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New route on Peak 11,300- Ruth Glacier, Alaska Range

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition


Mike Pond is one of our incredible guides here at Alpenglow. He began guiding  for us locally in California, and recently guided our 2022 Denali Expedition, and 2022 Bolivia Expedition. Here, he tells the tale of a first ascent he put up in April, on Peak 11,300 on the Ruth Glacier in the Alaska Range. 


Written by Mike Pond

Wild Goose Chase – 4000′ V WI 5R M4 A0. East Face of Peak 11,300. Mike Pond & Zach Dugan, April 16-18, 2022.

“If I were not already flying to Anchorage to guide… I would be buying a plane ticket now 100%.”  When a long-time Alaska climber and good buddy writes a text like that, you pay attention. I refreshed several different weather models, thinking it was a website glitch – every single day was sunny smiley faces with zero wind for the entire long term forecast. With a forecast like this and an endorsement like that, it was hard to say no.

I frenetically texted a few friends I had on standby who said they were interested in climbing in Alaska this month. My good buddy and favorite ski partner, Zach Dugan was psyched. He was just getting into alpine climbing after spending his first season ice climbing in Montana last winter. He’s also the fittest person I know. We preemptively agreed I would take the hard leads and he would carry the heavier pack. That’ll do.

He was in as long as his sister, who was past her due date and entering pre-labor, had her baby – should be tomorrow. I started packing. After three days, she still hadn’t popped the kid out, no end in sight. Zach talked with her and got the green light. We bought our tickets. He’d see her in a week after things settled down. Weather like this doesn’t stick around forever.

After sitting in my fair share of tents enduring storms, I wanted to try a different strategy this season – to wait for good weather and then book the ticket. I had read stories about Smash & Grab alpinism – brief trips built around good forecasts and a quick turnaround. We saw the forecast on a Thursday and by Monday we were flying to Anchorage. It worked – we experienced no wind or even clouds for our entire trip, and climbing conditions were quite favorable.

After much last minute deliberation about where to go with snowy early season conditions, we decided to go to Peak 11,300, whose sunny East Face we hoped would see a strong melt-freeze cycle. It delivered.

After warming up on the bottom 3,000 feet of the South ridge, which gave us a good preview of the descent route, we set out for an unclimbed line on the East Face. Two Brits, James Clapham and Gavin Pike, had climbed the main couloir splitting the face in 2009. They climbed at night to minimize overhead hazard, dubbing their line Night of the Raging Goose.

We took a page from their book and started climbing at 6pm. With a windless, cloudless night and a full moon, our travel went smoothly, reminiscent of fully-lit Alaska night climbing found later in the season.

We stashed our skis at the base of the Raging Goose couloir, climbing a few hundred feet up it before splitting off left. The start of the couloir had a snow runnel tunnel that was three feet deep and perfect neve. I must admit that it was hard to depart a feature with such dreamy conditions.

Generally deep but tolerable snow led us up a halfpipe tunnel. It was some work, to be sure. We mostly simul-climbed up, with gradually improving snow until the first crux – a WI3+ ice step to an exciting M4 mixed step. First crux complete. I clicked in a mini trax and started a long simul-block, which ended beneath the crux ice pitch.

Along the way, Zach and I passed a few signs of previous travel – a slung block and a nut down low, then a two-nut anchor right beneath the crux ice pitch. We had a brief philosophical discussion – would it change the quality or character of our experience if this line had been previously climbed? What’s it matter anyway?

I believe the gear was rappel anchors from Mark Allen and Philippe Wheelock’s attempt on this line in 2009, the same week the Brits climbed the Goose. Mark is a bit of a mentor to me, and the most hospitable guy I’ve met. In 2009 we became fast friends in Ouray and have climbed a handful of times together since. It was particularly symbolic to later find out it was his gear (I think).

When Mark and Philippe retreated, the ice pitch was “60 feet of vertical cool whip.”  Perhaps going in April instead of May was better timing on such a sun-affected face. Fortunately, I only had to deal with a few body lengths of garbage ice. After a few up-down near-bails, I mustered the courage to keep leading above a nest of worthless ice screws and found… neve! Thanking our lucky climbing stars, I pulled over, whooped, and put Zach on belay on a bomber ice anchor. This whole time he was also getting pummeled by early morning spindrift. I guess that snowy ledge was created somehow. Crux complete. A short ice hose led to a little more snow climbing to a good break. We basked in the early morning sun, eating, drinking, and scoping out the upper section of the route.

The final climbing seems representative of so much alpine climbing – difficult but not hard. Grovelly, hard work that wouldn’t garner any impressive numbers, but boy did it burn some calories and stay full-value to the end. Such climbing included your garden variety snow and ice, aiding up a steep serac, faceted snow tunneling over ice on a fluting, and a long traverse which miraculously allowed us to avoid tunneling through the upper cornice. With the last of the lingering evening alpenglow, we topped out the route about 28 hours after starting.

We rappeled through the night, descending the South Ridge to our skis and our base camp on the Ruth Glacier, arriving 39 hours after leaving – by far the longest either of us had spent on a climb. Or continuously awake at any time for that matter.

We ate, drank, and slept for the rest of the day. We pulled our sleds back to the Mountain House the following morning, one week after arriving. I sipped whiskey, ate the rest of our chips and basked in the sun while Zach split boarded a hot lap behind the airstrip, unable to leave without grabbing at least one lap of Alaskan pow. I guess the temptation finally got to him, a fanatic split boarder. And hey, he did pretty dang good for his first real alpine climb!

Even though we saw no one during our time on the Ruth Glacier, I felt like we were not alone on this peak. Maybe I’m too used to being in the city these days. Perhaps the spirit of the mountain looked over our team and let us pass. Or did the spirits of past climbers and the legends of old join in on our little adventure? Who’s to say. Maybe it was that I just didn’t sleep for two days, was dehydrated and running up a hefty calorie deficit. But that ineffable feeling has lingered in the past weeks since our ascent on Peak 11,300.

Chuckling at all the possible goose puns during our climb, we kept the name on-theme — Wild Goose Chase — 4000′ V WI 5R M4 A0. East Face of Peak 11,300. Mike Pond & Zach Dugan, April 16-18, 2022.