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North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve, Mini-Moonflower, Dempster-Wilson

Mini-Moonflower, Dempster-Wilson. On May 19 my cousin Kyle Dempster and I departed Kahiltna Base camp for the Mini-Moonflower, just beyond Mt. Hunter’s renowned North Buttress. This day held special importance for us, marking the three-year anniversary of my brother’s death on Baffin Island on a climbing expedition with Kyle.

We intended to climb the North Couloir but changed our plans when we discovered another party beginning to chop their way up the route. Our eyes turned to the steep north face. After a brief discussion, we chose a line that began on the right side of the lower wall and gradually traversed to te left side of the upper wall. We figured the traverse to the left side would give us a better chance of topping-out, by allowing us to navigate around the large overhanging cornices crowning the summit ridge and putting us in position to descend the North Couloir.

For the first 1,000' we simul-climbed—over the bergschrund and through a long vertical ice runnel that required occasional dry tooling, then a long diagonal traverse across the prominent 60° ice shelf that separates the lower wall from the upper wall. We were moving well and feeling great, enjoying the rhythm of our movements and the excitement of the unknown.

The top half of the wall offered another 1,000' of steep climbing. We connected ice runnels, moving over long sections of alpine ice and short sections of mixed climbing. Kyle led a strenuous overhanging mixed section. A few pitches later and after 11 hours of continuous climbing, I set an anchor at the beginning of the steep snow shelf 300' below the summit.

We traversed the snow shelf, and Kyle led through 400' of steep half-consolidated snow, while I followed with extra care, realizing he was unable to place any protection. After two hours of nervous tiptoeing we reached the summit ridge, exhausted and dehydrated, and continued up another 100', which seemed as close to the actual summit (which is just a huge cornice) as one would want to go without risk of riding the white wave down the face.

It took another four hours of down-climbing and V-thread rappels down the North Couloir to reach the glacier. Back on safe ground, fatigue and the satisfaction of achievement mixed with the memory of our fallen brother. We both miss his irreplaceable presence.

The route (2,300', V M7 AI6) probably serves as a great test for parties aspiring to climb Mt. Hunter’s North Buttress.

Erin Wilson