North America, United States, Alaska, Saint Elias Mountains, Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park, Mt. Gunnar Naslund, Uncle Gunny's Weight-Loss Program; Mt. Huxley, First Ascent
Mt. Gunnar Naslund, Uncle Gunny's Weight-Loss Program; Mt. Huxley, first ascent. On April 22 Carlos Buhler and I were flown onto a spur of the Barnard Glacier below the unclimbed 3,000' east face of Mt. Gunnar Naslund (Peak 12,659', located 10-15 miles southeast of Mt. Bona and 20 miles west of Mt. Bear). Weather was perfect for our eight days in the range. We acclimated on the 23rd by doing the first ascent of the ca 11,600' peak above base camp to the east of Gunnar Naslund. We ascended the west face to the south ridge and named it (unofficially) Mt. Huxley, for the environmental-studies college we both graduated from.
On April 26 we started at midnight. We planned to go light, making a continuous push without the encumbrance of overnight gear. Our one nod to safety was a stove with enough fuel to brew three quarts of water. We soloed the first 1,000', roping up at the constriction in the central couloir draining the upper face. We swapped leads, racing against the coming sun to reach the mixed band that guards the upper half of the face. I drew the mixed band, which got my attention with a sloping mantle covered in grainy snow to exit. Carlos drew steep rotten snow that required both of us to summon a little extra. Shattered rock bands provided adequate belay anchors, but belays took more time to set up than climbing between them. We had promised ourselves we would belay on the upper face, and we did, even after we realized we were going to spend a night near the top of the face. After 22 hours on the go we set to chopping a ledge out of rotten, then compact, ice. We were 300 feet below the summit. Two hours of effort kept us warm until midnight, when we sat down for a cold bivy. We had only day packs and climbing clothes—no pads, bags, bivy sacks, or tent. In only a few minutes shivering commenced. We beat circulation back into our limbs and half-heartedly chopped at the ledge to produce more body heat. Most of the night was passed by trying to be comfortable shivering. I heard Carlos asleep snoring many times, only to jolt awake a few minutes later. Meanwhile a great northern lights show was going on. I was too wasted to fully appreciate it, but I did watch it to pass time. At 4:00 a.m. Carlos climbed down below our ice-screw belay and ran in place to warm up. He ran for 30 minutes and fell asleep on his return to the ledge. His sleep only lasted a few minutes, as he was awakened again by shivering. After sunrise we soaked up an hour of warmth before we got going. We topped the face and had a nervous traverse over the summit ridge and a monster cornice that stuck out 100' over the face.
Our descent down the east ridge was involved, with multiple rappels off of buried snow- filled stuff sacks. We downclimbed moderate-to-steep sections for hours, finally arriving at a gully which led back to the glacier 2,000' below. We committed to the gully and began “burning” the rack as each rap station ate gear. When we finally arrived on the glacier below, each of us had downclimbed 400' sections to string together scarce rap stations. We were out of pitons, slings, and a good portion of the wired nuts. We hadn’t found any ice that would enable an ice rappel. We staggered into base camp after 42 hours of effort. Carlos swore that he was done with light-and-fast modern style. I’m still not sure what I learned, as I am soon headed back to Alaska for more.
Glenn Dunmire, AAC