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Jul 1, 2015 - 04:33am PT
Mount Huntington-West Face (1965)

David S. Roberts

IT was darker than dusk. The two of us stood in the gloom of Alaskan midnight on the last day of July. Ed said, "How do you feel?”

"Pretty tired. I feel I’m getting overcautious. How about you?”

"No,” he answered. "I feel great, as if I could go all night.”

I handed him a carabiner and he set up the rappel. We unroped and threw down the ends of the rope. Ed clipped the rope in and got in rappel position.

"Just this pitch,” I said, "and it’s easy going down to camp.”

He leaned back and there was a scraping noise and he flew into space. Fifty feet below me he met the ice and, tangled in the rope, slid and bounced out of sight, though I could hear his body falling and knew he would not stop for 4000 feet.

I shouted Ed’s name, but there was no answer.

Thus Mount Huntington, one might say, avenged the profanation of our climbing it. How much simpler it would be to deal with death, to prepare for it, if it struck with even that trace of purpose! But our accident came, unexpected and freakish, near the end of a successful expedition, and we can blame it neither on the mountain, nor on ourselves, but perhaps only on the mindless whim of a carabiner.

Ed was killed the same day we had reached the top of Mount Huntington, after more than a month on its west face. Only a French party in 1964, by a different route, the northwest ridge, had climbed to its 12,240-foot summit before us. (See A.A.J., 1965, 14:2, pages 289-298.)

There are not many unclimbed prizes left in Alaska, or for that matter anywhere. But there are hundreds of new routes to be done, direct, challenging lines that thrill the mountaineer’s heart. Of all the peaks in that great land, only McKinley, with eleven routes climbed and another tried, has received proper attention. Three southwest ridges lie waiting route rising from white spur (the Stegosaur) at the center right.

on Foraker, two steep buttresses on Hunter beg to be climbed, and men have tried other ways up the Moose’s Tooth than that by which it was finally ascended — why not Huntington, then, the gem of the range, "the most beautiful mountain in Alaska?”

We chose the west face for several reasons. The route appeared as safe as any difficult route on a big mountain could be. It was not threatened by hanging glaciers or cornices, and it was not so long that retreat would be impossible. Furthermore, from all indications, the rock would be sound: the south face of McKinley and most of Hunter are of solid granite, and the French compared the rock they encountered to that of the Chamonix aiguilles. Our route was aesthetically perfect, an arrow splitting the face, pointing straight to the summit. We were aware that the upper Tokositna basin, from which the west face rose, and where no man had ever been, offered any number of challenging climbs we might try in the event that Huntington did not prove feasible.

We had hoped to walk in, but Don Sheldon had little trouble dissuading us. A seventy-mile hike, including an unknown icefall, would take too long; thanks to an overloaded microbus we were well behind schedule. Thus on June 29 Sheldon landed Ed Bernd, Matt Hale, Don Jensen, and me beneath the northeast face of Mount Hunter, high on the Tokositna Glacier and four miles west of our projected Base Camp. We were all members of the Harvard Mountaineering Club, climbing partners in the past and hence close friends, and because of that, a close- knit expedition. As compatible as we were, we differed fundamentally. Without doing too great a violence to the complexities of personality, it could be said that we were proof of medieval physiology, each epitomizing one of the four humours: Ed sanguine, Matt melancholy, Don phlegmatic, and I choleric.

Five uneventful days of packing — enlivened only by an abortive attempt at a sled — established us at the foot of our route. From here an icefall led to a col at 8900 feet, between Huntington and a small peak to the west. From the col, a steep, knife-edged ridge (the lower portion of which we named the "Stegosaur,” because of its sharp, jagged shape), rose to two snowfields of about 45°: the "Lower” and "Upper Parks,” separated by a snow chute we called the "Alley.” At 10,100 feet the Upper Park merged into the west face proper, and in the next 1400 feet lay the crux of the route — a steep rock and snow wall, a true face averaging just under 70°. Above that, a steep snow slope led to the summit ridge at 11,900 feet; from there a corniced quarter mile would take us to the summit.

