American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mt. McKinley, Slovak Route, Second Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Mt. McKinley, Slovak Route, Second Ascent. Kevin Mahoney and I flew into the Alaska Range to climb for the month of May. We arrived on May 4 and headed up the West Buttress, intending to acclimatize at 14,000 feet for a few days. After a few cold and stormy days at that camp, we started the approach for a route on the Father and Son’s Wall, but we turned back and decided to head down to lower and warmer altitudes.

Back at the airstrip, we organized and made an attempt on Mt. Hunter’s Moonflower Buttress. Conditions on the route were good for climbing, but the weather was unsettled and we retreated from just above “The Shaft” in building wind and spindrift after 20 pitches of climbing.

Now, after two failed attempts, we were a little grumpy, albeit warmed up. We were running out of time, so with our last ten days in front of us, we decided to try for the Slovak Route on the south face of Denali.

We started climbing on May 23, and we reached the summit on May 29 after seven days of climbing. The weather was favorable but quite cold, with temperatures at night averaging -35°F. The climbing on the route was very good, with a full range of steep snow, mixed rock pitches, and spectacular ice pitches high on the route. Difficulties ranged from easy snow to W15+, 5.9 mixed, and one pitch with some A2.* The leader hauled his pack on four of about 34 fifth-class pitches, and we simulclimbed long sections of moderate snow and alpine ice. Occasional fixed pitons from the first ascent party and a photo of the south face kept us on track. It is truly an amazing route. We descended the mountain via the West Buttress.

Ben Gilmore

*This team took a line that diverged at 15,100 feet from that taken by the team of Backes-House-Twight. Gilmore and Mahoney found some aid where the third ascent team tackled the Ramp and its 5.9 X pitch. The Ramp was the original line.

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