Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 24 of total 24 in this topic
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 25, 2015 - 08:36pm PT
Slovak Direct: Route 6

Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 25, 2015 - 08:41pm PT

1st Ascent:


American Alpine Journal 1985
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 25, 2015 - 08:59pm PT
3rd Ascent:


American Alpine Journal 2001

Spiny Norman

Social climber
Boring, Oregon
Jun 25, 2015 - 11:29pm PT
Wow. Thanks for posting that. I've read things Twight and House have written about that climb but this is the best. What an achievement.
MarkWestman

Trad climber
Talkeetna, Alaska
Jun 26, 2015 - 12:48am PT
Video and slideshow I assembled from the fifth ascent back in 2010:

https://vimeo.com/36220686
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 26, 2015 - 01:20am PT
Outstanding, Mark
Watermann2

Mountain climber
Saluzzo Italia
Jun 26, 2015 - 02:10am PT
MARVELLOUS Mr. WESTMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Chapeau!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Greetings.
10b4me

Social climber
Jun 26, 2015 - 08:10am PT
Good stuff, Mark.
Thanks for the link.
WallMan

Trad climber
Denver, CO
Jun 26, 2015 - 11:53am PT
Awesome video and more importantly, awesome climb. Thanks for the share Mark and thanks for the alpine stoke, Avery.

Wally
Spiny Norman

Social climber
Boring, Oregon
Jun 26, 2015 - 12:53pm PT
Bump.

That video is astonishing, Mark. Beyond my ability to imagine how it felt to be there.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Jun 26, 2015 - 01:24pm PT
Wow...great video!
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 26, 2015 - 03:30pm PT
2nd Ascent:


American Alpine Journal 2001
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 26, 2015 - 09:17pm PT
4th Ascent:



American Alpine Journal 2009
stevep

Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
Jun 26, 2015 - 09:38pm PT
Thanks for posting that video Mark. Very well done and gives a great idea of what the route was like.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Jun 26, 2015 - 10:02pm PT
hey there say, avery...wow, thanks for another neat share!
happy good eve, to you... :)
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 27, 2015 - 06:35pm PT
6th Ascent:

Over the Top. (Nick Bullock)

Shadows of familiar things – walls made from sawn snow-blocks, tents dug into drifts, ski's standing to attention – stretched across the snow in the glare of the mid-morning sun. Rucksacks packed, Houseman and I left Denali's 14000 camp and headed for a prominent spur – The West Rib – high above the village of tents – what had been our home for the last three weeks. Following the well-trodden furrow, we walked past the board with the weather forecast and the ranger station with its ice encrust cables hanging from solar panels. I looked to the left, the Denali West Buttress human-train was heading to camp 17000 – mostly a long line of the overburdened, under-prepared, very rich, very slow or Cassin Ridge dreamers. Since arriving on the Kahiltna I had encountered some strange people – a guy intent on soloing the west buttress with long bamboo poles in the shape of a cross strapped to his body, a middle aged woman who wanted to become the first Indian female soloist, a guy with chain-mail draped over his tent and a large pole sporting several flags of countries he had no connection – the list was nearly as long as the line of people. It never failed to amaze me how a mountain with a significant number attached, attracted so many hunters of trophies.

Reaching the West Rib, we started down-climbing, abseiling and jumping the numerous crevasses – our tracks were a spider silk sticking a thousand holes and we felt like flies. Colin Haley had suggested the Seattle 72 Ramp for approaching The Slovak Direct – our intended climb – but climbing into, and out of the Northeast Glacier, I was beginning to wonder if Colin had a different take on what is acceptable. The Slovak Direct had seen five ascents since 1986, but this was the first time anyone had started the climb by this approach. I jumped down a three metre ice wall, having thrown my rucksack first and cursed Colin. The approach was an expedition in its own right.

