Mt. Hayes, Northeast Face to South Buttress, Thicker Than Thieves
Alaska, Hayes Range
It was only by chance that I teamed up with Jason Stuckey, a Fairbanks climber, an upcoming alpinist Angela VanWiemeersch, to climb the east face of Mt. Hayes (13,832’). I had met Jason a few seasons earlier on the remote Nabesna Road in interior Alaska but had only managed to hook up for one day of climbing prior to this trip; I had never met, or even heard of, the other third of our trio, Angela. Jason had met her during a trip to the Central Alaska Range the previous year, and now we were all off to attempt an unclimbed face with new, untried partners. However, Jason’s picture of a thin line of ice plastered in the back of a wide chimney had lit the same fire in all three of us simultaneously. It was the perfect recipe for a grand adventure.
We met in Delta Junction in mid-April. Our pilot, Jim Cummings, had to shuttle us to the mountain one at a time in his tiny Super Cub. On the Trident Glacier we finally glassed the route in person. The 6,000’ face was a major garbage chute and well beyond our level of acceptable risk. Lacking the bold Euro-blood for the generally hazardous east face (seracs, falling ice, etc.) we decided to take a less steep but safer line on the southeast (far left) end of the wall.
On April 22 we left camp at first light, and by 7 a.m. had crossed the bergschrund. An easy 1,800’ of couloir climbing brought us to a short rock band. One pitch of fun, easily protected 5.8 climbing led us to a steep snowfield, which then led to a pitch of boilerplate alpine ice. Above that loomed another steep rock band. A blind, engaging traverse (M5 R) provided the only reasonable path. Luckily this deposited us on another snow and ice slope, and a few more pitches (up to AI4) brought us to the knife-edge ridge atop the wall. Well past dark, we searched for a bivy from behind the feeble beams of our headlamps. The whole affair looked quite bleak until I noticed an overhung cornice, which allowed us to shovel a plush camp in the most unlikely of locations.
The next morning, feeling a bit hammered, we began traversing the knife-edge ridge toward the south summit of Mt. Hayes. The typical Hayes Range winds concerned us, growing more powerful as we wound through an incredible maze of crevasses, cornices, snow bridges, and seracs. Our progress was much slower than anticipated. Still far below the south summit, but with night fast approaching, we found another bivy site among the seracs and drifted off to sleep with a spectacular vista.
We awoke on the third day with a strong desire to finish our route and get off the mountain—and back to our whiskey supply. Quickly reaching the south summit, we joined the South Buttress and headed toward the main summit. [The South Buttress has been incorrectly dubbed the “south ridge” in past AAJs. See AAJ 2011 for a photo of the South Buttress]. By 2 p.m. we were taking cheesy summit photos, completely psyched to be on top of Mt. Hayes.
Unfortunately a 7,000’ descent still separated us from our whiskey. A building storm chased us off the summit and down the east ridge. Some highly involved route finding ensued, and we finally made it back to the whiskey at 5 a.m., having completed Thicker Than Thieves (7,300’, VI 5.8 AI4 M5). It is worth noting that Sam Johnson, an Alaskan climber, made the same descent solo (AAJ 2014), a fact that was the source of some consternation during our own downclimb—he obviously possesses that elusive, bold Euro-blood.
[Editor’s note: This marks the first time the south buttress of Mt. Hayes has been reached by the Trident Glacier, rather than the Susitna or Turkey glaciers. In all, the trio climbed around 3,000’ of new terrain on the northeast aspect of the mountain before reaching the south summit of Mt. Hayes and then continuing up the South Buttress. From the south summit they gained another 1,300’ over 4 miles to reach the main summit of Mt. Hayes, and then descended its east ridge back to the Trident Glacier, completing an approximately 15,000’ traverse of the peak.]
John Giraldo, with additional information from Jason Stuckey and Jeff Benowitz