American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mt. Hunter and Thunder Mountain, Various Activity

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Mt. Hunter and Thunder Mountain, Various Activity. From late April to late May, Dan Donovan and I (leader) based ourselves on Thunder Glacier on the south side of Mt. Hunter. In 1998,I had spotted a potential new variation to Mt. Hunter’s West Ridge route, so as soon as camp was established, we made the five-mile trek to below the south side of the west ridge and the foot of an icefall protecting a glacier basin. On April 28, we climbed a straightforward 1,500-foot couloir, traversed around a little, dropped 500 feet into the basin, then walked about one mile up the basin to below the first of a series of rock and snow ribs that lead to the west ridge. We spent the remainder of the day camped at just below 8,000 feet.

The central section of the west ridge has a long, flattish corniced section that is very rocky on its south side. It then climbs steeply to an icy shoulder, after which easier snow slopes lead to the plateau. The couloir gains the ridge at the top of this shoulder, thus avoiding all of the difficulties of the ridge and making a two-day ascent to the North Summit very reasonable, with full descent on the third day. On our ascent, we gained the ridge at 11,250 feet after four hours in soft snow. We then continued on to the plateau at 13,000 feet, arriving at approximately 2 p.m. Lacking the fitness to summit that day, we made our camp, only to have a storm arrive during the afternoon. We spent April 30 in the tent. The storm abated late in the afternoon, though visibility was not sufficient for a summit attempt. On May 1, we headed off for the summit in a cool wind (-30°C), but turned back at approximately 13,800 feet due to wind- slab conditions. We returned to our tent then descended the ridge, continuing into the basin, where we waited for the remainder of the day, as a British party camping on the ridge at 11,300 feet had decided to follow us out. On May 2, we climbed out of the basin and returned to camp. (Subsequently, several parties climbed to the summit from a camp at 11,300 feet via this variation, which we named the Ramen Route.)

On May 13, we headed off to the north face of Thunder Mountain. We reached a high- point of approximately 8,100 feet, barely 950 feet above the bergschrund, before very poor (or no) protection forced a retreat.

On May 15, we made an early start and, with reasonable snow conditions, traveled around to the adjacent glacier and gained the foot of the rock buttress on Mt. Hunter’s west buttress by 10 a.m. We climbed a short distance up the right side to gain a snowy traverse that angled back left to the foot of a comer system on the front of the buttress. From this point, we climbed six hard 60-meter pitches (one solid Scottish 6 pitch). The last two pitches were serious climbing on steep, exfoliating slabs; one fall was taken. Some easy snow/ice then led to a snow band at half-height, which we reached at midnight. Light snow fell on and off during the climb, continuing into the night. We made a late start the next morning in heavy snow. The only feasible way ahead looked to be hard rock climbing, and with snow continuing to fall heavily, we decided to retreat.

We next decided to climb the Southwest Ridge of Mt. Hunter, bringing snowshoes so we could complete a traverse of the mountain if weather permitted. We left camp at 3:20 a.m. on May 20, arriving at the top of the ridge around noon, having only needed to belay the leader on two short sections high on the ridge. We traversed onto the plateau for a quick brew, then summitted the South Summit at 2 p.m. By this time, the weather had deteriorated considerably. We decided to continue and by 5 p.m., we were underneath the North Summit. We were too tired to continue to the summit. With the weather looking very threatening, we opted to descend, which we began to do in white-out conditions with steady snow falling. We eventually camped at 11,300 feet near the top of the Ramen Route. On May 21, we left quite late, but cloudy conditions, initially with light snow falling, meant that the slopes of the Ramen Route were in surprisingly firm condition, only getting soft in the lowest section. Upon reaching the basin in the afternoon, we rested and enjoyed a leisurely dinner while waiting for the sun to leave the lower couloir. We started off at 7:30 p.m., but deep soft snow still made progress into the main descent couloir extremely slow. Once gained, however, the snow was considerably firmer and the descent rapid. We returned to camp in steady snowfall, arriving at 1:30 a.m.

Dave Wills, United Kingdom

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