Sprinting beneath upside-down smiling seracs cemented high onto the cliffs, lung skin shredded. Houseman, out front, sixteen years my junior, continued to jog and I, attached to him by the rope, continued to gasp. Clearing the embedded debris from previous serac fall, I collapsed and quickly untied – at forty-six years old I was more in fear of further running than of falling down a slot.

We ate while sitting on a snow-step cut into the slope beneath the Japanese couloir at the start of the Cassin Ridge. I stared into the maw of the Kahiltna's North East Glacier, also known as The Valley of Death, the 'usual' approach for Denali's West Rib and The Cassin. The corridor was threatened by large ice slugs clinging to the steep sides of the valley – which in my mind were slipping – ever so slowly slipping – until they fell and crashed filling the valley.

The sun waned and clouds began to creep along the capillary of glaciers. Foraker's baulk poked from the cloud, a thick finger pointing to stars, stars which we would never see in the twenty-four hour daylight. I sat, and as I sat, I quietly prayed that this mythical route, a route Steve House was quoted as saying was his first world class climb, would happen. It had to happen; I didn’t want to dwell on the consequences of failure in such a remote place.

Two in the morning, stark emptiness. We climb onto the crest of The Cassin before several abseils down the original start land us onto the east-fork glacier. Cracks split the ice. The tension in the glacier transmitted through the soles of my boots, running up my legs and into my mind. This climb was a space walk away from the crowds. Our heads tilted. Transfixed, we watched the sun escape the grip of the mountain and begin to warm our route. Shadows of two lonely people smeared the creaking glacier. Unbeknown to us this was the final day of the settled weather. If the forecast had been correct, would we have set-off or would we have run-off. What a fragile line, at times, some humans walk.

Studying the serac hanging over the start of the route and the second serac to the right, a monster called Big Bertha that separated the fifty-eight technical pitches of the Slovak from the 'easy' three-and-a-half thousand feet of the Cassin, we decided to wait until evening and cold. Houseman erects the little tent while I lie on my mat. Surrounded by a semi-circle of some of the largest, sheer mountain cliffs in the world – we lie and wait, and wait and wait and wilt like freshly cut flowers. Rocks rattle. Seracs release. The glacier groans. I groan, but sitting up and looking, really looking, I remind myself of the special emptiness that engulfs us …

… A few weeks before flying to Alaska I was in London to present a lecture. Crossing the road in London City Centre, people pack the pavement. Wrapped against the rain, shoulder to shoulder, these blurred outlines pass other blurred outlines staring at the wet ground. I rarely visit the capital and whenever I do the city's frenetic activity always shocks. Where do these people come from – where are they going? Everyone appears to have an objective, a reason to move fast. Sometimes I think this is how the mountains are experienced by many of the trophy chasers who grind the 'classic' climbs seeing nothing apart from the summit. Walking along the city's pavement I feel separated, blurs move all around my still form, on occasion my eyes meet the eyes of another – and just as quick, as if embarrassed, they look away.

A steel box attached to the wall near the door of a pub smells of wet tobacco-ash. High above the road, banners show models with perfect airbrushed bodies. Is this how some see the mountains, a glamorous escape from the grind, a perfect airbrushed commodity – a once in a lifetime adventure as long as you don't mind sharing your adventure with hundreds of other like-minded – as long as you don’t mind walking through their sh#t?

The pavements, like the metal ash boxes outside the pubs, are full to overflowing. Life appears to suck the people of color turning them grey. The guy sprawled on the concrete, leaning against the tiles of the underpass doesn’t even lift his head, neither do I; I walk past him as if he isn’t there. I pass his hat holding a few coins but I don’t increase his collection. I feel ashamed …

… In the night, which was, of course, day, feeling sucked dry and jaded, it takes a while to remember how privileged we are to be in this lonely place. Packing rucksacks, Big Bertha decides this is her time. An echoing boom and then icebergs exploding down the face. The carving serac fills the cirque with sound. “Shall we run?” "Damn right!" Grabbing bags, and crampons and water bottle and boots, Houseman being younger gets the better start. I stand watching snow-cloud eating glacier like the sea on a spring tide and stop trying to collect and accept. Bertha’s freshly cut finger clipping loses power, but the wind and the crystals, like the shock-wave of a blown-up tower block, dusts my clothes – covering me in perfect star shaped flakes.