The icefall to the col proved easy. We bypassed its gaping crevasses and spent several stormy days packing loads over it. The Stegosaur, however, did not yield so easily. Its north side was heavily corniced; its south side was bordered by vertical rock faces and near-vertical snow gullies that plunged to the floor of the Lower Tokositna, 3000 feet below.

On our first attempt on the ridge, I broke off a gigantic cornice. A little disheartened, we turned to the construction of a snow cave. However only two could work on the cave at one time, and Don began to eye the gap where the cornice had been. Soon, with him belaying, Matt led up a fifteen-foot wall of hard ice, tunnelled through the residual cornice, and emerged on the far side. A steep snow traverse brought him to the first rock of our route. It was all we had hoped for, clean, sharp-edged granite.

We progressed at a very slow and irregular rate. On July 6 Don and I put in two and a half pitches of steep snow and rock, which included some aid on a 60° verglased slab. The following day Ed and Matt could place only two more pitches, despite ten hours of climbing. On the fourth pitch Ed led a nearly vertical stretch of hard ice plastered with a few inches of snow.

Steep snow traverses were quite tedious to put in. The crust had first to be chopped or cut off, and hip-deep snow stamped flat. To keep from disappearing, the leader occasionally had to build up his steps with snow from above. Warm weather avalanched the steps off and new snow filled them. Several times we had to completely replace many of the pitches. To compound our problems, the temperature for a long while rarely dropped below freezing, and on many nights the saturated snow made climbing inadvisable. Snow structures that had grown all winter began to collapse in the warmest weather of the year. In the cave we waited, read, and played Monopoly. Ed and Don won all the first games, and just as Matt and I were about to file anti-trust suits he broke into the winners’ column. "I guess it’s a game of skill after all,” he said. I agreed after winning the next game.

Putting in only a few pitches on those rare nights when we could climb, we had by July 15 completed only fifteen pitches, all consistently difficult and exposed. Half our allotted time was up and we were not one third of the way up our route. We had not even reached the Alley, and the face above remained a mystery. Obviously, to succeed, we would have to place a camp as soon as possible. Finally on the 16th, the weather was a little colder and we could proceed. Don and I put in two pitches, cached a food box, and returned. Ed and Matt, carrying a minimum camp, passed us on our way down, and reached the Alley in two more rope lengths. They were disappointed but not surprised to find no natural campsites. In hopes of a better site they continued. Wind and blowing snow made communications difficult and chilled them, but they rapidly placed six pitches to the foot of the "Spiral,” a 200-foot rock and ice buttress, the first problem of the face. After twelve hours of climbing, they had found no good campsite, and resigned themselves to the laborious task of descending and chopping a platform at the Alley. It took them seven more hours to get a two-man tent pitched and anchored to rock pitons.

Three days of snow confined them in their spectacular camp. Late on the third day Don and I were able to reach them after a slow climb through the treacherous snow. Matt and I returned to the cave, leaving Don and Ed to work on the route.

On July 20 Don and Ed attacked the Spiral. Like the rock of the Stegosaur, it was beautiful, clean granite. Blocks which had no right to be there were frozen into the face, providing excellent holds. On the twenty-sixth pitch Don led an icy slab topped by twenty vertical feet, all free. What would have been a difficult lead under any circumstances became magnificent under these: iced-up cracks, snowy holds, and the necessity for crampons. Ed’s pitch was only slightly less difficult, but more exposed, as he climbed high-angle slabs and surmounted a final vertical bit with a stirrup. A short ice gully, and the route was in to the top of the Spiral.

We had finally made a dent in the face, but the weather refused to cooperate. Two days of snow intervened before Matt and I could move up to the Alley Camp on the 23rd and take over the lead from Don and Ed. A few days before, we had rappelled off the Stegosaur to reach the basin above the icefall. Now we could use the rappel rope for prusiking and thus short-cut past the first nine pitches. On the 25th Don and Ed were able to remove all the fixed ropes and pitons from those nine pitches, so that we could eventually use them above.

