American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Alaska Range, Mt. Foraker, Infinite Spur, Ascent by Lads

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

Mt. Foraker, Infinite Spur, Ascent by Lads. At 4 p.m. on May 26, Gren Hinton and I skied into the Infinite Spur's amphitheater. In the afternoon heat, the walls all around us began to wake after a storm and, restlessly stretching, began to shed the poorly adhered layers of snow. As avalanche after avalanche swept down from 6,000 feet above, we watched closely the line that offered the easiest weakness in the 3,000-foot buttress that guards the high steep ridges of the spur. Comparatively little debris entered the 2,000-foot ice couloir that split the fortress wall.

We planned to climb just 600 feet and bivy right of the couloir, waiting for night to climb the rest. Behind schedule at 11 a.m., I had topped the last pitch before making our planned traverse to safety and was just beginning to bring Gren up when I heard a rumble. Looking up, I saw our bane hurling down with immeasurable speed. I grabbed my pack, threw it over my head and threw my body against the wall with my belay arm firmly buried to protect what held my partner. Just as I hit the wall, it hit us. When the roaring and pummeling settled, I made a quick self diagnosis, and finding only a few sharp bruises, I called to Gren. Fine but also shaken, he sped up to join me, and soon we were out of the couloir and safely under the protection of the main granite buttress.

Still feeling good about the route, we began climbing at 10 p.m. and by 4 a.m. we had exited the couloir. In it we encountered at worst 5.5 and AI3; it was a cruise. We then simulclimbed another 1,000 feet between the hanging glacier and the Spur proper before bivouacking at 7 a.m. Again we encountered nothing worse than grade 3 glacial ice. Though very easy, this course is not recommended! During the day, we heard much of what sounded like a search and rescue. By 7 p.m. we realized that we had been missing, presumed dead (see previous note).

The next morning, as we climbed the two pitches that separated us from Carl and Barry, the NPS high-altitude Llama hovered 500 feet out and adjacent to Gren. I gave the visual confirmation they needed to bring our families the good news that their boys, soon to be dubbed “the Lads,” were still alive and kicking crampons.

Passing Carl and Barry’s camp, we climbed two pitches through steep snow and ice. We had been following the obvious weaknesses, but were now forced onto steep mixed rock and snow, some of which was actually inverted. We pulled these hard mixed hooking moves (5.9) through short bands of steep rock with 60-pound packs (the technical crux of the route), then climbed through deep snow to gain the ice arête that was in fact an unprotectable steep snow slog.

Working together, Carl, Barry, Gren, and I made meticulously slow work through the next 1,000 feet. As soon as possible, we made a traverse to a rock fin we could get protection in and bivied at the top, below a large rock buttress.

The next day stormed, so we did not move. On May 31, we climbed for seven hours up a moderate mixed ridge that could have been easily bypassed in two hours via an AI2 couloir. We highly recommend the couloir. Traversing around steep rock, Gren and I headed through to gain the last corniced ridge.

The next day, we all headed up, and, just two pitches short of the end of the technical climbing, Gren and I made the biggest fool’s mistake. An argument broke loose and soon budded into an exchange of blows. A fistfight at 14,000 feet on Mt. Foraker’s Infinite Spur is not recommended!

After a day of steep snow climbing and a bivouac in a crevasse at 16,000 feet, we summited about an hour after Barry and Carl, then started down the Sultana and reached our starting point on the Southeast Kahiltna in a day and a half. Notable aspects of the climb are: the use of bivy sacs (semi-recommended), free climbed the whole route with packs on, roundtrip from Southeast Kahiltna base camp in 11 days.

Glen Deal

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