Once again, setting out, the serac directly above the beginning of the climb crumbles. We decide to give it an hour more. The wall was big. Jesse Huey – who along with Mark Westman had made the fifth ascent of the Slovak – words slice my brain, “From half way it’s only one way, over the top, reverse is not an option.” I imagined it, over the top – over the top – the top felt like another life. I recalled Mark Twight's writing "Twenty-four hours into it, almost 4000' up the route we passed the point of no return. The Czechs had climbed 43 pitches to reach the same spot. We didn't have enough anchors to retreat, the terrain would have swallowed us." Over the top – I imagine us knackered, battling a storm, out of food, out of energy – over the top of the highest summit in North America. Were we good enough? Maybe this whole outing was over the top – approaching the climb had already taken two days. But the wall was quiet now and running away would make us no different than many of the people we had met on the glacier, people who escaped the city in search of a trophy, people who in my mind had no right to be on a mountain with the reputation of this one, but were we different, was our climb just a trophy and was my doubt more pure?

Crossing the Bergshrund, I snatch a glance at Houseman and catch him looking at the horizon. The blue sky from the past six days has disappeared; it's now strangled by grey. We were in for some weather. I turn and continue, swinging and kicking, the barrier in my mind has been crossed, it was similar to beginning a workout in the gym knowing that you are about to give everything. I accept but still feel nauseous. The door is open with only one exit – nine thousand feet of climbing. At this point it would still be easy to turn – take the 'sensible option' given the imminent bad weather, but I keep plugging without saying a word.
Four meals and five days of gels and bars – the food we had left 14000 with – already two of the meals and two days of bars and gels had been eaten. Granite cliffs, sheer and intimidating entice, stabbing the grey swirling mist that engulfs. The emptiness, the loneliness, it had presence. I thought of the Slovenians on the first ascent and the eleven days this climb had taken. Mahoney and Gilmore on the second ascent had taken seven days. Who the hell did we think we were to get on this face with so little food?

Climbing rotten rock, bubbled water-ice, rotten ice, an overhanging ice chimney, torquing picks into cracks – joined by the rope we moved together and pitched. Large fat flakes of snow filled the sky. I zipped my hood and swore. Sometimes it doesn’t feel right to push, but this time I felt angry and the anger fed my drive. Reaching a bergshrund splitting the first ice-field we decided to stop. Huey had told us this was the only good bivy site on the whole of The Slovak, so after nine hours, a quarter of the way, we take it in preparation for a big second day.

"It's really windy up high."
3 a.m. setting out, we traverse the ice slope and follow thinly iced gutters. Like entering an underpass in the city, the half-light ignites my imagination, will we reach the steps that lead to the daylight on the other side of the road or will the mountain mug us? Tower blocks swirl. The sky between these monoliths is streaked red. Plumes of spindrift rip from the summit-slopes and flush the gutters between the skyscrapers. I think of the painting The Scream by Munch and continue to climb – climbing deep into the mountains mouth. Houseman leads us deeper still, until beneath a huge corner with continuous dribbles and overhanging blossoms of ice. Seventy metres below, I can’t see into the corner "What's it look like?" Houseman's answer was succinct, "Scary." One hundred metres up the corner, I take the lead, forty metres remain. The wall to my left, a sheet of the most perfect granite, blushed and covers me in a vale of spindrift as if embarrassed by my floundering human effort. I pulled around an ice bulge pushing a front-point to a small imperfection on the left wall and felt like a blot on the most beautiful feature I have had the fortune to infect.

Sitting in the wind and the sun having escaped the corner, Houseman is still below being pounded by snow. He was still sucking skinny, exhaust fume, robbed of oxygen air, the powder clouds exploding around him. We were getting somewhere, but behind me, a porcelain arête pointed the way to the most technical pitch of the route.

