Don Liska. Trip report dated August, 2001.
Larry Dauelsberg, Don and Alice Liska, Mike Allen, John Neal, Cindy
Anderson and Walt Gove
We left Juneau in the early afternoon of June 5,1974 aboard two
float planes and landed on a small lake at the snout of the Grand
Plateau glacier about one hour later. We packed four miles up
the glacier to our first camp carrying 5 days food, 1-1/2 gallons
Blazo and all our gear. No one had ever traversed this glacier
before us. We were to be the first ever to attempt to climb
the virgin peaks just north of Mount Fairweather. Larry Dauelsberg,
Don and Alice Liska, Mike Allen, John Neal, Cindy Anderson and Walt
Gove made up the party. We carried an emergency crash
transmitter in case of a disaster but no other contact with the
outside world. We depended entirely on Ken Loken's pilots
finding us 18 miles up the glacier system at 8000' within our
initial food supply and also picking us up back at the lake upon our
Mt. Fairweather from
the Fairweather Glacier.
of Gary Clark (NACLASSICS).
We spent the first two days probing the icefalls in bad weather but
couldn't find a way through. On the third day we finally found
a route but also went on half rations. We climbed a cleaver
west of our initial probe and suddenly broke through to ascend 3700'
to the 7000' level in one day of very heavy hauling. Spirits
and weather greatly improved. Liska and Allen then probed up glacier
to be stopped by another icefall at 7800', just a mile or so short
of our intended airdrop site. Rations were reduced again. The
turbo-Beaver arrived on schedule but the pilot didn't spot us though
we frantically waved and he flew back down glacier in lowering
clouds. A storm hit that night and the next day it raged while
we were tent bound with growling stomachs. We dropped down to
quarter rations on our 6th day. Nonetheless, we found the
energy to probe the icefall again and after a 200' descent and a
long traverse around a huge snowdome found a way through and
ascended to 8800' at the edge of the first cirque. We were all
very hungry from hard, slow going in heavy snow and whiteout.
John and Cindy were on skis, the rest of us on snowshoes. The
skiers were extremely slow and uncontrolled in the dangerous
crevasse fields while the snowshoers made relatively good time.
We had by now run almost out of food and decided to make a desperate
dash for the base on Friday if the airdrop didn't arrive. By
that time we would have been out 10 days on our initial five day
food supply. If we reached base we would have to try to walk
out to the ocean and find shellfish to eat and perhaps flag down a
fishing boat. Finally on Wednesday it cleared and we all did
small reconnaissance's of the wild and unexplored glacial basin we
were in. Larry and I set off to explore the cirque and John
and Cindy went to the base of Mount Root. The weather set in
and John and Cindy didn't return so Larry and I went out again with
one Toblerone bar between us to search them out. They finally
returned late in miserable whiteout and the whole party was pissed
off, dead beat and literally starving. That night John and
Cindy were heard crunching lemon drops in their sleeping bags which
is a no-no for a starving party. All emergency personal food
remains unconsumed until it is absolutely needed and then it is
shared equally. On Thursday the weather again cleared and
Mike, Alice and Don set out to explore the Root cirque with one roll
of Lifesavers between us. We learned that a roll contains 11
candies and there were three of us to split between. Alice
relinquished her claim on one Lifesaver so that Mike and I could
have four each. Only hungry people discover such trivia and
also that inside a prune pit is a delicious kernel that can only be
had by chewing the pit in half with hungry jaws.
On Friday, our 10th day out, the weather was flawlessly clear but
still no airdrop. We assumed that 1) Loken had dropped our
food to another party on the mountain, 2) He had crashed on
attempting to reach us, or 3) World War 3 had started and our gooses
were cooked. We had no choice but to begin our rout off the
plateau and dash for the base of the glacier. It would be a
desperate race with an uncertain finish. We started down at
noon with growling stomachs and within a half mile, in comes Loken.
He starts the drop at our low position and we race around trying to
stamp a message in the snow to hold back some food boxes since our
trip is now overextended. We get tangled up in the ropes like
Keystone Cops while the drops continue to their finish and Loken
flies off. Now we have way too much food and supplies.
