After deciding to postpone our Dhaulagiri expedition to 2014, we found ourselves with an open schedule in the spring. Guides and climbers often struggle with sitting still, so Jake Baren, Leon Davis, and I quickly decided on a personal trip into the Alaska Range. The three of us have guided Denali many times – and as anyone who has been to the Alaska Range knows, it is difficult to travel past countless beautiful peaks, ridges, and faces and ignore the siren call to come climb them. This trip was all about pulling the wax from our ears and sailing directly towards the sirens song. With no clear plans or objectives we would simply climb what looked enticing. After about 10 days in the Ruth Gorge we got picked up and flown over to the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.
In early May the three of us climbed the Southwest ridge of Mt Francis, an excellent ridgeline that offered quality alpine rock and steep snow climbing. With good weather holding, we rested and retooled for the West Ridge of Mt Hunter. On May 9th Jake and I departed our base camp around 8:00 AM, skiing down the SE Fork through the cold, crisp morning to the main flow of the Kahiltna Glacier. We continued down glacier for another half hour to reach the West Ridge. Here we cached skis and began climbing. We approached this objective in a light and fast technique, known as “alpine style,” bringing 4 days of food, a small stove, lightweight tent, and no comfort items. As we started climbing we found a very nice boot pack leading up the ridge that made for extremely efficient travel. At first we felt guilty, drafting behind someone else breaking trail, but soon we decided that each of us has done more than our fair share of breaking trail on many other peaks and that we ought to just enjoy this one. As we climbed higher on the West Ridge with ear-to-ear smiles we decided on a plan, “lets climb until we’re not having fun and then camp there”. Well, the climbing on the West Ridge is extremely fun and after 12 hours of navigating the corniced ridge, peppered with exquisite sections of rock, steep snow and ice, we found ourselves at the 11,400’ bivy – tired but still smiling. We set our tent in a small notch and ate freeze dried dinners with a fantastic view of the Alaska Range. Truly an awesome place to be.
The next morning brought beautiful weather and a sense of excitement for where we were and what lay ahead. With our approach of simply having fun we enjoyed the morning views and a few cups of coffee and didn’t break camp until nearly noon. Moving quickly and relishing in every step and swing of an ice tool we ascended steep snow pitches and navigated gaping crevasses and soon found ourselves on the summit plateau at 13,000’. We walked across the largest stretch of horizontal terrain we had seen in 30 hours to the final 55 degree slope topping out on the summit ridge. From here, 40 more minutes of easy climbing gave way to the summit of Mt. Hunter. Jake and I hooted and hollered with excitement, standing on the top of Mt Hunter. “What a fun climb!” Soon we began our descent with the same approach we used on the ascent, climb until we are not having fun any more and then set up camp. Down the ridge we went back to our bivy site, where we decided to descend off the south side of the ridge down the Ramen Route. Quickly we realized that we had messed up the entrance into the top of the Ramen couloir and had to make some tricky rappels and down climb through some seracs to get ourselves into the correct couloir. A few more rappels down the steep and icy gully gave way to soft snow, though still steep, that allowed us to down climb the rest of the 3,300 foot Ramen coulior.
Now, for the second time in 2 days, we found ourselves again on flat terrain on the glacier. At this point it was getting late and we were tired but still having fun so we decided to continue our descent. We chose to navigate the extremely broken up glacier instead of a small notch that offers multiple rappels as we would have more opportunities to set camp somewhere on the jumble of ice should we find ourselves not having fun in the coming hours. This was a time intensive descent however we were soon in a different world surrounded by uncoprehendable seracs and craveses. A couple more hours brought us back to main flow of the Kahiltna Glacier, very tired but still happy. We made our way back to our skis and skinned back into base camp 42 hours after having left, exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and smiling. Employing our tactic of “climb until we are not having fun” had been the perfect strategy for this route.
After celebrating New Year’s Eve in Mendoza, Argentina, I find myself on a bus traveling south. Day turns to night, desert turns to sea, my mind and my ass go compleatly numb, and 52 hours later I am stumbling onto the streets of a climber’s paradise: El Chalten. My buddy Ryan Huetter is waiting for me, pissed because I am 8+ hours late due to a couple break downs. In a state of delirium I look around at my new surroundings, to find the mysterious, daunting Fitz Roy staring right back it me. Unmistakeable. I have read books, studied photos, and heard legends of this place since I was 14, and now suddenly out of the dream, I am here.
