Brits Climb Two New Routes in Alaska’s Ruth Gorge

Jon Bracey leads the crux pitch on Meltdown, the 1,300-meter new route on the north face of Mt. Grosvenor, Alaska. Photo by Matt Helliker

Matt Helliker battles with the crux overhanging chimney pitch of For Whom the Bell Tolls on the north face of Mt. Church. Photo by Jon Bracey

Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker enjoyed a super-productive two-week trip to the Ruth Gorge in the Alaska Range, where stable weather and good ice conditions allowed them to climb two very hard new routes. 

On May 10, the Britons climbed a line of ice runnels through steep granite slabs on the north face of Mt. Grosvenor, then followed a beautiful gully to the east ridge, with a crux pitch of M6 on rotten ice and fragile volcanic rock. They reached the summit after 12 hours of climbing, descended the south face to the col between Grosvenor and Mt. Church, and then continued to the glacier, returning to camp 20 hours after leaving. The new route, Meltdown (1,300m, ED3 V M6 R), lies between Once Were Warriors (Walsh-Westman, 2005) and Warriors Way (Walsh-Westman, 2006). 

On May 15 the two had planned to attempt another new route but instead ended up climbing the Japanese Couloir to the summit of Mt. Barrill in search of a team of climbers that had started up that route but not returned. Fortunately, it turned out the climbers had merely descended Barrill’s dangerous northwest face after a storm-bound bivy and returned to the glacier unharmed. 

The line of Meltdown (1,300m, ED3 V M6 R) on 8,450-foot Mt. Grosvenor. Courtesy of Jon Bracey.

The line of For Whom the Bell Tolls (1,150m, ED2 V WI6 and mixed) on the north face of 8,233-foot Mt. Church. Memorial Gate (Ichimura-Sato-Yamada, 2007) follows the prominent cleft and snow slopes leading directly to the summit. Courtesy of Jon Bracey

Two days later, Bracey and Helliker climbed a new route on the north face of Mt. Church, well to the left of the Japanese “Giri-Giri Boys” route Memorial Gate (Ichimura-Sato-Yamada, 2007), the first route on the face. Good snow conditions allowed them to quickly reach a snow-stuffed, overhanging chimney high on the face. After Helliker’s painstaking battle with this crux lead, 250 meters of snow flutings led to the east ridge, where more insecure climbing past big cornices and rotten rock gained the top, 10 hours after starting. They called the route For Whom the Bell Tolls (1,150m, ED2 V WI6 and mixed). 

Dates of Ascents: May 2009 

Sources: Jon Bracey, American Alpine Journal

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