Monday, May 16, 2011

Big Season in the Alaska Range!

The Mighty West Face of Mount Huntington as seen from camp.
I arrived back in the Alaska Range for my 11th spring season in a row. The Alaska Range has changed my life in many beautiful ways. In 1998 I saw the the AK Range up close and personal for the first time. I was 18 and from that day on I was a climber and I planned on making a living as a guide. Two goals that's it. Those two goals led me to this amazing life of climbing and guiding not only in the AK Range, but all over the place. After so many great trips and all the inspiring people out here, I can not imagine not coming back.
Denali towering above the Silverthrone ice fall in the Ruth Amphitheater.
This year I started by guiding a private trip with Sean Russell on 5/1-5/12. Our intention was to climb the west face coliour of Mount Huntington. We climbed up on the west face only to be stopped in our tracks with a thin, unsupportable, snow pack upon slabs below great looking ice. This is the result of an extremely dry and cold winter/spring here in Alaska. So we bailed. I then used a little knowledge, creativity, and luck and the next thing I knew we skied out to the south face of Kahiltna Queen (12,380ft). The Queen is a significant peak steep from all sides and has a triple divide summit with glaciers flowing to the Kahiltna, Ruth, and Tokositna glaciers. The South Face has been unnoticed for years with the neighboring Hunter and Huntington catching all the focus. We climbed one of two really, great climbs on one the most overlooked faces in the central Alaska Range. This was the second ascent of the route and a Great Adventure. I would grade the route V 5.6 AI 4 60ยบ Snow.
Sean at the Begshrund on Mt. Huntington's west face.
Sean climbed really well and we made it to camp in 21hrs rigging over 20 rappels on the descent. We could not find one piece of gear in the entire 3,000' route. It was a great adventure with mixed weather conditions... anything from bitter cold, sun, wind, snow, and complete whiteout. We were stopped from traversing the last 200' of elevation due to zero visibility and a cornice ridge. This was the perfect climb in great conditions in an unreal setting. I would be siked to climb it again or better yet the other route to the west. My 94 year old grandmother passed away the day we were climbing making the Queen seem also fitting for this adventure in the AK Range. This ones for you grams!

We climbed the obvious line in the middle of the Face. Kahiltna Queen is beautiful.
Looking up the face in the early morning light. 3,000ft of golden granite.
Sean topping out on a fun mixed pitch on the lower route.

Granite gear with steep snow and ice. The black speck in the glacier upper right is our camp.
Weather was changing by the minute...most of my pictures are in the rare good light moments.
Pitch 20 something. We were able to simul climb 50% of this route. Good speed and good times.
View before the snow and white out rolled in a few pitches from the top. That is Pk 11,520 behind use. Coley Gentzel and I got the First Ascent of this peak in 2005 via a route named The Flame.

Last pitches and the last picture of the this point all I could think about was the 3,000'descent with little ice and a small rock rack.

Stay tuned to Facebook and follow our Denali Expedition with Team Norge on skis. We will fly in May 19th and I'm packing food and gear for the next few days. Happy days in the hills, Seth.