After a couple weeks waiting out the weather, like you do in Patagonia, Ryan and I set our sights on the biggest piece of rock we could see: Fitz Roy. We debate on the route and finally settle on the Afanasieff (French NW Ridge) – perhaps the longest route on Fitz Roy, climbing 1,500 meters, close to 5,000 feet, directly to the summit. Though not the most technically difficult route on the peak, around 5.10c, its crux lies in its demanding endurance, requiring us to be on-point for a number of days.
We depart Chalten at four in the morning on January 20th and approach all morning. By noon we are racking up at the base of Fitz. We lead in blocks, maybe four to six pitches at a time, to move quickly; I take the first one. I lead up a blocky, scrambly ridge with short steps requiring closer attention. Ryan and I are quickly simul-climbing through this moderate terrane. In this land where the mantra “speed is safety” is the difference between life and death, we have to keep moving. We each have small backpacks with us, three days of food, a light down jacket for each, and one sleeping bag between the two of us. If we do not climb up and over the famous rock in three days, to return to the warmth and security of Chalten, we are in trouble.
By six o’clock we are at the three-star bivy at the top of pitch nine. To our suprise we find 8 Argentinian climbers setting up for the night and discussing the times and order they plan on leaving in the morning. Ryan and I look at each other and with out saying a word we both know what the other is thinking, “well, lets just keep climbing.” So after shooting the shit with the Argentinians for a few moments, we start up the steep slabs looking for a small bivy ledge. Ten pitches later we pull onto a shelf just as night really sets in. Though small and exposed, this bivy ledge is just what we need. It is a cold night sharing a sleeping bag, and with only the ropes and our packs as pads, but luckily there is no wind and we wake to the continental ice shelf glowing orange in front of us. With around 20 pitches down and 26 to go, we are energized by our good progress so far. Unfortantly we quickly lose momentum on the morning of day two: a few wrong turns, an ugly off-width, and a stuck rope cost us dearly. By noon we have only made about eight pitches. Our tempo starts to pick up in the early afternoon, however, we are still faced with the crux pitch of the climb, a 5.10c pitch traversing onto the north face. This is the last pitch of Ryan’s block and he floats it with little effort. I follow and find the climbing fun and easier than expected. I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t flutter a little faster making the move around the corner and on to the north face, complete with 4000+ feet of exposure. I take the lead and after another 5.9 pitch of icy hand cracks, and a few awkward pitches the horizontal starts to balance with the vertical as we eventually make an easy scramble to the top.
At close to nine in the evening on our second day of climbing Ryan and I stand on thesummit of Fitz Roy, stunned by the effort and awed by the beauty. The sun is beginning to set and we watch the shadow of Fitz Roy creep further to the east before looking for a suitable summit bivy. We retreat to the single sleeping bag that night tired, happy, and a bit anxious of the descent tomorrow.
SHISHA PANGMA TIBET
This fall a group of friends and I put together an expedition to climb a peak in Tibet, Shisha Pangma (8027m). After long days traveling from Seattle to Seoul to Kathmandu to Nylam we found ourselves bumping along the Tibetan Plateau watching the 14th highest mountain in the world grow slowly bigger as we approached. The flanks of Shisha Pangma would be our home for the next six weeks. During this time we set about moving equipment and supplies up the mountain and within the first 10 days we had established our camp 1. Moving slowly at first to acclimatize we soon became stronger and were able to make the carries to Camp 1 and above more efficiently. By the beginning of November we had all our camps established on the mountain and the six of us retreated to out Advanced Base Camp to rest before our summit push. High winds kept us at ABC longer than we wanted to be there but we had a weather forecast predicting a lull in the winds around the 11th of November. This would be our window. We geared up and, now well acclimatized, climbed quickly to camp 1. We passed by our original Camp 2, stopping long enough to pick up some food and equipment we would need and continued to the base of the North ridge where we established a camp 2.8 on the night of the 10th. The morning of the 11th was cold and we pushed back our departure to let the sun warm us just a bit, by 6:00 AM we began climbing. Reaching Camp 3 with a stove and my down suit we made some tea and dawned the First Ascent down suit and pressed on for the summit. After hours of
climbing through increasingly thin air we reached the summit. I was choking back tears of joy, to be standing on top of the 14th highest point on earth with 3 of my good friends. It was truly an amazing feat. One of our team skied off the summit wail the 3 of us made quick work of the descent to Camp 3 and then on to Camp 2.8. Two other members planed to make their bid the next day and stayed at Camp 3. In a few short days we were all back to our ABC tired and happy. Nine yaks appeared the next morning and it was a bit sad to take down what had been our home for so long and load it all on the yaks for the hike out to Base Camp. Trucks, vans, and busses finally brought us back to the overwhelming city of Kathmandu where we all had a beer and went our different ways.
