Alpinists Complete 100-Mile Mega-Traverse
Alaskan Joe Stock, along with partners Dylan Taylor and Andrew Wexler, have completed a coveted 100-mile traverse of the Tordrillo Mountains, a western subrange of the Alaska Range. Along the way, the trio climbed and skied the four highest peaks in the range.
The touring company of Stock, Taylor, and Wexler have been attempting a major Alaskan traverse each spring for the past four years. In 2005, they did the first ski traverse from Anchorage to Valdez. In 2006, it was the full 100-mile traverse of the Neacola Mountains, part of the Aleutian Range. Last spring, Stock and Wexler attempted the Tordrillo Mountains traverse but bailed partway because of sickness and conditions. This year’s complete traverse took nine days.
Here is Joe Stock’s report, in his own words:
El Castigador: Tordrillo Traverse
Over nine days in May 2008 Andrew Wexler and Dylan Taylor and I made a 100-mile, full-length ski traverse of the Tordrillo Mountains in Alaska. Our traverse traveled from south to north through the Tordrillos, climbing 38,000 vertical feet and making ski descents off the four highest peaks including Mt. Spurr (11,069 feet), Mt. Torbert (11,413 feet), Mt. Talachulitna (11,150 feet), and Mt. Gerdine (11,258 feet).
The Tordrillos are well-documented in Tordrillo—Pioneer Climbs and Flights in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska, by Rodman Wilson and Paul Crews Sr. The most significant traverse in that book was by the burly team of Scott Woolums and Mark Jonas in March 1982. Aiming for tower climbing in the Kichatna Mountains, they left from Beluga Lake, climbed the Triumvirate Glacier, and descended the Hayes Glacier. Because of frozen toes, they finished their trip at Rainy Pass, shy of the Kichatnas, after covering 80 miles.
After waiting six days in Anchorage, the weather cleared on May 16 and Dylan, Andrew, and I drove three hours to the Alaska Air West hanger in Kenai. Doug Brewer flew us in three Super Cub flights across Cook Inlet to a 2,400-foot ash bench on the south slopes of Mt. Spurr. We started up Crater Peak with 12 days of supplies packed into agonizing 65-pound loads.
Dylan had climbed Mt. Spurr, the Tordrillos fourth-highest peak at 11,069 feet, in 2004. What had been a rounded summit had become a 300-foot-deep crater lined with crevasses and venting lung-burning sulfur gasses. After summiting, we camped in splitter weather at 10,000 feet on the Spurr Plateau, overlooking the Hidden and Neacola mountains.
Traversing the Tordrillo Crest from the Spurr Plateau to the Torbert Plateau is a technical, unclimbed route so we chose to descend from the Spurr Plateau through the Southeast Cirque of the Capps Glacier via a 4,000-foot icefall. After several attempts that ended in a maze of gapping crevasses, we climbed onto a cleaver that splits the icefall and belayed each other to ski steep powder above open crevasses to the valley floor.
From the Capps Glacier we climbed the Triumvirate Glacier to a 7,000-foot camp below the Torbert Plateau. The next day we day-toured 20 miles and 8,000 vertical feet to the low-angle summits of Mt. Torbert and Mt. Talachulitna. The next crux was downclimbing the Great Wall, a 14-mile-long serac-ridden barrier that straddles the range and had stopped our traverse attempt in 2007. Using a route scoped in 2007, we downclimbed four, 150-foot pitches (100-foot rope tied together with three 20-foot cordelettes) on snow-covered ice above a bergschrund to another lobe of the Triumvirate Glacier.
After summiting Mt. Gerdine, we continued another two days under cloudy skies over lower-elevation passes and valleys to the north end of the Tordrillos. Then we descended to the Skwentna River at the confluence with the Happy River and found the gravel-bar landing strips covered with two feet of snow. Since Chugach pilot Mike Meekins had his Piper Super Cub equipped with tundra tires for moose surveys in the area, he directed us to a snow-free gravel bar two miles downriver, from which he shuttled us 30 miles to home-cooked burgers at the Skwentna Roadhouse. The following day, Spernack Airways took us to Merrill Field in Anchorage.
Date of Traverse: May 16-25, 2008
Source: Joe Stock, Climbing.com