Thursday, May 28, 2009

Alaska Climbing Spree!

Made it back safe and sound after an excellent trip to Alaska with my good friends Dave Edgar and Jody Sutherland. The weather was unbelievably good and we managed to climb 4 routes.
Mt. Hunter - The main goal of our trip. Both the Moonflower & Deprivation climb the steep rock butress on the left side of the mountain.
Mt. Hunter - Moonflower Buttress (VI M6 A0 WI5 - 4000ft to top of buttress)
As soon as we flew in to the Kahiltna Glacier, conditions were good so we got right on the Moonflower, one of the classic hard routes in Alaska. The climbing was mostly on ice and in our first day we climbed about 12 pitches to reach the first ice band. This included the famous "prow pitch" which we managed to free climb at M6 to a pendulum point where we swung over onto easier ice. At the first ice band we spent 3 exhausting hours chopping a small ledge into the 60 degree ice where we spent the night sleeping with our harnesses on.
The next day we climbed another 20 or so awesome pitches of steep ice and mixed to the top of the buttress. Again, we managed to free climb everything except for one pendulum. The clouds seemed to be building so we decided to rappel instead of continuing up the remaining 3000 ft of easier ground to the summit of Mt. Hunter. 20+ long rappels and a short ski brought us back to camp after 27 hours on the move since leaving the ice ledge that morning.

Dave leading across the initial ice slopes on the Moonflower Buttress.
Dave leading into the start of the technical climbing on the Moonflower.
Jody S. leading a sweet ice runnel pitch.
Jody following with one of the heavy packs on a narrow sliver of ice.
Me leading the prow pitch, one of the many mixed climbing sections on the route.
The memorable "Tamara's Traverse" pitch.
Our home for the night!
Mt. Frances (IV 5.8)
After a few rest days we decided to try a smaller climb up a ridge on Mt. Frances. This proved to be an excellent outing with lots of moderate mixed climbing. It was warm enough on the summit to be in T-shirts, not what we were expecting in Alaska! The summit views of Denali, Foraker, and Mt. Hunter (the 3 highest peaks in the central Alaska range) were unbelievable.
Hanging out in Kahiltna Basecamp.

Kahiltna Queen (III)
The wind picked up for a few days so we were stuck in camp. Once the wind died down we made a quick ascent of a 60 degree snow and ice route up the Kahiltna Queen. This was one of the higher peaks around so it gave us a good look at many of the famous areas in Alaska including the Ruth Gorge and Mt. Huntington. The climbing was mostly easy but it was fun to just move quickly through the mountains with 2 good friends.
Climbing the upper ridge on the Kahiltna Queen.

Mt. Hunter - Deprivation (VI M7+ WI5 - 7000ft to summit)
Jody had developed nasty cuts on his legs from his boots so Dave and I teamed up to try another big route on Mt. Hunter. We decided to go as light as possible and do the entire climb in one push, or fail trying. The climb was in very lean condition so everyone else had avoided it this year but we thought it looked like there was enough ice. We also spied a more direct variation in the upper section that would avoid much of the traversing done on the route in the past.
At midnight we started up the climb and were quickly woken up by an overhanging bergshrund. A few pitches of grade 4 ice led to the crux pitch. It turned out everyone else was right, the pitch was not 'in' but we managed to fight our way up it at M7+. At the top of this 70m pitch, Dave and I both agreed it was the hardest thing we had ever climbed. Another dozen pitches brought us to our proposed variation. The ice we had spotted from below was hidden in a corner to our left but a short traverse revealed a beautifull strip of thin ice leading up as high as we could see. 5 long pitches up to WI5 with a bit of easy mixed led us through the rockbands and we were psyched to have completed a new variation on such a big route. We finished up the buttress and climbed into a crevasse to make dinner, about 26 hours after leaving camp. After 2 hours of eating, drinking, and shivering, we continued upwards. The rest of the climb to the summit was on endless ice slopes, an exciting corniced ridge, and finally snow slopes to the summit. On the summit (14570ft) we were elated but exhausted, at this point we had been moving for about 35 hours and it was hard to feel anything but tired! It was windy so we quickly started down and after much downclimbing and 25 or 30 rappels reached the ground. We could hardly ski so we stumbled back to basecamp after 45 hours on the go. It was the biggest and hardest climb either of us had ever done and is an experience I will never forget.

Struggling up the M7 crux on Deprivation, apparently there is more ice here most years!

Our routes up the N. Buttress of Mt. Hunter, including our new variation to Deprivation.
Three much needed days of eating and partying in Talkeetna were followed by a long drive home for Jody and I. Dave stayed with some other friends to try the Cassin Ridge on Denali, hopefully the good weather continues for them.
It's good to be back in the Rockies and I am looking forward to a fun summer of guiding and climbing.
J. Mills
CRAG Owner & Head Guide


  1. Nice one!


  2. Well done Jay- hats off to you- sounds amazing!

  3. Fans of CRAG in the middle east really enjoyed the pics and write up. An extraordinary adventure indeed

  4. Fantastic adventure! Really enjoyed reading about it from my armchair..

  5. that inspires. keep going

  6. Rock climbing is a fun physical activity which, if done properly, is also very safe. It's great exercise and can help to improve a person's co-ordination as well as their fitness levels.

    climbing advice