American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Mt. Huntington, The Imperfect Apparition to Upper Harvard Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Mt. Huntington, The Imperfect Apparition to upper Harvard Route. Twenty-six years ago I skied past the looming north face of Mt. Huntington on my way to attempt a route we’d later call the Isis Face. Perfect symmetry and complex faces always drew me to Huntington, but until May 2004 I had never attempted to climb it.

In 2005 I had spent a week in the Ruth with Kevin Mahoney attempting new ice lines, only to find out that GWB is clearly wrong about global warming. Slush, running water, and rockfall abounded wherever we went. Then, on May 15, Fabrizio Zangrilli and I landed on the west fork of the Tokositna with hopes of climbing a new route on the Phantom Wall, to the right of the Harvard Route but independent of the Smith-Teare route.

After two days of recon and assessment that global warming was affecting more than just the Ruth, on May 19 we started the route by rappelling into the face from the lowest point of the Stegosaurus [the serrated lower ridge of the original Harvard Route]. The terrain was moderate alpine climbing, including a prominent couloir just east of the ridge, and we simul- climbed all but one pitch up to the main rock headwall in the middle of the face. We struck out right onto beautiful brown granite, some of the best stone I have seen in the range, and got quickly consumed by “the business” of our objective. It was Fabrizio’s block, so he led two mixed pitches that followed a right-leaning, traversing weakness. By the end of the second pitch he found himself faced with an Alaska Range anomaly—a chimney system that was running with water at 4:00 p.m. at 10,200', a veritable shower stall. The thought of being soaked to the skin and enduring a bivy higher up on unknown terrain being unappealing, we left our two ropes fixed and rapped back to a snowfield where we could chop a bivy ledge, and spent the evening waiting for the water to freeze.

At 4:00 a.m. the second day, we left the bivy gear and went light for the summit, intending to just climb up and back in a single push. When we reached the former shower-stall chimney, it was a seized-up gorgeous section of mixed climbing for two more pitches, leading us to a ramp system. Fabrizio took over, and we pitched out and then simul-climbed six pitches across the face into the center wall, which led us to the second, and crux, rock band. I searched for a weakness and found an amazing flaring dihedral with a thin strip of ice in the back. It led to easy ground above but, although it was only 80 feet, it proved to be the most challenging part of the route. We lost time working on this pitch, first Fabrizio, then I. Finally, with some creative problem solving, I broke through our temporary barrier. It was now 6:00 p.m. and we started simul-climbing again up the throat of the main upper face, heading for upper summit ridge of the Harvard and West Face Couloir routes.

The weather deteriorated, and it was snowing and sloughing spindrift everywhere around us. We climbed until 11:00 p.m. and finally turned around when we could no longer see more than 30 feet ahead. We had intersected the Harvard Route finish, maybe 500 feet below the summit, but opted to start rappelling in light of conditions. As we descended our route, the snow became more intense. We lost two hours dealing with a hung rappel in the coldest and darkest part of the night, and stripped 40 feet of sheath off of our second rope with our Ropeman while trying to pull the rope.

Twenty-seven hours after we left the bivy, we lay down and slept for five hours. I was so tired, I fell asleep while devouring my food and awoke like a frozen Mastodon with unchewed jerky still in my mouth. After our short respite, we rapped off the lower Harvard Route and a few hours later enjoyed a gracious reception from our base camp comrades.

The Imperfect Apparition seemed an appropriate name for our route, in light of the nearby Phantom Wall, the phantom summit, and the proper alpine etiquette—tell the truth.

Jack Tackle, AAC

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