American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Mt. Balchen, Alchemy Ridge

Alaska, Hayes Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Samuel Johnson
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2010

When my 2009 expedition plans fell through due to partner injury, I scrambled to salvage the season and found a partner in fellow Fairbanks climber Matt Klick. At home in Fairbanks we waited two days to fly in to a gravel strip at the base of the northwest ridge of Mt. Hayes in Rob Wing’s Super Cub. From the base of Hayes, we walked seven miles to our base camp in the Hayes basin at 6,500'. After arriving at base camp, we did some recon and made plans to attempt the north ridge of Mt. Balchen as our First objective. Due to bad weather it would be the only route we attempted, and we received only five hours of clear weather while on route. Of our 15 days from June 10-24, 12 had bad weather.

As we left base camp we could see a dense haze approaching from the north and told ourselves we’d bail if the weather got too nasty. Over about 36 hours to and from base camp, we battled marginal weather to complete the first ascent of Balchen’s Alchemy (north) Ridge in 14 long pitches. We climbed a beautiful line true to the ridge (V AI4 M7 in the conditions we found, could be IV when dry). To descend we made six raps onto the east face, then downclimbed to the ‘schrund and ran under a serac to return to our skis. The route would be a classic in a more traveled range, as would the other routes on Balchen. In dry or even just non-stormy conditions, it would be a pleasurable outing, with many options through the two steeper rock bands, and could be completed in one day from our base camp below the Hayes basin. That was the plan, but due to the weather we endured a sitting bivy on a ledge chopped into a 70° rime slope, with just bivy sacks and belay jackets. It was a very cold night.

Samuel Johnson, AAC

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