The Ruth Expedition: Field Updates

In March of 2010, Graham Zimmerman and Mark Allen set out on a climbing expedition into the Ruth Range of central Alaska. Watch the four part video series: Video 1Video 2Video 3Video 4 and read their dispatches in order of how we received them:

3/28/2010 : Dispatch One After running around feverishly in Anchorage (getting a flat in Joes Stock’s civic) and getting all of our kit, we have now made it to snowy Talkeetna via the graces of longtime K2 pilot and friend Tony Martin. After meeting with our pilot Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi, he has informed us that we will not be able to land in the Private Idaho glacial landing zone below the South Face of Huntington. Private Idaho is the location Jack Tackle and Jay Smith landed last season 09’ when establishing the first assent of the route we intend to target Prizefight -V WI5 M5 R completing a line to the subsidiary summit of the Southeast Face below the South face. 

 What this means to our expedition is that we will forgo getting dropped with a base camp at the base of Huntington South or East faces as previously planed. Now we are focusing on digging in a camp the Great Ruth Gorge within range of dozens of climbing objective. The conditions and temperatures are good for climbing here right now making potential for getting things done. Paul Roderick will be landing us with 350lbs of food and gear in a large corridor positioned just between Bradley and Dickey. From hear we will travel the strip of the Ruth Glacier and window shop for a route coming up with a strategy for climbing a peak. 

We also have been informed that we are the only party in the Alaska Range right now to the parks knowledge. This will change soon enough but for now Graham and I have the Alaska Range to ourselves which is a rare experience. 

As for South Face of Huntington there has been little activity there because of the very problem of access. We are in good position to evaluate attempting the 1979 approach, which would entail several kilometers of glacier travel, and a few ice falls, a full scale AK mountaineering multi-day approach. We are hoping to gain more information from the flight into the area. More than anything Graham and I are ready to go climbing enjoy all the highs and lows of climbing here in this majestic place. Wish us luck and stay tuned. 

4/1/2010:  Dispatch Two Mark and Graham called in last night (March 31, 2010) at 9:00pm with the following dispatch from the Ruth glacier: 

Paul Roderick dropped the two of us off in the great Ruth Gorge at 4,450 feet on the glacier between Mt. Dickey and Mt. Bradley. We spent the first two days getting dug in, setting up tents, building snow walls, so that our camp will be safe from the weather unattended. We took several ski tours up and down the glacier from camp to see what was in good climbing condition and we can see that several of the hopeful lines will be coming into shape soon yet have been loaded with fresh snowfall in the last seventy-two hours and need to clear by sloughing off for safe climbing. 

That said we have chosen a mixed rock and ice climb on an attempt on an unclimbed line on the Southeast face of Mt. Bradley which is not threatened by large snow slopes. We are climbing with bivouac gear intending to spend one night on the wall and summit on the second day. The temps here have been perfect, ranging between fifteen degrees and thirty-two degrees Farenheit, and the barometer looks to be holding. 

 We're super pumped for this climbing and to be climbing together on such a beautiful peak. Wish us safe climbing and we will post our progression when we return. We've been having a great time, laughing a lot, we've been having beautiful weather, a couple small snow storms, and we're just really psyched to be getting after it. We just can't stop taking pictures this place is super beautiful, super majestic. Graham says love you all and he'll talk to you all when he's down. Apart from that.... ah, we've got our prayer flag up. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, we are the only people here in the Alaska range, period. There's no one else that's flown in this season, we're totally alone, and this is kind of unheard of and we have this place totally to ourselves, so it's a pretty amazing situation. Alright! We'll be back in two days and we'll make our next dispatch then. 

- Submitted via the Ruth 2010 dispatcher 

4/2/2010: Dispatch Three Greetings! Here are Mark and Graham’s updates from today at 3pm: We retreated yesterday after about 7 pitches on the SE face of Bradley so we did not continue up and bivy.  As we were coming down the route, from our high point our ropes got stuck and we had to resort to some alpine trickery to get our the ropes back and then we had to hang out on the wall for an additional hour in a cave while heat of day threatened the stability of some loose snow slopes.  Once everything cooled down we could safely walk back to our skis and ski back to camp. 

