Ascent of Mount Osborn on 2014-08-10

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Dave Covill
Edward Earl
Jill Webster
Ian M.
Crystal M.
Carol A. (Stayed behind)
Lucy the dog (Stayed behind)
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, August 10, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Osborn
    Elevation:4714 ft / 1436 m

Ascent Trip Report

Route Notes:

The easiest and standard route on Mount Osborn is the Southeast ridge via the Grand Central valley. This is a rare major peak in Alaska that does not require expensive bush plane access.

You can fly Alaska Airlines to Nome. From the main corner in Nome at Bering and Front Streets, head north on the Nome-Teller highway, turn right on the Dexter Bypass 2.5 miles from town, and then left on the Nome-Taylor highway when the bypass ends after another 2.5 miles. Then drive north for 30 miles on the Nome-Taylor highway to a signed bridge over the Grand Central River. Cross the bridge and there is a wide dirt turnout on the right just afterwards—this is the trailhead. The road is gravel but in excellent condition for passenger cars in summer.

You can rent a car in Nome at the Aurora Inn, the nicest hotel in town, or get a pricey taxi ride to the trailhead (and arrange a pickup, either with a fixed time or by sat-phone). Or, you can befriend locals who might be able to drive you, but you should reimburse them for their time and gasoline (over $6/gallon in 2014).

From the trailhead, cross the road and start up the Grand Central valley, staying on the east side of the river (keeping the river to your left). The terrain is a mixture of grassy tundra (good), swampy meadows (bad), and bands of willow thickets requiring brutal bushwhacking (ugly). There is a faint and partly overgrown road or ATV track that helps a great deal in the lower third of the valley—its route is on the GPS track for this report and if you follow that you will avoid the worst of the willow bushes.

The further up the valley you go, the more open tundra you find and the going gets much easier. After seven miles, ford the North Fork of the Grand Central (maybe up to your knees) and head uphill towards the prominent triangular slope of grass that offers easy access to the SE ridge of Osborn. In the area between 750 and 1000 feet there are plentiful campsite spots and a number of old mining artifacts (house wreckage, an old wooden pipeline, etc.)

Climb the grassy triangle slope to its apex and then bypass the rocky “castles” to the left as you climb the ridge. The going is over lots of loose talus once you are up there, but all obstacles are easily passed to the left and it is never more than loose Class 2 scrambling. The SE Ridge gradually merges with the main north-south summit ridge of Osborn, and a faint traverse path heads north, on the east side of a series of rock pinnacles. This traverse has lots of loose rock and slopes downhill to your right steeply, so it is probably Class 3 but it’s not too bad—stay as close to the towers on your left as you can.

As you approach the summit ridge the most prominent tower is a very thin pinnacle that is fortunately not the highest. Continue past that tower on the traverse path to a point where there is a notch in the main crest about 20 feet above you to the left (west). This notch is before the 2nd or 3rd to last pinnacle—if you reach a point where the pinnacles are diminishing or getting noticeably lower, you have gone too far and need to backtrack a bit. The GPS track shown here show that we went too far north—the summit is at the little hook track a bit south from our furthest north point.

From the traverse path some steep, ugly Class 4 steps lead to the notch in the ridge. This is pretty unprotectable due to the rottenness of the rock. From the notch, easier (but very exposed) climbing leads north for a few feet to a route up the west side of the summit rock fin. In 2014 we built a cairn and left a pill-bottle register, and our sight level clearly indicated this was the highest pinnacle. It is the second major pinnacle/fin from the north, but there are so many of them that others might count differently.

The only difficult descent is the class 4 steps from the notch down to the traverse path. If you have a rope and some slings, you could create a rappel anchor by slinging the biggest horns you can find, but thoroughly test anything on this falling-apart loose-rock nightmare. The downclimbing is not terrible if you carefully pick out a Z-shaped route down.

Many groups will prefer taking 3 days for this trip, but strong parties could do it in 2 days, doing the peak either the afternoon of day 1 or the morning of day 2. Only exceptionally strong parties could do it in one day from the road—it’s about 23 miles round-trip with 4400 feet of gain, with bushwhacking and scrambling.

The best time for this route is July and August, since snow could complicate the scrambling up top. Unfortunately, these months can be rainy, so having some weather flexibility is a good idea. If there is snow, an ice-axe and crampons might help on the traverse below the summit crags. For this route, a short rope, a few long slings, and a rappel biner/ring are the only technical gear that could be needed, for the short downclimb from the notch. A helmet is very strongly recommended, too.

Our Experience:

We were a party of six, and a local climber, Ian, agreed to show us the way. He and a friend of his drove us to the trailhead, which was very helpful and convenient. We did a fair amount of thrashing through willow brush on our upward journey up the Grand Central valley, and we failed to find the faint old road until we were up quite a ways. After getting our feet quite wet on the ford of the North Fork, we camped at about 750’ on a high, dry tableland where the wind helped keep the mosquitoes at bay. It was a warm, overcast, and humid day, and we were wet mostly from sweat. Overnight it rained briefly.

The weather was stellar for most of our summit day. Ian and his dog Lucy accompanied the rest of us intermittently as we climbed the southeast ridge—he had climbed the peak a couple times before and was exploring the various other pinnacles in the area. We got on the traverse path and travelled to a point where the pinnacles were clearly getting lower. Ian showed up at this point to help us, but he, like us, was confused as to how to find and access the highest pinnacle.

Dave decided to rock climb up the east face of a likely contender pinnacle, and I belayed him, but he soon bailed due to a complete lack of protection opportunities on the rotten rock. Meanwhile Edward and Ian found the right notch, scrambled to the top, and called down to the rest of us. We all made our way over and carefully scrambled up to the summit fin—from the south you can’t see the broad sides and it looks amazingly steep, making for awesome summit photos.

Lucy the dog made it up to the notch but did not want to go further, just missing out on a FCA (first canine ascent).

On the way down we found a large crack in a one of the rare solid rocks on the ridgecrest, and it accepted a long sling that we used as a rappel anchor so most of us could avoid the tricky class 4 downclimb. The rest of the way down was uneventful—Ian again left us to explore some of the obscure corners of the area, and the clouds thickened quite a bit as we got lower. We even heard thunder from the surrounding peaks. We were cooking dinner back in camp when a brief rainstorm came through.

The next day we hiked out—the weather was hot and muggy again and our full packs were still heavy. In the upper valley we stayed high to maximize our time on grassy dry benches. At about the halfway point I started looking for the old abandoned road / ATV trail we had found on the way up, and sure enough, once we found it, it did a great job of getting us through the willow bands with a minimum of issues. The road was a bit swampy in places, but it was definitely preferable to the brush.

Ian’s truck was waiting for us at the trailhead, and soon after we arrived, his friend’s truck rolled up to help get all of us back to Nome.

We did not see any mammals during our entire trip--no bears, musk oxen, rabbits, or rodents. We did have an electric bear fence to enclose our tents (which Ian thought unnecessary) and bear spray, and we saw some bear scat, but no actual animals.
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
The rotten leaning summit pinnacle of Mount Osborn is the highest point near Nome, Alaska (2014-08-10).
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4414 ft / 1344 m
    Extra Gain:100 ft / 30 m
    Round-Trip Distance:23 mi / 37 km
    Route:SE Ridge
    Trailhead:Grand Central TH  500 ft / 152 m
    Grade/Class:Class 4
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Animal/Pet, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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