Jay Rowe's summer is off to a pretty good start. He took care of a tooth that's been nagging him since 1993.
Rowe, a 50-year-old Anchorage schoolteacher, scaled the Alaska Range's 9,050-foot Broken Tooth on the last day in May, becoming what is believed to be the first person to climb routes on all five of the major peaks in the Mooses Tooth group -- Moose's Tooth (10,335 feet), Bear Tooth (10,070), Eye Tooth (9,000 feet), Sugar Tooth (8,000) and Broken Tooth.
Broken Tooth was the first of the five nearly vertical peaks to draw Rowe's attention, and for 20 years it teased, tantalized and taunted him.
He tried climbing it for the first time in 1993. He failed. He tried four or five more times before putting Broken Tooth on hold to climb the other four peaks. Then he returned to Broken Tooth, again and again and again.
The 12th time was the charm.
Rowe and climbing partner Peter Haeussler recorded the fifth ascent of Broken Tooth last week, climbing on ice rapidly turning into waterfalls and surviving an avalanche that Rowe called "the scariest thing that ever happened to me."
Each man took his turn on the corniced summit, with Rowe relishing his quick moment in a place he worked so hard to reach.
"I think Broken Tooth is the most strikingly beautiful mountain I've ever seen in my life," he said. "I think it's the beauty of the peak that keeps bringing me back.
"I've attempted it from every direction -- east, south, west, and I even went to Buckskin Glacier last year and attempted it from the north. I've climbed every side of that mountain, and I just feel sort of a kinship with it. I've certainly never tried to climb another mountain 12 times."
THE ROTTEN TOOTH
Broken Tooth's steepness makes it an elusive goal, as does the condition of its summit.
"It's called Broken Tooth because the whole top has been eroded away, so there's a lot of rotten rock," Rowe said. "That's the thing that has turned us back multiple times. The rock is so deteriorated you can't put any anchors into it and you can't climb it safely. It also doesn't have an easy route up it."
That's why Broken Tooth, which rises from Coffee Glacier in the central Alaska Range, is seldom climbed. And that's why Rowe is believed to be the first person to scale Broken, Sugar, Eye, Bear and Moose's Tooth, said spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin of Denali National Park. Park rangers are unaware of any other climbers making the same claim.
"(S)ince the Broken Tooth has seen very few ascents, the chance that the full set has been climbed is very slim," she said.
Summits of Sugar Tooth are also rare -- when Rowe and Hauessler climbed it in 2007, theirs was just the second ascent of the peak. Rowe said he made four attempts in three years before he could cross off Sugar Tooth from his to-do list.
Erik Rieger of the American Alpine Journal said in an email that he couldn't confirm if Rowe's five-Tooth climbing achievement is a first or not. Last year, climbers Freddie Wilkinson and Renan Ozturk became the first to traverse the Mooses Tooth massif's skyline in a single push, he said, but that traverse doesn't include Broken Tooth.
Also, he wrote, there is the question of what exactly makes up the Mooses Tooth massif: "The Broken Tooth isn't exactly part of the main Mooses Tooth massif; if that's your criteria you'd have to take into account The Wisdom Tooth, The Incisor, etc., which are more or less surrounding peaks."
PARTNER IN CLIMB
Rowe might still have a tooth problem if not for Haeussler, a climbing partner willing to rappel where he'd been repelled before.
"This was the third attempt for me, and I woulda been perfectly happy to go somewhere else," Haeussler said, "but he was so into it, so I said, OK, Jay, we either need to get up this thing or we need to have an intervention or something."
Haeussler, an Anchorage research geologist, has climbed Moose's Tooth, Eye Tooth, Sugar Tooth and now Broken Tooth. He did all but Moose's Tooth with Rowe.
"I haven't done Bear Tooth," he said, and he has no plans to. He loves to climb, but there's no Moby Dick of mountains calling to him.
Getting to the top of Broken Tooth last week required a wet and wild climb.
Rowe said he and Haeussler encountered vertical climbing and overhanging terrain while blazing a new route to the top, the West Ridge variation.
The first day of the pair's three-day climb featured more than a thousand feet of technical climbing in a coulier filled with ice so soft it couldn't hold an ax in some places.
"The ice was very, very wet, running with water, and in the steepest portion it was mostly just slush," Rowe said. "The two overhanging sections were very, very rotten and unusable. We had to hook our ice axes and crampons into rocks so we were basically rock climbing.
"By the time we finished those sections we were both soaked."
That first day also served up an avalanche once Rowe and Haeussler got past the steep ice pitches and onto snow. Rowe, who was clipped to a rope with Haeussler, said he heard his partner say "avalanche" about two seconds before everything went white.
"My helmet was packed with snow, my ears were packed with snow, my glasses were packed with snow," he said. "Some of the gear on my waist was gone, and it broke a couple clips off my harness. The force of it was amazing."
READY TO MOVE ON
Rowe was a climber before he moved to Alaska in 1988 with his wife Kathy, who is from Anchorage. They met while attending Washington State.
They plan on hiking 100 miles of California's John Muir Trail this summer, and then Rowe will decide what to sink his ice ax into next.
"It's an exciting time," he said. "I'm done with my Broken Tooth project, so I can move on to a couple of cool things I've been thinking about for awhile. There's a mountain right off Coffee Glacier, the north face of Coffee Peak, and it's a wonderful looking climb.
"... The thing that's fun about climbing in the Alaska Range is there are so many neat things to do. There's a lot of things I'd like to do now that I can move on. It's liberating, actually."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By BETH BRAGG