I didn’t care if Jeremy Nobis could ski the Great Wall in one turn. Hell, I could ski the Wall if I had helicopters and a safety crew. I did care, though, if the Wall stopped our trip. I’d never get over flying home without finishing the Tordrillo Traverse.
After waiting six days in Anchorage, the weather cleared on May 16. Dylan, Andrew and I drove the three hours to Alaska Air West in Nikiski. Doug Brewer flew us in three Piper Super Cub flights across Cook Inlet to a 2,400-foot ash bench on the south slopes of Mount Spurr. We started up Crater Peak with 12 days of supplies loaded into 65-pound loads.
Dylan climbed Mount Spurr, the Tordrillo’s fourth highest at 11,070 feet, in 2004. What was a rounded summit in 2004, had become a 300-foot deep crater lined with crevasses and venting lung-burning sulfur gasses. After summiting, we camped in perfect weather at 10,000 feet on the Spurr Plateau overlooking the Hidden and Neacola Mountains.
Traversing the Tordrillo Crest from the Spurr Plateau to the Torbert Plateau is a technical, unclimbed route. We chose to descend from the Spurr Plateau via the Southeast Cirque of the Capps Glacier via a 4,000-foot icefall. After several attempts that ended in gaping crevasses, we climbed onto a cleaver that splits the icefall. From the spur, we used belays to ski steep powder above open crevasses to the valley floor.
From the Capps Glacier we climbed the Triumvirate Glacier to a 7,000-foot camp below the Torbert Plateau. The next day we day-toured 20 miles and 8,000 vertical feet to the low-angle summits of Mount Torbert and Mount Talachulitna. The next crux was down climbing The Great Wall, a 14-mile long serac-ridden barrier that straddles the range and stopped our traverse attempt in 2007. Using a route seeen in 2007, we down climbed four, 150-foot (100 foot rope tied together with three 20-foot cordelettes) pitches on snow-covered ice above a bergshrund to another lobe of the Triumvirate Glacier.
After summiting Mount Gerdine, we continued another two days under cloudy skies over lower elevation passes and valleys to the north end of the Tordrillos. At the north end of the Tordrillos we descended to the Skwentna River at the confluence with the Happy River and found the gravel bar landing strips covered with two feet of snow. Chugach pilot Mike Meekins was in the area with his Super Cub equipped with tundra tires for moose surveys. He directed us to a snow-free gravel bar two miles downriver where he shuttled us 30 miles to home-cooked burgers at the Skwentna Roadhouse. The following day, Spernack Airways took us to Merrill Field in Anchorage.
Huge thanks to the Hans Saari Memorial Fund (www.hansfund.org) and the Shipton-Tilman Grant for making this trip possible.
The Tordrillos are well-documented in Tordrillo—Pioneer Climbs and Flights in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska,by Rodman Wilson and Paul Crews Sr. The most significant traverse in that book was by a burly team of Scott Woolums and Mark Jonas in March 1982. Aiming for tower climbing in the Kichatna Mountains, they left from Beluga Lake, climbed the Triumvirate Glacier and descended the Hayes Glacier. Because of frozen toes, they finished their trip at Rainy Pass, shy of the Kichatnas, after covering 80 miles.
Knowledge from previous trips made this full-lenth traverse possible. In April 2007, Andrew Wexler and Joe spent 10 days skiing south through the Tordrillo Mountains, making a ski traverse of Mount Gerdine. In 2004, Dylan Taylor climbed Mount Spurr from Lake Chakachamna.