Mission Possible: A full-length ski traverse of the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska
Over nine days in May 2008, Andrew Wexler, Dylan Taylor and I made a 100-mile, full-length ski traverse of the Tordrillo Mountains in Alaska. The Tordrillos are a western sub-range of the Alaska Range. Our traverse traveled from south to north, climbing 38,000 vertical feet and making ski descents off the four highest peaks including Mount Spurr (11,069 ft), Mount Torbert (11,413 ft), Mount Talachulitna (11,150 ft) and Mount Gerdine (11,258 ft).
Andrew, Dylan and I waited six days in Anchorage for weather to clear. On May 16, Doug Brewer of Alaska Air West flew us across Cook Inlet to a 2,400-foot ash bench on the south slopes of Mount Spurr. We started up Spurr with 12 days of supplies crammed into 60-liter, 65-pound loads.
Dylan had skied from Mount Spurr’s rounded summit in 2004. Volcanic activity in 2006 turned the summit into a 300-foot deep crater lined with crevasses and venting lung-burning sulfur gasses. We skied from the high point and camped in splitter weather at 10,000 feet on the Spurr Plateau overlooking the Hidden and Neacola Mountains.
From the Spurr Plateau we descended an intimidating 4,000-foot icefall to the Capps Glacier—the first crux of the expedition. Our first attempts ended in cul-de-sacs of house-swallowing crevasses, so we climbed onto a cleaver that splits the icefall and belayed each other to ski steep powder above open crevasses to the valley floor. We camped our fourth and fifth night at 7,000 feet on the Triumvirate Glacier below the Torbert Plateau. From this high camp we day-toured 20 miles and 8,000 vertical feet to the low-angle summits of Mount Torbert and Mount Talachulitna.
The next crux was downclimbing The Great Wall, a 14-mile long serac-ridden barrier that straddles the range and stopped our traverse attempt in 2007. Using a route scoped in 2007, we downclimbed four pitches of steep, snow-covered ice above a bergshrund to a northern lobe of the Triumvirate Glacier. After skiing Mount Gerdine, we toured another two days to the tippy north end of the Tordrillos at the Iditarod Trail. There Chugach pilot Mike Meekins shuttled us to Skwentna and an air charter took us to Merrill field in Anchorage.
The Hans Saari Memorial Fund and the Shipton-Tilman award made this trip possible.
— Joe Stock