Nonetheless we gorged ourselves and then ferried some loads back to
our camp, finally ready to begin the climbing on the morrow.
Larry and I set out on Saturday to fix the route up the couloir of
the unclimbed Mt. Watson. We climbed the couloir and explored
part of the east ridge to the final rock step. Whiteout again
descended as we returned elated to camp. Walt, Alice and Larry
went to the food dump and brought in more supplies while John and
Cindy ferried some food towards Mt. Fairweather. On Sunday
five of us climbed Watson, using the fixed lines Larry and I had put
in. It was a steep and hard climb in very cold and windy
weather and I frostnipped two fingers on a rock pitch. Cindy
and John turned back at the rock step. The steep slopes were
covered with fresh snow with ice beneath and reached about 70
degrees. The summit slope was 45 degrees and corniced.
We descended in a whiteout and on one rappel the knot slipped.
I was saved by the safety knot jamming against the descending ring.
A close call! John and Cindy were waiting for us at the top of
the couloir when we reach them at 6 PM and we descended the couloir
together. Alice slipped several times on the underlying ice
and I caught her on belay. The party split up once we reached
the easier slopes below and we straggled into camp over a three hour
period. We were very satisfied with our first ascent and we
turned in with a good meal while a light snow fell outside.
On Monday we set up a high camp at 12,200' under the unclimbed north
face of Mt. Fairweather. Then, early the next morning in clear
cold weather we attempted this awesome north face climb. We
crossed under a dangerous hanging icewall and approached some dicey
looking seracs, debating on whether or not to risk our all in this
terrain. Suddenly behind us an estimated 20,000 tons of ice
broke off the glacier face and obliterated our ascending snowshoe
tracks, left by us only ½ hour before. The matter was
thenceforth determined for us. We decided then and there to
retreat back to our high camp and give Fairweather up for good.
The following morning we descended back toward the cirque and took a
detour up the east ridge of the beautiful unclimbed tooth-like peak
just to the west of Fairweather. After ascending to 10,500'
the route above took on a foreboding appearance and only Alice and I
were game to continue so just she and I finished this beautiful,
exposed climb which we remember as one of the highlights of our
climbing life together. We rejoined the others about 3 hours
later and as we continued our descent to the cirque a strong eastern
wind storm arose. We were forced to construct wind walls to
shelter the tents as the hurricane intensified and a blizzard moved
in on us, now happy that we were not high on Fairweather.
On Thursday, our 16th day out we began our descent to base,
abandoning a lot of food and some gear, especially that from Cindy
and John. The whiteout was the worst yet as we approached and
then passed the airdrop site and encountered the crevasse field
below. Larry and I shared the leads through this dangerous
maze and had to lead by compass through covered crevasses and
opening blue holes. It was extremely harrowing and turned our
hair gray. Cindy and John on skies were even worse off.
At least on snowshoes one could gauge his progress in a whiteout and
know if indeed he was stationary while the skiers could be slowly
gliding forward without knowing it. In addition, the loaded
platters they pulled behind them kept slipping off toward the
nearest void. Very, very dangerous for them. Larry and I
both feel that snowshoes are far preferable to skis in a descending
crevasse field during whiteout conditions. In fact, during the
entire trip there was only one afternoon where we envied the skiers
on a long snowy descent.
Nonetheless, we made it down the glacier and finally emerged at the
lake with a couple of days to spare before the scheduled pickup.
During that time a few of our party attempted to reach the ocean,
our intended line of survival had we not received our airdrop, and
were followed down the creek bed by a huge Alaskan Brownie (coastal
Finally, Loken appeared and flew us back to Juneau. We had two
first ascents to our credit, an excellent exploration of wild and
virgin country, some narrow escapes, and a load of wisdom to
embellish our mountaineering careers. Not satisfied with the
stupendous country we had explored, Loken's men flew us into Lituya
Bay on the west coast of Glacier Bay National Monument and we saw
the scar left behind by the great tsunami wave which rose to over
1700' during the great landslide of 1957. We returned home
with a bellyful of mother nature's wondrous sights.