North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park, Denali, Butte Direct

Publication Year: 1998.

Denali, Butte Direct. On April 18, Jim Blow and I took Hudson Air to Kantishna and traveled 40 miles to the base of our climb at the end of the West Fork of the Tralieka Glacier. Earlier in the year we had Will Foresberg dogsled most of our heavy gear into the lower ice fall on the Muldrow Glacier. After three days we arrived at our cache and spent a day preparing our gear for the trip up the Tralieka Glacier to its West Fork. Two days later, on April 23, we arrived at the base of the climb and began up a snow talus slope near the center of the base of the face. We climbed the snow talus for three pitches leading up to a tight gully, then headed right for one pitch on mixed rock and ice to a belay point. From the belay point we went right up a rock band (5.5) then left onto another steep snow field. At the top of the snow field we were able to drop our loads and dig out a tent platform. From the tent platform we headed up and right for one pitch on mixed terrain to the base of a sloped horizontal snow slope. From here we headed one pitch to the left to a gully directly above the tent platform and belayed at its base. The gully was steep rock and ice (WI4) for one full pitch that leads to another snow- field. We followed the snowfield for two pitches to an alcove below a large 180-foot rock band. From the alcove over the rock band we climbed 5.8 rock to a steep snow slope, then traversed two pitches to the base of a steep overhanging face. Here we spent considerable time digging a safe tent platform under the overhang, which protected us from rockfall. From the tent platform we headed down and right to an obvious comer which marks the center of the entire face. From this point we climbed good rock (5.9-5.10) for three pitches. After the second pitch the rock was defoliated granite, eliminating the ability of hauling our packs safely behind us. We left our ice gear behind and continued up the obvious chimneys for another three pitches, encountering a move of A2 and a final move out onto a ledge system of 5.10+. From the ledge system we traversed right for several pitches, then headed left and up.

The next pitch was up a gully which during dry conditions would have been 5.5 or 5.6; because of constant snowfall these pitches turned out to be the most difficult. The next five pitches led up and right to a snow and ice field facing southeast. Unable to continue without our ice gear and running out of food (we had been on the face for five days), we decided to rappel down and back to the Muldrow to replenish our food supply, then head up the Muldrow to Karstens Ridge, climb Karstens Ridge to 12,000 feet, and descend the long arm at the top of the route, rappel down the face to our high point and climb the 1,200 feet of ice to its top. The trip around the Tralieka and Muldrow glaciers was 30 miles with heavy loads. On May 9, we descended down the face in marginal weather. We spent half the day rappeling the face in a snow storm. Descending down a face that you weren’t sure you could climb out of was one of the most intimidating events of the trip. After ten or 12 rappels in a blinding snow storm we finally stopped; Jim Blow recognized our previous high point up and left. We headed back up. The approximately ten pitches to the top of the route followed an obvious gully of mixed rock and ice ranging from 5.5 to 5.8 rock climbing and WI2-3. The final pitch of ice leading to the safety of the ridge above was WI4. The climb back to the camp at 12,000 feet was approximately one mile.

We spent the next six days moving up Karstens Ridge, then onto the lower Harper ice fall at approximately 16,500 feet. On May 16 we were hit by a storm that pinned us down for ten days. The wind blew at more than 100 mph and we encountered the worst temperatures of the trip. During the storm we began rationing our food to a meal a day between us. On May 25 (day 38 on the mountain) the storm broke and we headed for Denali Pass. By nightfall, we had made the pass, but were too weak to continue down to the 17,000-foot camp. The next day we ate our final meal and spent the better part of the day hydrating. We heard on our small radio that the weather was going to be good for several days so we discussed our options for the summit. We knew that the summit was a six-hour round trip; even though we knew we had no business trying to do it, we decided to give it a go.

On May 26 we made the summit, returned to Denali Pass and crawled into frozen sleeping bags and no food. The next three days we made our way down the West Buttress, receiving food from many climbers. After 43 days on the mountain and with each of us 40 pounds lighter, we returned home to Montana. We named the route Butte Direct for the people of Butte, Montana.

Jim Wilson, unaffiliated