This May, SEAG sent a team of 3 climbers to attempt the rugged North Ridge of University Peak. Remote and rarely climbed, University Peak stands in the St. Elias Range, just south of Mt. Bona. At 14,470ft high, University Peak is known for its dramatic steep ridge-lines and classic Alaska alpine climbing. Our team flew into “Beaver Basin” at approx. 10,000ft in two tiny bush planes and set up their basecamp.
The group consisted of Lead Guide Scott, Assistant Guide Sarah, and long-time returning client Ben. Ben has participated in our First Ascents climbing trip in 2015, climbed Mt. Blackburn with us in 2016, and is hoping to complete his “dream climb” of St. Elias in the next few years. University Peak provided an opportunity for him to do some more technical and lightweight climbing and push himself ever closer to his big goal.
With the forecast showing a short but good weather window, the team gained the ridge on the second day, and decided to dig in a bivy camp on a tiny bench between a crevasse and the mountainside. Early to bed, they set off from camp at 6:30am the next morning to climb approx. 3,000ft up the ridge to the summit. 3,000ft doesn’t sound very far but with deep snow, sections of steep ice, and a 10-hour long snowstorm, they made slow progress and almost called it quits towards evening. But when they finally climbed out of the clouds around 6:30pm a “second wind” of excitement carried them onward, and they finally reached the summit at 10:30pm, just in time to catch a beautiful sunset!
After a very quick summit celebration, the team began their descent, making their way down to 13,000ft, where they stopped for the darkest, coldest part of the night in a “shiver bivy” consisting of one pad, one warm sleeping bag and all their layers. They even slept in their boots and Ben didn’t even remove his harness! It was just enough protection to let them rest their legs and eyelids and stay (relatively) warm. At 3:30am, they were up and at it again, down climbing through bluebird skies and unbelievable views in all directions. They returned to high camp at 10:30am, a full 28 hours after departing for the summit!
From there, after a short rest and some nourishment, it took just a few hours to get back to basecamp, where they tucked into their sleeping bags and enjoyed a well-earned rest. Unable to fly out for another 36 hours due to weather, they reveled in the opportunity to relax, play cards, and eat (a lot!) in the tent the next day during a mild snowstorm in Beaver Basin. After two nights and a day of well-earned tent-time, the following morning dawned clear and bright, and they were home in McCarthy and enjoying a nice hot sauna by early afternoon.
Amazing work you guys – we are proud of your accomplishment and glad you had success and came home safe and sound!