American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park, Mt. Hunter, Corliss-Taylor Buttress

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Mt. Hunter, Corliss-Taylor Buttress. From May 13-21 Greg Corliss and I climbed a new route on Mt. Hunter that is essentially a variation of the existing South Ridge route. The climb rises in the middle of the south face, between the southeast spur and the south ridge. The route starts at 8,300 feet, in the gully below the hanging glacier to the left of the southeast spur.

After crossing the bergschrund, the route immediately takes a snow ramp up and left for 1,000 feet and then traverses pretty much up and right through rock bands, snowfields, and mixed ice to join the original South Ridge route at 11,500 feet. The difficulty to this point is 5.8 WI3. Most of this climbing was straightforward in fun alpine terrain. Where our route joins the South Ridge route, we found a bent ring angle piton, looking very old, and a Lost Arrow, looking newer but still dated. We wonder if the pins were from the original Waterman ascent.

The true character of the route becomes clear in the snow climbing along the upper south ridge. The difficulty and associated pucker factor are almost entirely dependent on snow conditions. Surreal is the best way to describe the pinnacles and cornices that we found. We experienced mainly deep sugar snow and bottomless conditions, similar to temperature-gradient crystals. At times these conditions pervaded through the entire snowpack, while at other times we were able to dig deep and reach stable and firm snow. Progress was generally slow and required laborious trenching and swimming, while attempting to evenly distribute body weight over a snowpack that was extremely weak in compressive strength. The snowpack was most challenging at the steepest part of the arête, where in places it was armpit deep. These conditions resulted in much suffering and much trenching, especially past the Happy Cowboy Pinnacle (have spurs on for this pony) and the Changabang Arête. The climbing was exposed, marginally protected, and “heady.” These sections did, however, provide one heck of a view down plunging couloirs to the glacier 5,000 feet below. Cornices were unstable, and we each experienced a cornice fall (ride ’em cowboy) on this part of the ridge. Conditions were consistent on the South Ridge from 11,500 feet to the summit plateau. We reached the summit after six days and descended the Southwest Ridge in three and a half days. On the descent poor visibility made navigation and route finding challenging. We found the descent to be involved and continuous from top to bottom, with a great deal of down- climbing and six to 10 rappels.

Rick Taylor, AAC

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