BD employees Jack Tackle and Kolin Powick climb in Alaska's Ruth Gorge
Black Diamond’s Director of Quality, Kolin Powick (KP), and Sales Rep (and Alaskan climbing vet), Jack Tackle headed up to the Ruth Gorge to get their alpine game on and try out some new gear. They experienced a typical Alaskan visit: some bad weather, some snow, some good weather, some climbing, some looking for new routes, some sitting in tents and some drinking whiskey. Now back at the office, KP put together the following report and photos of their trip.
It had been too many years since I'd been up to Alaska and it was time. Problem is I didn't have a partner. One day I'm sitting at my office grinding away and Jack Tackle strolls up, "Hey KP, I hear you're looking to go to Alaska.” I'm thinking perfect—I can get some mad beta from Mr. Alaska himself… having been there in excess of 30 times, he can give me the rundown. I tell Jack that my main goal was to do Ham & Eggs on the Mooses Tooth, then if all went well and conditions were good, maybe Shaken not Stirred, maybe the SW Ridge of 11,300, something new on Dickey, Bradley, Hut Towers, etc, etc.... And in the classic Tackle way he says, "Well KP, I haven't done most of those routes, I'd love to go up there with you.” And the game was on.
We met in Anchorage, did the obligatory food shopping, then were off to Talkeetna where we waited a bit over two days for the weather to clear so Paul at TAT could land us at the Root Canal glacier below the South Face of the Mooses Tooth.
When we arrived, there were a few other parties at camp, everyone with the same objective in mind. It had been dumping snow so some folks were getting ready to bail, while others were going to ride it out. We hung for a day or so to let the route clear off a bit, both snow, and people-wise. While we were waiting we skied over to check out Shaken not Stirred and were disappointed to see that there were a few key pitches not in... bummer. But Ham & Eggs looked good, so we geared up to give it a go.
Ham & Eggs is working-stiff, old-fat-guy alpine climbing at it's best—about a 20-minute approach from the tent until you're roped up and climbing. Awesome. The topo calls for 18 pitches—a combination of steep snow, AI 4, some mixed steps and some rock—and that's exactly what we found. Now this is my favorite kind of climbing—engaging, but not too hard; mellow enough in sections to move together, good gear when you want it, and reasonably well-protected belays for the steep ice pitches. Tackle and I had never even roped up before this trip, but we worked perfectly as a team. Luckily he drew the first rock-band pitch, which I found to be the crux, and somehow I ended up lucking out with all the great ice pitches. The weather was in-and-out all day, with some light snow and subsequent spindrift and even some whiteout conditions. We made it to the col in good time, but were disappointed with zero visibility and elected not to continue to the summit. A bunch of uneventful rappels and we were back in camp for celebratory beers.
It was a bit of a bummer not tagging the top, but we had completed all the good climbing so couldn't really complain. All in all, Ham & Eggs was a superb route.
As Shaken wasn't in, it was time to move down to the lower gorge. We called for a pickup and took the quick 6-minute flight from the Root Canal Glacier to the lower Ruth Gorge right in between Bradley and Dickey. There was a small camp of good folks down there, some being a Japanese crew, who a few days before had snowshoe’d all the way up the icefall to the Root Canal, climbed Ham & Eggs, summitted the Mooses Tooth, and then all the way back to camp in a single push—46 non-stop hours tent-to-tent. Yowsa!!
Jack and I spent the next several days skiing around the Ruth Gorge looking for routes within our (read "my") ability. A few super long super gnarly lines looked mostly in, but they were out of my league. Some of the more "human-level" routes weren't in completely, and some of the nooks and crannies we were scoping just plain had nothing. So we didn't manage to get up anything else, but we did take our gear for a bunch of walks, got to enjoy the incredible vastness of the Ruth Gorge and got to meet some great folks. Our time was drawing to a close so we got Paul to pluck us out of there. Twenty minutes later we were back in Talkeetna and that night having drinks at the Filmore. The next day it was back Anchorage, then to SLC and time to start digging out at the office.
The Alaska Range—truly and amazing place. I'll be back.
— Kolin Powick