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Doug Shepherd on Mt. Dickey

“Hey Bill – got any really ugly bright fabric you can make me some pants out of?”

 

The power pants humble beginnings
Photo ©Bill Amos
Bill sent me a text message with the above picture and a question “Is this obnoxious enough?”

So begins the saga of the power pants.

 

The power pants are so hot, I had to open the vents just to stay cool
Photo ©John Frieh
In early April, John Frieh and I took a short trip to the Ruth Gorge in the Central Alaska Range.  The adventure began for me in Los Alamos, NM where I have been living for the past year.  I left home on Thursday afternoon and after a quick drive to Albuquerque, a red-eye flight next to a woman who thought it was OK to text on the plane, plus a late night shopping spree at the 24-hour Carrs in Wasilla we crashed on the floor of Talkeetna Air Taxi for a few hours of rest on Friday morning.  John had brought the power pants with him from the PNW, so I first set eyes on them in a sleep deprived state, but knew right away that they were winners.  After an early wake-up and massive breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, Paul Roderick flew John and I onto the Ruth glacier.

 

Doing what I do best, making and consuming pancakes
Photo ©John Frieh
While waiting out a day of unsettled weather on Saturday (pancakes!), John and I decided to attempt the unclimbed Northeast face of Mt. Dickey, which he, Dylan Johnson, and Roger Strong had previously hoped to attempt.  The alarm went off early Sunday morning and after a quick breakfast/brew session we were skiing towards Dickey.  Ditching the skis at the base of the face, John crossed the schrund and we were off.  After the initial snow slope, we began what would be a long battle with thin ice slabs, overhanging snow mushrooms, mixed steps, and all around heady climbing.

 

The massive East face of Mt. Dickey. Our route begins on the white slabs directly above camp.
Photo ©John Frieh
After a difficult 600m or so, we reached easier terrain and simul-climbed through wonderful ice runnels and steep snow to the base of the large chimney system.  It was now late afternoon and we were disappointed to find that only the first pitch, maybe pitch and a half held ice.  After that, it quickly turned into overhanging snow mushrooms and what looked to be difficult mixed or aid climbing up to a hanging ice curtain of dubious quality.  Even worse, the ice hose from John’s photos was completely absent.  This was obviously disheartening, but we had to focus on finding a bivy site.  A 70m traverse down and across the face brought us to a rock outcropping were we chopped a ledge for our tent and settled into our two-person sleeping bag for the evening.  Since we hadn’t brought any sleeping pads, the man spoon was essential for comfort.

 

Escaping the man-spoon and brewing up outside the tent on Monday morning
©John Frieh
After sleeping in a bit on Monday morning, we got going around 10AM and eventually decided to traverse over to the French Route on the Northeast Ridge to see if we could exit there.  A lot of simul-climbing and some high quality mixed pitches brought us to a high point on the ridge crest.  We realized that with our limited gear, there was no way we were repeating the techno aid climbing that the French had pulled off over six days on the ridge.  A 30m rappel from the ridge brought us into a perfect runnel system that split the North face of the Northeast ridge, but didn’t guarantee success.  We knew that looming around the corner were the massive seracs nicknamed “Walmart” and hoped that we would be able to regain the ridge crest before having to confront that monster.

 

The power pants propelling us through yet another mixed step on our route
Photo ©John Frieh
Another few hours of simul-climbing combined with short belayed mixed steps and we eventually had to face reality, exiting through “Walmart” was our only option.  We could see a large snow ramp traversing the seracs to a probable exit point.  A quick food and water break and we were off, blasting through the seracs in two quick simul-pitches.  Suddenly, I was above the danger zone and screaming with joy.  I could see the summit and knew we had the route in the bag.  We reached the summit around 8PM on Sunday afternoon, 37 hours after starting the route.  The descent, while long and arduous, was straight forward and a matter of mind over body.  My personal low point was when John reminded me that not only was Dickey a vertical mile tall, but we had to traverse under the South face which was a vertical mile wide…

 

Two exhausted, but elated friends on the summit of Mt. Dickey
©John Frieh
Thanks to NW Alpine for making quality alpine climbing clothing.  I’ve used and abused gear from most of the major companies in pursuit of alpine silliness and the combination of NWAlpinist salopettes and Big Four jacket is the best system of clothing I’ve ever owned for the pursuit.  That and green is so hot right now!

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