Big Climbs in Alaska's Arrigetch

By Dougald MacDonald ,

Spot the line! The sun-shadow line on the middle peak is the 4,400-foot north buttress West Maiden. Courtesy of

The Pillar Arête (V 5.10b) takes the right (eastern) skyline of Caliban, crossing four enormous gendarmes. Courtesy of

Ryan Hokanson and Samuel Johnson have completed two huge climbs in the Arrigetch Peaks in Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park, including a major new route.

After two flights from Fairbanks and a two-day walk with 95-pound packs, the climbers set up camp and spent a few days exploring the area around upper Arrigetch Creek. Their first objective was the striking north buttress of West Maiden (V 5.9), first climbed in 1982 by Bob Duggan and John Markel. (It’s not clear if Hokanson and Johnson followed the 1982 route or a different line climbed in 1989 by Gary Brill, Bob McGregor, and Yann Merrand.) The two climbed the 4,400-foot buttress in 16 hours, with 22 long pitches up to 5.9 R/X. They descended the south side of the peak and returned to base camp 29 hours after leaving.

Ryan Hokanson and Samuel Johnson climbed 16 long pitches, plus much simul-climbing, to make the first ascent of Caliban’s eastern ridge in a long day. Courtesy of

The two then explored the south face of Parabola but found poor rock. After some further recon work, they chose to attempt the eastern arête of Caliban. Leaving base camp at 4:45 a.m., they walked several miles up the valley and then scrambled for a couple of hours before roping up. Then, Johnson says, “We spent another 15 hours or so climbing in insane terrain, navigating a serrated arête that splits the south and north faces of Caliban. We would climb three or four pitches to top out on a tower, and then do one or two 60-meter rappels to access the next minuscule col, where we could set a belay and problem-solve the next tower, then repeat it again…and again.” The route, the Pillar Arête (V 5.10b) crossed four towers, with 16 long pitches and much simul-climbing, plus four double-rope rappels. The two rappelled the southwest ridge to a col and then descended about 5,000 feet of talus, returning to base camp around 27 hours after beginning their climb.

Dates of Ascents: Late August 2008

Sources: Samuel Johnson,

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