Ruth Gorge, Alaska Range Taking advantage of weather patterns allegedly caused by El Niño, and assurances by Park Ranger Darryl Miller that the winter in the Alaska Range had been "extremely mild", Jonny Blitz, Steve House and I flew on to the Ruth Glacier on February 28th, 1998. The first few nights at our 4400' base camp were quite cold, -25° to -30°F, but temperatures moderated thereafter, probably never dipping below -5°F for the next 10 days. The camp received approximately 10 hours of daylight, increasing by seven minutes per day, and just five hours of sunlight, as the sun rose from behind the Hut Tower and disappeared behind Mount Wake.
On day three we opted to leave the bivvy gear behind and go as fast as we could for the top...or to where difficulty stopped us. "Fast" being a relative term as the 15th pitch (A3) took Blitz three hours to lead. But the gully opened up above it and we made good progress to another dead end below another massive chockstone. Two difficult mixed pitches got us past it on the right, and led to more moderate snow. As darkness fell we confronted yet another chockstone but managed to sneak through "The Glory Hole" behind it on 90° ice. At 8pm we reached the col at 8700' 400' of easy snow separated us from the summit, but true to my nature, we started rappelling, reaching our bivvy at 1:30am. We arrived in our base camp after a leisurely descent the next afternoon, March 10th.
"The Gift (That Keeps On Giving)" follows a huge gully system west of "The Pearl", a difficult rock route put up by Andy Orgler on the most obvious pillar dominating the south face. "The Gift..." is 3200' high, 23 (60 meter) pitches if you use the rope all the way. Thirteen of these pitches are "hard". The technical ratings are 5.9, A3, WI6 xx. Our Grade - a Texas "two star" is as ambiguous as any other Alpine Grade and means absolutely nothing. The route would probably be a death trap in warmer conditions, but it IS Alaska so you never can tell...
Mark F. Twight, Mountain Zone Contributor