North America, United States, Alaska, Kichatna Spires, The Citadel, Supa Dupa Couloir

Publication Year: 2004.

The Citadel, Supa Dupa Couloir. While climbing Off the Wall Madness in 2002, Twid Turner and I were amazed by a couloir running vertically, straight to the summit. In 2003 we were back for more, accompanied by Ollie Sanders. The Shadows Glacier was to be our home, and we put base camp in a great position directly beneath The Citadel. Our line was unmistakable from the glacier: a striking 1,000m thin white line that dug deep into the east face; for most of the way we were able to touch both walls, and at the top we had a clear view down the route to the tent. A trip on day 1 over the col beneath Gurney Peak and around to the other side gave us an idea of conditions and a chance to come up with a plan for tackling the Supa Dupa Couloir.

Our early season arrival meant dark nights and cold temperatures—perfect for ice, not so hot for the early starts. But so to it: we set offearly and were soon soloing the initial snow and ice slopes in the red morning light. The gully took shape 200m up: time to tie on and use the huge rack. We knew we had our work cut out, with endless ice disappearing to blue sky. At least it was going to be fun. Unsure of the weather and with no idea what was in store, we decided to fix ropes and come back the next day if the weather held. Luck was on our side, and we soon regained our high point, with food and equipment for three days in heavy rucksacks and a haul bag. Pitch after pitch fueled our addiction, leaving us wanting more, curious as to what was ahead, and, more importantly, would it go? Two key sections proved crucial in linking the line. Leering above me I saw the first. We’d had our suspicions down on the glacier as to whether there was any ice here. With the couloir here narrowed to the width of my hips, but with ice in the back, vertical for 60m, I could barely hang in there. Christened the “No Hips Pitch,” it didn’t go without a fight. Tired and ready for a break, we found ourselves at an easier section of snow, three meters wide and at the average angle of Green Gully on Ben Nevis. Two hours of hacking ice and an avalanche later, we were dug in for the night. Constant spindrift pattering on our bivy bags ensured that we woke restless and feeling weak. However, ahead lay our wake-up call: more steep ice. The climbing on the second day was far more sustained, often 90° ice, with little shelter for the poor belayers apart from the haul bag, except when we found an ice cave behind pillars in the upper couloir. With 22 pitches of out- there ice behind us, we stood on the summit of The Citadel at 8 p.m. on May 3. Though tempted by exhaustion to bivy again, we descended through the night because the weather was changing. It was one of the best decisions we made. We arrived early in the morning to falling snow that was to last for 24 hours and leave a meter on the ground at base camp. Many thanks to the MEF, the BMC, and the Sports Council for Wales, who supported the expedition. An alpinist’s dream, the Supa Dupa Couloir (ED4 WI6).

Stu McAleese, Wales