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North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mt. McKinley, Reality Ridge, First Solo Ascent

Mt. McKinley, Reality Ridge, First Solo Ascent. I departed on May 6 for the West Fork of the Ruth Glacier (7,000'), one-half mile from the base (7,200') of the Reality Ridge, with 204 pounds of equipment. I encountered 5.4-5.5 mixed climbing to 10,200 feet, which I fixed using my three 200-foot ropes, thus requiring three hauls (four trips up, three down). I climbed five percent of this unroped. The ridge from 10,200 to 12,600 feet was extensively corniced (including double cornices in two areas), had deep snow, and was like a knifeblade in two areas. There were also two sections of aid: one was about 25 feet long and slightly overhanging (Al), and both were followed by mixed climbing with minimal pro. In the crux area, I encountered a 50-degree granite slab with no edges and a 15-foot runout above an icy knifeblade, with 80-degree walls on both sides (very bad fall potential, very committing). There were also numerous short, steep sections with rotten or soft snow top-outs. Lots of traversing was encountered; extra snow protection is advised for these areas. Ice was encountered two feet below soft powder 25 percent of the time. I recommend the following gear: six dead- men, three long pickets, two short pickets, a double set of 1- to 2 1/2-inch Friends, a single set of 3- to 4-inch Friends, one 1/2 size Alien, ten stoppers, one 2-inch hex, and six ice screws.

I reached the top of Reality Ridge (13,100') after three weeks. After joining the Southeast Spur on May 28, I fixed two pitches, then climbed unroped to the base of the wall below the South Buttress, from which point I fixed 20 to 30 pitches to the top. This was the last time I fixed. From the South Buttress, I headed to Thayer Basin, then ascended and traversed Thayer Ridge. I then encountered some fourth class descending to Point 17,200', and descended to Harper Glacier. I continued to Denali Pass, encountering one snow bridge and strong winds on June 10. I gained the summit on June 15 and descended the regular route to Kahiltna Base. On June 18, I was flown off to Talkeetna with minor frostbite to a thumb tip and small toe.

I chose Reality Ridge because it was a very short distance to the start of the climb and because I’d never done an expedition and had always dreamed of one.

Robert Shonerd