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Ruth Glacier Photo Essay


 

by Eric Johnson

June 18, 2002

Team Shandoka
May 20 Ė June 8, 2002

The Ruth flows off the south side of Denali and is the deepest glacier in the world (up to a mile thick). Some trip goals for us were Mt. Dickey, Barille, the Moose's Tooth, Gargoyle, extensive glacier touring, and crevasse exploration. We did have lots of success touring, but limited success with summit and route completion. Alaska was breaking record highs by 20+ degrees during trip with a big fat dome of high pressure sitting over Fairbanks. It made for blue skies, but it also made the snow and ice very dangerous to climb. All of the climbing that we were able to do was a night (about 6 hours sunless per day). Our group of three stayed as far away from the crevasses as we could. Iím sure they were quite active. 30-100 surface sides were visible per day, with sometimes as many as 3 huge serac avalanches. The most amazing was a 200-300 thick serac that broke off and dropped almost 2,500 feet onto the west fork of the Ruth. We were about a mile away, having recently toured by the path of the fall. Iím sure that the displaced snow and glacial material would have ended us if we were in its path.

We did lots of sitting around waiting for the weather to get cool down a bit. One highlight of sitting around the camp was that we got a chance to build one of the best multi-tiered, multi-room snow caves ever. All of the climbing groups that we met were mostly unsuccessful in their route attempts and retreating off the glacier for other activities. The alpine guides we met mentioned that many glaciers in North and South America where they work seem to have retreated up to a mile since the last guidebooks were written (about 10 years). Thoughts of global warming trends were frequently on my mind. Our base camp was 5,500í so all of the local peaks are relatively low, yet ultra-spectacular. Interestingly, the National Park service had installed a temporary microphone recording system near the Ruth Amphitheater landing area to analyze the noise from the sight-seeing/mountaineering airplane traffic. This might be because the cruise ship industry seems to be encouraging their passengers to flight-see and take glacier tours.

This place is awesome. Itís massive, extraterrestrial, beautiful, and calming. I could not have asked for a more amazing experience.


East face of Dickey from Ruth gorge. The face is 1 mile high, two times that of the Yosemite high walls.


Evening touring on the Ruth Glacier in Don Sheldon Amphitheater.


A view of the backside (west face) of Barille.


Shot of base camp area. Interestingly, the National Park service had installed a temporary microphone recording system near the Ruth Amphitheater landing area to analyze the noise from the sight-seeing/mountaineering airplane traffic. (Notice, on the left, the solar panels that powered the federal government microphones.)


Looking northeast down onto the Don Sheldon Amphitheater.


This photo was taken from the airstrip, looking west, toward the West Fork of the Ruth glacier. Roosters Comb is on the left side.


A view of Moose's Tooth. The Ham and Eggs route is located on the left side of the ridge. There was a climbing group camped at high camp in the top center of one of the snow slopes (looks like parallelogram high and left of center).


View of an ice flow off the southwest side of Moose's Tooth.


Looking up at the face of Dickey.


Ruth Glacier near glacier terminus.


Entrance to Talkeetna Cemetery where there are memorials for many climbers lost.


A memorial for climbers who died- by year and mountain area.


Staging area for Talkeetna Air Taxi. All bags must be weighed and marked for flight. There were many climbers waiting to get their climb started. Most Denali climbers we nervous and did not talk with other teams. However, everyone coming off the mountain was worn-out, sun-burned and very happy to share their tales.



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