American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mount Hunter, The Mystic Jewel

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

Mount Hunter, The Mystic Jewel. At midnight on June 19, Calvin Herbert, Mike Colocino and I climbed the initial 2,000 feet of Rattle and Hum to a protected bivouac and the beginning of our route on Mount Hunter's North Face. The climbing had been exposed to serac fall and huge avalanches so we were all quite relieved to be in a safe position. The next day, I led a 500-foot block of 70° ice over two tricky bergschrunds to the base of a steep couloir that defines the middle portion of the route. Calvin began leading up the couloir only to be greeted by a thunderous torrent of spindrift. He was barely able to hold on to his tools and place a screw and lower off. Shaken and distraught, we down climbed back to the previous bivouac. We began climbing the following day at 5 p.m. and just before reaching our previous high point Calvin was struck by a solitary ice brick in the back of the neck, causing us all to fear for our safety and carefully evaluate the situation at hand. Calvin broke a long, anxious silence by murmuring that it would be more dangerous to descend than to continue, then grabbed the rack of 15 ice screws and bolted up the couloir.

We swung leads for 2,500 feet of 70° to 90° ice climbing until Calvin found a bergschrund bivouac inside a 75° ice arête at 12,000 feet. The next evening we climbed the crux, a 90° ice chimney, then continued up the classic, exposed ice arete that forms the left edge of the face, until we reached the 13,200-foot plateau on the west ridge, where a storm forced us to bivy. That evening, our little AM radio forecast poor weather for several days. Exhausted, we dozed off and awoke the next evening to a sea of clouds at 10,000 feet and clear skies above. We hurriedly packed and raced up the final 1,400 feet to a wondrous summit with views of the entire Alaska Range and beyond, then set off on the long, tedious descent down the West Ridge, which went rather smoothly despite an earthquake, a 36-hour storm, and a wild and horrifying series of rappels into the frightening Northwest Basin. We arrived safely at the landing strip basecamp, six-and-a-half days after beginning our adventure.

Doug Byerly, unaffiliated

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