With time growing short, the weather underwent just the dramatic change we needed. Under a cloudless sky Matt and I packed loads up to Don’s and Ed’s high point. Even with stirrups and fixed ropes, we could not carry our loads over these pitches, but had to haul them.

On the 26th, again cloudless, Matt led the twenty-ninth pitch, a steep icy chimney at the top of which he hung a stirrup from a piton driven precariously between rock and ice. On the next pitch I crossed a prominent avalanche chute, down which rocks and ice, loosened by two days of sun, occasionally swept. Excited by the good rock and our progress, we put pitch after pitch behind us. Shortly we stood on steep snow beneath a fifty-foot ceiling, a feature we had called the "Nose” for its prominence on the face. We decided to attack the Nose head on. From our route pictures we knew that once above it we would be in very good position for the summit. The ceiling was made for climbing, and the weather held perfect. Matt, undeterred by dripping water, nailed up an expanding vertical crack. On the ceiling itself, he managed a series of long but not uncomfortable reaches, and soon hung from his stirrups at the lip. I saw him retable quickly, and knew he was on the snow above. We had passed the greatest obstacle.

The next day Don and Ed assumed the lead. They climbed the pitches Matt and I had placed, and late that night they got a tent pitched on a tiny ice platform, again anchored by rock pitons, just below the Nose. Two days later the weather was still fine. This was the break we needed. Getting an early start, Don and Ed reclimbed the Nose and started work on the top of the face. Although they could afford only one or two pitons per pitch and were short on fixed rope as well, they climbed superbly. Now they were on very steep ice and snow, shallowly coating the rock beneath. In the early afternoon Don led over the final rock barrier below the summit icefield. The pitch was outstanding; twice he took aid from shaky pitons far above his protection. They emerged on the sweeping expanse of the summit icefield. The exposure, especially after climbing on rock and in chimneys, was terrific. They started up the 45° slope, but the snow was in poor shape. Reaching the last rock outcrop at 11,700 feet, they set up the bivouac tent Don had made and waited for night. They were going for the summit.

Meanwhile, Matt and I had been bringing up the last of the hardware and fixed ropes to the Nose Camp. On a hunch, we’d brought our down jackets and extra lunches. When we reached the camp, it was still early, so we decided to continue. Above the Nose, we marvelled at the leads Don and Ed had done, and placed extra protection to safeguard the descent. By early evening, we had caught up with them. It was the happiest of reunions. We had suspected that only two of us, if any, might have a chance for the summit. Now all four of us could go for it, together.

We joined as a rope of four. We’d been going twelve hours already, but this was our chance; the air was calm and still cloudless. Don led. We climbed through the night, watching the sun fade from the long tongue of the Tokositna, the bulk of McKinley grow dark, and at last the stars come out. A little after midnight, we reached the summit ridge.

I took over the lead. We surmounted two short, vertical flutings made out of crumbling snow. We could climb the second one, our fifty-third pitch, only by using an ice-axe shaft and our longest picket as daggers.

We reached the summit at 3:30 A.M., in the pink glow of sunrise. At last, after thirty-two days of effort, this was our reward. Now we stood above the confining walls of the upper Tokositna that had bound our world for the last month. We were very tired. Ed wanted to set off a firecracker that he’d brought all the way, but we were afraid of knocking loose the cornices. Even the summit was a cornice.

We were alone in that privileged place. As far as we could see, over the miles of mountain, glacier, and tundra, we witnessed no human act but our own. In the vast stillness nothing spoke of the other world, the world of men and machines we usually lived in and sometimes found sufficient. But not always, not now; life is not enough without some moment of challenge, solitude, grandeur.

