Hidden Alaskan Peak Gets First Ascent

The south face of Bat's Ears in the Alaska Range. The solid line shows the new route climbed by Ben Gilmore, Maxime Turgeon, and Freddie Wilkinson on the south face. The dotted lines show the approach and descent routes. Courtesy of Ben Gilmore.

Ben Gilmore, Maxime Turgeon, and Freddie Wilkinson have completed the first ascent of the Bat’s Ears, an 11,044-foot peak that was possibly the highest unclimbed major summit in the Alaska Range. The trio climbed the nearly 3,000-foot south face of the peak in a 23-hour round trip from base camp, descending via the southwest ridge. The route “had some great climbing and [was] not too hard, maybe WI4+ M5+ or so, lots of frozen gravel and thin ice, so our picks got very blunted,” Gilmore said. 

Bat’s Ears peak rises between the upper Yentna and Lacuna glaciers on the rarely visited southwest side of the Mt. Foraker massif. (Bat's Ears is the unofficial name given to the mountain by Sam Johnson, who had spotted twin-topped peak from the Little Switzerland area.) Last spring, Gilmore, Wilkinson, and Peter Doucette made the first ascent of the Fin Wall, a very steep face above one fork of the upper Yentna Glacier, and during that expedition they spotted the line on Bat’s Ears. After their successful climb this year, they hoped to attempt another route on the 13,300-foot Fin peak (which they were not able to summit in 2007), but the weather seemed too unstable for a three-day effort on that summit. So, instead they called for a plane shuttle to Kahiltna base camp on the other side of the Foraker massif. 

Freddie Wilkinson leads snowy rock on the south face of Bat's Ears. Photo by Ben Gilmore.

Max Turgeon blunts his tools on the gravelly south face of Bat's Ears. Photo by Ben Gilmore.

There they discovered that conditions were excellent on the 4,000-foot north buttress of Mt. Hunter, and so they decided to climb the classic Moonflower Buttress (WI6 M7), which has rarely been in shape in recent years. “That route ended up being a real highlight—such good climbing every pitch,” Gilmore said. The trio led and followed the entire route free except for the pendulum between the Prow and the McNerthney Ice Dagger; Turgeon led this pitch free, but his teammates followed with tension. After a snowy day plagued by spindrift, the team bivvied about two-thirds of the way up the face. The next day, in better weather, the reached the top of the wall and then continued another 2,000 vertical feet to Hunter’s 14,570-foot summit. They downclimbed to the top of the buttress and did 26 rappels to return to the bottom, for a 52-hour round trip from base camp. “It was an awesome experience except for the foot pain,” Gilmore said. “I got a half-dollar size blister on my heel on the approach from some old boots I ended up wearing—hamburger during the whole route.”

Traversing the summit ridge on Bat's Ears. Photo by Ben Gilmore.

Gilmore, a 36-year-old guide from New Hampshire, received a 2008 Lyman Spitzer Cutting-Edge Award from the American Alpine Club to support his first ascent of the Bat’s Ears. CLICK HERE To learn more about these grants.

Dates of Ascents: April-May 2008

Source: Ben Gilmore

Comment on this story

Freddie Wilkinson (left) and Max Turgeon brew up on the summit of Bat's Ears after the first ascent. Behind them is the south face of the Fin. Gilmore, Wilkinson, and Peter Doucette made the first ascent of the Fin Wall in 2007. Photo by Ben Gilmore.


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!