I've never really understood scissor, paper, stone, and stood next to Houseman, beneath the crux wall, it was obvious he didn’t either. Like gunslingers, three times we had drawn gloved hands and three times we had pointed smoking scissors. I didn’t know how a stone or a piece of paper was expressed, so on the fourth draw I pulled scissors again, Houseman pulled a clenched fist, a rock, and we both concluded I had won. It wasn’t until I was about to set off we realized that a rock blunts scissors, I had lost. "Oh well."

Kev Mahoney, one of the second ascent team, had told Jesse Huey this A2 pitch would go free at about M8. Jesse had attempted to free the pitch but having run out of gear he rested, back-cleaned and aided. I stepped from the snow without wearing my pack feeling a fraud. I hate ditching my pack, in my mind it's not conducive to the ethics of Alpinism, it slows things and turns what should be a simple, pure experience, into a matter of engineering and engineering always made me feel inadequate.

Stretching, breathing deep, picks twisted in flared cracks, crampon points sparked, I was still climbing without resting or a fall – biceps drained of energy from the corner below, cramped. Nearly at the top of the wall, a few metres of hard climbing remained, but looking up, I could see there was going to be several more difficult moves with very few footholds. I had run out of cams to protect the climbing to come. My mind screamed, 'Do it, do it, get on with it.' And then in a flash, another voice shouted, 'What the f*#k are you trying to prove?' I had spent too long on this pitch already, I had pushed and running it out risked breaking an ankle or worse and we were at the point where getting off this climb would turn into an epic, especially if injured. I reversed to my last gear. "Take." Immediately I felt a let-down – not good enough – the mind-set to be able to push in good style a million miles from anywhere is what makes the difference and on this occasion I had found myself wanting.

Houseman lowered me and took over using whatever style to get us back on track and in an hour or so we were both above the crux, heading into a barren wasted world. Into the grey of what would have now been night if night was something that happened. More than any other time on the climb, I accepted we had now reached the point where it was better to go up and over than reverse.

Houseman, battling was out front. Spindrift clouds wrapped around and blinded. Having tried so hard to climb the crux pitch, my energy levels had hit low. I cursed my stupidity. Huddled beneath a boulder, fighting sleep and cramp and cold, I belayed. Houseman fought avalanches pouring down the final technical pitch. We had been on the go for about twenty-two hours, there was still thousands of feet to climb. And for the first time in nearly twenty years, the thought that something could go really wrong was a shadow crossing my mind.

At 6 a.m. twenty-seven hours in to what was day two, but of course was now day three, my feet were blocks of ice – I had had enough, I needed to stop and warm them. Having reached the avalanche threatened slopes of the Cassin Ridge we found a flat spot behind a large boulder and crawled into the bag that should have been a tent, but the wind had made it impossible to thread the poles. Six hours later, in what had now become thigh deep snow, we set out again. Three thousand feet remained. Up and over the top in one final push, that’s what we wanted, but we were shut down at 18000 feet by gales. Holding the tent, Houseman threaded poles – it flapped like a kite. I imagined it lifting and taking me with it and flying over Denali's summit to join the streams of snow arcing from its highest ridge and then carrying me further until I was free from the constraints of the world.

Sixteen hours passed, and in these sixteen hours, neither Houseman nor I talked about being pinned down until weakness had taken over. I lay in the little single skinned tent – it buckled. I thought of Al Rouse who died of exhaustion on K2 and Iñaki Ochoa de Olza who died high on Annapurna. This wasn’t a game we played, it wasn’t sport – mountaineering for me will never be about beating the clock or breaking records, my climbing was about personal experience, it was the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Twight, House and Backes single push of the Slovak was a ballsy leap – even though it was not the first time single push tactics had been brought to a major climb – it was about commitment and style and personal challenge, it was not about setting records for speed or making headlines. The experience on a testing, committing climb, the self-questioning, the ability to survive on the brink, no guarantees, this was what it was about for me and when I begin to race the clock or attempt to break records that will be the time to give up.

