American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Ruth Gorge, Mt. Huntington, West Face, Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

Mt. Huntington, West Face, Attempt. After flying over 1,200 miles of seamless clouds, Brad Grohusky and I were assured that the rumors of a particularly wet season in Alaska were true. The clouds looked just as permanent from below as the Talkeetna Shuttle Service van drove us to the end of the road. Four wet days later, we were still waiting for the weather to clear from the narrow entrance to the Tokositna Glacier. In a magnanimous gesture, our pilot, Jay Hudson, turned around from another flight destination when he saw a window in the weather, and at 10 p.m. on June 13 we moved into our Base Camp on the upper Tokositna Glacier.

Our objective was a new route on the west face of Mt. Huntington that consists of about half rock wall and half mixed climbing. After scoping out the wall and assessing the sizeable avalanche hazard (a result of heavy recent snows), we decided to set our immediate goal as getting up the wall, at which point we would re-evaluate the snow-choked upper sections. On June 14, we hastily packed the haul bag and then broke trail to the base of the wall, thus beginning our daily commute.

The rock was excellent Alaskan granite, although it was even more compact than we’d reckoned from the ground. We soon fell into a routine of getting to the base of the wall before the morning sun made the bergschrund too soft to ascend easily and then alternating days on the lead. Thankfully, the route is well situated and steep enough that any rock/ice fall was off to the sides. This allowed the leader to concentrate on the thin (A3) nailing that comprised the majority of each pitch. At night, the belayer would handle all of the camp chores and we would crawl into our sleeping bags after a typically long Alaskan day.

After five days, during which we had climbed about half of the wall, we declared a rest day. A bit of sunning in t-shirts was quickly replaced by an afternoon storm and our efforts to keep the runway firmly packed. On June 20, another large low-pressure system, coupled with work commitments, forced an early exit for me. Luckily, John Lohuis had arrived in Talkeetna early and was able to fly in with Hudson that evening and make the partner exchange a simple one. The weather returned to its wettest, forcing Grohusky and Lohuis to spend more time in the tents than on the wall. Upward progress continued when possible, with the seam system opening up to allow some clean aid. A decision had to be made before the Tokositna Glacier became too crevassed to allow a plane landing: keep going and risk having to leave all of the fixed line on the wall, or leave a clean route and return another day. From Brad’s high point he could see easier ground ahead leading to the mixed section above. “I shed a tear realizing that the route goes, but that we were out of time,” wrote Brad later. The pair stripped the route, waited out another storm and then cleaned out camp and winged it back to Talkeetna. Having learned many lessons and tasted the endless possibilities of the Alaska Range, we cannot wait to return.

Rod Willard

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