So we're back here now... just chilling, our pirate flag is still up.  Now, we're going to go right back up onto the wall but we're going to have a different strategy.  Instead of leaving at 3am, we're going to leave at 3pm ( Friday ).  And then climb through the cold of the day and then through the night and hang out in the heat of the day ( Saturday ) for our bivies.  We'll get about 9 hours of climbing and bivy in the sunshine, and then come off the next day ( Sunday ).  We're going to go for the same route.  [ listen to the podcast for full route description ...about 500 ft of steep snow up a ramp, leads to 5.10 offwidth in a cave, pop out of the cave to the crux ]  And we figured out how to get through the crux, we needed to bring rock shoes.  So we're going to bring rock shoes this time and we think we'll be able to finish the route in this style. 

We're still psyched and conditions are improving every day. - Submitted via the Ruth 2010 dispatcher

4/7/2010: Dispatch Four Great news this morning! Mark and Graham called in having just now returned to camp after four days of climbing, descending and glacier travel. They completed a new route on the Southeast face of Mount Bradley. Their descent was slowed and complicated by the arrival of a storm and several inches of new snow. They are back in camp for a good meal and some rest and plan to call in tomorrow with details of the climb. - the Ruth 2010 dispatcher

4/8/10: Dispatch Five Mark and Graham called with details of their summit of Mt. Bradley: 

April 5th at 4pm we summited Mt. Bradley via a new route on the SE buttress. This 4600ft buttress of sustained mixed climbing required twenty-nine pitches, nineteen of which are M5 or WI4 or harder. After sixty-six and a half hours including three on-route bivies, Vitalogy, Alaska grade V, M6+ WI5 5.9R A1 was opened. 

On the evening of April 2nd we left camp and after regaining our highpoint from the first attempt on March 31st, we establish five new pitches before our midday bivy that day. The 1500ft of climbing included sustained 5.9 rock, an A1 tension traverse, M5 mixed, and a transition from boots to rock shoes and back on lead. We encountered cooler temps the next afternoon and began a beautiful ice ribbon, 1000ft in length, averaging WI4 with cruxes of M5+ and WI5. This was by far the most enjoyable climbing on the entire route. Then, we continued up a steep, blocky ridge. This was [when the] the first of three storms hit. We climbed in full conditions to the base of a large 1000ft granite tower, the second major crux of the route. 

The storm broke while we pushed seven pitches of sustained mixed climbing until we were spent. We spent the night on an exposed ledge perch bivy, and then we finished the tower and simul-climbed to the summit on steep exposed snow slopes and spines. 

When we topped out, there was much rejoycing and we saw two ravens circling us before they joined us on the summit. This was the first sign of widlife we've had the entire trip.    

We had perfect weather when we summited and it was awesome climbing through the storm. We spent about thirty minutes on the summit and finished our food and found that the normal descent was out this season. So we were forced to rappell into undiscovered country, 1500 ft down the headwall to a glacier and then descend 1000ft of icefall to the valley (backside) glacier and an ice-cave bivy. That's when the second storm hit and it brought twelve to twenty inches of new snow in places, pinning us down for a day without food and little fuel. Then the next afternoon during a clearing we were ready to start wading through seven kilometers of new snow over the entire backside glacier back around 747 pass and then down into the Ruth glacier to gain our camp. A third storm hit, requiring us to navigate in a whiteout, in the dark, to find our camp. We finally got back to camp after 99 hours. It was an extremely challenging endeaver and we're super psyched to have completed the line.. it's a beautiful feature on the peak. 

They will be taking a couple days to rest and repack.  Please check back for regular updates or to listen to podcasts of their dispatches on their blog.

