Ascent to Redoubt Volcano-SE Moraine on 2013-05-25

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Dave Covill
Jill N.
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, May 25, 2013
Ascent Type:Unsuccessful - Turned Back
Point Reached:Redoubt Volcano - SE Moraine
    Elevation:3780 ft / 1152 m
    Remaining Elevation:6417 ft / 1956 m (94% left to go)

Ascent Trip Report

(Continued from First attempt on Redoubt Volcano)

So Dave, Jill, and I set off from our landing zone camp at 4550 feet on Redoubt and headed downhill with full packs, looking to turn the SE corner of the Five Fingers rocks with minimal elevation loss. Jill led and stayed close to the ridge but had to switchback downhill and then cruise all the way down to a moraine area at about 3350 feet, a loss of 1200 feet, alarming me a bit. From here we saw a moraine slope of alternating rock and snow, and it seemed like we could climb the moraine, and then gain the ramp-like left hand skyline ridge.

We had a 370 vertical foot climb up an easy snowfield to the base of the moraine, but Dave and I were dragging a bit, weighed down by our heavy packs and the hot afternoon sun of this relatively low elevation. The wall of the moraine was maybe 100 feet or so, and our plan was for me to take a daypack with our snowshoes and rope to the crest. If the going looked good, I would drop the pack and we would all return with our full packs.

I set off and found climbing the moraine miserable and dangerous. The snow was bottomless mush and very steep, and the rocky areas were loose volcanic crap. I postholed badly, and every rock I touched moved when crossing rocky sections. I did not see us climbing this with full packs, and the rocks made a fall much more dangerous. Sweating, I pushed up the 40-degree snow slope to the top anyway to see what lay ahead.

From the crest a small snowy valley about 40 feet deep presented itself. I dropped the pack and crossed it, and on the next crest the slopes dropped steeply for at least a couple hundred feet to a deep valley. Then there was another moraine to cross, and only on the other side of that did steep snowy slopes finally lead to our skyline ridge. It would have been a huge effort to hike across the grain of the country this way, with too much dangerous up and down on the moraines.

I returned to the pack, yelled down to Dave and Jill that this was a no-go, and downclimbed the slope—of course, much more treacherous than it had been on the way up. The three of us convened at the spot at which Dave and Jill had moved all the packs and started the discussion of our options. We could continue up our current valley to a spot where the moraine was not as high or steep, but it looked like there might be some icefall issues if we tried going cross-country there. Or, we could head downhill and lose more elevation and try to gain the elusive skyline ridge at its very base (about 2750 feet, down about another 1000 from our current location, but we didn’t know that number at the time).

The thing that bothered me the most was the left-hand skyline ridge led to a pointy icy pinnacle that I thought was a western sub-peak of Redoubt, and the traverse to the main snow dome looked very tricky. And, in the afternoon sun, the upper part of the skyline ridge looked like a corniced knife-edge. (Our topo maps were useless due to the recent eruptions of Redoubt, and I later discovered that the pointy peak is a new “South Peak” that does not show on any maps). Dave thought the pointy peak was the true summit, but I think I convinced him that we needed to get to the snowy dome, and that the traverse was tricky.

It was getting late today, and at best we would be camping tonight on the skyline ridge slightly above its toe, well below 4000 feet. Then, optimistically, we would need another day to get to a high camp, another day to summit, and then two whole days to get back to our basecamp. And we knew the awesome weather we had been having would not hold and that a couple weather days would be needed. The total elevation gain from here would be over 10,000 feet, counting a couple thousand back to base camp once done with the climb.

Jill wanted to continue very badly—she felt we had sacrificed a great deal to be in this position, and we had plenty of supplies, and as long a route seemed viable we should press on. This was her first time in Alaska (and first big glaciated mountain) and she was not as summit-focused as peakbaggers like Dave and myself. However, I was 90% sure that our skyline ridge did not provide a summit route that was within our technical abilities or timeframe, so I wanted to retreat—hauling a heavy pack up partway up a huge mountain and perhaps getting trapped by a storm for days while a long way from basecamp did not seem like a good investment of time and energy to me. That was my argument, but I did say that if Dave and Jill both wanted to go, I would, too—that was only fair.

Dave was torn—he really wanted this peak badly, but I think he, too, was not too optimistic about our chances. He had the most Alaskan mountaineering experience of the three of us, and was our trip organizer and leader, so it was fitting for him to decide. After a while it became clear he thought it best to retreat. We certainly had a full hashing out of all the options, and he thought it best to use our good weather spell to get off Redoubt and flown to our next peak, Mount Torbert. So eventually Dave got out the satellite phone and left a message for the pilots about getting picked up tomorrow. We also radioed Edward back at basecamp at 4 PM to let them know we would be heading up.

We continued to rest for a while, enjoying the remote beauty and splendor of this lonely Alaskan valley, our little team still conflicted and trying to come to terms with our difficult decision, until there was nothing more to do except hoist our packs and head back to base camp.

Dave led our rope team down the valley a few hundred feet and then turned left for the long 1200-foot uphill slog. Our snowy valley was a solar bowl, roasting us in the early evening sun, especially for the first part of our trip back—I was dragging a bit and glad for Dave’s slow pace, and none of us had good lightweight sun clothing so we were miserably sweaty and hot. After a bit we got a nice breeze, which lifted our spirits, and we were back in camp by about 6:30 PM or so.

Edward and Loren had melted water for us, and we pitched our third tent, so we had very luxurious accommodations for the night. Dave got a hold of Paul Claus, who was coming at 6 AM tomorrow in the big Otter plane to ferry us all to Mount Torbert—this was good news, since we could avoid the time-consuming plane-ferry situation we had earlier. We all agreed to wake up at 4:30 AM and start breaking down camp. Our last night on Redoubt was celebrated by making some Jiffy Pop popcorn over a stove as we all gathered in Dave’s big tent.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1600 ft / 487 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1600 ft / 486 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.6 mi / 9 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Rope, Ski Poles, Snowshoes, Tent Camp
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Descent (To Destination) Statistics
    Gain on way in:430 ft / 131 m
    Loss on way in:1200 ft / 365 m
    Distance:2.8 mi / 4.5 km
    Start Trailhead:Redoubt LZ  4550 ft / 1386 m
Ascent (From Destination) Statistics
    Loss on way out:400 ft / 121 m
    Gain on way out:1170 ft / 356 m
    Distance:2.8 mi / 4.5 km
    End Trailhead:Redoubt LZ  4550 ft / 1386 m
Ascent Part of Trip: 2013 - Redoubt (3 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1(Attempt) Redoubt Volcano2013-05-242250 ft / 686 m
2(Attempt) Redoubt Volcano2013-05-251600 ft / 488 m
Total Trip Gain: 3850 ft / 1174 m    Total Trip Loss: 3850 ft / 1174 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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