Major New Route on Alaska’s Mt. Bradley

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Zimmerman at the Tower bivy, high on the route, on the morning of summit day. Photo by Mark Allen

Zimmerman at the Tower bivy, high on the route, on the morning of summit day. Photo by Mark Allen

On their second attempt, Americans Mark Allen and Graham Zimmerman completed a significant new route on Mt. Bradley (9,100'/2,774m) in the Ruth Gorge of Alaska in early April. The two men climbed the 4,600-foot (1,400m) southeast buttress of Bradley in three and a half days, plus another day and a half in descent.

The southeast buttress vaguely defines the right edge of Bradley’s south face, just right of the Bourbon Bottle Route (Crouch-Donini, 1996). It lies well to the left of the 2007 route Season in the Sun (Ichimura-Sato-Yamada).

Allen, 31, and Zimmerman, 24, are both from Washington state. Their first attempt, on March 31, ended seven pitches up the “Lightning Bolt Couloir,” in the face of a steep rock crux and unstable snow conditions. The two then decided to change tactics and start up the route in the evening to find colder, safer snow; they also brought climbing shoes for the steep rock. During the night of April 2, they regained their high point and climbed five more pitches before establishing the Prow Bivy on a spectacular ledge 1,500 feet up.

Approximate line of Vitalogy on the southeast buttress of Mt. Bradley. Photo by Mark Allen

Approximate line of Vitalogy on the southeast buttress of Mt. Bradley. Photo by Mark Allen

Graham Zimmerman leading in the mixed dihedrals left of the Tower. Photo by Mark Allen

Graham Zimmerman leading in the mixed dihedrals left of the Tower. Photo by Mark Allen

After resting through the morning, the pair resumed climbing as the face went into shade. To the right of the buttress, they found a 1,000-foot ribbon of high-quality ice climbing that took them to their second bivy, on the ridge top. Here they waited until first light to begin climbing the steep, blocky ridge. (Their line may have shared some ground with the Bourbon Bottle Route here and near the top of the southeast buttress.) During the day, a storm began, and the pair pushed on in full conditions to the foot of a 1,000-foot rock tower, then up mixed ground in dihedrals on the left side of the tower for seven pitches. After one more night, they continued up the tower and then simul-climbed easier terrain to the top in better weather.

Topo of the route drawn by Mark Allen, with watercolor highlights by his father, Dr. Lee Allen.

Topo of the route drawn by Mark Allen, with watercolor highlights by his father, Dr. Lee Allen.

“The great thing is that Graham and I never had the ‘should we keep going’ talk,” Allen said. “We both knew that we had it in us to keep going.”

Their planned descent route did not look safe, so Allen and Zimmerman rappelled and downclimbed to the west over a headwall, descending 2,500 feet to reach the Backside Glacier. They bivied here as a second storm moved in, dumping more than a foot of snow and preventing them from moving for most of the next day, with no food and little fuel remaining. In the afternoon, during a clearing, they began the seven-kilometer (4.4-mile) trek through deep snow, over 747 Pass, to return to their base camp. Yet another storm struck, and they had to navigate through whiteout and darkness to find their camp, which they reached 99 hours after leaving.

Vitalogy went at Alaska Grade 5, 5.9R A1 WI5 M6. Allen and Zimmernan said 19 of the 29 pitches were M5 or WI4 or harder. See the team’s blog, Huntingtonsouthface.blogspot.com, for more photos from the route.

Dates of Ascent: April 2-6, 2010

Sources: Mark Allen, Graham Zimmerman, Huntingtonsouthface.blogspot.com, American Alpine Journal