American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Hunter, Southeast Spur Attempt, 1991

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1993

Hunter, Southeast Spur Attempt, 1991. Jay Hudson, our pilot, dropped Jim Graham and me off on the seldom-visited south fork of the Tokositna Glacier on April 22, 1991. We believe that no one had been here since 1980 when Pete Athans, Peter Metcalf and Glenn Randall successfully climbed the incredible southeast spur (AAJ, 1981, pages 22-28). Because of deep powder, no landings in eleven years and a drastically changed glacier, Jay needed a light plane. We had to fly in separately in Jay’s Super Cub. Then, knee-deep powder and no skis or snowshoes provided a longer approach than anticipated. We were hoping to traverse the peak and descend the southwest ridge where Jay had planted a cache. Two days of slogging brought us to the couloir which leads to the crest of the spur. We had 14 days of food. From a waist-deep trench, we got to the firmer snow of the couloir. In the 1000-feet of step-kicking in 45° to 60° snow, we found some exposed fixed line probably left by John Waterman on the first ascent (AAJ, 1979, pages 91-97). Mixed pitches brought us to a spot on the ridge for our tent. The next day, Graham led a steep and overhanging dihedral (Al), time- consuming because of our scant rock rack. The following day, we prusiked the dihedral and climbed four more slow, difficult, mixed pitches. In near darkness, we chopped a ledge for our bivouac. The next part of the ridge was narrow, somewhat level and corniced. In heavy powder snow, we didn’t need crampons but a snowblower. Without any exposed ice, we couldn’t even pretend to protect the thin, airy climbing. We headed back to our last ledge. That night, we awoke to a shaking, trembling world. I grabbed the rope which linked us to a large rock horn and held on. Suddenly it stopped. We poked our heads out and watched the cirque fill with powder from all the snow and ice avalanches tearing down the slopes. Avalanche debris covered the glacier below for several miles. Our campsite was covered by huge ice chunks. The couloir we had climbed had a huge cone of debris at its base. We learned later that the epicenter of the 6.4 earthquake was 40 miles away from us. We began a series of blind rappels down the west side of the ridge. Except for one snow anchor, we used our expensive rock anchors. Several times, all we could find on these vertical cliffs was a single nut placement. On the glacier, we headed back to our now buried airstrip. Excellent walking on the avalanche debris let us travel in a few hours what had previously taken several days. With no radio and with poor flying weather, we sat in the tent for three days before Jay spotted our message stamped in the snow and picked us up.

Mark Kightlinger, Unaffiliated

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