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North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mt. Hunter, Northeast Buttress, North Couloir

Mt. Hunter, Northeast Buttress, North Couloir. Scott DeCapio and I landed on the Kahiltna Glacier’s Southeast Fork in mid-May with aspirations to try the Moonflower on Mt. Hunter’s north buttress. However, the complete absence of high-pressure days failed to elicit the requisite melt-freeze cycles for ice formation on the route. Thus we spent our time wandering aimlessly about the glacier on skis, exploring crevasse fields and cragging on the stable ice seracs at the base of Mt. Francis’s east face. One day in late May we decided to head toward a route we had heard of just beyond Hunter’s north buttress. In low visibility, we skied to where we guessed the route to be, then sat on our packs and waited for a view. Through a brief clearing emerged a tapering couloir that snaked up the left side of the triangular peak immediately past the North Buttress Couloir and icefall. This peak (not the Kahiltna Queen, which is farther northeast) has been called the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Hunter, and is a spur peak off the flanks of Hunter. We crossed the bergschrund and climbed pitch after pitch of old gray ice, with the couloir steepening to 70° as it narrowed toward the obvious crux pitch 1,500 feet up the route. The crux proved to be very difficult thin manky ice and dry-tooling up to 95° with terrible protection. I suspect this pitch is filled with ice and considerably easier in more typical years (when enough sun results in melt-freeze ice). Five hundred more feet of 50-70° ice led to the summit ridge. On the last pitch, ice fall split a large gash in my forehead and eye, causing additional excitement and worry. However, my eyesight returned and the bleeding slowed, so we elected to continue to the summit of the buttress via another 500 feet of easy snow and ice. We rappelled the 2,500-foot route in a storm, being pummeled by constant spindrift avalanches. At Kahiltna base, 21 hours after leaving, we ate, drank, cared for my eye, and called Paul Roderick of T.A.T. for a flight to the comforts of Talkeetna.

Kelly Cordes, unaffiliated