 4/10/10: Dispatch Six Mark and Graham called in Saturday with the following update. It's April 10th and Graham and I are all packed up, everything's repaired.  We spent the last several days repairing our body's and equipment; eating a bunch of food and getting ready to go.  We'll be aiming for link up of SE face and the South face of Mt. Huntington.  We're planning on being out for 4-5 days, and just got word that we're going to have some bad weather: Precipitation up to about 10" of snow next 48 hours ( Sun/Mon ) so we're just going to stay here until Tuesday morning and then head out of camp then. We'll give you guys an update on Tuesday and then we'll use our remaining time to tackle the link-up on Huntington.  We're super pumped, and we'll talk to you soon. - the Ruth 2010 dispatcher  4/15/10: Dispatch Seven Mark and Graham called in on Tuesday with an update to their plans. It's been snowing every day here and has left over a meter of snow since we returned to camp on the 7th. So we've been tent-bound and waiting for the weather to clear. Today we received word that forecasts for the gorge are for precipitation to abate a bit Thursday. The forecast after that does not look positive as a storm is approaching from the West with high winds and lots of precipitation. Unless the weather circumstances improve, the snow will encumber our chances of climbing during our remaining days and we will fly out Thursday while the visibility permits it. The good news is that we've run into the Giri-Giri Boys, a group of Japanese climbers who have been pretty accomplished here in the past. We're the only two parties in the Gorge right now, so tonight we're going over to party with them in tent city.  4/16/10: Dispatch Eight, We are out! 

After receiving 150cm (60”) of new snow in at our base camp in the Ruth Gorge over the last 7 days (April 7th-14th), the Gri Gri boys (Japan’s premier club of Alpinists), Graham, and I spent several hours over the last few storm days stomping out a glacial run way for Paul Roderick to land his plane and digging out camp. 

We chose to end the trip early because there was only one good fly day in the next several days and the peaks will not have time to shed all the new snow in time for us to climb. So we simply focused on getting out in time. 

Building a runway is very time consuming. The size and length required to land the Beaver or the Otter bush planes is a great length when skies are your tools. Several times our work was covered by new snow but all the packing improved the success of the landing and more importantly the take off. A few times we had breaks in the storm fit for a pick-up but it was snowing heavily in Talkeetna thus the airport was shut down. 

To bide our time in tent city, with the aid of the solar panel and ipod technology, we had countless hours of pod-casts, such as Radio Lab, BBC documentaries, Savage Love, Dirtbag Diaries... 

This is what the typical day looked like…. 

8:00am- Wake up. Hit the inside of the tent so the snow slides off outside. Go back to sleep. 

8:30am-Repeat 

9:00am-Repeat

9:30am- Think about waking up- turn on a Radio Lab podcast and indulge for 45min, brush the snow off the solar panel 

10:15am- Graham makes coffee and I start digging out camp, make weather observations 

11:30am-Eat, listen to This American Life 

12:30pm-Dig out camp, make a weather observation 

1:30pm- Retreat to Tent, Read, Sleep, Pod-cast 

3:00pm-Make Quesadillas 

3:30pm-Start drinking whiskey, talk about climbing 

4:00pm-Make hot chocolate with whiskey and continue to talk about how cool it would be to be climbing 

4:30pm-Go back to the tent and watch a BBC broadcast6:00pm-make a huge meal and talk about how cool its going to be when we get to climb after it stops snowing. 

7:00pm Weather observation and work on the runway, dig out camp. 8:00pm Watch a movie in the tent, talk about how good its going to be when it stops snowing Repeat… 

On April 15th, we had a wild pick up as Paul Roderick and TAT co-pilot Will tag teamed all the glacial pick-ups and drop-offs. Its been 7-days since a plane has left the airport so the list is long for folks wanting to fly. Will landed the Beaver in the Gorge and over shot the strip because of a strong tail wind and powered the ski plane through a turn and back to our stomped out loading zone slightly breaking a sweat. I had never seen a plane get face shots; now I have, it was an amazing sight. 

Now back in Talkeetna, drinking beer at the Fairview, smelling the plants for first time, de-gearing, and reacquainting our selves with old friends and Talkeetna while counting down until we fly back with Seattle. 

 Graham and I are now going through all of the media and will be putting together some video dispatches, photos, route and trip beta for your enjoyment. Thanks for all of your support and your interest in our trip. Until next year!