American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Mt. Hayes, Direct West Face, Mt. Balchen, Northeast Buttress to Near Summit

Alaska, Hayes Range

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Ryan Hokanson
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2011

On May 22, Sam Johnson and I flew in to the Hayes Range portion of the eastern Alaska Range, looking for maximum adventure. We spent six perfectly cloudless days transporting tremendous amounts of gear around the Gillam Glacier, and then stood below Mts. Deborah and Hess, ready to launch. Watching water pour down our desired routes under the hot sun was disappointing, to say the least.

Fortunately, pilot Rob Wing, of Fairbanks, was able to shuttle us in his Piper Super Cub to the Hayes Glacier. Rob executed three absolutely spectacular landings on the rock-studded, double-cambered dry glacier ice at around 5,500'. After a short but heavy carry to the Hayes basin, we were greeted with colder, perfect conditions. First, Sam and I set our sights on a line attempted in the 1990s by Jon Miller and the late Keith Echelmeyer, and again in 2005 by Jed Brown and Kevin Wright (both parties turned back). As the high pressure amazingly continued through a second week, Sam and I established the Direct West Face of Mt. Hayes (6,500', AI3 R) in a 24-hour, camp-to-camp push, which included a one-hour rest/ brew stop. The route is exposed to seracs down low, but the climbing is easy enough that we soloed and simul- climbed the entire route, minimizing our exposure. The route consists mostly of thousands of feet of alpine ice up to 85° and several short, rotten rock bands up high. We descended the North Ridge for 1,000'+ until horizontal, corniced terrain posed an inconvenience, and then did 16 V-thread rappels down the west face, followed by 3,000' of downclimbing to our skis.

After a couple of rest days, we re-launched in the early morning of June 3 for a route on Mt. Balchen, establishing the Northeast Buttress (3,600', AI4 M6). After six fantastic granite mixed “pitches,” some of which included significant amounts of simul-climbing, we continued up the East Ridge (Jagersky-Sumner, 1974). The weather had deteriorated to near-zero visibility with heavy snowfall, and by the final step below the summit we experienced very loud thunder and significant St. Elmo’s Fire. With all of our metal equipment vigorously buzzing and the thunder now seeming to come from every direction, we decided it would be wise to forego the remaining 50-100' of linear distance to the tippy-top, and began a hasty descent down the snow/ ice to the climber s right of our route. Twelve rappels and much downclimbing through heavy snowfall and very robust spindrift brought us safely to our skis at the base, 16 hours after leaving. Photos of both routes can be viewed at An expedition video as well as more photos and in-field expedition artwork can be found at Thanks to the American Alpine Club and the Copp-Dash Inspire Award for helping make this trip possible!

Ryan Hokanson, AAC

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