Monday, June 25, 2012

Big Time on Mt. Hunter




So you wanna be an alpinist…



I’ve always tried to imagine what is truly happening when I see pictures of alpinists on enormous mountain faces.  How could that possibly be fun, flip the page, sport climbing in Spain that’s more like it.  For some strange reason you flip the page back to get one more peek at the big snowy monster.  The mildest winter I can remember left a bit of a void and a timely call from Kyle Dempster set the hook.  We were off to the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter, no solid plans on a route, just “go up there and do what makes sense.”

With only two weeks to fester, preparing turned into more of crunch time.  Kahiltna basecamp is a pretty soft intro to Alaskan adventures, but there was still plenty of unknown variables to fret over.  The main concern was trying not to freeze as the north buttress only gets sun for about three hrs a day. Armed head to toe in Mammut’s finest; I had one less thing to worry about. The only thing left to consider now was the climb itself, 5000’ of alpine rock and ice. Too busy with work for preparatory alpine excursions; monster trail runs after ten hour work shifts would have to suffice.

Enough real world drama, lets go to the mountains…

The flight into Kahiltna is out of control, here’s the illustrious Tooth Traverse,  sent the same week by Renaan Osturk and Freddie Wilkinson. 

Pulling into Kahiltna we found everyone digging out tents. A four day storm had dropped fifty plus inches of snow.  The current forecast showed high pressure for the foreseeable future and camp was a flurry of energy.  Atleast five teams strategized their game plans. Four teams vollied for the Bibler-Klewin and a strong Korean team eyed a variation to Deprivation.  Kyle and I set up camp in a hurry, wondering wether to blast off right away. We had eyes for the Wall of Shadows, a lesser traveled route up the center of the buttress. Midafternoon sun kissed the top of the buttress and the enormous hanging seracs released their fresh deposits, sending plumes rumbling across the approach. Reevaluation; slow your roll.





An easy one hour approach leads right to “the nose” of the Alaska Range



Another day of excessive caffeine and Ozzy Osborne and it was way past time to go.  Kyle napped and gingerly packed his bag as I scurried around camp like a mouse in a snake cage.  24 hours of light and a multiday climb led to interesting discussions of strategy, but in the end we just started climbing when we couldn’t sit still anymore.

Seeing that I’d never climbed a face this big I asked Kyle to start us off to get a reasonable pace; bam! 2 pitches and we’re over 1000 feet in.  Digging the moderate terrain, we were full of smiles and confidence. Step after step of WI 4, fantastic continuous movement, then I blow a foot and look down to discover a broken front point.  Oh boy, 4000 feet to go with no point.  Utter frustration sets in; Kyle brings me to the belay for the team huddle.  What to do?? Stay calm and carry on…




The decision to carry on would prove trying; not only did I have to peg leg along, but Kyle ended up leading the entire route.  Nothing like losing an appendage for the biggest battle of your career.  As the wall steepened, several pitches of vertical ice and traverses required 60m pitches slowing progress.  Unfortunatley the camera became less important, and we focused on more or less just dealing.  It was truly amazing though, looking around these grandious mountains and our position on this enormous face.  All of my other winter adventures have been basically day missions, so just the amount of time on the move brought about a pretty broad range of emotions.  No time to dally with silly thoughts, thousands of feet still to go..
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Other than the broken point, things were almost going too smooth.  We weren’t exactly sure where the business was, but it was sure to come.  The first ascentionists had found difficult aid climbing and the giri giri boys had freed the pitches at M6R, so we knew trouble lay ahead. In the most impressive lead I’ve seen in the mountains, Dempster dispersed three consecutive pitches of very real mixed climbing.  Slow (2 hour belay, froze my ass off) and methodically, Kyle dug for hidden placements and assessed each pitch briliantly.  Only problem was two of these pitches were traverses, so they proved to be full value for me as well.  Headwall cracked, we again simuled through occasional ice steps and steep snow.  Twenty something hours on the move, snow wallowing felt unbelievably brutal.  The only comparison that comes to mind would be getting thrown into an NFL game


­­­No where to go but up, first some major excavation.



First direct sunshine and 24 hrs on the move we dug into the slope for our first refuel.  Dehydration and fatique set in, neither one recovering from the extra effort required.  We made the call to go down from the top of the third ice band rather than continue to the top of the buttress. Technical climbing over, but 2500’ of snow wallowing to the summit and another frigid evening was more than we were willing to endure.  Down we go..






20+ rappels to the glacier was daunting, but we gained strength from the basking sun and seeing our buddies as we rappelled the Bibler-Kewin route. 

Matt Wells and Kevin Brumbaugh bivied at the first ice band

Back in camp after a brutal icy ski back down the hill.  48 hrs of refueling and debachery..  Forecast still shows high pressure, what to do, saddle up…

Still hungry for the summit, we vied for a romp on the French Route.  This would prove a bit more difficult than we first thought.



The initial coulour was 2000’ of great moderate climbing, all sunshine and high spirits.  Exiting the coulour proved to be the route finding crux of either route with convoluted cornices and spines.



Once on the headwall, the terrain remained complicated with constant options for wrong turns.  A 400’ traverse led us into a viable corner system with mixed climbing on perfect granite around M5. 



Dawn cracked and gave an amazing light show on Mt. Foraker, bringing some much needed enthusiasm. However we wouldn’t see sunshine for probably twelve more hours.  Climbing through the early morning hours was pretty much brutal, water bottles frozen solid and fingers wouldn’t warm.  Oh the joys..






The final rockband to break,  we stopped for a brewup.  Nothin like mochas and Kung Fu Chicken to recharge the batteries.  Good thing, what looked like two pitches of difficulties turned into six.




This was the next to last difficult pitch, basically vertical kitty litter with timely spindrift showers. This pitch was definently the highlight of the trip, warm fuzzies all around. Almost as good as dropping the stove from the next pitch, oops! 



Well, Kyle didn’t kill me for dropping the stove, but it did kill our summit bid.  Atleast we got some much needed sunshine before another long rappel.  In the background is Denali, with the Cassin Ridge in the center. Who knows maybe next year.. There were a few bumps in the road, but this was an unbelievable intro to Alaskan climbing.  Climbing with Kyle “the alpine ninja” Dempster was awesome, he definently sets the bar for proficiency in the mountains.  Big thanks to Mammut, for making this frigid adventure a lot more comfortable. 



5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post and photos, but you fail to identify who you are!

Anonymous said...

Well written post!

rizuan_abdullah@yahoo.com said...

great journal Mammut Team!! should look my blog http://khatulpicaadventure.blogspot.com remember David Lama in my hometown Climbing K3 Hill Perlis,Malaysia.

Anonymous said...

Awesome!

erin wilson said...

post written by justin griffin