Our descent went slowly. The ropes got tangled easily, and we simply left a lot of the expensive hardware we’d intended to retrieve. We were near exhaustion. Finally, after twenty-five straight hours of climbing, we rappelled into the Nose Camp. We spent the rest of the day sleeping, eating, and laughing. We were quite crowded, all in a two-man tent pitched narrow.

At ten p.m. Ed and I started down to the Alley Camp, where our other tent waited. Don and Matt would follow at their leisure. Just before midnight the accident happened.

When I could no longer see or hear Ed falling, I shouted up into the gloom for Matt and Don, but I knew they couldn’t hear me.

What had happened? I looked at the piton; it was intact, but the carabiner and rope were gone with Ed. Apparently the ’biner had flipped, its gate opened against the rock, and come loose. Or the carabiner had broken. We shall never know, and it does not really matter.

I managed to climb down the seven pitches to camp without a rope, relying heavily on the fixed ropes. There I waited for two days, alone and nervous, until Matt and Don came on August 1. As Matt describes it, "From the top of the Alley I could see the tent, and Dave’s head sticking out. As I neared the tent, his silence seemed foreboding, and I sensed that something was wrong. Looking down I saw only one pack. Just as the implications were coming home, Dave finally spoke: 'Matt, I’m alone.’ ”

A day later we completed the descent. The snow conditions were terrible, and we could not find our steps. In places a quarter-inch of ice coated the fixed ropes. With three on the rope, the going was very awkward, and three times we stopped falls with the fixed ropes. At last we reached the rappel and got down to the cave.

We left some things there, like the Monopoly set. We left Ed, since there was no way to reach his body, no way even to look for it. Five days later we flew out with Sheldon. Already we were reaching an emotional balance. Ed’s death had ended his happiness and ours in knowing him, but it did not cancel, and does not now, the joy of sharing a great experience with him, of responding to a challenge we could not have met without him.

Summary of Statistics.

Area: Alaska Range.

Ascent: Mount Huntington, 12,240 feet, July 30, 1965 (Edward M. Bernd, Matthew Hale, Jr., Don C. Jensen, David S. Roberts) — Second ascent and a new route, the west face.

American Alpine Journal 1966


Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
Jul 1, 2015 - 04:52am PT
I went on a trip to the Bugaboo's with the HMC; and among the group was Matt Hale. We did a few 1st ascents, and I have always found it odd that Matt never mentioned the climb on Mt.Huntington.
We drove all the way from Boston, in an over-crowded 1958 Oldsmobile, with 6 guys in it, and Matt never brought the climb up. I only recently found out about Matt's involvement with Huntington.

Here is a photo of Matt, on a 1st ascent on Mt. Wallace, in the Vowell Group,
circa 1967.

Jul 1, 2015 - 07:02am PT
Thanks for sharing, Steve.
Stewart Johnson

lake forest
Jul 1, 2015 - 07:15am PT
Feeling Ed's presence at the base of
The Phantom Wall was something I'll
Never forget .
Thanks for the story
Paul Teare
Larry Nelson

Social climber
Jul 1, 2015 - 09:57am PT
Love your posts on remote climbs and their history. Those oldtimers were some badazz dudes. Much respect to the early pioneers.
Brrrrr, can feel that Alaskan winter as I read these accounts.

Jul 1, 2015 - 04:00pm PT
Thanks a lot, Larry.

Jul 1, 2015 - 07:07pm PT
The French Ridge (1964) on the right.

The East Ridge (1972) on the left.


Jul 1, 2015 - 07:13pm PT
Mount Huntington— East Ridge and North Face (1972)

Niels-Henrik L. Andersen

SEEING the mass of Mount Huntington standing up from the glacier like a snow-covered, jagged knife, I thought, “That’s what a mountain should look like.” By the time our party had made the Catacomb-East Ridge ascent of McKinley, I had etched Huntington on my mind, had begun probing its defenses and had taken a lot of photographs from our vantage on the other side of the glacier. It was a challenge; not only a mountain that “looked like a mountain,” extremely well defended, with no “easy way” up, but one that through a combination of sub-arctic weather, continual avalanche dangers and difficult technical problems had kept all but the most stalwart of climbers away.