"Listen."
I pulled my head from the frozen sleeping bag. The wind had dropped. It was now or maybe never. Thigh deep, avalanche prone snow had made the 'easy' part of this climb anything but easy – but here we were, six days since leaving 14000, slowly balancing Denali's summit ridge. Cloud filled the valleys. The afternoon sun, low in the sky, reflected from scallops. Denali was an untamed sea. Later, we found-out the weather had been so poor no-one had attempted to reach the summit for two days – and as I stepped onto that highest point in North America, I thought of something Ian Parnell once said to me, "We both know that the crux of any route in the mountains is the final step onto the summit." And stepping onto that summit I knew he was right and it is often the 'easy' things in life which are the most challenging.

Thanks to Nick Bullock



Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 27, 2015 - 06:48pm PT
Below is a link to an excellent short film about Nick and Andy's ascent

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jun 27, 2015 - 08:36pm PT
Great stuff, Avery!
You can make a link to the video with the cover photo like this:
[Click to View YouTube Video]
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 27, 2015 - 10:33pm PT
Thanks Clint
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Jun 28, 2015 - 04:14am PT
Holy crap, what an awesome thread
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 28, 2015 - 03:30pm PT
7th Ascent:


Thanks to Helias Millerioux
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 28, 2015 - 08:51pm PT
Nice link, Robert L.
Avery

climber
NZ
Jun 29, 2015 - 06:38pm PT
7th Ascent, cont...

Wednesday 12 June 2013, 9 PM. The sky was clear, temperatures were frigid and the wind was howling. Rémi Sfilio and I were on the summit of Denali, happy, tired, and looking a bit older than when we had started out. Eight days earlier, we had left our base camp at 4,200 metres. We had little idea of what the famous Slovak Direct route had in store for us. Denali’s 2,700-metre south face would test us to the limit. We would deal with two snowstorms, plus the altitude, fatigue, lack of food, and the consequences of our own strategic errors.

One of the moments that stands out most clearly in my mind is the Wickwire ramp, a terrifying minefield of bottomless crevasses. We had spent hours fumbling blindly along the ramp in the semidarkness, our headlamps useless in the twilight of the Alaskan June night. We were in the middle of a maze of crevasses, exposed to the monstrous seracs that loomed above. Of course we hadn’t planned to spend this much time beneath these giant blocks of ice. As the hours rolled by, with the omnipresent seracs menacing overhead, the warnings of the park rangers echoed in my mind. I remembered smiling politely as I listened to them explain the risks of this choice of approach, all the while telling myself that it wouldn’t be that complicated.


And now here we were, in hell! Avalanches hurtled down the southwest face and the famous Denali Diamond route. The old debris at the foot of the face was proof that we were squarely in the path of avalanches. Rémi and I had no alternative but to continue on, even though we fully realized that we had erred in our choice of approach to the famous south face. And the ascent had only just begun…

Helias Millerioux
Avery

climber
NZ
Jul 29, 2015 - 06:24am PT
6th Ascent cont...

Slovak Direct, South Face of Denali
by Andy Houseman

http://andyhouseman.blogspot.co.nz/2012_07_01_archive.html

After six weeks away Nick Bullock and I are slowly negotiating all the security, excess baggage and general airport hassle on our way back home. Six weeks away for 84 hours of climbing, sometimes I wonder why at times! But this time there’s no question that those 84 hours climbing the Slovak Direct on the nearly 3000m South Face of Denali, 6194m, were the most committed, intense and memorable climbing I have ever done.

We didn't climb it in a single push or enchain it with another Alaskan grade 6 test piece like some of the previous ascents but for us the atmosphere of the face, the remoteness, the size and the four days of bad weather lead to the most committed and out there route either of us had ever done. Like all the previous ascensionist (ours was the 6th since the first in 1984) we had an amazing experience on the route which definitely didn't come easy and has left life long memories.

