Mt. Hunter, Diamond Arête, second ascent. When Freddie Wilkinson asked what I thought about trying for the second ascent of Hunter’s Diamond Arête (2,000m, Alaska Grade 6, Donini-Tackle, 1985), I was pretty much hooked, as it had been a dream route of mine for years.
First we had to get someone to drop us at the base of the route, in the tight, dangerous western cirque at the head of the Tokositna. Paul Roderick of TAT agreed to drop us there, with the understanding that we would do our best to climb over Hunter. This is not a place a pilot wants to visit too many times in one career.
Our packs weighed 30 pounds each, including five days of food and six days of fuel. The rack consisted of five ice screws, five or six cams, most of a set of nuts and two pins. Paul dropped us at noon on April 29. We began belaying the first pitch about 1 p.m. as the sun was leaving the wall. We found a mixed crux off the deck, and after more great mixed climbing we continued up steep snow ramps and mixed ground to the base of steeper mixed terrain. A couple of more pitches, and we found ourselves in a mixed corner, which we belayed.
Several pitches in an amazing bomb-bay system of thinnish water ice and mixed climbing then brought us to the crest of the Diamond. We simuled about 500', dug in on a 50° slope sheltered under a large rock at about 10,300', and bivied at 10 p.m.
On the morning of the 30th we left camp around 10 a.m. and climbed a stellar mixed pitch off our bivy ledge. From here, in several blocks we simuled 3,000+' of 50-60° ice on the arete proper to gain the base of the final serac barrier separating us from the summit plateau. A pitch through steeper serac ice brought us to a large hanging walkway between two seracs. I took an unprotected fall on a short pitch of rotten, slightly overhanging serac ice into a snow moat, then climbed an easier pitch slightly to the left. Freddie led us to the summit slopes and we began our descent of the West Ridge. We bivied at the base of the second plateau (as you head down) in seracs, just above the start of the ridge proper. By 3 p.m. the next day, we found ourselves at the top of the northwest basin/Bocarde variation. After several hours of down- climbing and rappelling and a run underneath the seracs, we reached Kahiltna base camp at 8 p.m. on May 1, 55 hours after starting.
On the route we found difficulties of about WI4 AI5 M5 and climbed every pitch with our packs on. We belayed about 15 pitches and simuled many, many more. The Diamond Arete is a stellar route with great technical climbing and nice exposure. The mandatory traverse and commitment of the landing zone made for a full-value Alaska experience.
Samuel Johnson, Alaska