Kuskulana Glacier, South Face of Mt. Blackburn

Josh Mumm, Eben Sargent, John Sykes and I hoped to find a skiable route up the south side of Mt. Blackburn (16390 ft., Wrangell Mountains, Alaska) for a one-week road-to-road climb, March 2012. Shallow snow and huge cracks prevented us from getting up Blackburn, but the landscape, sunset, and northern lights at the Kuskulana-Kennicott pass (10,000 ft.) were spectacular.

Mt. Blackburn in the Wrangell Mountains has a reputation for being a difficult climb due to high winds, crevasse fields to the north, and ice falls to the south. 2011-2012 has been such a good snow year that we thought we might luck out with a ski ascent. We chose to approach from the south because we only had one week (my spring break) for the trip. The northern route is more straightforward, but skiing from Nebesna (60 miles), would require a sprint and narrow window for summiting.

The trail route. Click for larger view.

The southern option was appealing because the route is 30 miles one way from the McCarthy road. I was excited to get on the Kuskulana Glacier because I packrafted the Kuskulana River with Timmy Johnson, Tony Perelli, and Jule in 2009.

We drove to the trailhead Saturday morning, skied 15 miles into the Nugget Creek cabin and fired up the wood stove. The next two days we skied up the Kuskulana Glacier, mostly on rolling moraine and often on bare rock. Our intention was to access the summit ridge from a steep broad face up the 2nd-arm of the Kuskulana Glacier, a route that Todd Kasteler suggested. But with poor snow coverage/strength we had no interest in getting on that face. We continued to the headwall of the Kuskulana Glacier hoping to find the southeast rib skiable. But the big cracks and poor snow precluded that option too. The route was climbable, but we wanted to ski. I have photos of the routes- contact me if you want them.

The pass between Kuskulana and Kennicott Glaciers was spectacular, and at 10,000 ft. we watched an incredible sunset and got a little northern lights show too. We hoped to find a route down to the Kennicott Glacier so that we could ski into McCarthy, but the ice falls were too burly so we skied back down the Kuskulana Glacier to the Nugget Creek cabin, where we thawed Moose’s Tooth pizza on the wood stove.

For more photos from the excursion, check out Luc’s blog.

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I grew up in McGrath, live in Anchorage, teach at Alaska Pacific University, and play outside as often as possible. Anchorage has an incredible group of recreation partners; I feel very lucky to be here. I lean on a huge community of friends for trip and gear advice. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.