In 1964 a French team led by Lionel Terray had made the summit after an extremely grueling ascent up the northwest ridge.1 Their ascent had been stalled again and again by avalanche and weather conditions, was threatened when Terray’s arm was injured in a fall, had demanded everything the party had to give, and had rewarded them with a few minutes’ view of fog-like clouds from the summit. Huntington’s only other conquest was in 19652, when Dave Roberts led a Harvard team to the summit after forty-two days of effort up a beautifully conceived rock and ice route that intercepted the French ridge near the top. That climb, recorded in the book, Mountain of My Fear, was marred by the death of one party member in a rappelling accident.

In his book, Roberts dismissed the east ridge as a route that could “put a party in a perpetual state of nervousness.” He continued by saying that “the east ridge, though perhaps not more difficult than the French route, was bound to be more hazardous: huge hanging glaciers, the most dangerous formations imaginable, sprawled obscenely down the ridge.” The possibilities for a first ascent following this hazardous route of the east ridge did not seem remote from my vantage across the glacier. Roughly I sketched out a route than began with a landing on the south side of Huntington, leading to an easy access to the east ridge, then up the ridge and onto the north face to the summit. That was in 1969.

My slides of the mountain from McKinley generated interest for the 1971 Huntington expedition and I easily put together a party. The drive to Alaska from Seattle was little more than a gearing-up for the let-down. Six of us, packed in one car, made the long haul in four exhausting days. The pilot had written that he would land us on the south side of Huntington but once in the air said it would be impossible. He set us down on the north side, much steeper and avalanche prone. Base Camp was on the Ruth Glacier. After a couple of days of scouting, the route was fixed from the Ruth up the north face to a col that links the Rooster Comb to Huntington. We made a carry to the col before it began to snow heavily. Then, at Base Camp, we built igloos, read and waited. When the sun finally came out five days later, heavy avalanching began. That night, as we were preparing to climb, an avalanche roared into Base, ripping one tent to shreds, blowing the other two and their occupants across the glacier and into the latrine hole, scattering equipment over three-quarters of a mile, and covering everything with a layer of snow. One sewn-together tent had to serve for the entire party, none of them seriously injured. The next day we all finally made it to the col and established a camp with five days of food. After scouting the ridge, which had bad snow conditions, we got together on the col to discuss the route. Morale was low, and the majority voted to abandon the climb.

When I put out feelers for a 1972 Huntington expedition, I learned that Frank Zahar was putting a party together and we joined forces. He had already persuaded Rocky Keeler to come. Roger Derryberry went to film the climb and to test equipment designs. We found a fifth member in John Waterman.

After our arrival in Alaska, the weather was clear, but our pilot, Cliff Hudson, from Ta1keetna, was for twelve days unable to land despite several attempts. Clouds were piled up against the south side of McKinley, obscuring the glacier below Huntington’s north face.

The clouds finally lifted on June 25 and the expedition began. John and I were landed on the Ruth Glacier, near the previous year’s site at about 6000 feet. Frank and Roger arrived next and we spent the rest of the day carrying equipment two miles up the glacier to our Base Camp, away from the north face avalanche danger. Rocky flew in the next day, and Hudson solemnly shook each of our hands, saying, “I hope to see you guys again. Good luck!” He had a clear idea of what we were up against. It was perfect weather for sun tans, but the heat was playing hell with the snow; Huntington was avalanching continually. This, an echo of the previous year, was to be a problem throughout the climb.

On Monday John and Frank began the climb, moving up towards the col and fixing seven leads of 200 feet. On Tuesday Rocky and I extended the lead up to the col while the others carried to a cache at the previous day’s high point. Two vertical bulges in the icefall were free-climbed, using the Chouinard hammer and ice-axe method.

