Madness Guide Alan Rousseau writes in with some great images and description of an ideal climb of Ham and Eggs in the Alaska Range.
I just wrapped up my first of three planned Mountain Madness expeditions into the Alaska Range for the 2017 season. Rett and I climbed Ham and Eggs, on the Moose’s Tooth, which saw its first ascent in 1975 by John Krakauer, Thomas Davies, and Nate Zinsser. Given the technical standard at the time, and conditions encountered, it was an epic battle to the summit with a tent-to-tent time of 33 hours from the hanging glacier that is now home to the root canal airstrip. It was more than ten years until the route saw its second ascent. It saw a flurry of activity after that and quickly attained classic status. It is now considered a great introductory route for those looking to climb technical routes in the Alaska Range. A high level of fitness, and efficiency in WI3/4 terrain are prerequisites for this route.
Ice climbing. Alan Rousseau photo
Since spring has been showing up earlier and earlier in the Alaska Range, I suggested to Rett we aim for a mid-April start date. Meeting in Anchorage on April 12, we were pleasantly surprised to be comfortable without wearing jackets. The forecast couldn’t help but put a smile on our faces: high pressure for the foreseeable future, with mid-day temps of 30 F at 7,000’.
Friendly faces at the Talkeetna Airport. Alan Rousseau photo
We arrived in Talkeetna the following morning and checked in with the friendly folks at Talkeetna air taxi. They told us they could fly us on the glacier in one hour. So after a check in at the ranger station, we did a final weigh-in and loaded our kit onto the plane. It takes about thirty minutes to fly from the airport in Talkeetna to the Moose’s Tooth. As we approached our landing site, Paul Roderick (pilot) banked the plane hard and circled us in for landing. He set the plane down on the hanging glacier just a five minute walk from the start of Ham and Eggs.
Flying in to Moose’s Tooth. Alan Rousseau photo
After getting the duffles out of the plane we started setting up camp, digging in our cook tent, and building snow walls. Rett was feeling good with our initial bump in altitude, so we decided we would wake up early the next morning and try to climb. After a 4:30 alarm sounded we cooked up some breakfast, drank some coffee, and by 5:45 we were off to the races. After a half hour we had crossed the bergshrund and made our way through the steep snow slabs that guard the first pitch. “Ham and Eggs” is primarily a 50-degree snow climb with a handful of steeper rock and ice sections to add to the excitement… and exposure. The summit ridge requires careful traversing on a heavily corniced ridge. From camp to the summit is 3,000’ of vertical gain. Rett and I made good time up the route finding it in favorable condition. We even stopped at the col for thirty minutes to brew up some coffee. Nine hours after leaving camp we stood on the summit. There was no wind, and it was warm enough to hang out without wearing gloves. I was surprised that my phone had full service on the summit, so both Rett and I put in calls to our wives, enjoyed the view and started making our way down the summit ridge. After reversing the summit ridge, 15 or so (we lost count) rappels got us back across the bergshrund and only about five minutes from camp. We arrived back in camp about 14 hours after we left. After eating some pizza and enjoying some bourbon we called it a day.
Steep snow climbing. Alan Rousseau photo
The following day we lounged around camp, looked up at the route we had climbed, and soaked in the views of Denali and Mount Huntington. We contemplated climbing another route, but with some uncertainty in the forecast we decided that we had done what we came to do and it would be best to get out before we got stuck. In order to fly in and out of the range, pilots need ideal conditions with good visibility most of the way from Talkeetna to the glaciers. Sometimes with large storms it can be up to a week where no planes fly. Fortunately for us, despite a cloud bank in the foothills the next day, a plane came to pick us up and brought us back to town.