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Wild Week on Moose's Tooth: Two More New Routes

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Scott Adamson leading the wild crux ice pitch of NWS on the Moose’s Tooth. Photo by Pete Tapley

4/25/13 – During the same week that Dani Arnold and David Lama climbed a direct new route up the east face of the Moose’s Tooth in Alaska, Scott Adamson and two different partners climbed two more new routes, including the first free ascent of the gigantic face.

Adamson climbed NWS (1,400m, V AI6 M5) with Pete Tapley over two days in mid-April, making the first all-free ascent of this very steep wall. The route takes an independent line just right of Arctic Rage (Gilmore-Mahoney, 2004) before joining that route for the last several pitches at the top.

Adamson had previously made three attempts on this line, over two separate trips in 2008 and 2010. Earlier he did a new route on the south face of the Moose’s Tooth, and then inadvertently rappelled the east face in a storm, and along the way realized that a free ascent might be possible. This year, in superb conditions, the pieces finally came together.

After one attempt that ended when Tapley broke an ice tool partway up, Adamson and Tapley climbed the new route in a single push, with three rest stops, round-trip from the bergschrund in just 34.5 hours.

The east face of the Moose’s Tooth, showing the new routes Terror (red) and NWS (blue). Dance of the Woo-Li Masters, the face’s original route, zigzags up the left side of the wall. The new Swiss-Austrian route Bird of Prey climbs midway between Terror and NWS. The 2004 route Arctic Rage is just left of NWS. Topo by Scott Adamson

Meanwhile, Geoff Unger and Chris Wright had arrived on the Buckskin Glacier, also intending to attempt the same route. When they found Adamson and Tapley prepping for their ascent, they shifted their attention to another possible route on the left side of the wall. Over April 12 and 13, they made an unsuccessful attempt, taking most of a day to ascend the poorly protected “racing stripes” of thin ice on the lower wall. They reached a corner system in the middle of the face that would ultimately prove to the route’s technical crux, bivouacked, and then retreated early the next day.

“With the perfect blue skies gnawing at me every minute I spent sitting in camp and reports coming in of ‘highs stacked up from here to Russia,’ I was keen to go back,” Wright said in an email. “Coming to the mountains with an injured elbow, my partner was not. After a few days of rest and recovery and a new strategy, I convinced Scott to have a go with me instead.”

Adamson, who said the ice conditions were the best he’d ever seen on the Moose’s Tooth, joined Wright for a second new route, just four days after finishing NWS, beginning early on April 18. The two found better conditions on the lower wall than during the first attempt, and recognizing that it was impossible to safely anchor or protect the thin névé and s’nice of the “racing stripes,” they simul-soloed all the way up the lower wall, arriving at 8:30 a.m. at the steep headwall where Unger and Wright had previously bivied.

Wright, a climbing guide based in Oregon, takes up the story of the harrowing crux pitches that followed:

Chris Wright at bivy

“Six pitches and about 14 hours later, we reached the snow shoulder in the dark, with a biting wind and a serious fatigue leaving us both feeling completely shattered. All of the corner’s pitches were difficult, sustained, and generally poorly protected, with each pitch somewhere in the M6-7, WI5-6 range, with the occasional A1-A2 section. At one point I placed a nut, pulled over a bulge onto a delaminated sheet of vertical ice, and found nothing but wishes and tied off stubby screws for about 40 or 50 feet to the belay. I know Scott had similar moments, drytooling on tiny edges, milking incipient cracks, tiny ice patches, and barely manageable gear. By the time we climbed another pitch of snow to the top of the shoulder, we were both as strung out as either of us can remember. Luckily we were able to find a good anchor and excavate a small ledge, which allowed us to set up the tent and crawl inside to hide from the wind.”

Scott Adamson leading a chossy M7 pitch on the second day on Terror
Scott Adamson leading a chossy M7 pitch on the second day on Terror. Photo by Chris Wright

This  snow shoulder was the same one used by Jim Bridwell and Mugs Stump for a bivouac during their 1981 ascent of Dance of the Woo-Li Masters, the first ascent of the face. A second very long day of difficult mixed climbing brought Adamson and Wright to a wild bivouac on top of the headwall, where they finally bedded down at 2 a.m.. the second post-midnight bivy in a row. Next day they continued up easier ground to the summit plateau, and then “a very Alaskan traverse on the corniced summit ridge” took them to the top at 3 p.m. Wright believes this was the only one of the three new routes on the Moose’s Tooth that week that continued to the true summit of the peak.

Wright on last pitch
Wright starts the first pitch of the final day on Terror. Photo by Scott Adamson

The two then descended by NWS, taking advantage of the rap anchors that Adamson and Tapley had left just days before. By 10:30 p.m. they were back at base camp, for a total round-trip of around 67 hours. The new route was called Terror (1,500m, VI WI6 M7 R/X A2).

Dates of ascents: April 2013

Sources: Scott Adamson, Chris Wright, American Alpine Journal, Alpinist