The following day John and I were carrying heavy loads on the lower slopes. While traversing not clipped into the fixed line, I slipped. We had been about fifteen feet apart with 200 feet of slack rope between us. Hard ice foiled my first two attempts at self-arrest. By the time my third self-arrest succeeded, the rope had almost completely paid out. I had stopped at the edge of a 120-foot vertical drop-off, over which I would obviously have pulled John.

With the route to the col completed and ropes fixed, Frank, Roger and Rocky spent the next two days carrying from Base to a cache halfway up to the col and established Col Camp at 8800 feet. They said that avalanches were falling so continuously that it sounded like a waterfall. Meanwhile John and I worked above the col, the most arduous section of the climb, a series of wind-molded ice and snow flutings extending up to the main east ridge. The slope varied mostly from 50° to 70° but occasionally reached the vertical, with soft, deep snow on the steeper slopes. The deep snow was tiresome. Front-pointing on other sections of extremely hard ice required strong ankles. We cached our loads on the top of a ten-foot double cornice that offered a good resting spot. While we rappelled down, the rising sun flashed on all the neighboring peaks while the glacier was blanketed by clouds.

Two nights later, when Roger, John and I carried the last loads to the col, we found four of our 200-foot fixed ropes wiped out. Avalanches, the continued warm weather and the difficult flutings above were narrowing our chances.

That night Rocky and Frank worked further up the flutings, finding similar conditions to what we had. Eventually they climbed a long couloir to a cornice at 9700 feet and returned to the col. They had carried the lead up to the most difficult obstacle, a series of cornices and couloirs which ended near a corniced wall which defended the east ridge proper. Despite the extreme difficulties, I felt encouraged. In my journal I remarked on the consistently high standard of climbing shown by everyone thus far.

John and I left on Sunday night for what we hoped would be the final push through the flutings and onto the easier slopes of the east ridge proper. We jümared the fixed rope pitches to reach the cornice where progress had ended the day before. For three hours I belayed, shivering with cold, while John moved around two cornices, using direct aid up a 40-foot hard blue ice wall and climbed onto more flutings. I took the lead, traversed around a fluting and into a gully which ended at a corniced fluting below the final corniced ridge. I shinnied up the 80° fluting and traversed to below a vertical wall blocked by a cornice mushroom. The soft, unstable snow on the wall made it awkward to pass or stand on while attempting to knock away at the cornice. After I had placed both pickets and ice screws for protection, John took the lead, placed even more points of protection and finally jammed one arm into a hole under the cornice so that he could balance and punch a hole in the cornice. He then wormed has way through the hole and out onto the main ridge. The hole through the defending cornice proved to be the crux of the climb. At first it was too small even to maneuver the pack through, and John had to enlarge it.

Although John and the pack were up, he wanted to hammer a rock piton in before bringing me up. He disappeared, leaving me on the edge of nowhere. When forty-five minutes later he had not returned, I began edging up without protection. Just then he came back and lowered me a fixed line to jümar up. He had traversed along the side of the ridge to a zigzagging couloir leading to a rock formation with piton cracks. I led up the couloir to a cornice and traversed under it along a shelf. I fixed a line for John, who dropped down under a rock formation and front-pointed up verglas to soft snow and another rock. I then led up some hard ice over a slight bulge to the top of a domed cornice at 10,400 feet, the site for High Camp.

The sun made the descent dangerously exciting. Most of the anchors had to be replaced before rappelling. On the aid section we had a tricky pendulum to the flutings. During our well-earned rest at the col, Frank, Roger and Rocky carried supplies to our new High Camp. On Monday we made a final carry to High Camp, settled in and rested in preparation for the push to the summit.

High Camp, two tents and a snow wall atop a huge cornice, was a good spot to spend a long day resting. The sunny, unobscured view gave Roger the opportunity to do a lot of filming. With the exception of the deteriorating snow conditions, everything was going for us. Above us lay the crossing onto the north face from the ridge, and the summit.

