American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Idiot Peak, the Mini-Intellectual, and Peak 11,520', Repeat to Summit Cornice

North America, United States, Alaska

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Will Mayo
  • Climb Year: 2005
  • Publication Year: 2006

Chris Thomas and I climbed the sub-peak immediately south of Mt. Huntington's South Ridge route on May 9. Beginning from the Mt. Huntington base camp (ca 8,000') at 11:00 p.m. on May 8, we climbed to the “upper park” snowfield (ca 10,000') on the Harvard Route. We then made a descending traverse south-southeast below Huntington’s towering Phantom Wall until we reached the fan of the large gully that drains from the col separating Mt. Huntington from the sub-peak. Returning to upward progress, we surmounted a 70° ice bulge and crested a snowy rib, to attain the rotten gulch that provides access to the stunning bobsled run-like ice couloir arching directly to the summit. We simul-climbed the 600' gully, which consists of two snowfields and two steep steps of loose, scantily protected rock. At last we reached the ice and raced up the l,200'-vertical couloir of perfect 70° alpine ice and straddled the summit (ca 10,700') as it started to snow. We rappelled, and fortunately the snow squall subsided, because the gully to which we were returning would spell doom during a snowfall. The sun emerged, and the return trip was enlivened by multiple rockfall events, which resembled dismounted jet engines at full throttle hurtling end-over-end down the southwest face of Mt. Huntington, occasionally colliding with the wall and exploding into white rock dust like the final flash of a firework with the accompanying delayed “BOOM.” We finally staggered back into base camp at 10:00 p.m. on May 9 after having ascended and descended ca 5,100' vertical of demanding terrain in 23 hours.

We named the route The Mini-Intellectual and chose the name Idiot Peak for the summit. We named it for ourselves, for climbing such an insignificant peak with such significant objective hazards, and to continue the longstanding tradition of naming mountains after Presidents.

On May 17 I soloed the striking ice couloir, clearly visible from Mt. Huntington’s base camp, that bisects the 2,800' north-northeast face of Peak 11,520'. The face is 2,800' of vertical relief, and took five hours from the ‘schrund to the summit-ridge cornice (13 hours round trip from base camp). It involved a short 80° step of exceedingly thin climbing at 400 and a short 85° step of ice at 1,200'. Otherwise, the couloir arches up like a parenthesis, reaching the ridge just to the west (right) of the enormous cornice and is mostly 70° ice with an easing angle at the top. On the descent I stuck a rope after about eight rappels, cut what I could off the end, and continued for another 16 or so 100' rappels.

Jack Tackle later informed me that, 48 hours after I had climbed it, the couloir ran from top to bottom, leaving a pile of serac debris at its base. This climb was one of the least prudent outings of my life and also one of the most exhilarating.

[Editor’s note: Unbeknown to Mayo at the time of his ascent, this couloir on Peak 11,520' was climbed by Marty Beare and Pat Deavoll in 2003.]

Will Mayo, AAC

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.