Mountain Profile: Mount Russell

North ridge of Mount Russell, Denali National Park and Preserve

North ridge of Mount Russell, Denali National Park and Preserve

In the far western corner of Denali National Park and Preserve towers a peak of unrivaled beauty, Mount Russell. Unknown by the majority of Alaskans, only those who search out such beauty know of its presence. Mount Russell is a classic, pyramid shaped peak, with crumbling black rock and dripping, fractured glaciers that defy gravity.

At 11,670 feet in height, Mount Russell isn’t super tall, but it remoteness and miserable weather make it a challenge to climb. The first ascent was in 1962 via the south ridge and ten years later, in 1972, the north ridge was climbed. The north ridge is now considered the “standard” route. Both Alaska climbing guides feature Mount Russell and its north ridge route and yet, the mountain sees maybe one ascent every couple of years. The loose, steep and terrible looking east face was climbed once and for those looking for a true adventure, the awesome west face is still unclimbed.

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South Ridge and the wicked east face of Mount Russell.

There are two ways to see Mount Russell from land. One is to land on the Yentna Glacier near the base of the North Ridge. The other is to land on the remote Purkey Pile strip and hike a few days to get a fantastic view.

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The sunlit west face of Mount Russell, the north ridge splits the light and dark. The west face still awaits an ascent and even a ski descent…hint hint.

Personally, Mount Russell is one of those mountains that is best appreciated either by climbing it or by the air, where you can truly admire its shapely demeanor.

Mountain Profile: Mount Deborah

I took this photo of Mount Deborah in 2006. Its taken from the south as I was flying over the Clearwater Mountains. We will be landing on the other side, under the super steep north face.

My first time seeing Mount Deborah up close. I took this photo in 2006. Its taken from the south as I was flying after a trip in the Clearwater Mountains.

My obsession with Mount Deborah began after reading the classic mountaineering book, Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative. In it, David Roberts describes an epic journey through a remote Alaskan Wilderness, full of failure, suffering and enlightenment. Undoubtedly one of the great books of mountain literature.

Mount Deborah was named in 1907 by James Wickersham for his first wife, Deborah Susan Wickersham. Its first ascent was in 1954 by mountain legends: Fred Beckey, Henry Meybohm, Heinrich Harrer, via the South Ridge.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah.

Alpenglow on Mount Deborah. This is the impossible North Face. Taken from the Gillam Glacier.

During rare clear weather, Mount Deborah can be seen in all its gory from the Denali Highway. To reach Mount Deborah though, involves a grand journey through some of the Alaska Range’s roughest and most isolated terrain.

I attempted to reach it by skis from the Richardson highway in 2004, but was turned back by miserable snow conditions. I attempted again in September 2013, but the weather shut us down. So in April 2014, I cheated and flew right to the Gillam Glacier, at the base of the north face.

Mixed light and the north face of mount Deborah.

Mixed light and the north face of Mount Deborah. The vertical gain from the Gillam Glacier to the summit is over 6,000ft of steepness!

Mount Deborah is one of Alaska’s most beautiful and intimidating mountains. It is a mountain of myth and legend. I hope that some day, it, along with her surrounding neighbors, will get the protection and celebrated wilderness status they deserve.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah.

Amazing ice and Mount Hess and Deborah. The beauty of the Eastern Alaska Range rivals any place in Alaska and deserves to be protected and celebrated just like other mountain regions in Alaska.

 

Mountain Profile: Denali

I am starting a new little series on the blog, short mountain profiles from the Alaska Range. From the famous to the nameless, unclimbed to overrun, I will try to cover a variety. Some mountains I have many images, others only one. First up, the most famous mountain of them all, Denali.

Denali reflection, taken from the south.

Denali reflection, taken from the south.

Denali needs little introduction. The tallest mountain in North American, it is the most sought after peak in North America, by climbers and tourist alike. Its official name is “Mount McKinley”. The quickest way to show someone you’re not from Alaska is to call it Mount McKinley instead of Denali. The word Denali is Athabaskan and roughly translates to “The High One” or “The Great One”.

Not only is Denali the tallest mountain in North America it is also one of the largest on Earth with a vertical gain that rivals most mountains in the world, surpassing Everest by over 4,000 feet.

This image is taken from the north and highlights Denali's massive size and the wicked Wickersham Wall.

This image is taken from the north and highlights Denali’s massive size and the wicked Wickersham Wall.

The first ascent of Denali was in 1910 when two Alaskan prospectors—Peter Anderson and Billy Taylor—from a party of four reached the summit on summit on April 3. They climbed 8,000 feet from their 11,000-foot camp to the summit and returned to camp in 18 hours. The Sourdough Expedition team were climbing novices who spent 3 months climbing to win a bet with a bar owner who said it would never be climbed. They wore homemade gear made mostly from caribou fur. On summit day, they carried doughnuts, caribou meat, 3 flasks of hot drinks, and a 14-foot-long spruce pole and an American flag. unfortunately, they climbed the North Summit, not realizing that the South Summit was taller. Many of the old-time climbers that I know still give them credit for the first ascent.

The first ascent of the higher South Summit was on June 7, 1913 by Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, and Robert Tatum from an expedition led by Hudson Stuck. They climbed the Muldrow Glacier route.

Wild weather on Denali. The mountain is notorious for terrible weather.

Wild weather on Denali. The mountain is notorious for terrible weather.

Is Denali shrinking? It was originally surveyed at  20,320 feet (6,194 meters) above sea level, which was established in 1952. However, a survey conducted in 2010 using modern technology pegged Denali’s elevation as 20,237 feet (6,168 meters), shrinking it by 83 feet (26 meters). Many people reject this new height.

Denali is a tough mountain to photograph. While it can be seen from many vantage points from around south-central Alaska, it is hard to find something unique. If you get too close to the monster, it becomes a shapeless mass, it is better to capture it from a distance, which helps highlight its massive size.

Denali is often capped with a cloud. Denali creates its own weather and tourist have about a 30% chance of a clear enough day to see the mountain's summit.

Denali is often capped with a cloud. Denali creates its own weather and tourist have about a 30% chance of a clear enough day to see the mountain’s summit.