A weekend attempt on Mt. Huntington | Team Mammut

Monday, April 29, 2013

A weekend attempt on Mt. Huntington

Travel pig sizes up Mt. Huntington
©Doug Shepherd
Life has been hectic since getting back from Patagonia, between traveling to Europe for work and the enjoying the changing seasons in Northern New Mexico.  We had very little snow this year, so our rock climbing and trail running seasons started early.  Despite all that, I've been itching for a bit more winter after acting as the "weather guy" for a few different friends climbing throughout Alaska. Finally, I'd had enough and the weather last weekend was too good to pass up.  I recruited my friend Aaron Mulkey to head to the Alaska Range and try a route on Mt. Huntington in a push.  I left Los Alamos on Friday afternoon, met up with Aaron in Anchorage early Saturday morning, and arrived in Talkeetna by 4AM on Saturday.

Our junk show in the Talkeetna Air Taxi parking lot after flying and driving all night to get there
©Doug Shepherd

We caught a few hours sleep, had a huge breakfast at the Talkeetna Road House (I only managed a 1/2 standard...), and repacked rapidly in the Talkeetna Air Taxi parking lot.  The great folks at TAT got us onto the first plane out of Talkeetna and we were on the Tokositna glacier before noon on Saturday.  That's service for you!
Aaron Mulkey starts our five minute commute from camp to the base of the Colton-Leach
©Doug Shepherd
We put up the tent and chatted briefly with two climbers who were prepping for the Harvard Route the next day.  The weather was perfect and we found out two parties were already on the face, one on the Colton-Leach and one on the Harvard Route.  Given our short time frame and the possibility of a track, we decided to attempt the Colton-Leach in a push, without bivy gear.  The initial ice couloir went quickly as we simul-climbed to reach the sun.

Leading up the initial snow slopes on the Colton-Leach after 24 hours of travel, psyched!
©Aaron Mulkey
Simul-climbing the initial ice gully on the Colton-Leach
©Doug Shepherd
Myself pulling over the cornice at the top of the initial ice gully on the Colton-Leach
©Aaron Mulkey
Aaron Mulkey pulls over the cornice after the initial ice gully on the Colton-Leach
©Doug Shepherd
Happy to be in Alaska!
©Doug Shepherd
After pulling out of the ice couloir, we simul-climbed on super high quality mixed terrain until finding a ledge that the previous party had stomped out.  Unbeknownst to us, these guys were in the processing of bailing down the face after being unable to find a way through the upper mixed bands.  We sure were happy to draft their tracks and use the ledge that they had stomped out!  After such a rough travel schedule and simul-climbing all day, we were ready for a brew stop to fuel up for the rest of the route.
Travel pig pops his head out a belay station partway up the Colton-Leach
©Doug Shepherd
Aaron Mulkey arrives at the spacious ledge a previous party had stomped out
©Doug Shepherd

A hanging kit and my homemade fuel canister cozy kept the stove roaring all night
©Aaron Mulkey

Travel pig tries to cheer Aaron Mulkey up after a long day of traveling and climbing
©Doug Shepherd
My Broad Peak Hoody over a Rime Pro Hoody kept me warm!
©Aaron Mulkey


Hydrating and fueling during the dark hours of the night
©Aaron Mulkey
The travel pig keeps us company during our short rest stop
©Doug Shepherd
We decided to wait out the coldest part of the night on the spacious ledge and get going at first light.  The second day, Sunday, brought more high quality mixed climbing and we rapidly ran out of tracks to draft.  After a few difficult mixed pitches through the upper mixed band, we joined the upper portions of the Nettle-Quirk and Harvard routes and stomped up to the summit ridge.

Myself starting off our rest stop on the second morning
©Aaron Mulkey

Aaron Mulkey climbing mixed terrain on our second day
©Doug Shepherd

Myself leading off on the second day
©Aaron Mulkey

Aaron Mulkey pulling hard in the upper mixed bands on the Colton-Leach
©Doug Shepherd

Aaron Mulkey coming up to the summit ridge of Mt. Huntington
©Doug Shepherd
We ran out of steam on the summit ridge, deciding to begin our descent to ensure that we could catch our plane flight off the glacier the next day since we both had to be at work on Tuesday morning.  Sometimes, the summit can be an ephemeral thing.  Many parties have claimed ascents of Huntington without making it up this last step, or even setting foot on the upper summit ridge.  Our attempt at the Colton-Leach gave us fantastic climbing and a wonderful tour of the mountain.  Hopefully next time I set foot on Mt. Huntington I will be able to stand on it's summit!


Sometimes the summit remains elusive.  Travel pig tries to touch it for us
©Doug Shepherd

A happy crew on the summit ridge of Mt. Huntington
©Aaron Mulkey




A quick fuel break on the Tokositna before punching down to our tent after our ~36 hours attempt on Mt. Huntington
©Aaron Mulkey

We arrived back at our tent around 1AM on Monday morning, flew out to Talkeetna later that day, and were both back at work for our Tuesday meetings.  To pull off these crazy long weekend trips, a lot of things have to align.  The right weather, conditions, and partner are all essential.  Additionally, having gear that I can trust to keep me dry and warm when pushing the limits of the long climbing weekend is key.  My Lanin jacket and Castor pants did the bulk of the work on this trip, keeping me dry while moving sweat away from my body.  My Rime Pro and Broad Peak Hoodys worked together to keep me warm while we sat out the darkest hours of the night and all through our descent.

Putting the new Mammut trail running gear to work in the Jemez Mountains after Mt. Huntington
©Doug Shepherd
Now that I'm home, it's time to start training for the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs on May 25th.  And keep a bag packed in case of more good Alaska weather....

Doug Shepherd
Los Alamos, NM