The sky was blue and clear on our 2nd day after Shaken, Not Stirred. Some of our neighbors on the Root Canal decided to fly out while the weather was still good: several parties had been successful in achieving some or all of their climbing goals; others had lesser degrees of success and had backed off after trying to climb behind and under other parties. Some had procrastinated a day believing in weather forecasts that turned out to be wrong...
Weather update from Tyler, the pilot: 1 or maybe 2 more clear but (very) cold days before several days or more of unsettled, stormy, no-fly weather would set in.
It looked like our window of good weather was limited.
The Unforgiven, (MI5+, WI5+, R, 1000') which splits the buttress on the Bear's Tooth initially seemed to be an option, but our enthusiasm was tempered by very low temps in the forecast and especially by consideration of the route's hazards (looming seracs and avi potential).
So on Thursday-15th, we started up unconsolidated snow in a gully to the right of Ham and Eggs, but quickly decided that simply flying out while the weather was good was a better idea than climbing and getting stuck for days if the forecast was wrong. The air temp had been a minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit earlier in the day and barely above zero in the afternoon.
We returned to camp and pulled out our frustratingly defective satellite phone to call out to TAT for a flight back to suburbia and Talkeetna.
Rain began falling a few hours after our flight off the Root Canal Glacier. The forecast had been updated - there would likely be rain for days, probably precluding mountain flying and glacier drop offs... we had gotten out just in time to avoid being largely tent-bound in less than favorable climbing weather on the glacier.
Back to Anchorage and the airport...
All in all, Steve and I had a very fine trip with weather that turned out to be better than we could have hoped for. We climbed Ham and Eggs (V, 5.9, AI 4, 18 pitches - according to Alaska Climbing) on 5/9/13 with excellent conditions, well-filled-in ice and fairly firm snow. On 5/12/13, we climbed Shaken, Not Stirred (V, AI 5, 16 pitches). Shaken, Not Stirred was the steeper, slightly more challenging route and was even more fun than the already very fun and scenic Ham and Eggs.
I hope you've enjoyed the pics - cheers, all!