We made a staggered start for the top. Frank, Roger and Rocky left two hours ahead. They led up and around a series of up and down cornices that continued for five or six 200-foot pitches. The route then moved under a large cornice wall onto a lip between two crevasses. We jumped one and then traversed out onto the north face proper, 1000 feet from the summit. The slope angled steeply upward, and so we front-pointed, exchanging leads every 200 feet until we came to an overhanging wall. John traversed across its base to a notch. Rocky, with the use of aid, climbed a slightly overhanging snow and ice pitch out of the notch and onto a steep slope which continued to a large crevasse below the final summit pyramid. Frank led the final pitch up to a large flat cornice fifty feet below the highest summit cornice. After a fourteen-hour push and ten days of climbing we walked together the final yard to the summit.

The anticlimactic descent proved difficult, mainly because of the work of the sun and avalanches on our fixed ropes and anchors. We spent a night and a day at High Camp, beginning to realize that something grand in our lives was already an experience, a memory rather than imagination.

Much of the rope was anchored only at the top and bottom since all the middle anchors had melted out and could not be reset. The snow flowed all around us as we rappelled down.

We rested at the col, discussing whether or not to attempt the Rooster Comb on the other side of the col. Mistakenly thinking the French had done it the year before, we passed up a “grand finale.” The bottom section was in worse shape. The avalanching had been steady during the days of our ascent, obliterating most of the fixed line and forcing us to free climb down the final slopes. The rest at Base Camp lasted only a few hours before Cliff Hudson flew in with congratulations and a couple of six-packs.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Alaska Range, South of Mount McKinley.

New Route: Mount Huntington, 12,240 feet, via the East Ridge and the North Face, July 5, 1972.

Technical Data: 7000 feet of fixed rope, 40 pickets, 4 rock pitons, 40 ice screws and ice pitons, 7 snow flukes.

Personnel: Niels-Henrik Andersen and Frank E. Zahar, co-leaders; Rockwell J. Keeler, Roger Derryberry, John M. Waterman.

American Alpine Journal 1973

Jul 1, 2015 - 07:22pm PT
The North Face 1978
Todd Eastman

Bellingham, WA
Jul 1, 2015 - 09:44pm PT
Paging Dave Hough...

Jul 2, 2015 - 12:42am PT
Mt Huntington, South Ridge (1979)

American Alpine Journal 1980

Jul 2, 2015 - 01:16am PT
Huntington's East Face (1980)

Roger Mear, Alpine Climbing Group

ON MAY 3 Steve Bell and I waved goodbye to Hudson and his Cessna. We erected our mini box tent on the Ruth Glacier below the north face of Mount Huntington. For training we repeated the Japanese route on the southwest spur of P 11,300 with one bivouac, and descended via the snowfields and short rock buttress of the southeast ridge to complete a traverse of the mountain. Contrary to our information which described difficulties of F9, we were pleased to find, on perfect red granite, a beautiful classic 4000-foot route of about Scottish II with short sections of F6. A total of four rappels were made on the descent.

At midnight on May 12 after a week of continuous snowfall, we climbed the 1800-foot, sérac-threatened, ice wall which divides Mount Huntington from the Rooster Comb. After three hours of unbelayed climbing we emerged onto a shoulder a hundred feet below the col, only to sink into a morass of unconsolidated snow which required four hours of “swimming” to negotiate. An excellent bivouac site was found beneath a sérac at the base of Mount Huntington’s east ridge. Further storms kept us here until late the following day when a glimpse of blue sky to the south tempted us to descend to the basin below the east face.

The face is dominated by a 4000-foot pillar reminiscent of the Walker Spur and flanked by couloir systems with enormous ice cliffs. Our first intention was to attempt the pillar but the poor weather (only five of the 28 days we spent on the Ruth were without snowfall) persuaded us to attempt something less ambitious. We therefore turned our attention to the couloir system left of the pillar. To avoid the threat of sérac fall, we climbed a narrow 1000-foot gully on the side of the pillar that emerges into the main couloir just below the ice cliffs. More snowfall resulting in torrents of powder forced us to spend 14 hours in a snow cave dug a few hundred feet above the Tokositna basin.