We left 14,000ft camp following the tracks of the two Toms up to the West Rib cut off and joined them for the decent down the Wickwire Ramp to the North East Fork and the start of the Cassin Ridge which the Tom’s then went on to climb over the next two days. The slopes to cross over the Cassin were looking horrible in the early evening so we decided to bivi there and start early the next morning for the final approach down the original start to the Cassin into the East Fork and the base of the Slovak. Taking longer than expected by the time we reached the East Fork and brewed up the sun had hit the face and the lower part was transformed into a patch work of wet streaks of melt water running everywhere so we spent the day dozing and waiting for the cooler temperatures of the night.

Midnight came and Big Bertha (the massive serac that hangs over part of the South Face) woke, exploding 1400m above us and had us scurrying down the glacier. Next the serac above the starting couloir stirs, not again… we watch a small bit of debris come down and decide to get back in our bags for a couple of hours to let things settle.

Eventually at 3am on the 24th we crossed the bergschrund and quickly soloed up the approach couloir to a big long traverse out onto the face proper. The first day went quickly and after 9 hours of climbing up classic alpine ground and a few steep ice pitches we set up the tent for a luxurious bivi in the bergschrund of a hanging glacier.

Fourteen and a half hours later (the bivi was a bit too comfy…) we left and started the meat of the route. From the top right of the hanging glacier ice goulettes and mixed steps lead up a depression in the face to the base of a clean completely vertical big wall, the situation and atmosphere of the face totally out there. Breaking out right a huge iced up corner stretches for 140m through some of the wildest ground either of us had have ever climbed in the mountains, the commitment and size of the face, the quality and steepness of the climbing all made for an awe inspiring situation.

The weather hadn’t been too bad on the previous day, a little bit of snow but nothing too worrying but throughout the morning it had gradually deteriorated. My block finished and Nick lead up the final pitch of the corner getting hammered by spindrift being whipped up by strong winds above. Miraculously the sun came out for the crux rock wall and a quick paper, rock, scissors decided who was going to have it, Nick had a proper good effort at freeing it before lack of gear, pressure of time and a distinct phobia of broken bones half way up a 3000m face forced him to lower off, so close! Returning to Nicks high point with a replenished rack from the lower section, I aided the last few steep meters of climbing and up the final easier section (the way two of the previous ascents had taken). A couple more pitches and we ended up on the ice slopes with Big Bertha looming way out to the right, hour seventeen on the go and back to strong winds and snow, we simlu climbed up ice slopes and easy mixed ground for a few hundred meters to the final technical pitch of the Slovak Direct.

This should have been a straight forward 70m pitch up a beautiful ice runnel and a great way to finish off the climbing before joining the Cassin. As it was I’ve never had to dig as deep, well into hour twenty something and feeling the strain what would normally take 15 min of enjoyable climbing lasted an hour and a half, most of it spent trying to hold on in the constant spindrift pouring down, definitely ‘type 2’ fun!

The Slovak was over and 27 hours after leaving our last bivi we’d joined the Cassin. Using the tent as a bivi sack, too scared to try and put the poles in in the wind we dozed and melted snow before continuing up the final 3500ft of Cassin Ridge aiming for the summit that day.

Deep fresh snow slowed us even more than our tired bodies and the ridge seemed to go on for ever. At 18,500ft we were forced to put the tent up in winds too strong to continue climbing in. Eventually sixteen hours later the weather seemed to be clearing and we made a mad dash, well more a very tired and slow trudge up the final 1800ft to the summit, being treated to clear skies, sun and a summit to ourselves at 16.30 on the 27th.

The decent down the West Buttress went fine and we were kindly taken in by a guided group at the 17,00ft camp for some food and drinks before continuing down to 14,000ft camp later that evening. Six days out, four on the route and the most fulfilling, committing and totally absorbing experience in the mountains I have ever had.


Thanks to Andy Houseman
Messages 1 - 24 of total 24 in this topic
Return to Forum List
 
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks


Try a free sample topo!

 
SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta