Mt Hunter: North Buttress


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New Zealand
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 10, 2016 - 05:14am PT
North Buttress of Hunter


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 10, 2016 - 05:32am PT
Hunter’s North Buttress Direct (1981)

Mugs Stump

ABSORBED in my thoughts, I listlessly watched the craggy peaks go by as Doug Geeting instinctively maneuvered the plane through the passes to the Kahiltna Glacier. I don’t even remember whether the other two in the plane were Americans. Watching the jutting peaks drift by, I imagined myself alone in one of their ice-filled corners, standing on that tiny platform or hanging in that spectacular crack running above that roof. My mind was filled with exploring a big wall alone. Slowly in the last month I had brought myself to this point, with several weeks of running, not just for conditioning but even more for the solitude it gave me and the chance to think. I spent hours poring over photos I had taken a month earlier when Jim Bridwell and I had flown in to check out the buttress. I devoted idle time to going over the route and all the situations I could foresee. Dreamlike, I was soaring through the mountains toward the Kahiltna Glacier, where I would start to climb again. I believe strongly in preparations for a climb, from close route study to one’s personal little rituals. All this was now behind me. I was flying in to solo the north buttress of Mount Hunter, but fate altered this.

After landing on the glacier and waiting until the piles of packs, people and skis were unloaded, I crawled out to be greeted by someone who was possessed by similar madness to what I felt. I dragged my gear out and started setting up my tent. Paul Aubrey had been sending out messages that he was up for something if I needed a partner. I had met Paul a month earlier out here on the glacier during an inhumanly cold reconnaissance of the buttress. At first greeting, I imagine that I was a little cold to him since I was still possessed with the thoughts of being alone. But, as I put up my tent and glanced in turn at Paul and at the towering 4000-foot buttress, the sun melted away my image of being out there solo. I wanted to climb the route and it certainly seemed more likely that I could if I had help. I walked over to Paul and told him that I was ready to start climbing in the morning and that we could ski up to the buttress and discuss the route. After we had a little chance to feel each other out and examine what was expected on the wall, we decided on the partnership. From a couple of mutual friends, I knew that Paul had done some nail-ups in the Valley; technically we could get by. And I didn’t figure that Paul, coming from New Zealand, would be a fair-weather bird in case it got nasty.

We returned to camp for a sleepless night of tea and talk. I packed a food bag and we were ready. We had only one hammock between us. We would chop ledges for one of us, a tiring but warming chore on a frigid night. As it turned out, there wasn’t one natural platform on the whole route big enough to lie on.

We got an early start. Skiing toward the buttress, I could see another party’s porta ledges quietly hanging in the face’s massive darkness. They were trying another start, but it appeared that in several hundred feet they would be joining our route. I wanted to beat them to the big dihedral of the keel-shaped tower, so that we could bivouac somewhere above it. If we got there after them, we would add a whole day to our schedule before there would be an easy place to pass them. As we skied to the bergschrund, two other climbers approached. They were planning another route to the right of the buttress’s nose.

We started up the ice ramps and grooves that laced the first thousand feet. Because I was running out a 300-foot rope, we moved quickly. The ice was moderate to 80° with lots of rock for anchors. At about 1000 feet we found the 400-foot traverse to take us to the base of the “Ship’s Keel,” a beautiful, huge, steep corner. The wall above overhung slightly. We were no longer able to see much of the route ahead as we could on the lower-angled ramps below. The other party that had started the day before was not here. One pitch up the dihedral we found a patch of ice stuck to the rock, big enough to chop a platform where Paul could curl up for the night. I hung the hammock and wrestled off my crampons while standing in étriers. We brewed up and surveyed the difficult rock traverse ahead.

The next morning the tension traverse brought us to the base of the ice tongue. The route was falling into place. From the ground we had not been sure how to gain the tongue. Our discoveries were feeding our confidence. A narrow groove of concrete-hard blue ice ran above to the start of the “Tamara Traverse,” the key to the ice slopes above. Paul had slipped on the traverse lower down and I cautioned him of the outcome of a slip here. The traverse was on 80° ice and the anchors at the end were two screws buried deep in the ice slope’s metamorphic rot. Tediously I worked my way across the spectacular passage. There was a roof above, and the wall below dropped slightly inward. Paul quickly joined me on the icefield and ran the rope to its top as my eyes searched the corners of the awesome shaft that cut through the granite wall above. My mind was somewhat relaxed as I realized that we had finished a major obstacle and that we could not start the shaft till the next day. A hard pitch of mixed climbing brought us to a slope which eased us into the shaft. I fixed a line at its start and rappelled back to our second bivouac. We had several hours of daylight left, but this was the last possible place to stop until the shaft was climbed. The deep chimney twisted upward for 500 feet and I wanted a full day to climb it.

By morning the weather had changed. By midday it would be snowing. I started up the first pitch. The ice was steep: 80° to overhanging. I had never seen ice so steep for such long sections. It was just past vertical for 25 feet and bulged outward at the top. Most overhanging ice I had encountered in the past was airy and brittle, but this was firm up to the bulge. As I moved up the arc, I felt gravity pushing me away from the ice. I had not only to pull up but also push in with my whole body to keep my front points in contact. After a few moves like this, I realized it was ludicrous to try to free-climb. Already high above my last protection, I didn’t know where or how I could get something in before I was over the bulge. I clipped into my Roosterhead and tied off a snarg that certainly would not have held a fall. I moved up alternating from tool to screw until I could reach above the breakover and pull myself onto the friendly 80° ice. I buried a snarg and ran the rope out to the belay. Paul jümared up as I hauled my pack and studied the next pitch. It was steeper and longer, overhanging for 35 feet. The last 15 feet were a frothy, brittle curtain. Luckily a crack that I could reach from the steep ice ran out the left wall. I pulled myself up. Never had concentration made such a deafening roar in my head. I was a shell of forces and movement. My body relaxed as I moved upward on my étriers. Above the bulge, I swung back onto the 75° ice and ran the lead out. My excitement was explosive as I screamed in order to release the fullness. I felt that I belonged there. The next pitch had three steps, each about 20 feet of overhanging ice. The first required some aid but the others moved by quickly as I climbed in a trance. The shaft was the crux of the climb and as I neared its top, my concentration was overtaken by an incredible contentment, a totality of explosive elation and peaceful confidence. Paul came up as I hauled my pack.

“Here, eat one of these,” Paul offered as he handed me a fortune bar.

“Where’d you get this, man? You’ve been holding out on me,” I joked.

Paul confessed that when he watched me pack the food bag, he thought he might starve up there. He had already eaten four bars and started feeling that he had better share the last two for fear of my running out of gas. I chidingly tore open the bar and read my fortune: “You will be successful because you are in love.”

I started up the last thirty feet of the shaft. It had been snowing the whole time we were in it. The sloughs were now beginning to run, bringing darkness as they engulfed me. The short vertical step brought us to another ice band and we headed for the next rock. It was a deep, broken trough. The route-finding would have to be done impromptu as the visibility was poor in the heavy snow. After a couple of pitches up a broken slab, we stopped for our third bivouac, hoping for clearing by morning. I took the hammock and Paul balanced on a very narrow ledge, which took a couple of hours to chop in the armor-plated ice.

The next morning it was still snowing. We were buried by the night’s sloughs. I instinctively entered a deep groove I had glimpsed the day before down to the left. Two pitches later I ran into a roof. A 40-foot pendulum around a corner put me into another groove. It soon angled off under another roof. I nailed up a crumbling white seam, uncharacteristic of the compact diorite around. Several pitches of ice-filled cracks and gullies brought us to the end of this section of rock. We broke out above the storm as we crawled onto the last ice band. Methodically we moved up the slope and chopped out our fourth bivouac below the headwall and the last obstacle of the buttress.

The night was magic. Perched a couple of thousand feet above a sea of clouds, we looked out at the chain of mountain islands. Denali, the great one, was an overpowering presence, its scale misleading in the clarity of the night air. And to the western horizon, miles past Foraker and Crosson, the small cone of Mount Russell rested in its soft blue ocean of clouds. It was clear and cold. We melted snow well into the night, making “tea” from lemon sweets, the only ration we had left after dropping the food bag earlier that evening. It should be one or two pitches to the top of the buttress and then the rest of the day to get down. I crawled into my hammock and sleeplessly gazed out on the surrealistic landscape. I thought of what I’d done to get here, not just in the last four days but in the years past. For some reason, I felt part of some great movement, one of infinite scale, too grand to see but only to feel in the night’s wind. I looked at Paul’s figure curled up inside his sack balanced on a tiny platform. I wondered about his thoughts, something that isolated us. In the vastness in front of me, I felt even more isolated. I was a shell, the same as the figure beside me and the mountains around. I felt an aloneness, my thoughts totally my own, creating a peacefulness of beauty and friendships.

Paul rustled in his sack and I started melting snow for a morning brew. By now the sea of clouds had rolled back. We repacked and started up a series of ice-covered ledges to the headwall under a cloudless sky. I avoided a strenuous-looking squeeze chimney by nailing a thin overhanging crack which took me to the base of an ice-filled corner. The ice was clear and thin. I could see the rock wall through it. The first snarg went in only halfway but carried me another thirty feet to another screw. A break in the left wall took a Friend. It felt good as the last solid protection was sixty feet below, a bashed-in stopper on the overhanging headwall. The ice ran straight up for another 100 feet, thinning as it reached the top. I was getting close. As I moved up, the ice became thinner to where my crampon points were hitting the rock through the half inch of ice. Leaning out, I could see bare rock at the break-over. It was not going to go. Luckily there was another way. To my right ran a horizontal crack to a four-inch vertical crack splitting the wall to the top. From below I had noticed it was full of ice and reserved it as an alternative. After placing a Friend, I jammed out to the right, crampons scraping on the smooth granite. After a fall, I reached the ice-filled crack, sunk in my axe and pulled myself into the spectacular slot. With hands and feet stacked in the narrow ice, I gazed up to its end, and the top. No place to stop! But there was no need to stop. Freedom was my catalyst as I deliberately and methodically made each placement. As I pulled over the top and onto the summit slope, I envisioned a crack like this running for days. Where could I find it? I didn’t want the feeling to stop.

When Paul reached me, I asked him if he wanted to go to the summit of Hunter. The top of the mountain was a mile and a half of steep snow slogging away. And then, the most logical descent would be the five-mile west ridge or the Lowe-Kennedy route. I had intended only to climb the buttress and was glad when Paul agreed to start down. I wanted to see the route again, from a different perspective.

We followed the route back to the “Tamara Traverse.” Rappelling the shaft was airy and brought home the steepness of this section of the climb with most of it hanging in space. At the end of the “Tamara Traverse,” we dropped straight down with four difficult rappels over the undercut wall. One of these rappels was totally free from the overhanging rock, just reaching a stance at the very end of the rope. By late afternoon we were bounding down the slope below the bergschrund to our skis.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Alaska Range, just south of Mount McKinley.

New Route: Mount Hunter’s North Buttress Direct, May 1981

(Paul Aubrey, New Zealand and Terry (Mugs) Stump, American).

American Alpine Journal 1982

Johnny K.

Jul 10, 2016 - 08:27am PT


beneath the valley of ultravegans
Jul 10, 2016 - 10:18am PT
Peter Metcalf's Enormocast interview adds another dimension. Not the same face, though.

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 10, 2016 - 08:59pm PT
Moonflower Buttress, 1981.

Mountain 85

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 10, 2016 - 09:19pm PT
Bibler-Klewin: 1982

Mount Hunter, North Buttress. Finally, the north buttress has been climbed all the way to the summit. It was Doug Klewin’s fourth and my second try. We began to the left of Mug Stump’s start (See A.A.J., 1982, pages 118 to 183), climbing eight pitches up to the base of the Prow. We continued to the base of the Shaft for 17 pitches on the first day. Bad weather trapped us there for a day. Then we climbed the Shaft, freeing sections of overhanging ice. This was the only day of the climb when it did not snow. In bad weather we climbed the next rock band and pitched our tent somewhat below Stump’s high point, which we think was somewhat lower than he indicated, and a little to the right. For the next four days we sat in our tent threatened by constant avalanches and high winds. Once we tried to climb out of the situation but after four pitches we found the spindrift so heavy that I could neither see nor hear Doug only inches away at the belay. We were forced back to our bivouac site after getting to within 40 feet of the top of the last rock band. When the weather cleared, we went for the top. The clearing was brief and soon we were in a storm again, waiting to see which way to go. We bivouacked again before getting to the summit on June 3 and again on the descent of the west ridge. It snowed so much during the eleven days that we lost our well-wanded cache of $2000 worth of equipment at the base of the climb.

Todd Bibler

American Alpine Journal 1983


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 11, 2016 - 03:52pm PT
Grison-Tedeschi: 1984

Mount Hunter, North Face. Benoît Grison and I made a new route on the north face of Mount Hunter from June 24 to 29. On the first day we climbed the huge ice gully that cuts the left side of the face. It rises precipitously in a series of vertical steps. We bivouacked at its top at 10,500 feet. On June 25 we traversed up and right toward the center of the face. The ice was thin and brittle. On the third day we kept well to the left of the principal buttress. The mixed pitches were very difficult and subject to incessant snow slides. We bivouacked on the ridge top. We reached the summit on June 27. Our descent via the west ridge was dangerous because of bad weather.

Yves Tedeschi, Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne

American Alpine Journal 1985

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 11, 2016 - 11:50pm PT
"Deprivation" on Mount Hunter (1st Ascent)

Marc Francis Twight

Our new psycho-mixed climb,

"Deprivation," rises nearly 2000 vertical meters (6562 vertical feet) up the north buttress of Mount Hunter west of Mugs Stump's and Paul Aubrey’s 1981 Moonflower Buttress route. Scott Backes and I followed a system of ice runnels and ledges through four major rock bands on the northwest-facing wall of the north buttress. In 1988, Nick Craddock and Lydia Brady from New Zealand climbed through the Third Rock Band but were forced to retreat from high on the wall. In previous and subsequent years to 1988. the route was apparently the scene of several attempts.

Scott and I left our skis on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier at 8260 feet at one A.M. on May 15 and crossed the bergschrund at 2:30 A.M. We simul-climbed 150 meters of moderate ice with one 75° crux below three distinctly visible parallel runnels of ice. Scott climbed the left-hand one to a ledge, traversed across and belayed me up the right-hand runnel, which had an 80° crux. Another 75° pitch up and left gave access to three hard pitches of climbing, where we hauled the leader’s pack. These three pitches all had questionable belays; we had only one or two good pieces of protection per rope-length. The first two had 90° passages on thin ice; the third featured totally psychotic mixed climbing, dry-tooling on rounded edges, bad protection, a bad belay and “ice” like the stuff in the freezer at home that didn’t hold picks very well.

The First Ice-field passed by in a 20-minute simul-climbing burst to the base of a prominent left-facing ramp. The ramp pitches were easy in comparison to those below with 70° to 80° cruxes and emptied us out onto 65° black ice. The “alpine vacuum cleaner” sucked us into runnels—the line of least resistance—eventually spitting us out onto a 50° ice arete which we more or less followed up the Second Ice-field to a bivouac ledge chopped out of the ice beneath the Third Ice-field. We quit climbing for the day at 7:30 P.M., having managed about 2500 feet of upward progress.

On the morning of May 16, a 100-meter traverse to the right brought us to a mixed passage with a 75° or 80° crux. We climbed onto a ledge system leading left and then back right, allowing us to avoid about 25 meters of artificial climbing, which would have slowed us down unnecessarily. We simul-climbed 200 meters up and left on 45° to 50° terrain. As the ground steepened, we belayed five pitches on ice back right, which was mostly 60° with one 75° mixed section, to the base of the obvious waterfall cutting through the Fourth Rock Band. This pitch had two 95° cruxes and the ice was black, hard and evil. One more 75° ice-and-mixed pitch got us through the Fourth Rock Band and onto the slopes leading to the top of the buttress proper. We negotiated three mixed pitches, moderate but with several viciously steep (90°) passages. Darkness— false night actually—came at eleven P.M., but we continued climbing as temperatures fell to -20°F. All the gear was frozen; the carabiners wouldn’t close, the camming devices wouldn’t operate and two of our five ice screws were choked and unusable. We tried melting the cores out with a lighter to no avail. That left us with three screws to protect ourselves on the five 60-meter pitches of black ice which separated us from the cornice. We crawled through the icecream roll on the top of the buttress at six A.M. and stopped to brew until 9:30. Clouds brewing in the west inspired us then to move quickly. We simul-climbed through two 80° sérac walls and rushed up perfect sastrugi toward the summit. Reaching the plateau after two hours, we traversed south of the summit pyramid, climbing upward nonetheless, forced higher than we would have liked by an extensive series of bergschrunds. We turned the corner at an altitude of 14,490 feet, twenty feet higher than the actual summit—so much for our altimeter—and dropped off the plateau towards the west ridge.

In a gathering storm and white-out conditions, we managed to find the out-off into the northwest basin. This turned out to be the most dangerous place I have ever been. With a little radio information from Steve Mascioli, we descended the west ridge and reached 6500 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier at eleven P.M. We were met by Michael Kennedy, Greg Child, Joe Josephson and Ken Wiley, who had retrieved our skis and brought them along with hot drinks, food and powerful morale-boosting camaraderie. At one A.M., we were all back at the Airstrip, enjoying Annie’s company and cooking in the radio tent. [Anne Marie Duquette was the radio operator and flight coordinator at the Airstrip.— Editor.]

The ascent of the north buttress and the descent of the west ridge in 72 hours—three days faster than the second quickest round-trip—reflect an attitude defined by years of climbing in the Alps and a willingness to accept a certain amount of risk, although different risks were taken by previous parties on the same wall. Our ethic was to climb between storms rather than counting on being hit by one and sitting it out. Our plan was to climb as fast as we could until something went wrong, even the slightest detail, at which point we would promptly retreat and attempt the wall again in better conditions or with the appropriate gear. For me, alpine climbing is about movement and freedom and defining my own rules.

We had previously attempted what was to become “The Wall of Shadows” and realized that our lightweight, speed-dependent style would only end in despair and failure on that wall. We retreated after six pitches. On “Deprivation,” we climbed at what we consider the minimum (a subjective term which would mean far too much gear for some and unjustifiably slim for others). We carried enough food and fuel for two bivouacs—the food already stretched and rationed. We had no tent, only bivy sacks, which actually meant a saving of energy when we chopped the bivy ledge, as a long shallow head-to-head ledge takes an hour to chop and a tent platform for even the smallest tent requires a minimum of three hours’ determined work. Counting on movement to keep us warm, we wore little clothing and carried but “belay jackets” to wear over our shell gear when we stopped. Factoring the jackets, climbing suits and Shake-n-Warms into our sleeping systems allowed me to use a synthetic sleeping bag rated to 20°F, while Scott wisely opted for a 10°F bag. The packs, without the hardware and ropes in them, weighed more than 25 pounds but less than 30. Our rack of hardware was pared down to just enough gear to rappel from the top of the buttress, should it have come to that: 7 cams, pitons, 9 nuts, 5 ice screws. We had 40 feet of 5mm perlon rope and a coat hanger to make Abalakov rappel anchors in the ice and figured that 26 or 28 60-meter rappels could get us off from the cornice. Above there, the fail-safe point, we were committed and could only “fail upwards.”

I do not recommend our style of climbing to other alpinists—it is just the way I do things. I am willing to accept the necessary “deprivation” and risk. But it isn’t for everyone. Having said that, it is my opinion, however, that it is the future of Alaskan climbing. I believe that many great walls can be climbed non-stop as long as teams wait for perfect conditions and are willing and able to fail, and as long as they are not dependent on victory and the summit as a definition of success. Coming home alive is succeeding; the summit is a gift. Good, hard climbing and man striving for his utmost perfection should be the definition of a successful Alaskan adventure.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Alaska Range

New Route: Mount Hunter, 4441 meters; 14,470 feet, via “Deprivation,” a 2000-meter-high route west of the Moonflower Buttress route on the northwest-facing wall of the North Buttress; Rating Alaskan Grade 6, Alpine ED+, 90° ice; May 15-17, 1994 (Scott Backes, Marc Francis Twight).

American Alpine Journal 1995

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 12, 2016 - 05:18pm PT
Wall of Shadows. 1st Ascent: Greg Child and Michael Kennedy, 1994

Shadows of Doubt, Mount Hunter

Michael Kennedy

CLICK! A SIMPLE SOUND: the snap of a crampon heel-bail against a plastic boot, hanging over the side of a portaledge 1000 feet above the Kahiltna Glacier. Just one of dozens of precise mechanical movements we’d have to make every day. But for me, the banal act of putting on crampons possessed a strange, symbolic significance, for it signaled my continued willingness to engage the labyrinth of vertiginous, ice-veined rock above, to put all thoughts of home and comfort aside. Climbers often talk about the difficulty of stepping into the unknown, but I had no doubts about what to expect on the Wall of Shadows, this new route on the North Buttress of Mount Hunter. The puking agony of blood creeping back into frozen digits. The bad anchors, the unavoidable avalanche slopes, the storms that boiled up from nowhere. The dreary physical numbness of 16-hour days, wondering which way to go, where to bivouac. The grind of doing too much work on too few calories, your body eating itself just to survive. Most of all, though, I dreaded the anxious, dreamless nights.

As I swung my other boot out over the void, I came to a crafty little realization: if I dropped a crampon we would have to go down. But I knew that now wasn’t the time to bail out. We were too close to the ground—just a day into the route—and it would be far too easy to climb back up. Best to wait until retreating would be a true epic, then we wouldn’t want to return.

Although Greg Child, my partner on this adventure, gave lip service to the darker fears and doubts all alpine climbers seem to dwell on, he seemed awfully enthusiastic about our project. “I figure we have to keep going until something stops us,” he said. “And if it does, we’ll just have to get ourselves back down.”

In May 1993, we’d climbed the Nettle-Quirk route on Huntington’s West Face together, then attempted the Moonflower Buttress on Mount Hunter. Warm conditions and my premonitions of doom turned us back that year, but our eyes were drawn to the monolithic wall left of the Moonflower. An inobvious line of sinuous ice smears and steep ramps loosely connected by devious rock pitches seemed to offer some possibilities, and even as we retreated from the Moonflower we laid plans to return.

May 13, 1994 saw Greg and me back at the Kahiltna Glacier airstrip, the epicenter of Alaska Range mountaineering, well-prepared for a long siege. Others had arrived before us, and we settled into what we came to call the Ghetto. Not a strict geographical construct but rather a state of mind, the Ghetto was occupied by a shifting band of miscreants gunning for various routes, real and imagined, on the North Buttress of Mount Hunter. Unlike the 1300-odd Denali aspirants who would pass through the airstrip in the summer of 1994, none of us knew if we’d even get onto our routes, let alone up them. Perhaps that was part of the bond we felt.

At least four parties had their eyes on the Moonflower, and they presented a serious collection of talent. Montana-born Joe Josephson, a Canadian Rockies ice wizard, and Steve Mascioli, who'd tried the Moonflower three years in a row, were first in line, followed by Jeff Burton and Chris Caldwell, two North Carolina climbers we’d met on Huntington in 1993. Later, New Paltz locals Mike Dimitri and Brett Wolf, and Salt Lake City climber Bill Belcourt and New Hampshire ice expert Randy Rackliff flew in for a look. Ken Wylie, a Canadian who’d come to Alaska alone after his partner bailed out of their Ruth Gorge trip at the last minute, played a valuable supporting role, as did Annie Duquette, the base-camp radio operator who informally adopted all of us.

Only Bill and Randy eventually succeeded on the Moonflower, making an efficient and uneventful ascent from June 1-7. Joe and Steve made three concerted attempts, reaching the top of the first ice band 15 pitches up on the third, while Jeff and Chris, after retreating from the Twin Runnels, flew over to the Tokositna and made a three-day ascent of the Harvard Route on the West Face of Huntington.

The grand masters of Ghetto existence, however, were Scott Backes, a Minnesota climber who’d been around almost as long as I (although we’d never met), and Dr. Doom himself, Marc Twight. They had arrived on the Kahiltna in late April with several weeks’ worth of food and an ambitious hit list, including the same route Greg and I coveted. Worse yet, they were supremely capable and might actually do it before we got there.

It was comforting, then, to arrive in Alaska and learn that the weather had been abysmal; Marc and Scott hadn’t gotten up a single route, nor had anyone else on the Kahiltna. “Thank God you’re here,” Scott told us as we stumbled onto the glacier out of Jim Okonek’s Cessna 185, dragging six heavy duffels of food and gear. “Marc and I agreed that if we hadn’t done this thing by the time you guys showed up, we’d let you have it.” They’d tried the route a few days before during a short respite from the nearly constant storms, but had retreated after climbing the first six pitches. From what they told us, we could now safely dismiss that start and look for another.

Greg and I immediately set to work, carrying a load of gear to a cache in the middle of the glacier just a quarter-mile from the start of the climbing. We’d brought along a powerful spotting scope that afforded us an intimate view of the travails that awaited us, and we spent hours peering into it trying to fathom the secrets of the wall.

The scope revealed a thin crack that split the first rock band, then came a traverse left into an ice-filled arch, followed by a wide smear. Dubious mixed ground led to a right-leaning ramp and a steep 400-foot rock wall. After some mixed ground, the route would join the Moonflower at the final rock band. Then the 2000-foot slog up the Northeast Ridge to the summit.

There were question marks, sections we couldn’t decipher until we reached them, but the route formed in our minds. We agreed to play to each others strengths: because of his extensive wall experience, Greg would lead the hard aid pitches, while I'd take the slippery cruxes. It took us parts of two days to fix six ropes and get our haul bag up the first four pitches. All we needed now was good weather.

Meanwhile, Marc and Scott started up a new route to the right of the Moonflower, following a system of ice runnels and ledges leading through four major rock bands. We watched them through the scope, and the climbing looked very difficult in places. Their speed was impressive, too. They climbed 2500 feet in 18½ hours, bivouacked, continued up through the final rock band —which included the hardest pitch of the route, with two 95° cruxes on bad ice—then traversed up and around the plateau just below and south of the summit. Foregoing the easy climbing to the top, Marc and Scott climbed down the West Ridge in storm and whiteout conditions late on May 17, aided by some beta from Steve Mascioli, who had done the West Ridge before. Marc and Scott’s route, aptly named Deprivation, had taken 72 hours round trip.

A new series of storms set in and confined us to camp. Huge waves of spindrift obliterated the North Buttress every time the clouds rolled in, inspiring much apocalyptic speculation—and varying degrees of resignation, angst, doubt, hubris, humor, and fear—among the denizens of the Ghetto. Mostly, though, we exercised our patience muscles.

A preternatural calm settled over camp. I wondered about the climb Greg and I had mapped out, how we’d manage certain parts of it. I didn’t feel rushed or anxious—I knew that we would get up on the route, and once we did, we wouldn’t be turning back. Something felt right about the trip. Marc and Scott’s success had been a boost, but more than that, it helped solidify the feeling that had been growing since we’d arrived—a subtle, almost electric atmosphere of solidarity and trust, not just between Greg and me, but among all of us in the Ghetto.

On May 24, we woke to a foot-and-a-half of new snow. But the sky was luminous—clearer than it had been the entire trip—and we spent a warm afternoon making our final preparations. We left camp at seven A.M. May 25 and skied up in the crystalline cold to the bottom of the North Buttress. By early afternoon we’d jugged our fixed lines, sorted out the ropes, and cast off. Two tedious mixed pitches led up to a protective overhang, under which we anchored the portaledge. But first I had to grapple with the wide smear we’d dubbed Thug Alley.

This pitch had looked hard from a distance and on closer acquaintance was still daunting. Burying my doubts, I hooked my way up a steep onionskin of styrofoam-like ice at the bottom, delicately weighting my crampons and ice tools so as to not destroy the thin, frozen veneer. Forty feet up, the angle eased slightly, the ice became gloriously plastic, and placing a couple of ice screws along the way, I ran out the 200-foot rope to a hanging belay. It was one of the best single pitches I'd ever done.

Thug Alley had been one of the major question marks of the route; in a worst-case scenario it would have been too thin to ice-climb, and we would have had to nail it. Comfortably ensconced in the portaledge and sated, at least for now, with soup, cheese, and hot chocolate, our confidence soared. Later, though, my thoughts turned darkly inward, and I wrestled with the familiar demons of ambition and fear, wondering again if I had it in me to give all that this wall would demand. I could barely suppress the urge to flee the next morning, and imagined all kinds of tricks that would get me out of here: drop a crampon, drop the stove, drop a rope, drop the rack. Greg had doubts as well, although like me he kept them to himself. His budding career as a “serious” writer was all-too-sedentary preparation for the rigors we now faced, and suffering from tendinitis, he had been unable to climb for several months. A few weeks before going to Alaska he’d had cortisone injected into his elbows to ease the inflammation. “I was really worried up there,” Greg told me later. “I thought my tendons might totally give out like broken boot laces.”

Despite our infirmities, we got ourselves and our baggage to the top of Thug Alley, then Greg front-pointed up a wall of cold plastic to the next obstacle of the route. A narrow, ice-filled chimney ended in a roof festooned with snow mushrooms. To the right was a steep, sparsely featured rock wall that would require aid, and to the left, a slight break in the roof gave access to a thinly-iced but otherwise blank slab. The ice would go quicker than the aid, we reasoned, so I front-pointed up the chimney and stepped left, crampons screeching against granite. A good pin gave me the confidence to get to the roof, then I was stumped. I could pull over onto the slab, but the ice was thin enough to be almost useless, the pin was 15 feet below the roof, and it didn’t look as if I’d get anything else in for an eternity.

I climbed back down and hung disconsolate on the pin. Greg shouted up, wondering if it would go. I glanced over at the wall to the right—it looked unlikely, even on aid—and steeled myself for another try. Twenty-five feet of nerve-wracking, barely-in-balance climbing later I came to an impasse. The angle above increased ever so slightly, and for 15 feet it looked as if I’d have to fully weight my tools to progress. I probed every patch of ice within reach; the picks bottomed out after an eighth or quarter inch. Nothing was substantial enough to pull on.

My left crampon scraped six inches down the slab, catching on God-only- knows-what and sending my heart rate into orbit. I was looking at a 50-footer. “I’ve really screwed up now,” I told myself. I don’t know how I got down those 25 feet, so scared I thought I’d puke. I lowered off a good pin beneath the roof, disgusted with myself, and by the time I reached the belay I was ready to throw off the haul bag and head home. Greg wasn’t fazed. “We can’t let something like this stop us,” he said as he racked up. “I’m sure I can aid my way up on the right.”

Three hours, many upside-down tied-off knifeblades, a rivet, a final aid move off a Spectre in an ice-choked crack, and 50 feet of steep ice later, Greg slumped into another hanging belay atop the Enigma. I'd stopped brooding by then, and seconding the pitch, marveled at Greg’s display of skill and tenacity.

After a doubt-filled bivouac, more mixed climbing, twisting and turning, in and out of étriers, brought us to the bottom of the Crystal Highway, a right-leaning ramp that gave three long, sustained rope-lengths of perfect one-swing styrofoam. We were in a stunning position, dangling against a shimmering mirror of ice 2000 feet above the glacier, a polished, golden-granite wall to our left and the bizarre, bulbous snow formations of the Mushroom Fields to our right. A bulging, in-obvious wall leaned overhead. We could see that it would require much aid; in the end it proved to be the crux of the route. We gladly put it out of mind as we burrowed into the portaledge for the night. Morning came all too soon for Greg. I’m sure he would have welcomed a good excuse to go down, but he failed to drop the rack when he had the chance. I settled into my harness and pulled on my parka, happy again to be a spectator. Steadily, he tip-tapped his way up, avoiding huge, fragile blobs of snow with awkward tension traverses, swinging around roofs, bludgeoning knifeblades into bottoming cracks, and skyhooking on icy flakes. Twelve hours and two 200-foot pitches later, he’d cracked the Somewhere Else Wall—as in “I wished I were somewhere else”—and we settled in for our fourth night on the climb.

An ugly, snow-choked overhang guarded the bottom of the final cascade, so in the morning we traversed left to the mixed exit we’d spotted from the glacier. I was tired but energized, totally consumed now with this pitch, this climb, this moment. Inching up, I used every trick I’d learned in the past 25 years, and a few I’d just figured out. An hour of stemming, jamming, pinching, teetering on one front point on a dime-width edge, gloves on and off, tools stacked in the corner crack, an adze cammed against a chockstone, a pick wedged into a crack, and I leaned gratefully back against another set of anchors—atop our 21st pitch—nursing blood back into frozen hands as the electric buzz of adrenaline ebbed away.

Mist swirled all around as we climbed easier mixed ground to the third ice band and trudged several hundred feet to another hanging bivouac below the final rocks. Although we still had a day of hard climbing left on the North Buttress, the worst was behind us, and we’d soon be able to abandon our wall gear for the long slog up and over the summit. The clouds had an ominous look to them, though, and after we crawled into the portaledge it began to snow. We were alarmed when the first big avalanche swept over us, but eventually became numb to the drum of snow pounding against the fly. Clouds still engulfed the mountain next morning, and the snow built up steadily. Encased in our nylon coffin, we passed the day by eating and resting.

The next morning was quiet, still, and oh-so-cold. I cleared the ice from the zipper and peeled back the frozen nylon of the portaledge fly. Denali stood aglow in the distance, not a cloud in sight. Struggling with everything, we slowly dis-entombed ourselves and packed the bare minimum: sleeping bags, pads, two days’ food and fuel, a pared-down rack. Everything else went into the haul bag, which was sacrificed to the glacier waiting below. The portaledge was frozen beyond dismantling. We abandoned it and started the plod. No turning back now.

The Bibler Come Again Exit to the Moonflower, the last barrier between us and the icefield leading up to the Northeast Ridge, looked hard. I wasn’t in the mood for it. I wanted to sit down, preferably in Annie's hut eating pasta and drinking beer. I wanted off this mountain. Once I’d stopped feeling sorry for myself I actually enjoyed the Come Again. I ran out of energy and rope just below the top, leaving Greg to moan his way up the final off-width. Five pitches of brittle blue water ice covered with six inches of powder followed. Our packs were light, but we were both wasted. We finally reached a perfect natural eyrie below the cornice at the top of the buttress and set about restoring our waning energies with as many hot brews as we could coax out of the stove. An hour of sun did much for our spirits, but nothing for our sodden bags, and we spent a brief night—our seventh on the route—shivering in the Alaskan twilight.

Nothing quite prepared us for what we encountered when we popped up over the top of the ridge the next morning. The sun was a blessing, but a thick layer of snow blanketed the upper part of the mountain. We still had a long way to go. Trudging listlessly along, I wandered too close to the edge, breaking off a big chunk of cornice that tumbled into the depths. Jumping back, I muttered, “Wake-up call,” then returned to my labors.

We traded leads often, but knee- and sometimes waist-deep powder slowed us to a crawl. “This is soul-destroying work,” Greg sighed after a brutal stretch in front. I couldn’t agree more, but we didn’t have much of a choice. Twelve hours after leaving the cornice we staggered onto the flat summit of Mount Hunter, 14,570 feet above the sea and miles from home. It was our eighth day on the mountain.

We dropped our packs, embraced, and admired the view. It was calm and cloudless as far as the eye could see. A few minutes after we’d arrived, one of Doug Geeting’s pilots flew by and tipped his wings at us. Down at camp, we imagined that Marc and Scott and Annie and the others were watching us. It was a comforting thought.

More knee-deep snow awaited us on the descent across the summit plateau. We stomped out a sleeping platform and took advantage of the warm evening sun to rest and dry out. Cold twilight arrived three listless hours later, and Greg and I burrowed soundlessly into our bags. In the morning, four miles of Hunter’s West Ridge and 6000 feet of relief still separated us from the Kahiltna Glacier airstrip, and we knew we’d have to motor to get off the mountain that day. The seven A.M. cold was like a razor, cutting to the bone. My feet stayed numb for five or six hours despite all my efforts to warm them. Worse, I was completely out of sorts, frightened of the crevasses and cornices and avalanches, and unsure of finding the proper way down. Greg took the lead, parting the snowy sea like an ice breaker.

We each poked a leg through the snow and into crevasses several times, and were lucky not to do worse. By late afternoon we were rappelling the steep gully leading down into the northwest basin, a variation that avoids the bottom mile and a half (and some of the trickiest climbing) of the West Ridge.

Conditions were tropical. Wet, rotten snow sucked at our feet and huge séracs leered down at us from three sides. We ran down a huge pile of avalanche debris, rationalizing our folly by pretending that the most dangerous slopes had already gone. We scurried across football-sized fields of freshly fallen ice blocks, some the size of a refrigerator. In several places fresh slides had wiped out the tracks we were following, those of a Colorado foursome who had climbed the West Ridge several days before. For all its popularity as the “normal” route up Mount Hunter, the northwest basin was an incredibly dangerous place.

Two tiny figures had skied up to an abandoned camp near the bottom of the route a couple of hours earlier, then sat patiently waiting, no doubt getting a chuckle out of our antics. As we stumbled down the last hundred yards to the main glacier, they ran toward us, whooping and hollering. “Did ya get some?” grinned Scott, peering into our drawn faces. He and Marc took our packs and pressed cups of hot tea into our eager hands.

The tension of the past nine days gradually ebbed as we sat recounting our climb in the warm evening sun. Greg and I had found what we’d come to Alaska for: the Wall of Shadows was the hardest route we'd done in our combined half-century of climbing. I didn’t want to let go so soon. But the intensity was gone, and the experience already fading into memory. And we’d made it home.

Summary of Statistics:

Area: Alaska Range

New Route: Mount Hunter, 4441 meters, 14,470 feet, via “Wall of Shadows,” left of the Moonflower Buttress route on the West Buttress; Rating Alaskan Grade 6 AI 6+, 5.9, A4; May 25-June 2 (Greg Child, Michael Kennedy).

American Alpine Journal 1995


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 12, 2016 - 05:27pm PT
Wall of Shadows. 1st Ascent: Greg Child and Michael Kennedy, 1994

Climbing: March 1995

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 13, 2016 - 12:13am PT
The Knowledge (1st Ascent)

Ian Parnell, England

The north buttress of Hunter surely must be nirvana for hard mixed climbing. Some of the steepest rock and ice in the Alaska Range—and all that history, seeping through the perfect granite. I had to keep pinching myself because, on my first trip to the mountains, it really looked like we might complete our own route on this sounding stone of Alaskan climbing.

My last lead had started with a neat little section of strange ice stuck in blobs to the face before I tension traversed to a thin crack. Here, the free climbing had quickly given way to aid beneath a choking veneer of ice. The only worry had been swinging through a roof. Beneath it loomed a huge snow mushroom that threatened the belay below.

Jules Cartwright, my partner, could do little but count lucky stars across the Arctic sky. He’d already dealt calmly with an amazing goulotte of inch-thick ice. The confidence gained from seeing Jules in his element and in control doing the business 50 feet out from his runners was palpable. Now Jules was back in aiders, hanging out against the perfect alpine blue sky as the rock began to overhang. Could life get any better?

Bang! I was folded in half. The force pulled me down hard onto my anchors, as I felt squeezed into the snow.

“Clip in, Jules!” I cried out, desperately knotting the rope as I fought to stay conscious.

It’s funny how life’s path can suddenly twist, but three days up Hunter, and now with fractured ribs, things were looking a lot more serious. I looked up; Jules hung next to the remaining half of the snow mushroom that he’d accidentally touched. The look in his eyes spoke volumes. After five years of oh-so-close attempts in the mountains, he knew that our Alaskan dream was close to the breaking point. As I slowly accustomed myself to a shallow breathing pattern, I felt the same desire quietly return. The climb had changed. Jules would have to lead all the hard pitches. I was gutted, having relished the prospect of pushing it further on lead. Instead, I rationalized that my role now was to focus my efforts on breathing and moving up, whichever way I could.

Three days later and 500 feet higher, the pain had subsided to a background hum—that is, until one of us shifted his weight at the bivy. Oh, why had we brought a single ledge? We had been trapped head to toe for 45 hours in our cradled shelter, Jules’s feet tenderly perched atop my lumpy rib cage. While the spindrift avalanches intermittently darkened the walls of the flysheet, we eked out our packet of sugar-coated cookies and recalled the amazing climbing below.

I would eventually spend a day and a half at the “rib-tickler stance” as Jules struggled with the hardest pitch of the route. Time-consuming, awkward, tied-off aid invention led to within 15 feet of easy ground. Here, though, lay a nightmare slot: perhaps 12 inches wide, flared, and coated in verglas. Jules tried everything, including trying to aid off axes in a quarter inch of ice. I gauged each attempt by an imperceptible creep of rope before a flurry of expletives and the inevitable crunch of ribs as the ropes came tight at the end of another fall.

We had spoken to Mark Twight at base camp, who told us that only fools risk falls in the mountains. We began to feel like court jesters as we eventually notched up about seven. Jules couldn’t quite explain what happened to finally get him through the nightmare pitch, but with all his expletives it could only be dubbed “The Scream.”

By contrast, the third rockband approached perfection. The initial pitch involving mixed climbing, at times overhanging, to a pendulum to a hanging tongue of water ice, Jules stretching to a hanging belay as I began simulclimbing. The final pitch had looked blank from the base camp telescope, but sealing the name “The Dream,” a perfect A1 crack cleaved the smooth headwall.

Now, at our junction with the Moonflower, we waited for the storm to clear. The day before, we had been joined by Koji Ito and Hiroyuki from Japan, who had battled through the spindrift of the Moonflower. Unable to speak in the storm, we could nonetheless feel the spiritual bond grow. We were amazed at their stoicism: in their fragile hammocks, they considered retreat, but, seeing us stay put, decided to hang in as well.

As conditions improved, we set off for the Bibler-Come-Again exit. We had planned to cache gear at the Cornice Bivy and make a dash for the summit before rappelling the Moonflower, but now our personal summit became the Cornice Bivy itself as we waded through three feet of avalanche-prone snow over black ice.

How do you describe those summit moments when shared dreams are realized? We had few words at the time, but the sense of relief in knowing that we had been able to grasp our slim opportunity was obvious. So, too, was our pride in our route, The Knowledge, which called on our entire combined mountain skills, plus a few new ones invented on the spot.

The Knowledge (Alaskan 6, ED4 5.7 A2++ WI6, 1200m) on the north buttress of Mount Hunter, May 25–June 1, Jules Cartwright and Ian Parnell.

American Alpine Journal 2001


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 14, 2016 - 12:01am PT
The Knowledge (1st Ascent)

Ian Parnell, England

Well done Avery - gradually working through the whole range ;-) Hunter North Butt is a pretty special one though. So I've never been to the summit (which I regret) but I have been lucky enough to climb two great routes. A new one The Knowledge (to the Cornice bivi) with Jules Cartwright in May 2000 which was my first proper big alpine route and a massive step up courtesy of Jules. Lots of stories which I'll tell later on. Also repeated The Moonflower to the end of the rock/mixed with Kenton Cool in 2001 (?), freeing everything but the pendulum on the tower (mind a bit fuzzy but might have had one rest point on the way up that pitch. Marko Prezelj and Stephen Koch made the first free ascent shortly after. Pics of Jules on The Knowledge below, a fine and much missed friend.

Thanks to Ian Parnell

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 14, 2016 - 06:57pm PT
The Cartwright Connection, 2011. 1st Ascent: Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker

Unrelenting spindrift avalanches and gusty winds blasted and buffeted the portaledge. Our small cocoon of safety on this harsh mountain was slowly being engulfed, as we nervously watched the snow level rise up the fly walls. It had taken five of the toughest days’ climbing of our lives to get to this point, and our chances of reaching the top of the north buttress were diminishing. The forecast was for more snow and stronger winds over the upcoming days.

The first day went smoothly, according to plan. Not that night, though, as Matt Helliker and I realized the perils of hanging our portaledge on a 60° ice slope. We were awakened when it collapsed and transformed into a hammock. On day two we faced many uncertainties, as we found a way through steep, complex terrain, with many overhanging snow mushrooms. Matt fought hard in the lead all day and at 2 a.m. had us below the steepest rock band of the climb. In overcoming these difficulties our confidence had grown, and I started to think we might have a chance of getting up this climb. Day three was steep and scary—thinly iced slabs, overhanging cracks, aid on loose rock, a pitch of vertical ice, and more. We finally got to bed at 6 a.m. Day four we joined the Bibler-Klewin/Moonflower route; we just needed luck with the weather. Day five it snowed and wind blew.At 9 p.m., after being trapped on the ledge all day, we sensed a slight lull and had glimpses of the sun through the clouds. We were both thinking that this might be our only chance, and with no food left there was no point in waiting. We packed a stove, spare gloves, warm jackets, and a minimal rack, our goal being to reach the Cornice Bivouac, 500m and 13 pitches above. However, we felt the chances of success were negligible.

Two pitches later the snow started again, and we were battling against spindrift. The cold was almost unbearable, but our optimism and unwillingness to give up won through. In dream-like exhaustion we stood at the top of the face at 5 a.m. Few words were said, and we had no comprehension of what we had achieved. We only knew we had to start rappelling. Thirty-eight rappels and 14 hours later, we were back on the glacier, where we collapsed, having been awake for 36 hours. We named the route the Cartwright Connection, in memory of my good friend Jules Cartwright, whose vision it was to attempt this line.

Jon Bracey, France

Editor’s note: Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker climbed very steep terrain a little left of the Bibler-Klewin/Moonflower, before joining it at the Second Ice Band, beneath the Vision Pitch. The16 independent pitches presented difficulties of M6 AI6 5.8 A2. They rappelled the Moonflower. While some argue that the limited amount of new climbing defines this as a major variation, rather than an independent route, it is undoubtedly a highly technical challenge, significantly harder than either the French Route or the Moonflower, and one to which future parties may try to add an autonomous finish. Jules Cartwright’s original concept envisioned new ground directly to the Third Ice Band/Come Again Exit.

American Alpine Journal 2012

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 15, 2016 - 02:15am PT
Moonflower, 3rd Ascent: Andy De Klerk, Julie Brugger, 1993

By Andy De Klerk

Hi Avery,

All good here in SA.
I've been keeping tabs on your North Buttress thread on Supertopo. Well done on highlighting another super Alpine classic.

As far as our ascent goes, here are 2 pics that I thought were the most relevant in summarizing our ascent - The first is of me starting up the Shaft in brilliant weather, and the other one of Julie near the top of the third ice band getting nailed with spindrift.

Julie Brugger and I spent 4 days climbing the Bibler/Klewin on the North Buttress but our total round trip was 14 days. We had an epic with bad weather after the first 3 days and we spent a long time on the summit plateau trying to find the start of the west ridge to descend in a whiteout. But we found it in the end and everything worked out fine, we just got a little wasted because we had only brought food for 6 days and gas for 8.

I have one of Bradford Washburns pictures of Mt Hunter hanging on my wall and every time I look at it I can't help but smile because it wasn't the Buttress that was the problem, it was the rest of the mountain afterwards that threw everything it had at us.

We approached the route as a "big wall ice climb", and our original idea was to haul up small mountain para-gliders with us. The very early Ailes de K Turbo Everest para-gliders that were more like tiny 7 cell skydiving canopies that were like flying bricks and that dropped like a stone. Ironically, when we were on the ridge just under the summit a hole in the clouds appeared and the wind was just perfect for launching. We could have been down in base camp in 10 minutes, but sadly we had left the para-gliders behind at the last minute. We'd done this combination before in the Alps and in Peru and the hit rate was about 50% and I rather wanted to climb the North Buttress than to risk not climbing it in order to maybe fly off. The rules for paragliding in the park are much stricter now than back then it was early days when both activities were not yet mainstream.

The North Buttress was really good climbing. The twin runnels and the shaft were brilliant. The prow was also really great mixed climbing. We bivvied open on the first and then the second ice bands and then it started snowing hard while we were in the Vision and then it got really unpleasant. We bivvied on the third ice band and then again just above the come again exit, and those last 5 pitches up to the ridge were just horrible with loads of spindrift sliding off all the time. The summit day was long and fine but then down on the summit plateau the weather closed in again and we couldn't see a thing for a week. When it did clear we went down the west ridge and back to Kahiltna base camp in a day.

It's a classic. We had a great time. It took a while before the memory of the great ice climbing superseded all the snow plodding that came after though. We should have left some skis at the base of the West Ridge. The post hole session up the Kahiltna was character building. The strongest retrospective I have of doing the North Buttress is how easily accessible it is with such excellent climbing, but at the same time how remote it is after you continue over the top. It's a big wall ice climb that you can fairly easily rap off of, which then changes into an Alaskan mountaineering adventure rather quickly.

Thanks to Andy De Klerk

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 15, 2016 - 07:03pm PT
Mt. Hunter, North buttress, Sympathy Variant. 2013.

Choi Suk-mun, Moon Sung-wook,and I reached the top of Mt. Hunter on May 21 by a variation of Deprivation, the Sympathy Variant (VI AI6 R A2+). Our original plan was to climb a completely independent route just left of Deprivation, but we were stopped by the collapse of a huge ice pillar eight pitches up, near the first ice band. This pillar is at about the same height as “The Prow” on the Moonflower route. We reached the ice pillar by way of a 50m overhanging traverse (A2+). The pillar was wide but thin and sublimated; despite the conditions we kept climbing. However, while Choi was leading, the pillar suddenly fell. Fortunately, the terrain was overhanging, so none of us was injured.

We retreated, and three days later we began climbing toward our previous high point. We climbed the exact same route until two pitches below the collapsed ice pillar, where we traversed right to reach the first ice band on Deprivation. After passing this ice band we began to look for unclimbed terrain, and took our route through a rock band to the right. The ice conditions in this section were terrible and contained unstable belay stances (AI6 R). Once reaching the second ice band, we joined Deprivation again and bivouacked at the entrance to the third ice band. From here, we climbed a ramp that connected us to the Bibler-Klewin route, where we spent a night in the cornice bivouac after passing through the “Bibler Come Again Exit.” There was heavy snow on the final snowfields, and it took us many hours to reach the summit, forcing us to spend a second night in the cornice bivouac. After 30 rappels down the Moonflower, we arrived back on the glacier the following day.

An Jong-neung, Korea

American Alpine Journal 2013

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 17, 2016 - 08:22pm PT
Moonflower: Clint Helander, Mark Taylor, Vittorio Spoldi, 2013.

Many Thanks to Clint Helander


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 18, 2016 - 09:19pm PT
Moonflower: Clint Helander, Mark Taylor, Vittorio Spoldi, 2013.

Special Thanks to Clint Helander

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 19, 2016 - 11:58pm PT
Alaskan Test-Piece Finally Gets Second Ascent

By Dougald MacDonald

Britons Jon Bracey and Andy Houseman have made the second ascent of the French Route on the North Buttress of Mt. Hunter, 23 years after the first ascent. The two men continued to the summit of 14,570-foot Mt. Hunter and descended via the West Ridge for a four-day round-trip. The French Route was the second to breach the 4,000-foot North Buttress, but it has largely been forgotten by most climbers, who associate Hunter’s steep northern wall with the famed Moonflower Buttress.

Bracey described their speedy second ascent in an email:
“[We] started up the French Route on the 8th of May in so-so weather. The first day we climbed the couloir under bombardment from some good spindrift. The last pitch exiting the gully was the crux, with sustained overhanging ice. We climbed another two pitches before a bivouac on an icefield. The following day we climbed through the ice-fields, with good ice runnels and mixed ground in between, and into the headwall. Sustained mixed climbing slowed our progress, and a lack of bivi sites forced us to climb on through the night. We finally reached the top of the headwall at 4 a.m., and briefly dug in for a couple of hours rest before continuing on to the cornice bivi site. Here we brewed up, ate, and rested for two hours.

“Still very tired, we continued on to the summit, which we reached at about 9 p.m. The ground after the cornice bivi was quite time-consuming, with one section of steep, rotten ice. A cold night was spent on the plateau below the summit. On the fourth day we descended the West Ridge back to Kahiltna base camp via the Northwest Basin. A great route and amazing effort by the first ascensionists back in 1984.”

The French Route (aka North Buttress Couloir) takes an independent line up the North Buttress, left of the Moonflower Buttress. After numerous attempts by many different parties, it was climbed in 1984 by Benoit Grison and Yves Tedeschi in four days, with another two days to descend via the West Ridge in a storm—lightning-fast, considering the date of their climb. However, their achievement was forgotten by most Americans, who had been captivated by the beauty and difficulty of the Moonflower (and, no doubt, by the mostly American cast of characters making the numerous attempts)—the Moonflower Buttress was finally climbed to the summit of Hunter in 1983, one year before the French ascent. The historical guidebook High Alaska goes so far as to call the French pair’s North Buttress Couloir a “variation.”

But Alaska Range aficionados consider the Grison-Tedeschi route a beautiful and inspiring climb. Mark Westman, who repeated the Moonflower to the top of the buttress this spring with Eamonn Walsh but was unable to continue to the summit after two feet of snow fell at their high bivy, said in an email, “The French Route is in my opinion and many others the proudest and most intimidating line on the wall. It took 23 years to get repeated—says a lot!”

Bracey and Houseman’s Alaskan trip was supported by the Mark Clifford Grant, UK Sport, Mountain Equipment, DMM, Crux, and Scarpa.

Dates of Ascent: May 8-11, 2007

Sources: Jon Bracey, Andy Houseman, Mark Westman, High Alaska, Alaska Climbing, The American Alpine Journal.

Jul 20, 2016 - 12:25am PT
great thread and pictures, Mugs was a good writer. Haven't finished yet the Kennedy article is next. thanks

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 20, 2016 - 07:50am PT

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 20, 2016 - 06:50pm PT
Mt. Hunter // French Route, 5th Ascent. (2015)

by Kurt Ross:" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.

I rappelled to the end of our ropes, slammed in a couple of screws, and yelled “I’m off!” up to J.D. While I threaded our next rappel, the rope didn’t move. I screamed a few more times, pulled aggressively on the lines, then gave up. I slumped onto the slings attaching me to the face and dozed off, as I had done at every other moment where my wakefulness couldn’t help move us forward. I was happy for the chance to take weight off my feet. Keeping them sealed in soggy boots for the last few days waterlogged my skin, making them feel blistered all over. After some indeterminate amount of time, J.D. buzzed down the rope and we continued.

“Make sure you yell loudly when you’re off.”


Somehow, after three full days on the go with only a couple hours of rest, we didn’t feel totally out of control. Of course we were extremely tired, but we could still think clearly enough to problem solve our way through the terrain. It’s scary to think about how we would have dealt with a bad storm or messy fall, but pushing ourselves this far didn’t feel reckless in the situation as it was.

We were descending the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter after climbing the Grison-Tedeschi (A.K.A. French Route) on the North Buttress of the mountain, a route which Mark Westman calls “the proudest and most intimidating line on the wall.” We decided to try the French Route instead of another because we figured it might be more intact than any other line on the face after the long spell of warm temperatures that we’d been having on the Kahiltna. We were also encouraged by the hard-man Slovenians Luka Lindic & Ales Cesen, who had climbed the route to the top of the buttress a couple weeks prior. The only real beta we had on route were the finger-point directions that Luca & Ales sprayed at us in camp.

At 11pm on May 29th, we skied out of camp toward the beautiful and intimidating face. At the top of “ski hill”, J.D. mentioned that “I’m not nervous because I think we can’t do it, but because I think we can.” I agreed. We stashed our ski boots and planks at the base then went into business mode.

J.D. made short work of the schrund then gave me a quick belay across. We simul-climbed through the traversing ice and snow which lead to the base of the prominent gully that aesthetically defines the route. I lead a shorter simul-block, then we started to pitch things out. Unlike other parties who have climbed the route, we pitched out most of the gully, which didn’t really feel much slower or more strenuous than simul-climbing might have been. We cruised through a handful of easy ice pitches. J.D. put the rope up for a scarcely protected one, and I sewed up an overhung one above that. Some easier climbing brought us to a great rest stop on a snow arete at the top of the gully, which finally allowed us to escape the grapple-spindrift that had been bombarding us throughout the gully. We sat for about two hours brewing, eating, sharpening, and dozing off as the dim twilight turned into daytime again.

The next stint took us through a couple rope-lengths of thick ice between protruding rock, which foreshadowed what the easier terrain on the upper headwall would be like. A long traverse right brought us to the base of the crux of the lower portion of the route. I placed too many screws on the first half of the pitch, so I was forced to run-out some desperate climbing to the lower angle terrain above, where I could find a rock anchor. We took turns zig-zagging around rock-bands left then back right then left again on ancient bullet-proof ice that required four or five exhausting swings to stick a tool

The sky dimmed into twilight again as we timidly approached the base of the upper headwall. We were both quite unsure about whether our entry point was the same as previous ascents. I still am. J.D. lead a block of three tricky mixed pitches while I super glued my eyelids open so that I could belay and sleep at the same time. The glazed look on J.D.’s face made it evident that it was my turn to take a block. A well protected but burly off-width lead to the ramp that we probably should have been climbing the whole time. A couple more pitches of involved but easier climbing and a tricky right-facing corner that J.D. crushed into rubble finally lead us to easy ground.

We found a flat spot under a rock between the top of the headwall and the cornice bivi where we could finally make a formal bivouac. I ogled J.D.’s extra pair of socks while he changed out of his wet ones. Endless pots of water and some man-spooning made us sharp again. We didn’t sleep for more than a power nap in length, but the short break was trans-formative. We started moving again sometime in the evening.

The trudge to the summit wasn’t technically difficult, but it was physically draining. It was worrisome to consider the long descent ahead of us. Colin Haley claims that the “crux of any climb on the North Buttress of Begguya (Hunter) is the upper third, from the cornice bivi to the summit.” As we approached the summit pyramid, clouds began to swarm around us, obscuring our vision of the West Ridge descent. We tagged the summit at around 3am on June 1st.

We had the option to stick to our original plan to descend the West Ridge to the Ramen Couloir, or to go back down to the top of the North Buttress and rappel the Bibler-Klewin route. The latter option was more of a sure thing, but the former one was supposedly quicker and easier. 200 meters before we reached the summit, I had no intention of venturing into unknown terrain with low visibility on the West Ridge, but the sky suddenly cleared as we crested the top so we decided to go for it.

We ran down the ridge, carefully navigated an icefall, made five or six rappels into the top of the couloir, down-slogged for aeons, then finally reached the valley floor where we rested for an hour in the sun. It felt great to let my swamped feet dry in the sun, but hurt my soul to shove them back into my boots to start moving again. I think I would have achieved the same effect by coating them in maple syrup and walking on a bed of fire ants.

The lion’s share of the very cracked portion of glacier on the Southwest side of the mountain can be avoided by walking up a snow ramp and making a few fixed rappels into a narrow canyon over steep ice. During our late season attempt, we were not enthused to learn that this ice had become a torrential waterfall. Pulling our snagged ropes out of the falling water soaked us to the bone.

The seven mile long zombie-slog that followed was an exceptionally weird experience. After 75 hours on the move, my grey matter was melting. Tribal drums and piano music played in the silence. I could see dozens of faces and figures in the features of the rock face next to us. Whenever I squinted toward the foot of a ridge in the distance, it would turn into a helicopter. Without flotation, we broke into crevasses up to our hips and wastes numerous times. When we finally neared camp, I thought I was imagining the team of guided West Buttress climbers pulling sleds. It was an epic struggle to walk faster than this party, even though they each toted over 100lbs of gear.

In the two days that we rested before returning to the base of the buttress to retrieve our skis, six feet of snow fell. Once we did go, they were nowhere to be found. They were completely concealed by the powder that had fallen, and possibly slough from the face. We probed the area for two fruitless days before giving up. Ouch. I was originally planning to go up Denali after trying Hunter, but without skis my timeline was truncated. We flew back to Talkeetna to party at the Fairview instead. The route was by far the biggest, most wild, and most memorable route that I’ve ever tried. It was a huge step up for both J.D. and I, requiring every bit of our experience and skill.

Special Thanks to Kurt Ross


Jul 20, 2016 - 08:11pm PT
these pics always look so strangely enticing in the midst of a summer heat wave... can't wait for winter even though i'm enjoying the summer...

thanks Avery.

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 20, 2016 - 08:31pm PT
It's the reverse for me nah000. I'm in the midst of winter and can't wait for the summer!

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 21, 2016 - 03:07am PT
Grison-Tedeschi (French Route): Ales Cesen and Luka Lindic (2015)

Special Thanks to Ales Cesen

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 21, 2016 - 03:57pm PT
The French Route: 5th Ascent, 2015. Kurt Ross and JD Merritt

by JD Merritt

In the last days of May, Kurt Ross and I made the likely fifth ascent of the French Route/North Couloir, aka. Grison-Tedeschi, to the summit of Begguya, or Mount Hunter. (we believe the last full-ascent was by Colin Haley and the late Bjorn-Eivind Årtun, in 2009.)

A week previously, Brett Baekey and I climbed Deprivation in 21 hrs. The crux comes early, and while it may not have been "in", we made it go and made good progress after that. We went to the top of the Bibler exit pitch, the last technical pitch, near the top of the Buttress. We were ready to go to the top, but forced to rap the wall in a storm. Brett developed some sickness and ran out of time in the range, he left to start guiding in Colorado.

I wanted another go at Hunter, but via a harder route. It was important to me to go to the summit. It's hard to really quantify the difference between a climb to the top of the wall and a total-ascent. There are a lot of different ideas about what a "true-ascent" is, and I don't really care to tell anyone else what good style is, because I believe it's a personal choice. I stayed in the range and joined "Team Crevasse-holes" in their well stocked base camp. This would be Kurt's second attempt on the French route, and his third on the North Buttress. The French Route is incredibly sustained, and the crux climbing comes at like the very top of the wall, keeping it uncertain the whole way. Besides being a heart-wrenchingly aesthetic line, as a whole it's much harder than Deprivation, and considerably harder than the Bibler-Klewin.

Take Deprivation, replace all the snow ramps with steep bulletproof ice slabs, add maybe 10 involved mixed pitches, and replace the afternoon sun with the perpetual darkness of a true-north aspect, and you have the French Route.

We climbed in single push style with no sleeping bags. We shared one bivy sack to stick our feet in, and had a cut down piece of foam pad big enough for like 2.5 ass-cheeks. Our style could be described as 'light and naked', but not really fast. Our day-packs might have weighed 10-15 lbs dry. We set out near the beginning of the first reliable high-pressure, in a window of uncertain length. I brought enough food to stay well fueled for about 24 hours, and marginally so for another 12. This wasn't enough to feel good, but was marginally enough to get it done. We brought enough isobutane fuel for 4 days of water. As usual, we started just before midnight. On approach we could see that the crux ice on deprivation was already gone, just 8 days later.

We finished the crux pitch at the top of the head-wall 34 hours after crossing the 'schrund. We pitched most of it out, and were pretty consistently challenged the whole way up. We led and followed every pitch clean, not because we were trying to, but because we wanted to avoid wasting any time f*#king around.

We made a 90 minute brew-stop on the snow arete marking the end of the couloir. Our light kit wasn't warm enough to sleep at night: we were playing for all the marbles. At any given moment we needed to be either moving or bailing, and doing it quickly and deliberately. The Slovenians Luka and Alesh had dug snow and ice out from a boulder to create a bivy ledge the week previously on their attempt. Based on their description we were able to find it, and we were thankful for the work they did. We made a short afternoon nap-stop around 12,600 at the top of the wall, comfortably sleeping through the warmest hours of the day. This would be our only real rest. At this point I ate the last of my food.

We went for the summit around the time of our second sunset on-route. We climbed through worsening weather, and were briefly enveloped in whiteout on the summit plateau. As soon as it cleared we made a dash for the summit. We reached it in time for a perfect sunrise, looking over building clouds illuminated with fiery hues, and taking in an improbable view of Sultana, Denali, and Huntington. We were faced with a difficult decision. Our high pressure window was imminently closing. We were deeply satisfied to top out, but had to immediately decide between the supposed quick simplicity of a west ridge descent(if executed correctly) or the relative certainty of reversing the Northeast ridge and rappelling back down the Moonflower. We bet on a few more hours of visibility, at least enough to find the Ramen. We made our way down, with the weather closing in again as we left the upper mountain, rappelling and down-climbing into the western basin. I was in the depths of a full-bonk nutritionally, and well deprived of sleep. There was one spot where it really "got real": back at 7000ft we unknowingly rapped into a waterfall to avoid the impassable icefall leading down to the main Kahiltna. I was soaked to the bone at 23:00, and was forced to down-solo to a ledge and strip naked, putting on the only dry stuff I had and shivering away the last of my calories I consumed on the way up. We began the long slog around the massif. My only sustenance came from headphones.

We staggered back into camp during the first hours of Monday, June 1st, after a 75 hour push. The climbing was sweet, and the descent was managed. We tallied 4 or 5 hours of sleep, plus maybe another hour from nodding off at belays, on rappel, or even "gasp!" on lead. When we ran out of caffeine a general sort of fear had kept us awake.

This is the story in photos.

Special Thanks to JD Merritt

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 21, 2016 - 07:39pm PT
Mt. Hunter, North Buttress, second ascent of Deprivation. Stephen Farrand and I arrived at Kahiltna base camp on June 3 and stayed through June 17. In that time we managed to make the second ascent of Deprivation. The ascent took three days, with bivies on the first and third ice bands. We left our gear at our high bivy and blasted for the summit, returning to the bivy and beginning our descent rappelling down the Moonflower Buttress. On the descent we made a third bivy, then finished the descent and returned to base camp the next day.

John Kelley

American Alpine Journal 2003

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 21, 2016 - 07:53pm PT
Mt Hunter, Deprivation. Jeff Hollenbaugh and I would miss the Shaft, but after watching other Moonflower hopefuls unload their massive haul-bags onto the Kahiltna, we guessed Deprivation might better suit our style. We wanted to climb the north buttress of Hunter as fast and light as a winter spent on warm Colorado rock, not ice, would allow. We left Kahiltna base in early May, simuled past the ’schrund and up to the couple of crux pitches of the first rockband (and of the route: hard mixed, past vertical ice). Easier snow and ice put us at a bivy midway through the next rockband.

After a late start the next day, more climbing in the 50- to 70-degree range took us near an intersection with the Moonflower, which offered a more direct finish that we’d planned on taking from the start. Now on the Moonflower, we soon stopped to bivy below the third and final rockband. From here, the plan was to leave the bivy fixed and race unencumbered to the summit and back.

Unfortunately, the weather crapped out that night. Day three had us ducking our heads through heavy spindrift up to the Bibler-Come-Again Exit. We made it five more pitches up the buttress’s final 50-degree ice triangle before conditions forced us to call it a “modem ascent” and rap back down to our bivy.

That night, with the tent half folded over from avalanches, we considered the 20 60-meter raps still to go. Thankfully, the next day we on-sighted the Moonflower descent without mishap. No joke: that was the mental crux of the climb, and stepping back onto the glacier, we were happy to be done with it.

Bruce Miller

American Alpine Journal

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 21, 2016 - 08:05pm PT
Deprivation Variation

Canadians Dave Edgar and J Mills made a rapid repeat of Deprivation (Backes-Twight, 1994), with a significant variation between the second and third ice bands, where the original route does a big zigzag. Edgar and Mills essentially climbed straight up from the left side of the second ice band—yet still right of The Knowledge (Cartwright-Parnell, 2000)—adding five pitches of WI5 before joining the Moon-flower for the Bibler Come Again Exit. They made the massive round-trip from basecamp to summit and back in 45 hours.

American Alpine Journal 2010.

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 22, 2016 - 04:28pm PT
Deprivation, 2015: JD Merritt and Brett Baekey

Thanks to JD Merritt


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 23, 2016 - 04:08pm PT
Deprivation: Marty Beare and Pat Deavoll: 2004
by Marty Beare

Our climb began inauspiciously. A bergschrund acted as gatekeeper to the route. The five metre lower wall of the bergschrund collapsed in a pile seconds after Pat had completed an awkward lurch across to the upper side. Feeling lucky, we moved together up the first 300 metres of moderately angled ice-field and WI 4 runnels. An absorbing three sixty metre pitches of poorly protected vertical snow-ice and dry-tooling deposited us at the mandatory feature of every Alaskan climb: a 50º slope of blue ice. Regular polishing by spindrift avalanches ensures that these ice-fields have the texture and brittleness of glass. We pounded out three pitches of joyless window-pane climbing. Then Pat had the pleasure of leading 250 metres of braided ice ramps while I had the pain of humping the heavier of our two packs. The warmth of the late evening sun teased us as we wallowed up breakable crust. By midnight it had vanished in a chilly halo shortly before we reached a tiny bivouac eerie big enough for two dwarves to sit on. After an hour’s chopping the ledge was large enough for two dwarfs to lie on. For us, however, a reclining comma position also required constant body tension to support our lower legs that dangled over the edge of our perch. Pat fought the good fight with the bivi stove, in the process proving that the thermal properties of Black Diamond gloves, while superb at warding off the cold, are less effective at deflecting the heat of red-hot metal. After a dinner perfumed by the scent of melting nylon we settled into our bags and bivi sacks. It wasn’t warm and it wasn’t comfortable, but was definitely a blast to be more than half-way up the side of one of the best walls of ice in the world.

By morning we were feeling indescribably seedy. We had a hasty breakfast, untangled our spider-web of gear and ropes, and set off with headaches and cold fingers. The climbing remained intriguing and often literally kept us on our toes. Our line deviated from the original traverse and exit gully. We figured that it was more logical to link up with the third ice-field of the neighboring Moonflower route. The final ice-pitches of the Bibler Come-Again exit were a highlight of the climb. Way up there 1,500 metres above the deck we delicately placed our picks in a vertical seam of shallow ice that barely filled an off-width corner crack. After judicious alignment of left and right ice tools it was possible to reach over the bulge above into a plug of aerated snow-ice. A high reach on shaky footholds enabled relief via a thank-God dry-tool placement. A final five metres of vertical ice led to an abrupt change of angle and a view of the final ice band. This was our summit. In keeping with most other teams that make it this far, the top of the steep climbing was always going to be our high-point. Quite emotional with relief and elation we hugged, whooped, and took terrible photos of everything in sight. We then slipped into our well-practiced descent routine. This time going down was a joy. We descended the Moonflower route that the iconic Mug Stumps pioneered with New Zealander Paul Aubrey back in 1981. This stonking route is often vertical, occasionally overhanging, and rarely climbed. The sustained nature of the terrain through which it probes makes it an excellent choice for descent despite the approximately 35 rappels that must be negotiated. At three a.m. we eventually touched down on the lower edge of the bergschrund, about 53 hours after setting off. We hitched up to our sleds and began our mountaineers’ impersonation of skiers to complete the round trip to Kahiltna Base Camp and an early breakfast.

Thanks to Pat Deavoll


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 23, 2016 - 07:37pm PT
Moonflower Buttress: Sam Van Brempt and Maxime De Groote. 2014.


By Sam Van Brempt

“The fear of the unknown”, some words just stick to my (Sam ) mind. It was that fear we felt stronger then ever that evening. Maxime De Groote, my partner for a lot of the harder climbs, was silent too. For over a week we’re in the Central Alaska Range. To warm up and acclimatize we climbed 2 smaller routes, before we got hit by a period of bad weather. Tent bound at Kahiltna base camp, we’re passing our time by staring at the ceiling, listening to music or trying to read a book. After 4 days in a complete whiteout, the warmth of the sun finally greets us. Soon the forecast shows us what we were waiting for, at least 4 days of blue sky. We make a last scouting trip to check the conditions on the huge face before us and inspect the descent options. It all looks promising so soon we decide to go for the main goal of this expedition: The Moonflower Buttress.

It’s already late afternoon. We feel a bit exhausted from our hike on the heat reflecting glacier but start to pack our bags. The typical decision making discussions soon follows? How many screws are we bringing? A full set of cams? 3 days of food or do we count for an extra day? How heavy is your pack compared to mine? Do we try to make one small pack for the hard leads?

In the early evening, our bags are ready to go and we prepare an extended meal. We’re both silent, and somehow I’m getting nervous with that massive buttress looming at our back. From time to time I turn around. Slowly, as the sun sets, the yellow-brown granite with small white-grey lines of ice turns into an impressive orange formation. From some small talk with Maxime I switch over to my inner thoughts. Luckily, he feels as restless as I do. Our bags are ready to go, the weather is perfect but somehow we’re mentally not ready yet. Not to leave now, neither to leave early in the morning. We decide to postpone our departure until the next day at noon, to give our body and mind some extra time to rest.

It’s difficult to fall asleep if you are nervous. In my mind I’m digging into my past, and suddenly I remember, a small talk with someone else always helped me. Staring at that favorite tent ceiling I’m waiting till it’s late enough to make a call with Yannick, a good friend and climbing partner. We’ve been climbing, skiing and traveling together the last 8 years. We share lots of highs and lows, which makes me feel really connected to him. And maybe we are, as I still remember my ex-girlfriend complaining I saw him more than her…

As usual if he can’t go on a trip, he’s following our progress from home. Helping us out where he can because he has better access to weather maps. Raising his 3 months old daughter, “Zoen” (the Dutch word for Kiss) he will probably be up early. So, that’s why I call him at 7 in the morning European time. A sleepy voice answers the phone. Zoen seems to sleeps longer then I expected. Because I woke him up with terrible news 4 years ago, I immediately let him know everything is still perfect. I tell him we’re ready for the climb and ask if he can send us a last weather update. His sleepy mourning voice replies something like; “If you ready to go you need to go, last time I checked this was a perfect weather window. Good luck…”

Little did he know? In that 1-minute call he said almost nothing but nevertheless his words calmed me down immediately. I simply needed to let him know we’re on the move. Like I needed that confirmation that he knows we’re on that mountain.

Next day, Friday 9th of May around noon, we hike underneath the base of the Moonflower Buttress. We’re surprised to see another climbing party at the shrund of the Bibler Klewin and even more to see a guy coming back from the right-hand side of the Buttress. As he comes closer we recognize him, it’s Scott Adamson, a funny guy with a mustache coming from Zion, US. A few days before we met Scott and shared some funny stories about climbing, America and it’s alcohol policies. Together with Aaron Child and Andy Knight, he climbed a new route on Idiot Peak, a satellite of Mt. Huntington. He and his partners flew over from the Tokositna glacier last week. His friends felt sick and stayed in basecamp but Scott went for a solo attempt on the Deprivation route. Unfortunately he had to come back down as the crux was in loose snow. We have a little chat about the conditions and the fresh snow before he wishes us luck and we move on.

Thanks to the party upfront we progress rapidly in the knee-deep snow, which is accumulated underneath the buttress. We follow their traces to what looks like the only possible way trough the massive shrund, a 5-meter overhanging snow and ice formation. We climb it with the help of some aid techniques and start climbing the lower ice field. As far as we know, there was Max and Rustie, an Anchorage party and the Dutch couple Marianne and Dennis. Both had plans to make an ascent but they both opted to leave a day later. So wondering who is in front of us, we try to catch up with them. Eventually it turns out to be another American party that flew in yesterday evening. 2 pitches further they turn back because they felt too tired.

We approach the first small gully of ice, which is named the Twin Runnels. Maxime takes the first lead in these runnels and we are both immediately surprised. The runnel is steep, small and in polystyrene snow. Perfect for climbing but placing good protection is almost impossible. Luckily for us, the protection gets better from the next pitch on. Although an occasional nasty move above that last piece of gear keeps our focus high and our progress rather slow! It somehow sets a tone of the day and what we later discover, the whole climb.

It is late afternoon when we reach our belay underneath the obvious rock feature, which is called The Prow. An aid pitch that is more and more climbed free. While Maxime puts on his down jacket for a longer belay session, I fuel myself with some extra food and I gear up. Not that I think I will free this, but I should give it a try. Some nasty moves later and I’m hanging on my gear, continuing with a mix of aid and free climbing. Maxime makes the pendulum into the McNerthney Ice Dagger from where we climb up to the start of Tamara’s Traverse.

Because of our late start today we arrive in the evening. As the sky turns red, the view is more then impressive but as there is no place to sleep, we can’t rest yet. We need to hurry to reach the first ice field before dark. Maxime starts the traverse giving me an exceptional photographic opportunity. Slowly the sun sets and at the time I reach the next belay it is almost dark. We simulclimb the last 100 meters and around midnight we start chopping 2 small ledges under a boulder on the first ice field.

We both feel miserable and tired. While we get into our sleeping bags, fresh spindrift comes down from the mountain and we need to make sure they don’t get wet. We start to melt snow and heat up water but with these cold temperatures it takes ages. I put the gas canister in the hot water for a few seconds so the stove can burn on full power for a minute afterwards and so on. We start to talk about interesting heating systems and wonder why no company found a light system to keep the gas canister warm. As we both try not to fall asleep, we fill up our Nalgene bottles with tea and a vegetable soup. We force ourselves to drink and eat enough so it is around 3 in the morning when we finally fall asleep.

Next morning we didn’t set an alarm but woke up by the morning light. The heat of the sun will be more then welcome but we know the sun hits this face only late in the evening. Cold and tired, we stay in our sleeping bags while we brew up some water and eat some dry biscuits. We’re both staring to the lower glacier in search of fresh traces. Wondering if a strong party made an early start and is climbing behind us. Knowing we’re not alone up here, would give us the motivation we need at this moment.

Knowing we’re both feeling miserable, and it’s easy to take each other down in a form of demotivation. We make some small talk and avoid the topic of an optional retreat. In this position, you don’t feel the joy of climbing and with the sun shining on the lower glacier. It’s just so easy to get back on your steps. I tell myself retreat is no option as long as the weather stays good and the route is climbable. We encourage ourselves to get out of that sleeping bag and it is only around noon when we finally start again. We climb some easy terrain and I take shelter behind a rock formation as there is a hanging snow mushroom the size of a car looming above the next pitch, the 5.8.

We heard some rumours that this pitch is harder then graded. Maxime, without question the better rock climber, takes an awesome lead, tries to move as fast as possible underneath the nasty mushroom and brings me up. Now, we’re standing underneath the feature that gave us the most doubts. The shaft, a 120m steep ice runnel with some overhanging steps. From the first look on the mountain we saw this thin grey line with a snow mushroom hanging in the first pitch. Climbing up this narrow gully I manage to get underneath this mushroom. Getting over it takes ages, placing protection, figuring out the moves, trying to get over it and turning back to the safe place to take a rest. That never ending internal dialog that I should go for it, which was encouraged by Maxime. Although this block of snow only had the size of a big duffle, it really scared us. Knowing we won’t get further without touching, I try to clear the mushroom so it won’t fall down on Maxime. Then suddenly it breaks loose and falls down without any trouble. I manage to climb the first overhang and really psyched I bring Maxime up. He takes the next lead, again with a loose snow-overhanging step.

Although every pitch was difficult so far, way out of our comfort zone and really close to our limits. We need to say, unlike the lower polystyrene twin runnels, we had no problem placing good protection almost everywhere. Standing in a split, Maxime works himself trough the second overhanging step and the third pitch of the shaft is back for me. It’s another steep one, my arms getting pumpy, I simply don’t manage to climb the whole length and have to give the last 15 meters back to Maxime. With the last rays of sun we reach the second icefield and start digging for a place to sleep. We climbed roughly 10 hours for only 8 pitches! We are exhausted, feeling terribly slow. But with the crux behind us, and weather still good to go on, we don’t let it bother us too much.

We manage to get a good sleep and wake up early for our third day on the mountain. From the ground we never had a good view on the “Vision” and the “Bibler Come Again Exit” leading trough the 2 last rock bands. And even up here, the right way looks unfamiliar. We follow the most obvious line and soon arrive at the start of the Vision. Due to a stuck rope, it takes a while but eventually we’re looking into the final ice runnel leading to the third ice field. The sun hits this field early so it feels great to finally enjoy the full heat of the sun. We climb trough the ice field, up to the right and start to search for the weakness in the last rock band, the ice runnel leading to “The Bibler Come Again Exit”. It’s over here that I made a big mistake.

Climbing up a small thin layer of ice, I place one last good screw underneath a steep step and try to climb over it. One axe in perfect ice just above the step, I start looking for my other axe placement but only find snow. Eventually my axe finds a hold. And, you know that feeling, when you place your axe and just the sound just tells you it’s not right. I was well aware of that moment, but instead of trying again, I tested it with my weight and the axe kept in place. Time to come high up, holding almost all of my weight on the lower axe using the other to stay in balance. And then, the bad axe rips out. I’m way too high above my good axe. While I’m falling backwards, I hold my only good axe at its head. Obvious I rip that one out too!

Suddenly, I find myself hanging 2 meters lower upside down, on that that tiny 8mm Ice Line. Looking to a glacier 1500 meters beneath me, I scared the sh#t out of Maxime and feel frustrated that I trusted that situation on such a route. I made a short but perfect fall and I didn’t hurt myself. Lowering myself back to the belay point of Maxime we take a short rest. Afraid doubts will take over, I soon go for a second try. This time, we climb over it, Maxime leads another length and we are standing underneath the last difficult pitch of this amazing route. We still don’t know if it is really “The Bibler Come Again Exit” but it was the most obvious feature.

Finally, we’re on top of the difficulties, a point of return for a lot of climbing parties but with the weather still on our side we opt to move on. We start the 10 pitches on calf breaking 50 degree blue ice. Too tired to simulclimb it safely, we pitch it all out. As usual we lose track of time and reach the top of the buttress when it’s almost dark. We find the cornice bivy. A perfect cave blown out by the wind but standing here, underneath a huge cornice we didn’t fancy to sleep and make a traverse to the other side of the ridge. Later on we discovered that this is a well-known bivy spot but we’re surprised to find a boulder that forms a good platform for what hopefully would be our last night on the mountain.

The effort of the last days makes us fall asleep easily. But didn’t necessarily make us have a goo night. From time to time we wake up by the cold or the fear of falling down this boulder. When the sun hits our faces early in the morning we pack our bags and start following the ridge to the summit. Navigating trough seracs, climbing loose snow and following the ridge we slowly get higher. Despite our acclimatization trips a good week ago, we still feel the altitude. We arrive at that point, which from a lower position looked like the summit, climb up and as usual, we see a new summit appearing in front of us. After a few disappointments we arrive on a flat spot with no option to go higher. We’re finally on top of Mount Hunter.

Fresh traces go down on the other side of the mountain in the direction of the west ridge, probably made by a skiing party that climbed and skied down the ramen route. As we always wanted to make a complete round-trip from our climb, this was the perfect descend or us. It was 10 in the morning, we know we need to descend the mountain as fast as possible but first we want to take enough time to rest. The summit is a huge platform so we easily take of our boots, dry our socks and unpack our bags in search of our reactor stove. As we’re sitting in the sun it is the first time since we left base camp that we manage to melt our water at a normal speed. We have to hydrate, get something to eat and of course enjoy the view. As I was in the range 4 years ago, back then we never managed to see the whole range as we always stayed on the southwest side of Denali and the day we topped out, it was in a whiteout. Now we can see 360° around us what surprised me how big this range is.

Around noon we start to descend the west ridge. First walking on the low angled summit slopes, then navigating through some seracs and finally traversing the exposed ridge in search of the fastest way down, the Ramen couloir. From high on the ridge we start rappelling into the couloir until the angle kicks back and we continue climbing down. Our hope to reach base camp early in the evening gets knocked down the lower we got. The snow is too wet, too deep and too loose. Several times we trigger small slushes and sporadically stones rain down from higher on. We decide to take shelter underneath a boulder and wait until the sun gets behind the ridge. We use the spare time to melt some extra water and eat the last freeze-dried food we kept on the side specially for this location, yes a crème brulé!

Late in the evening the conditions are better and we continue the descend. We safely climb down to the glacier and descended further in the direction of the icefall. While we were scouting for descent options a few days ago we already saw the skyteam skinning up trough the icefall. As they found a way trough, we knew we could follow their way out. Walking on the right-hand side we find their tracks back and follow them in the direction of the icefall. This labyrinth is the last obstacle that separates us from the lower Kahiltna glacier and the easy walk to basecamp. We are somehow amazed by how good the snow holds our bodyweight but not for long. Once we reach the crevassed area, we suddenly fall knee-deep through a snow bridge. As we keep on following the tracks of the skiers, they clearly have a better support then us on our feet. We’re cross tens of scary snow bridges and look into deep crevasses. Eventually we end up crawling on our knees or even the belly while the one is securing the other. At the end of the icefall we make one last rappel from a huge snow formation, and we are more then happy to be at the safe zone of the lower glacier.

By this time we are almost 20 hours on the way, and still have a serious walk ahead. Compared to several different climbing partners in the past, I’m not technically not the strongest climber. But when it comes to long pushes on low energy, navigating nasty terrain, I really get into my zone. I give my last power bar to Maxime and plug in my I pod, which I specially saved for this occasion. Running low on energy while walking brainless on this massive glacier, nothing beats music to set the pace. Somehow it brings at a new level. You get rid of your tiredness and it seems like you just can walk forever.

It’s 3 in the morning and completely silent when we arrive back in the safety of our basecamp! We hug each other. Finally safe and sound from what was roughly a 90 hour round-trip. Without question this was the hardest climb we ever did! Something to eat, a short confirmation we’re down safe to Yannick and we get into our tent. The next day, we feel the wind pounding on our tent. Waiting for the sun to heat up our cosy space we soon discover it’s not going to happen. I open the zip of our tent with my swollen hands and see clouds rolling over from behind Foraker’s Sultana Ridge. We’re back at the right time, just before the next period of bad weather…

Thanks to Sam Van Brempt


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 23, 2016 - 08:12pm PT
Moonflower Buttress: Sam Van Brempt and Maxime De Groote. 2014.


All photos by Sam Van Brempt and Maxime De Groote

Special Thanks to Sam Van Brempt

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 23, 2016 - 08:21pm PT
Moonflower Buttress: Sam Van Brempt and Maxime De Groote. 2014.


All photos by Sam Van Brempt and Maxime De Groote

Special Thanks to Sam Van Brempt
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Jul 24, 2016 - 04:02am PT
Seriously sick climbing, beyond anything in my world

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2016 - 05:01am PT
Beyond anything in mine as well.

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 24, 2016 - 08:45pm PT
"Wall of Shadows", North Buttress, Mt Hunter (2nd Ascent) Ben Gilmore and Kevin Mahoney. 2001.

By Kevin Mahoney

Spindrift avalanches pass the door of our snow cave. A grin grows wide on Ben Gilmore’s face as he raises his fist triumphantly. Two thousand feet up the Wall of Shadows we discovered this crystal cavern to enjoy shelter from the storm. We stumbled upon the cavern by the Force, that undeniable draw that leads one off route with blind faith that something will come together (a.k.a. fool's luck when you are desperate). It is 10 hours into our second day of climbing; during the last three hours snow has been falling, creating spindrift avalanches at regular intervals. BTUs, sweat, Gore-Tex, and spindrift have joined forces to soak through all my layers. We are at the top of the Crystal Highway and another open bivy, with spindrift filling my bivy sack, seems less appealing than it did while leaving our tent behind on the glacier. Light may be right, but spindrift sucks.

This is our third trip to Alaska, which lately seems to be the only time we get to climb together. So it was easy for us to believe that we could pull off the second ascent of the Wall of Shadows with a scant alpine rack, two 7.6-mm 60-m ropes, four days of food and fuel, our sleeping bags, and bivy sacks. The A4 sections that Michael Kennedy and Greg Child experienced seemed to have ice on them, so we hoped it would go free or with very little aid since we were not prepared for anything more.

As Ben led up through the bergschrund, I recalled what Kennedy said about the first ascent: “It was the most difficult route in our combined 50 years of climbing.” As the rope went tight and I started to climb, I wondered what we were smoking back on the glacier for us to believe we could pull this off. A thousand feet higher we must have been smoking again, because after the first day we felt confident we would succeed. So far we had been able to avoid the first aid section, dubbed Coming into the Country, by climbing ice to its left. Then, half a dozen pitches of fun ice led us to Thug Alley, 200 feet of thin, plastic ice less than a yard wide. At the base of the Enigma, we chopped a bunk-bed bivy out of the ice.

Brew, dinner, brew, sleep, spindrift, sleep, spindrift, sleep. Finally we woke to a beautiful, cold morning. After drinking our instant oatmeal (the fastest way to get it down), we were ready to tackle the first real unknown, the Enigma (A4). Fortunately, it was Ben’s block so I got to cheer him on, hoping he could find a way through the mystery that was just out of sight. A thin ice runnel to a small roof ended with a choice: left or right? After some tenuous exploration, he settled on a thin ice smear to the right. Clearing off a dusting of snow, Ben discovered an old rivet from the first ascent. With a junk #1 TCU in, Ben stretched to hook a front point in the old, sun-faded tat, which got him high enough to gain egg-shell ice that had separated from the rock. The angle was only 85 degrees, so Ben figured it was no harder then WI 5. He continued with no gear for 30 feet on ice that was so thin that it required him to spread his body weight over three points, since no single point would hold. Most people would call it WI 6X, but Ben still thinks it was only NEI 5-. Finally, the Enigma was behind us and the rest of his block went smoothly and ended at the Crystal Highway.

At first I was psyched to have this block, but as the snowfall increased and the spindrift filled my jacket with regularity, I realized that justice had been served. Ben had had the crux pitch so I deserved the crux weather while leading 80-to 95-degree plastic ice. Fatigue, chills, common sense, and insecurities begged us to retreat; the thought of another spindrift-filled night loomed over our heads. At one spot we went off route to explore the top of a diamond-shaped blob frozen to the wall. The top had no potential, so I put in a rock anchor and started down the other side; halfway down my boot broke through the ice to my knee: paydirt. Forty-five minutes later, as we watched the spindrift avalanches pass the door of our snow cave, we were again optimistic about our future. Tomorrow, the Somewhere Else Wall (A4).

We wake to blue skies, just when we need it. Now it's my turn to sort out the other A4 section of the route. I climb an ice runnel to a hanging snow-mushroom traverse, then pull on some gear to get through the exit roof and gain ice for a belay. As Ben follows, his feet drop out from under him. The huge mushroom drops away and he is left hanging from one tool slotted in a crack. The next piece of protection is five horizontal feet away with blank rock separating him from it. With no other options, Ben cuts loose for the heinous pendulum into the right-facing corner. After pulling through the roof and settling into the belay, he finally starts to breathe again. After some more mixed terrain that required pulling on gear to ease my nerves, we are done with the Somewhere Else Wall. Ben leads us through the “dry heaves” and onto the third ice band, where we join the Moonflower Buttress.

As we search out the best place to spend our third night, we hear voices. Doug Chabot and Bruce Miller are finishing their second day cruising the Moonflower Buttress. I knew Doug from Exum Mountain Guides, and we had met Bruce the previous year. We decide that we will go to the summit together the next day.

The next day is clear and cold, and Bruce and Doug head out first for the Bibler Come Again Exit. While we wait our turn for the first real pitch, Ben discovers his water bladder has leaked two quarts of water all over his down parka—a great way to start our summit push. We climb through three fun pitches to gain the upper slopes to the northeast ridge and join forces with Bruce and Doug to break trail to the summit on a beautifully calm evening with light clouds dancing in the setting sun to keep us in awe during the tedious post-holing. A quick celebration, one last photo, then back down the northeast ridge.

Nine rappels, courtesy of Bruce Miller V-thread Express, bring us back to our bivy on the third ice band and finally sleep. The next day, nineteen more rappels and we are back at our skis on the glacier, marveling in the glow of an anxiety-free night of sleep.

American Alpine Journal 2002.

Mountain climber
Chamonix mont blanc
Jul 25, 2016 - 02:25am PT
Hi Avery, a few photos from our trip on Deprivation in 2013. It was our first time climbing outside of the Alps, and proved to be a pretty wild experience.

Blog post here:



New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 25, 2016 - 04:09am PT
Thanks a lot, Will

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 26, 2016 - 12:31am PT
Wall of Shadows: Jimmy Haden and Russ Mitrovich. 2002

The Wall Of Shadows was an amazing climb with solid veins of ice and neve splitting through perfect granite! Even though we did not summit Mt Hunter, the quality of the experience still ranks as one of my favorite climbs. I would still like to go back and do another route on the North Buttress to the summit! I'm not sure if alpine climbing can get much better than the North Buttress of Mt Hunter!

Jimmy Haden

Thanks to Jimmy Haden


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 26, 2016 - 12:33am PT
Wall of Shadows: Jimmy Haden and Russ Mitrovich. 2002

Thanks to Jimmy Haden

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 28, 2016 - 12:15am PT
Moonflower: Doug Shepherd, Chris Sheridan, and Phil Wortmann. 2014.

By Phil Wortmann

Doug Shepherd, Chris Sheridan, and I climbed the North Buttress on a long weekend in May 2014. We left work on Wednesday, landing in Anchorage at midnight, then flew in to KIA mid morning. after trying unsuccessfully to nap, we setup base camp and skied off at around 7 or 8 pm and were climbing around 9. We definitely started off in a sleep deficit and I know I was feeling it hard after the first 20 hours. We got a little off route on our first block, but gained the prow through two scrappy mixed pitches, which I led and felt they were mentally more taxing than the prow itself. I remember thin ice and small, sparse gear there. At the Shaft, we traversed to Deprivation and followed it to above the Vision. This was essential for both our safety and time. We bivied for about three hours before the come-again exit and then rapped the wall from above the Exit. Our KIA-KIA time it think was around 50-51 hours. We flew out of the range Sunday, and were all back to work in Colorado on Tuesday. Overall, the route was leaner than I've seen in the other pics of previous ascents, but still felt pretty reasonable.

Thanks to Phil Wortmann

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 28, 2016 - 08:25pm PT
Deprivation: Alastair Robertson and Will Harris. 2013.

By Alastair Robertson

Right, well I've just got home from my much anticipated trip to Alaska. To cut a long story short we flew out to Kahiltna Glacier in perfect weather and managed to get a couple of great routes in before jumping on the North Buttress of Mt Hunter, making an ascent of Deprivation with the Bibler Come Again finish to the top of the difficulties (top of the last rock band). As we descended however, the weather warmed up considerably forcing us to abandon plans for any other ice routes as the whole glacier started to melt out alarmingly. With the big tick under our belts though, we were pretty happy to hire a car and go on a sport climbing/animal spotting road-trip for a few days before flying home. An awesome trip!


Will and I have been planning this trip since I realized that I had a month off from uni between mid-May and mid-June. Alaska seemed the obvious place to go for what would have to be a 'quick-hit' alpine/ice expedition with only 4 weeks to spare. I had initially been keen to target an ascent of the stunning Cassin Ridge on Denali, a classic alpine test-piece which is committing and high, but with moderate climbing. Will fancied something a bit meatier however, and informed me that despite a bit of research he hadn't come across a British ascent of Deprivation, a Mark Twight route on the towering North Buttress of Mt Hunter. I was well aware of the 'Moonflower' buttress and it's reputation but had never really considered it as something that a punter such as myself would be able to climb. Following some reading, and looking at photos, and studying Mark Twight's topo of the route (you just have to ignore the skull & crossbones', and the "psycho-death-mixed" annotations that litter the page) the climbing all seemed possible and the psyche/trepidation began to build.

And We're Off

We left the UK on the 18th May, and after a day of food and gear shopping in Anchorage we headed up to the little village of Talkeetna where 7 climbers (and all their gear) were shoe-horned into a DeHallivand Sea Otter for the short 40 minute flight onto the glacier. The flight was great fun, and puts not only the size of the mountains, but also the skill of the specialized 'bush pilots' into perspective as they weave through the peaks before daintily landing a fully laden plane onto a makeshift runway on the glacier. Once on the glacier we set up camp a little up the hill from the airstrip in the vicinity of a few other climbing teams, leaving the pitches next to the runway for the Denali climbers. The North Buttress of Mount Hunter seems to loom over the base camp despite the base being an hours ski away - an indication of its size - and I admit to feeling somewhat apprehensive when I worked out that I hadn't swung an ice axe in anger since I climbed the Droites with Will in 2011. Nothing like some huge Alaskan faces to get back into the groove... We found an abandoned campsite which we easily parasitised, meaning we didn't have to dig our own walls, toilet area or kitchen - and we were set.

Getting Ready

The weather was still perfect 5 days after landing on the glacier and we were running out of excuses to not get on something a bit bigger. Unfortunately the crux pitch of Deprivation, usually a steep pitch of fairly unprotected snow-ice I believe, had fallen down a week or so before - a risk we took I suppose with being out relatively late in the season. A fairly strong American team who we were camped next to had previously been up the lower slopes to recce Deprivation, and then made an attempt a day later but were eventually turned back by the 'missing' crux pitch through the first rock band. They had now turned their attention to the classic Bibler-Klewin or 'Moonflower' route on the North Buttress - the established hard test-piece on the buttress which saw numerous attempts and several successes during our time on the glacier. We were both keen to try and get on Deprivation as it was the route we'd both been reading about for months, so with this in mind we planned to climb the 'Moonflower' (Bibler-Klewin) as far as the first iceband where we could then traverse across to join Deprivation, hopefully climbing this to the third iceband where we could access the Bibler Come Again finish (this is not the original finish to Deprivation, but it is probably a more logical finish from where Deprivation joins the third iceband and seems to be the most popular way to climb the route in recent years).

To clarify, although the North Buttress on Hunter is often referred to as the Moonflower Buttress, 'Moonflower' normally means the classic North Buttress route, which was first climbed by Stump-Aubrey in 1981 to the top of the buttress, but is often called the 'Bibler-Klewin' as they were the first team to climb to the summit (in 1983), and their variation on the route is the one which is usually followed (they climbed a slightly different start, and the 'Bibler Come Again' exit in the fourth rockband).

Deprivation - North Buttress, Mount Hunter

We packed as light as we dared and set off early on Sunday morning with food for 2 days and enough gas to melt snow for 3 days (at a push), and crossed the bergshrund at the toe of the buttress at around 5:30am. The original plan was to climb the 'Mugs variation start' to the Moonflower (as this was the easiest start this year), and then follow the Moonflower to the first iceband. As it was, we went wrong almost immediately and followed a vague set of tracks into the starting gullies on Deprivation. Will led off on the first block of pitches and we climbed several hundred metres of brilliant ice runnels, moving together apart from the odd steeper pitch or 80 degree steps. We were moving well until Will traversed left into the continuation of our route, entering what looked like a large chimney system just out of sight. He disappeared round the corner before climbing back down out of it to belay on one of the walls. When he brought me over to join him I immediately recognized the chimney system as being the crux of Deprivation - only the crux pitch was missing - which was exactly the dead-end we were trying to avoid climbing into.

There was surprisingly little discussion about what to do next, Will handed me the rack with a cheery "your lead", I left my sack at the belay and set off. There was a steep ice chimney visible about 40m above, but the ice smear we were on terminated in a series of gently overhanging granite walls which I clearly wasn't going to be able to ascend. There was a thin crack over on the left wall though, so I placed a screw at the top of the ice and traversed left into the crack - at its top there was a roof and then a steep groove which looked like it might contain ice in the back. A mix of aid and 'french-free' allowed me to slowly make progress up the crack to reach the roof, but the groove above was steep, smooth and full of soft snow. I carried on up the groove, but I was in full-on aid mode by now. With no seam in the back of the groove for good gear, I was aiding for placement after placement on a sling round the tip of my axe picks, with a hammered wire and a tied-off blade being the only reasonable gear I can remember in the groove. I managed to get stood on a small block at the top of the groove and stood there, scared, with the good ice visible only about 6m above me. Back into free-climbing mode I somehow made it to the ice above, but not until I'd done some of most terrifying 'front-points-on-matchstick-edges-and-crimping-like-a-demon-on-verglassed-seams' climbing I've ever experienced. Suffice to say that my first belay screw was placed in double-quick time. As we didn't have ascenders Will then seconded the pitch as best he could, wearing his sack and hauling mine up alongside him which took a huge amount of energy. Following that I led the short vertical ice chimney above, and then Will led a long hard pitch of sustained poor ice to an overhanging chimney exit which thankfully deposited us on the first icefield at 5pm. Tired but full of confidence - having climbed the technical crux of the route - we kicked a ledge and sat down for a couple of hours to melt snow and eat a dehydrated meal.

We left the ledge at 7pm climbing up and left across the first icefield towards the large ramp system that splits the second rock band, stopping only briefly at 8pm to pick up the weather forecast on our radio - "high pressure persisting". Unfortunately despite what the forecast may say, the 'big three' mountains in the Alaska Range (Denali, Foraker, Hunter) are all capable of creating their own weather and that night it was the turn of Mt Hunter. The cloud rolled in, the visibility dropped and it was snowing quite hard as we made progress up the ice ramps above - with retrospect the arrival of this wet snow probably signified the rise in temperatures that started to strip all the lower elevation ice routes over the next 24-48 hours. Then the spindrift started. If you listened carefully you might get a couple of seconds warning, as the eerie silence was broken by a faint whooshing sound before the barrage of snow arrived, trying it's hardest to fill your jacket, and gloves, and sack with soggy cold. I'd got quite wet clearing snow leading the crux pitch and was suffering from the cold through the night as the wet spindrift turned the down in my belay jacket to mush and sapped the heat from me on the belays.

We kept climbing through the night to keep warm, making progress up through the second ice band and onto the rightwards traverse that gains the long diagonal snowfield in the third rockband. I think we may have gone the wrong way here, taking the hastily drawn line on one of the topos a little too literally and ending up on a narrowing snowfield that stopped just short of connecting to the big snowfield we needed to be on. An overhanging rock section barred the way to the snowfield which was only about 10m away, yet was out of reach. The only way to access it was for me to squirm through a flared and snow-filled stomach traverse, aiding on ice screws placed in a detached ice block in the back of the cave. On the other side a bit of scratching on snow-covered rock gained the snowfield, and Will seconded (carrying both packs again) with the help of a backrope on the other side of the cave. The pitch had taken me a long time and it was now Will's turn to get rather cold - we were both struggling in the wet and constant spindrift avalanches pouring over us.

We knew there was a chopped bivi ledge on the third iceband which we were aiming for but we were both shattered from over 24 hours on the go - climbing much slower than we usually would and pitching ground we would normally move together on with ease. Eventually the snow stopped, and we reached the bivi ledge on the third iceband at about 10:30am. Here we stopped for some food, melted some snow and slept for a couple of hours until the sun came onto the face. In the afternoon we ate, drank and soaked up the suns warmth until we felt a bit more energetic.

Leaving the ledge at about 5:30pm we moved together up the icefield for several ropelengths. As for all of the icebands on the route it consisted of hard ice covered by a layer of snow which made for awkward and quite time consuming climbing. Once into the fourth rockband we climbed the Bibler Come Again exit, where Will led a long pitch of fantastic icy steps and runnels, and then me leading the final 'overhanging offwidth' pitch which is supposed to be M5 but felt reasonably steady. From here about 4 pitches easy snow/ice slopes lead to the top of the buttress but we were more than happy to descend after the night of spindrift hell which we'd just endured. With retrospect, it would probably have been easier for us to climb up to the bivi at the top, and get a descent nights sleep before descending the next day but we were both quite keen to get back to our tent!

The descent

The descent was more of an epic that the climb in many ways. We decided to descend the Bibler-Klewin rather than Deprivation, as the former is a more direct route and was already equipped with v-threads from previous descents. We good off to a good start when the pulled ropes jammed round a flake on the first abseil, "If you go and sort this one I'll get the next one" said Will, something he'd later regret saying. I re-led the bottom of the pitch to free the ropes, climbing back down to the belay. From there the descent went quite well until we were descending 'The Shaft' pitches in the second rockband where the ropes were getting wet and then freezing; the ropes were freezing like cables, belay devices and 'biners were icing up and our gloves were frozen into useless claws. Eventually the ropes jammed solid, they had frozen into the ice in the time it took us to abseil, so Will valiantly prussicked a full 60m up a single 8mm ice line to free them. Fortunately I had a ropeman on my harness which Will used to jug up - prussic loops were next to useless on the iced ropes so without it we would have been stuck there unable to ascend the rope. I think one of those will become a permanent feature on my alpine/winter rack.

After Will had spent a couple of hours re-ascending and re-rigging the abseils we carried on descending off the in situ v-threads down the Moonflower. We were both struck by how good the climbing looked; pitch after pitch of brilliant sustained ice climbing. I can see why the Bibler-Klewin 'Moonflower' is an absolute classic and whilst perhaps not as difficult as the crux on Deprivation it looks like a more complete and sustained route - definitely something I'd be keen to return for.

Our final stroke of bad luck came after abseiling down a rock wall to an in situ ab station about 50m above the bergshrund. We pulled the ropes, and had the knot in our hands when the rope above flicked through the last anchor and wrapped itself round a flake, jammed solid. The pitch we'd just abseiled was near vertical rock wall with few gear placements so climbing or prussicking the pitch wasn't really an option. We pretty quickly decided to ditch the rope, untying the stuck one and carrying on down using a single rope for a 30m abseil. This reached a short snow slope just above the bergshrund at about 7am, but there were no obvious anchors or ice anywhere so we built a large snow-bollard. Will went first and the bollard held up well until he started the free-hanging section over the bergshrund when, suddenly, the rope shot through the bollard and was gone. I didn't even have time to yell a warning as Will fell over the 'shrund and bounced all the way down the icy slope below onto the glacier, eventually rolling to a halt in a horrible tangle of rope and gear.

He lay motionless for a couple of seconds as I started trying to figure out how on earth I was going to get down to him (with no rope), but then he picked himself up and dusted himself down. He was pretty beaten up, and had some nasty scratches on his hand where he lost a mitt, but was fortunately essentially unscathed. He then climbed back up the snow slope to below the bergshrund and threw me up an end of the rope - I'd managed to pound a peg in behind a rock flake which I cautiously abseiled off to cross the 'shrund.

It was about 7:30am when we reached the skis again, wearily packed the rope up and headed back to our tent so we were about 50 hours round trip from the base of the route. The next couple of days were spent recuperating: eating, drinking and sleeping in the sun. The American team who were thwarted by Deprivation had started up the Bibler-Klewin the evening before us, but had retreated during the second night due to the snowfall and huge spindrift avalanches which were also hammering us (although the Bibler-Klewin is a more natural funnel so I suspect there was a lot more stuff falling down it than Deprivation).

The next few days continued to be unseasonably warm. No other teams tried to climb the North Buttress and the ice runnels were shrinking daily on the routes in the Kahiltna area. We attempted to go and rescue our stuck rope a few days later but the snow wasn't freezing overnight and the bergshrund was pouring with water at 7am in the morning so we decided it wasn't worth the risk on a big thawing face. We flew back out to Talkeetna the next day for a slap-up feed and some beer-fueled celebrations in the local bar with a couple of Swedes who'd just come back from a successful ascent of the Cassin Ridge.

Thanks to Alastair Robertson


New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 29, 2016 - 04:20pm PT
Deprivation: Alastair Robertson and Will Harris. 2013.

Thanks to Alastair Robertson

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 30, 2016 - 12:35am PT
Deprivation: Alastair Robertson and Will Harris. 2013.

By Alastair Robertson

Alaska - Logistics, Gear and Tactics

A quick post with some logistics beta for anyone else wanting to climb in Alaska. We got quite a lot of really useful information from others who have made the trip out there so here is my take on it.

Getting There

Flights to Anchorage cost us about £700 from the UK, going via Seattle (which is still a three and a half hour flight from Anchorage).

We spent a whole day in Anchorage which was useful to get all of our shopping done, but would certainly be possible to arrive there in the morning and get all your shopping done before catching a transfer the next day. We stayed at the Arctic Adventure Hostel which was cheap, friendly and walking distance from REI and Wal-Mart - highly recommended.

For technical gear, go to either REI or Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking (AMH) which is just across the street. The latter is a small independent climbing shop where you'll get good advice from 'proper' climbers!

There are various options for transfer up to Talkeetna, and the prices are all similar (in the region of $50-60). We used Yukon Transfers on the way up, and the scheduled Park Connection Service on the way back. Both were fine although the Park Connection won't drop you at your hostel (it stops downtown and then at the airport). Purple Transfers is another company that seems to be popular with climbers.

For flying into the glacier we used Talkeetna Air Taxi as they came highly recommended from everyone who we spoke to (flights are about $600 with whoever you fly with). I can't fault the service we got from TAT, they helped us sort our gear, provided a taxi service for us in Talkeetna to visit the Ranger Centre and buy gear and then managed to fly us in the same afternoon. They also have a free bunkhouse if you are waiting for a flight in, or a connection to Anchorage. It's probably also worth mentioning that they also have planes equipped with the navigational gear to allow them to fly in limited visibility, which could make the difference between getting flown out, or waiting out a storm on the glacier.

White gas is stored on the glacier so you just pay the air taxi company and collect it in base camp. 1 gallon per person per three weeks is recommended although you can easily collect leftover gas from other climbers, or buy more if you really need.


As we were staying at Kahiltna Base Camp our food didn't need to get carried anywhere so we didn't pack light. A big shop in Wal-Mart provided our rations for the trip and it was well worth paying for a bit of excess baggage with TAT to have the luxury of tinned fruit and bacon (though not together). Be prepared to fork out a fair bit of cash as food is expensive in Alaska (especially anything fresh).
Things that were good:
 bagels - great for lunch on climbing days and rest days though expensive
 tortilla wraps - cheap alternative for rest day lunches but got a bit squashed on the way out
 pancake mix & maple syrup - amazing rest day breakfasts! 1 box did about 5 breakfasts each.
 sachets of porridge mix - a brilliant buy, instant hot breakfasts that just need water. Easy to make up in the tent with a jetboil for those early start days where it's cold outside!
 tins of chilli - good hearty meals
 tinned fruit - good for puddings, you start to crave fruit and veg after a week or so
 big tub of ragu pasta sauce - useful for making all sorts of meals
 bacon - mmmm...
 peanut butter and cream cheese - for bagels or wraps
 budget cereal bars - really quite tasty
 boxes of just-add-boiling-water macaroni cheese

With a bit of care it's actually quite easy to make a snow fridge and keep bacon, fresh mince, cheese, eggs and possibly some veg fresh for quite a while.

Things that were bad:
 fun sized chocolates - small does not equal fun, buy full-size bars (but not Hershey's, it's foul)
 blueberry bagels - taste a bit weird
 baked beans - just didn't get eaten
 smelly cheese - got very smelly
 the fact that we didn't take out beers
 eggs - got broken then froze, although you can buy 'liquid eggs' in cartons


 Get a stove board (or two) of a good size. It doesn't have to be thick so some 5mm ply would work fine. Makes cooking/chopping/preparing so much easier
 Buy a large (4-8L) pot and use this for melting snow (and melting snow only). Always keep the pot half full of water. Overnight, wrap the pot in a bin-liner and seal it in little snow cave somewhere in the kitchen to stop it from freezing overnight.
 Make sure you have two MSR-type stoves that work well, and lots of lighters. It's nice if one of them is a 'gourmet' style stove with a decent simmer function (e.g. Dragonfly or similar).
 Dig a pit in the porch of your tent for boots etc.
 Wetwipes are useful for washing although a little bottle of handsoap is nice when you want a proper wash with water. Don't forget washing up stuff, and a teatowel is useful.
 A cheap walkie-talkie ($25 from REI) will pick up the weather forecast on the buttress (Ch 1, 8pm)


 A thermarest and a karrimat/foam bivi mat are nice to have for added insulation. Take a good sleeping bag as, although it was very mild when we were there, -30C is not unheard of in May and that's COLD!
 A small food/kit tent was really useful. A large fly-only living tent, or a one pole teepee-style tent would be a good alternative as you can then dig your living/kitchen and storage areas underneath it.
 Sunhat essential, spare sunglasses would be good as you'd be stuffed if you lost your only pair.
 Snowstakes can be useful for crossing bergshrunds but are not essential by any means.
 Don't forget the sunscreen.
 A snowsaw is really useful for cutting blocks
 It's nice to have plenty of ab tat in case you need to equip a couple of descents. If it's cold enough abseil straight off the thread rather than adding tat.
 Tent pegs are pretty useless. This is where snowstakes come in handy. Alternatively you can fill any spare stuffsacks and the tent bags with snow and bury them.
 Figure out how to leave your inner boots on and take your outer boots off with the crampons still attached - useful for bivis!
 We climbed in ski touring boots which worked OK, although mountain boots would have been a little bit comfier over a long day (though not £500 comfier as we both already owned ski boots!). Some of the Americans couldn't believe we were even considering climbing the North Buttress in ski boots, but I don't think they have the Chamonix ski-climb-ski-beers mentality that we do this side of the pond!


For a big route such as those on the North Buttress all of the attempts we saw were fairly light and fast, big push type efforts. Unless it's really cold I don't think a tent would be worth the weight (not that there's anywhere to pitch it unless you're going over the top). If the weather is that bad you can always descend. The bivi ledges marked on the topo all seemed reasonable, although they'd proabably take a bit of chopping if you were the first team of the season (shovel would be useful then).
As well as what I wore (thermals, adidas tracksuit, shell salopettes; baselayer, R1 hoody, goretex shell) I carried:
 Goretex bivi bag
 Very light Rab Quantum 250 sleeping bag (mountain marathon bag - ~600g)
 Down jacket (Rab Neutrino ~600g)
 50cm of bivi mat
 Spare light pair of gloves, spare mitts and balaclava

Will didn't have a light sleeping bag so carried a pair of synthetic insulated trousers instead, and also carried a mid-weight synthetic belay jacket (Arc'teryx Atom) as well as his down jacket. He had a 3/4 length bivi mat too.

The pro's of the puffy trousers are that they zip on, removing the need to take your boots off to get into a sleeping bag, and can also be worn for climbing/descending if you get really cold (Will wore them on the descent with no problems). The con's are that they aren't as warm as a down bag. I think they worked really well for him as it was very mild, but I'd have been very glad of my sleeping bag had we been on the route a week or so earlier and trying to get some sleep in the shade. The bivi mat was more useful for sitting on rather than sleeping on to be honest, so you could probably get away with carrying one between two and sharing it at bivi stops. Some form of belay jacket is a must, especially for long belays on technical ground.

Our group kit/food was:
 Single plastic bowl (10g)
 Gas (1x100 and 1x200 canister)
 3x MountainHouse dehydrated meal (~140g and 800kcal each)
 4x porridge oats sachets (~35g each?)
 Personal supply of cereal bars/chocolate bars/bagels (probably ~800-1200g each when we left the ground). Will was a fan of energy gels whilst I preferred bagels. We found some yummy energy chews - endorsed by Lance Armstrong - which worked well (it was probably the EPO)
 We each carried a knife and v-threader. We had ~15m of ab tat between us.
 Other odds and ends (goggles, camera, laminated topos, radio etc.)

We each carried 2L of water

If I was to do it again I think I'd carry pretty much exactly the same stuff. I reckon we got the kit just right.

What I learned:
 DRINK MORE! I should have drunk more, both whilst climbing and also at bivi stops. I consumed in the region of 7-8L over 50 hours which was stupid. Force yourself to drink even if you're cold, I think my main problem was not wanting to open my bag whilst being hammered in spindrift. It also takes discipline to drink if you're busy belaying a leader, or moving together. Drinking whilst you have your second on autobloc is much easier.
 Drink a full 2L whilst you are at a brew stop, and then leave with a full 2L for the next block
 Brew up regularly, I think you HAVE to stop at least every 12 hours to keep functioning well. That will give you a consumption of 8L per 24 hrs. Whilst you can get away with only drinking a couple of litres on a 24hr route, that isn't sustainable for 2 days.
 The jetboil works really well for melting snow. A small plastic cup would have been useful for collecting snow and pouring it into the jetboil. A 100 canister is enough gas to melt ~8L of snow, and give you hot water for a dehydrated meal (temperature dependent I guess).
 Electrolyte powder or tablets are quite useful, they give a bit of taste and help ward off cramp (we were both suffering from cramp at the second bivi).
 Don't underestimate the reviving effect of a hot meal and a few hours sleep. Had we carried on to the cornice bivi and got some sleep before descending, then I suspect we wouldn't have had the epic descent that we did.
 The Mountainhouse meals are really tasty - I'd carry 4 meals and no porridge if I was to do it again.


Our rack was quite rock-heavy as we knew there was some hard climbing on Deprivation. For the Moonflower I'd probably leave some of the rock gear behind (maybe take 6-8 wires and a half rack of cams) and carry an extra couple of screws as it's all ice apart from the two aid/pendulum pitches which have in situ gear. More stubbies and 12cm screws could be useful.
We carried:
 13 screws
 set of wires (2-11)
 Friends: blue alien, F0.5, yellow alien, F1, F1.5, red camalot, yellow camalot
 2 blades, 1 lost arrow, 1 medium pecker
 10 draws
 3-4 slings

Hope that bits of this are useful to somebody!

Thanks to Alastair Robertson

away from the ground
Oct 10, 2016 - 08:05pm PT
Bump for Begguya

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 18, 2016 - 03:03pm PT
Christmas Bump!

Social climber
Wise Acres
Dec 18, 2016 - 03:11pm PT
Kick @ss!

New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 13, 2017 - 04:16am PT
Bump for a brilliant chunk of mountain
Spiny Norman

Social climber
Boring, Oregon
May 24, 2017 - 09:47am PT
May, 2017 -- Colin Haley North buttress solo: 'schrund to summit in 8 hours.

Mountain climber
Jun 30, 2017 - 02:00pm PT
On the 12.-15.5.2017 we did the 6th ascent of the Grison-Tedeschi (aka French route). You can read my blog here. My English is not perfect so don't mind about that when reading.

Our second objective was Slovak Direct but after my partner got bronchitis, it was over for us. Recently Luca Moroni and David Bacci did the 8th ascent of the Slovak. 5 teams aimed for it this year, but only one succeeded.
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