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North America, United States, Wyoming, Wind River Range, Mt. Hooker, Northwest Passage

Mt. Hooker, Northwest Passage. In mid-September, Ryan Hokanson and I hired two horses to pack our luggage up to Hailey Pass. Our objective was the north face of Mount Hooker, a 2,000-foot vertical expanse of beautiful orange granodiorite. After establishing a base camp among the krumholtz and talus below the wall, we began scouting for a passage through the vertical seas above. The western portion of the face was not visible from our camp, but as we approached it, we found it bathed in late afternoon sun. The prospect of climbing in warm sunshine, in this reputedly frigid place, seemed inviting. We studied the wall for a time and decided on a line. Our proposed route started in a conspicuous comer and roof system that travels up and left through the bottom third of the dead vertical northwest face of Mount Hooker. It actually linked more obvious features than most of the previously established routes, but it also sported a conspicuous blank area. During the next five days of intermittently stormy weather, we were able to fix five pitches of sustained A3 broken by periods of intriguing free climbing. This carried us through the initial comer and roof system, and into the bottom of the blank section, which yielded to 5.9 face climbing. After a day spent “hydrating” by soaking up rainwater at base camp, the clouds ebbed and were replaced by a flood of calm, blue sky.

Time to sail! Jugging and hauling brought us to our bivy with time to spare. From this vantage point, the wall above did not appear so featureless. I left my aiders at the belay and began free climbing. Flakes that had been invisible from the ground provided hearty laybacks and locking jams. Soon I was 200 feet above the portaledge. I had navigated the remainder of our anticipated crux section, yet I had not done a move harder than 5.8! The remainder of our voyage wove its way through a complex passage of vertical crack systems. Pitch after pitch ended with the drill still at the previous belay. In fact, throughout the entire route the only drilling done, aside from several of the belays, was the enhancement of one hook move on the fourth pitch. Just three days after leaving the ground, we found ourselves once again on horizontal land, having completed The Northwest Passage (VI 5.9 A3, 12 pitches) over a period of nine days. The summit of Mount Hooker is a vast and fairly level island in the sky. Upon reaching it, a climber may shed the harness and pack it away in the depths of a haul bag, the only remaining problem being to carry said haul bag back to the car.

Kirby Spangler, unaffiliated