It is May 17th, the day before my 29th birthday, I am Talketna Alaska hanging around the K2 hanger making last-minute adjustments to my gear and helping my climbers with theres. We are waiting to fly on to Denali for me this will be my fourth West Buttress trip but for them it is their first and you can taste the anticipation and excitement. Before long our ramper breaks the group in two and has us start loading the corresponding otters with our mountains of gear and 22 days of food. As my bush plane leaves the ground and
banks hard we get one last view of Talketna, the rivers, and tundra shortly give way to glaciers and granite. As we enter the Alaska Range I am awed once more by the size and relief of these mountains. Our pilot navigates the otter through knife-edge ridges and daunting peaks like the steel ball of a wooden labyrinth maze game, perfectly focused and calm. I spot the massive Kahiltna Glacier as we come over second shot pass and hear the skis hydraulic dropping them into place. Minutes later we are on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna unloading the plane in the dominating presence of Mount Hunter. Base Camp is always circus, running into old friends, hearing about the pros get on the newest, baddest routes, gear everywhere, planes buzzing in and out.
Before long our group has fallen into a rhythm and we work our way, slowly, up the Kahiltna and on to 11 Camp. From 11 we begin our series of carries and acclimatization climbs, and like worker ants on daily missions from the ant hill we climb higher, establishing 14 Camp and finally caching on the West Buttress near Washburn’s Thumb. 14 is like a small snow and nylon city compleat with neighborhoods, snow walls that grow to form streets and alleys, descending climbers drag sleds around the different suburbs trying to pawn their extra food, fuel, and more. After days at 14 we get a weather window and push up to 17 Camp, our high camp. We don’t want to stay here to long, nobody gets stronger waiting at 17 so have to balance enough rest after the move from 14 with the weather window, with the slow degradation altitude has on our bodies. This year we are forced to wait, mostly tent-bound, for 3 days more than necessary as winds rip through Denali pass and scours high camp.
After weeks getting ourselves within striking distance of the summit the day is upon us. anticipation is high as we pack our summit packs and leave the safety of our high camp. The first obstacle we encounter is the Audubon, a steep hill we must traverse to Denali pass. The Audubon has been the site of many fatalities in the past including and AAI team that summited with me last year, R.I.P Suzanne. In the extreme cold of the early morning high on the Audubon we clip running belays and slowly work our way to Denali Pass, 18,200′. Once there the sun takes the deep chill back to a more reasonable dull, nose dripping, temp. Hours of climbing over more moderate terrain brings us to the football field where we look at pig hill and the summit ridge. People are tired and cold but we have only an hour and a half to the top of North America, I select a few climbers to jettison their packs there and take parkas and water in my own pack for the final summit push. Pig hill takes its toll on us all and as we begin the final exposed ridge traverse to the summit I need to keep my eyes on all members of my rope team, a slip here could end in catastrophe. I take a deep breath and we push on to the summit.
20,320 feet, the highest point in North America
WEST RIDGE FORBIDDEN
NORTH CASCADES WASHINGTON
In late July myself and 2 other guides went to the North Cascades to climb the West Ridge of Forbidden peak with 6 friends from Fort Lauderdale. The North Cascades offers some of the most spectacular alpine rock climbing in the US if you can get lucky enough to miss the notorious North West rain and torturing mosquitoes. We got lucky. After delaying the climb by one day, due to some unlucky rain showers, we made our way up into Boston Basin where we established our camp. The following morning started with a Colombian Alpine start, walking away from camp at 5:10 AM. We quickly found ourselves in the middle of an alpine painting complete with alpin-glow kissed summits to the west. After climbing the snow gully to the notch on the West ridge of Forbidden we prepared for the awe-inspiring rock playground that lay ahead. With three rope teams of three we stepped away from the notch and started weaving our way along the exposed ridge of Forbidden.
After hours for climbing, negotiating cruxes, threading ourselves around obstacles, and resting on false summits we found ourselves sunburnt, smiling, and sitting on top of the most beautiful peak in the area. At 3:40 PM we started descending the same, never-ending ridge we had just climbed and by late afternoon we were once again back at the notch tired and happy. From here we began our descent off the South side back to the steep snow gully we climbed previously. Loose rock kicked off by a team above me honed in on my left arm like a pinball to the flipper for the arcades high scoring kid. After glancing of my arm the rock continued down to collide with a climber on my rope team. Frightened minutes went by before we established that Bill, though bruised and sore, was okay. The rest of the descent was comparatively uneventful and after 16 hours of climbing we retired to our tents to eat freeze-dried meals and have a nip of scotch.