On May 15 we climbed the couloir and traversed snow-covered slabs to emerge into the main couloir. The view above was not reassuring. We had left most of the equipment selected for the pillar at the col and had cut our supplies down to four rock pegs, four nuts and six ice screws. Above us loomed what appeared to be 3000 feet of granite wall. Fortunately at each apparent impasse little ice pitches and snow ramps miraculously presented themselves, enabling us to skirt most of the major rock difficulties.

At the end of the day we spent four hours forcing a pitch onto a steep snow-covered ramp which led into the upper couloir and out of the labyrinth.

After a few hours sleep we followed a broad snowfield which led up under the topmost rock wall. A series of ice ribs and arêtes took us to the cornice that guarded the summit plateau. It was now apparent that the fine weather that had allowed us to climb the face would soon be gone, so we abandoned our plan to descend the heavily corniced east ridge in favor of the Harvard route. We were granted fine views from the summit and Steve had a close look down the north face when a cornice broke at the top of the French Ridge. Visibility was down to a few feet by the time we had traversed the summit ice-fields and we were unable to locate the top of the west face.

Next morning the weather had deteriorated still further and we decided to descend even though we were unsure of the direction. Fortunately after a few hundred feet I unearthed a cluster of old pitons—Steve said it was luck but I have other ideas. We were soon racing down tangles of decrepit fixed ropes, periodically being engulfed by slides of powder pouring off the summit snowfields. At the Upper Park snowfield we were unable to find the continuation of the descent down to the Stegosaur. Early next morning the cloud allowed us a short glimpse of the Tokositna Glacier and the lower section of the west buttress.

Snow conditions on the ridge were very poor with our passage releasing large slabs. We were able to avoid half of the Stegosaur by a free rappel off a large cornice.

All that remained was for us to cross the Tokositna Glacier and the French Ridge to the Ruth. The east face gives a beautiful and tenuously linked classic ice climb: Scottish III/IV with one section of F9 mixed climbing. There was no stone-fall. The descent via the Harvard route, apart from enabling us to relive a piece of history, seemed much the safest proposition in bad weather, though it does mean a long walk home.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Alaska Range.

Ascents: P 11,300, via Southwest Ridge, 4000 vertical feet, Scottish Grade II, F6, 13 hours of climbing, May 5, 1980.

Mount Huntington, 12,240 feet, via a new route on the East Face, 4500 vertical feet, Scottish Grade III/IV, F7, 24 hours on the face, six days total from the Ruth Glacier and back, May 13 to 19, 1980.

Personnel: Stephen Bell, Roger Mear, England.

American Alpine Journal 1981

Keep an eye out for Steve Bell's forthcoming book: Virgin on Insanity.
It details this climb along with many other Alpine adventures.


Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 2, 2015 - 09:55am PT
Cool thread Avery. It made for some great reading last night. I had dreams of big mountains.

Jul 2, 2015 - 10:34am PT

Jul 2, 2015 - 03:22pm PT
Nice pic, Dolomite.

Social climber
Jul 2, 2015 - 04:16pm PT
I just read the AAJ of the N. Face---Wow! Like really, really WOW!--and in 1978!

Jul 2, 2015 - 07:28pm PT
Roger Mear

Jul 2, 2015 - 08:07pm PT

Colton/Leach 1981

American Alpine Journal 1982

Social climber
Jul 2, 2015 - 09:25pm PT
hey there say, avery... and steve A, as well...
wow, thanks for sharing, and for steve's note as well...

lots to read here... will have to do it later... but, good stuff that i'd not have known about, without help here...

*ps, avery, sure hope your address is still the same... just sent something to you, :))


Jul 2, 2015 - 11:55pm PT
The East Face: 1984

American Alpine Journal 1985

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