Looking at the S Face of Rook Mountain from Crow Pass. The South Couloir is the obvious line left of what appears to be the summit (the true summit lies right above the couloir). The dog is the infamous "Nook" who gloms onto every other skier. His tag reads "Nook. Your Crow Pass Guide. Please return when you're done." Photo by Eric Parsons.
A spectacular peak from all directions, Rook Mountain lies North and 2000' above Raven Glacier. There is no easy route to the summit which makes it a worthy objective that you must plan for in terms of weather, conditions and route. It's a mountain I've been staring at for 10+ years waiting for the right combination of good snow conditions and solid partners and I've spent many a day walking or skiing past, looking up and waiting.
The South Couloir in particular has been on my mind ever since Ross Noffsinger invited me to climb the route in 2009. Unfortunately I had plans that day (Yvonne, Eric and I climbed Flute the same day that Hart/Lindholm/Noffsinger climbed Rook) but I saved the email and subsequent photos shared from the route in the hopes of one day getting a chance at the route. Finally, conditions and weather lined up for an early spring attempt with Eric Parsons and we set out for Crow Pass on perfect day in late March 2017.
Concrete, ice & sastrugi above a 500' slide for life slope.
Nearing Crow Pass.
Getting up and over Crow Pass in the dead of winter is not a particularly easy task. The trail, which is an old road bed built into a hillside, gets packed in with snow and you have to side-hill for several miles on a wind and ice packed 40 degree slope above a 500' drop into the creek before finally gaining a bench. Once you gain the bench the travel gets easier but the avalanche exposure gets worse and you go from worrying about a slip to worrying about being buried.
Dropping down to the Raven glacier (photo by Eric Parsons).
Eric heading across the Raven glacier. Nook leads the way.
S Face of Rook Mountain. The true summit is actually the far right bump just above the South Couloir.
Eventually we reached Crow Pass and then quickly skied across the pass and dropped down to Raven Glacier where we donned the climbing harnesses and pulled out the rope and crevasse gear. Across Raven Glacier - which had good coverage and minimal crevasse danger - and then up onto the pocket glacier that lies at the base of the South Face of Raven. (Note that older maps show the glacier having continuous coverage from the Raven proper all the way up into the basin at the base of the South face - however in recent years the glacier has melted out to the point where it is no longer connected.)
Across the bergschrund, rope packed away and booting.
Halfway up the couloir (photo by Eric Parsons).
Once up onto the pocket glacier we continued to the base of the couloir. We stayed roped up for the bergschrund crossing, but once across we untied, packed away the rope, threw the skis on the back and started booting up.
I should mention that this was the first climbing trip I had done with Eric in over a year. In April 2016 Eric had done the Winter Classic and tweaked his Achilles. His recovery had been a long painful process, but given how he embraced the boot pack and took off you wouldn't have known it. I watched him take off and then comfortably ascended 1500' of solid shin-deep bootpacked snow to the summit ridge.
The South couloir is a straight shot from the pocket glacier to the summit ridge. At times the couloir steepens to around 50 degrees and is all of 20' wide. The top has a short pitch of wild exposure as you traverse from the couloir proper to a snow rib that takes you to the final rocky summit pyramid. I cached my skis just before the final snow pitch and once on the ridge booted the final 100' of easy and exposed rock to the summit.
We topped out on a perfect winter day. Temps in the 20s, zero wind and not a cloud in any direction. We sat around and looked in all directions recalling past days spent in the mountains with friends and family.
Eric & Nook heading down. I'm particularly fond of this photo because a few weeks after this trip Eric and I would head into the Eagle Glacier area and climb a number of peaks that can be seen in this photo.
And then down. A careful downclimb of the ridge and exposed snow rib to a safe stance in the couloir. Then skis and snowboard strapped on and down we went. I'd like to say the run was perfect powder but it more like refrozen crust. But aside from a couple steep pitches of mank that I sideslipped it skied well enough and soon we were on the glacier and zipping back to Crow Pass where we skied breakable sastrugi, ice, concrete and slide for life traverses all the way back to the car.
Rook Mountain Routes
Getting to the base of Rook Mountain is simple: Go up and over Crow Pass and you'll be at the toe of Raven Glacier where you must then decide which route to take. The mountain is rarely climbed and there are almost as many routes as there are ascents. Of all the routes, I would say the South Couloir appears to be the most straight forward - however it is also the most conditions dependent route on the mountain (except for the North Glacier of which little is known). If you want to do the South Couloir you'll want to be completely confident in the snowpack since a minor point release in the couloir could easily be fatal. On the other hand, the rock on the West and Southeast ridges is considerably fractured even by Chugach standards so choose your poison: avalanches or loose rock.
This was the first ascent route climbed by Dave Johnston, Vin Hoeman, H. Van Der Lann, K Degenhardt, B Reed and G Hansen in August 1963. They (presumably) ascended Raven Headwall and then scrambled up the ridge up and over point 6400' (the point west of Raven headwall) to the summit. They descended to the Raven via the saddle between 6400' and the summit. This was also the route climbed by Tom Choate and Jeff Jablonski in June 1999.
This was the second ascent route by Willy Hersman and Greg Griffin in June 1986. According to the Scree article they ascended a gully on the SE face, which I believe was on the Eagle glacier side of Raven headwall.
This was first descended by Tom Choate and Jeff Jablonski in June 1997 after they ascended via the SE ridge. The ridge was ascended and descended by Wayne Todd and Steve Gruhn in June 2003. Both Choate and Gruhn mentioned rotten rock numerous times.
I believe this was first climbed by Kathy Still (partner unknown). The second ascent was by Dave Hart, JT Lindholm and Ross Noffsinger in June 2009. Hart/Lindholm/Noffsinger descended via the saddle between the summit and point 6400' which involved a spicy bergschund crossing. The route is an obvious ski line but the first report of a ski descent I could find wasn't until March 2017 by Mat Brunton and Sam Inouye.
This is the large cirque on the West face. This route would be best accessed via the bench at the base of the West ridge. There is a steep snowy headwall with a considerable bergschrund. The headwall would be a good 1500' ski mid/late winter but I would suggest approaching it via the South couloir instead of trying to boot up it.
This is a beautiful glacier route that as far as I know has not seen an ascent. From the Crow Pass trailhead to the summit is 11 miles (one way) with 7500' of elevation gain. It would be a magnificent ski mountaineering route. The three big unknowns are:
1. Gaining treeline after leaving the Crow Pass trail at the Raven Gorge bridge. I know it's steep and brushy. How steep and brushy are unknown.
2. Getting across the big crevasse at 5500' that is clearly visible in all the photos and google imagery. (Imagery from September 1996 shows a huge crevasse spanning the entire glacier.)
3. Getting down. The ideal descent would be on skis down the ascent route. However, it might be too cracked up at which point your options would be to either down climb the Southeast ridge, or down climb the South couloir.
In short... a beautiful mountain with routes for everyone from choss loving ridge climbers to skiers looking for steep couloirs to mountaineers looking for a challenging spring glacier route. A good spring objective - Go for it!
Edit - June 4th, 2017: A few weeks after posting this Joe sent me an email asking for beta. Of course he wanted to ski the north glacier... and he went up there, booted up a gully on the south face and then skied the North glacier, skinned back to the top and skied the Northwest face. He said getting around the crevasse on the North glacier was fine. His photos looked awesome. Contact him if you have questions.
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