Classic Climbs: The Moose's Tooth

By James Lucas,
The Root Canal Glacier below the southwest face of the Moose’s Tooth.

One of the most iconic formations in North America, the Moose’s Tooth* tops out at 10,335 feet just east of the entrance to Alaska’s Ruth Gorge. The native Athabascan people, in their language, named the formation the Moose’s Tooth for its nearly mile-long, low-angle, east-to-west summit ridge resembling that part of a moose’s anatomy.

In 1964, the German mountaineers Walter Welsch, Klaus Bierl, Arnold Hasenkopf, and Alfons Reichegger completed the first ascent of the Moose’s Tooth via the West Ridge, summiting to views of the Ruth Gorge, Denali, Hunter, Huntington, and the surrounding Tooth Formations. In 1979, Steve Roper and Allen Steck cemented the West Ridge as a classic in Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

The West Ridge saw some ascents but has fallen out of favor, replaced by the couloir Ham and Eggs (V 5.9 WI4 M4; 2,900 feet), climbed by Jon Krakauer, Tom Davies, and Nate Zinsser in 1975. The team climbed 21 pitches that mixed easy snow and short crux sections of ice and rock to reach the south col of the corniced summit ridge in a whiteout. Krakauer mused, “If we had had some ham, we could have had ham and eggs—if we had had some eggs.”

Most parties today fly into the Root Canal Glacier, landing only minutes from Ham and Eggs and avoiding the daylong approach via the Ruth Gorge. The climb has become popular, and in April and early May as many as 15 to 20 parties might attempt it, with others heading for the nearby Shaken Not Stirred (V WI5 M5; 3,100 feet). “It’d be hard to find the place to yourself,” says Denali National Park Climbing Ranger Tucker Chenworth.

If you’re feeling frisky, there are always the more difficult routes on the east face like Mugs Stump and Jim Bridwell’s March 1981 climb The Dance of the Woo-Li Masters (VI 5.9 A4 WI4+; 5,000 feet). Bridwell described the pair’s heroic alpine-style push in the November-December 1981 issue of Climbing, noting features like the Cauldron, “a steep, narrow venturi 80 meters long which collected minute spindrift sloughs and amplified them into a blinding, freezing torrent of misery,” and sections of “steep powder snow over sugar snow over rock” with imaginary belay anchors, among other horrors.

*The USGS omitted an apostrophe in their spelling of the Moose’s Tooth, which is why it appears in some places as the “Mooses Tooth.”

Location

Ruth Gorge, Alaska

Type

Alpine rock, ice, and mixed

Summit Height

10,335 feet

Notable Ascents

1964

West Ridge; Walter Welsch, Klaus Bierl, Arnold Hasenkopf, and Alfons Reichegger

1975

Ham and Eggs (V 5.9 WI4 M4; 2,900 feet); Jon Krakauer, Tom Davies, and Nate Zinsser

1981

The Dance of the Woo-Li Masters (VI 5.9 A4 WI4+; 5,000 feet); Mugs Stump and Jim Bridwell

Season

April—early May

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