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North America, United States, Alaska, Hayes Range, Special Olympics, South Ridge

Special Olympics, south ridge. My wife Anna Liljedahl, Andy Stern, and I flew into the Hayes Range from the Denali Highway with Gracious Air on June 8. The short, relatively inexpensive flight landed us on a fish-filled pristine lake a day’s hike from the Nenana Glacier. We made a barefoot base camp on lush tundra on the north bench of the Nenana Glacier. Our objectives were three: collect rocks for my Ph.D. dissertation on the tectonic history of the Alaska Range, climb as many untouched granite peaks as time and food allowed, and avoid the permit hassle and buzz that Denali Park offers to the west. The granite was a tad shattered, but Andy and I climbed peak 8,060' (the glacier is at 4,000') via the south ridge (4th-class mixed, 75° slush, knife-edge straddling). We egotistically assume the peak hadn’t been climbed before and named it Special Olympics (SO) in reference to both Andy and I having suffered life-changing injuries. Though an occasional tourist helicopter ruined one nap, I recommend the area for those looking for an alternative to the flash and dash of the central Alaska Range. The geology we did has actually caused a paradigm shift in Alaska geology, but, like climbing, the doing is more interesting than the telling.

Jeff apple Benowitz