Adamson/Tuttle—Moose's Tooth, Alaska
First Free Ascent of the Moose’s Tooth – Almost
Scott Adamson and Matt Tuttle
Our trip started standing at the airport shuffling gear from one bag to another, no matter how many times you double check your gear at home it will never weigh the same at the airline scales. After several attempts at making our weight we end up with a pile of gear on the floor. The woman at the counter asks questions about our trip plans and after a little schmoozing lets us distribute the remaining gear in our bags.
We make it through the security check with only a few odd stares, our climbing packs loaded with our ropes, hardware and anything else that had any significant weight to it. With our packs bulging we are asked at the gate if we can have our bags checked due to the full flight and limited space. Six hours later and a change in flights we find ourselves in Alaska. After the usual shopping on hungry stomachs we pack for the last time and get some rest.
The next day we get a ride to Tallkeetna and after a couple hour wait are loaded onto Tat’s Otter and are headed to the Buckskin Glacier. After a Quick drop off on the Root Canal Paul is flying us across the east face of the Moose’s Tooth. Our fly by shows us just what we wanted to see, a nice blue ribbon of ice to the right of Mahoney/Gilmore’s route. My partner Scott had attempted this line two years earlier with his brother, but after four days on the route in a storm and a 60m overhanging snow pitch they were forced to bail.
After landing on the Buckskin we moved our gear up glacier and pitched our tent. It felt good to be out there, especially without the crowds you can find on the other side of the mountain in the Ruth. The next day was spent building our new home for the twenty two days we were planning on spending on the Buckskin.
The next day we skied up to the base of our objective to break a trail and scope out the route. Our Intent was to establish the first free ascent on the east face. The route looked very good and according to Scott had a lot more snow and ice than from is previous attempt. We were stoked.
The next morning we woke at two and after hitting the sycological snooze button, crawled out of our bags and brewed some coffee. After a large breakfast we were skiing out to our climb. An hour later, trading our skis for crampons at the Bergshrund we were climbing. Up a thousand or so feet we climbed the massive snow cone. After some messing around on a direct line of vertical rotten snow we decided to take a little chute up and left which put us on a rib we were aiming for anyway. After 120m or so of snow climbing up to 60 degree we were finally getting into the business. After 140m of simulclimbing on excellent but thin snice we pulled up for a brew break. We took a few moments and enjoyed our surroundings. The view was incredible, the sun was warm and our pace was excellent.
We noticed a few low clouds on the surrounding peaks and a few overhead but felt good about the weather, that was about to change. We started pitching out the climb from here. The next pitch was a good 80m, up a corner on some snice and a little mix then a traverse on some ice. Halfway through it, it had started to snow. By the time Scott was at the belay we were getting bombed by spindrift. The next six pitches we assumed would offer us no protection from the weather and there were not any bivy options. Our only escape was to climb a pitch of ice to a small snow rib and hopefully dig a cave. About an hour and a half later we were dug into the mountain and the snow was coming down heavy. Safe and dry we ate and spent the night half way up the face. The next morning the storm had broke, so we rapped back into the climb. At our belay we were instantly engulfed with spindrift.
Contemplating, should go up or bail? Taking one last look at the clouds we decided to bail. Hell we have only been here a couple days. The rest of the day was spent fixing rappels to the glacier floor. 12 total and some down climbing put us back on the glacier. Back at base camp we congratulated each other on our decision as the mountain disappeared in clouds and it started snowing. The next three days were spent at base watching the snow accumulate. We were glad not to be stuck somewhere on the mountain. When the storm broke we let the peak clean itself for a day.
On the next morning we found ourselves standing at the base of the giant snow cone. We had started our day an hour later than our previous try. The ski to the base was no fun at all, breaking trail and facing into the wind with sub zero temps was brutal, we were frozen before we even started climbing. Wanting to work up some warmth we started up. We soloed the first 1500’ knowing the route and simulclimbed to our previous high point. We had made excellent time arriving about an hour or so earlier to our highpoint than before. Our excitement for what lay before us deterred us from taking a break and I took off on new ground. After 250’ of some fun climbing on some mixed snice and rock the route narrowed down to a very tight corner with sketchy snow so I built a manky belay in what was available. Scott took the lead and set out from hear climbing some classic squeeze and mixed ice and rock.
The next pitch was mine and involved a couple of fun overhanging sections and fat pumpy ice. We were finally at Scotts high point from 2008, hanging on a horn that we just about rode to the glacier some 2500’ below us. The next pitch had some hanging ice and very little snow which was what we were hoping for. Scott lead out through some rotten snow and mixed terrain into a chimney and out of sight. Hanging there freezing the rope moved ever so slowly, but at least it was up. After two hours of being bombarded by snow mushrooms, rock and ice the rope finally came tight.
After a little simulclimbing I was on belay and got my first glimpse of what we determined to be the crux pitch. A manky mix section of rock to a over hanging smear of ice. As I climbed I remember thinking who the hell was this guy I was teamed up and his belay better be bomber. There were just enough places to do the splits and back step to relieve the aching arms. At least I didn’t have to clean any gear! Cause there wasn’t any for the first 20m and then it was only tied off stubbies or half sunk peckers every 20m till the belay.
By this time we had noticed some large plums of snow blowing off the mountain above us and the peaks around us. The wind was picking up something fierce. Before we new it we were being bombarded by large spindrift slides. Scott took off to let me recover and disappeared into the chaos. The spindrift had increased to a consistent avalanche of powder that would penetrate every hole exposed. Our mouths and noses were packed with snow. I had a thick ice crust over my face. We were having a hard time even breathing let alone holding on to our tools. At one point I almost stuck my tool in Scotts leg unaware that he was right above me. Scott was knocked off his feet by the force of the slides. Things were getting bad fast.
After 300’ of what could be some of the most classic alpine ice on the face we pulled up at the top of what we had determined to be the end of the technical climbing to make a serious decision. We had left a pack with our bivy gear at our previous high point to save time and energy. The next few rope lengths would put us on the ridge to the summit. But we would be exposed to consistent avalanche danger from the snow slopes above and the brutal wind on the ridge. Not knowing what the weather had in mind and already starting to feel the effects of the cold on our fingers and toes, we kinda joked about slapping the chains and made ready for a descent.
After rapping three sketchy rope lengths we were below the crux pitch., when our ropes got stuck. Fuck! It was almost dark and neither of us had it in us to climb that crux again. After some fumbling around we got them moving but to our luck just when we had the knot they refused to budge. Well, we at least had one rope.
Down we went into the dark, fighting to keep our v-threads open in time to fish our tat through. Struggling to find gear in the whiteout. Finally we arrived at our pack and climbed back up to our snow cave. We had been on the move for 23hrs straight. 14 hrs to the high point 9hrs just to get back to the cave. Just after getting settled in our cave the mountain started to shake something wicked. Scott and I kind of looked at each other like this was it. After all that we were going to get the express ride to the glacier floor. But after a couple minutes and some very close impacts we were still there. We slept for a few hours and woke to the sun peaking in our cave hole. After spending the entire day rapping with one rope we were back at base camp.
That night another storm rolled in and proceeded to dump about 6’ of snow over the next seven days. Bored out of our minds we began to construct the finest runway the Buckskin has ever seen, probably even the entire range. On our 19th day on the glacier the weather was finally clearing just enough that we were able to contact a plane and arrange for a pick up that evening.
All in all our trip we felt was a success. We were able to determine that there is a free line on that face and had we had better weather well… we’ll be back.