Mt. Hunter, North Buttress to Cornice Bivouac, the Cartwright Connection
Alaska, Denali National Park
Unrelenting spindrift avalanches and gusty winds blasted and buffeted the portaledge. Our small cocoon of safety on this harsh mountain was slowly being engulfed, as we nervously watched the snow level rise up the fly walls. It had taken five of the toughest days’ climbing of our lives to get to this point, and our chances of reaching the top of the north buttress were diminishing. The forecast was for more snow and stronger winds over the upcoming days.
The first day went smoothly, according to plan. Not that night, though, as Matt Helliker and I realized the perils of hanging our portaledge on a 60° ice slope. We were awakened when it collapsed and transformed into a hammock. On day two we faced many uncertainties, as we found a way through steep, complex terrain, with many overhanging snow mushrooms. Matt fought hard in the lead all day and at 2 a.m. had us below the steepest rock band of the climb. In overcoming these difficulties our confidence had grown, and I started to think we might have a chance of getting up this climb. Day three was steep and scary—thinly iced slabs, overhanging cracks, aid on loose rock, a pitch of vertical ice, and more. We finally got to bed at 6 a.m. Day four we joined the Bibler-Klewin/Moonflower route; we just needed luck with the weather. Day five it snowed and wind blew.At 9 p.m., after being trapped on the ledge all day, we sensed a slight lull and had glimpses of the sun through the clouds. We were both thinking that this might be our only chance, and with no food left there was no point in waiting. We packed a stove, spare gloves, warm jackets, and a minimal rack, our goal being to reach the Cornice Bivouac, 500m and 13 pitches above. However, we felt the chances of success were negligible.
Two pitches later the snow started again, and we were battling against spindrift. The cold was almost unbearable, but our optimism and unwillingness to give up won through. In dream-like exhaustion we stood at the top of the face at 5 a.m. Few words were said, and we had no comprehension of what we had achieved. We only knew we had to start rappelling. Thirty-eight rappels and 14 hours later, we were back on the glacier, where we collapsed, having been awake for 36 hours. We named the route the Cartwright Connection, in memory of my good friend Jules Cartwright, whose vision it was to attempt this line.
Jon Bracey, France
Editor’s note: Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker climbed very steep terrain a little left of the Bibler-Klewin/Moonflower, before joining it at the Second Ice Band, beneath the Vision Pitch. The16 independent pitches presented difficulties of M6 AI6 5.8 A2. They rappelled the Moonflower. While some argue that the limited amount of new climbing defines this as a major variation, rather than an independent route, it is undoubtedly a highly technical challenge, significantly harder than either the French Route or the Moonflower, and one to which future parties may try to add an autonomous finish. Jules Cartwright’s original concept envisioned new ground directly to the Third Ice Band/Come Again Exit.