September 24, 2009 - Alaska 2009
Do you want White Crystal? We got asked by a really square junkie at 9.30 in the morning...
Francis Schwery we call him “Franggi”, Andreas Steindl alias “Andy” and myself Samuel Anthamatten arrived in Anchorage only a couple of hours ago. Rumor has it that we just entered the city with the second highest criminal rate in the entire U.S. and after our first encounter with this local kid we had little doubt about it.
We are stuck in Anchorage for four days to do all the grocery shopping and organize all the stuff for our trip including camping chairs. At the same time we also had to wait for my brother Simon who was on his way from Chamonix where he was nominated for the “Piolet d’Or” award and of course we all hoped for a win.
Simon finally arrived on the 27th of May with the price in his hands and we left the same day for Talkeetna.
The mandatory registration with the Ranger’s and all the official paperwork was done quickly and we were ready to leave for the eternal ice.
Our initial goal was to open a new route on Mt. Dickey. After checking the current ice and snow conditions, it didn’t sound very promising to go that way and we decided to fly into the Kahiltna basin which is also starting point and base camp for all Denali (Mt.McKinley) expeditions and it is conveniently placed at the foot of Mt. Hunter.
On the first day, highly motivated, we went “full throttle” to attack a route that is known as “Micro Moonflower” Only a huge overhanging cornice 20 meters below the summit, that made our pants wet, could stop us from the complete ascent.
On the following day we got hit by the jet lag. It was impossible. After only 11 pitches in steep but good ice, I felt like the mountain had chewed up me and spit me out.
Franggi’s statement after 2 days in the Alaska range “Those are not mountains, those are mean devils”
These giant with ice and snow covered granite peaks have a whole new dimension compare to the Alps. We need a clever tactic in order to win a cigar!
We had a good rest and rearranged our gear in order to be lighter and faster.
Franggi and Andy made an ascent of Mt.Francis while Simon and I went back to Mt.Hunter. The 4442 meter high Mt. Hunter is the 3rd highest peak in the Alaska range. Our goal was to climb “Moonflower” (AK grade 6, 5.8, A2, M5, A1 6) on the north face of Hunter. 1300 meter of Granite, steep crack’s and endless chimney’s, all covered in thin ice, made not for an easy path to the summit.
The route was full of surprises. On pitch 25 we found very unexpected a little rinse of melting water and funny enough we were able to refill our bottles without using the stove and all this above 4000 meter!
A cross the valley, huge avalanches came down to the Kahiltna glacier more frequently than the London subway.
It is 9.30 in the evening and we have been climbing non stop for 15 hours. After a last ice field I found a crevasse good enough for a bivouac. I wait for Simon on the belay and we put up our little tent. At night the temperatures drop quickly below 20 degrees Celsius.
On the following day we reached the summit and after a long and exposed downhill with endless rappel’s we reached base camp 36 hours after leaving it.
Franggi has been waiting with a great steak for us.
On Mt. Hunter we managed to climb a first ascent. We have chosen a line on a side spur of Death Man’s pillar on the West ridge. Our climb leads through steep ice gully’s up to a steep and knife snow ridge. (WI 4+, M4+, AI 5) The difficulties of the route is in the upper part following the snow ridge covered in huge mushrooms of snow and ice.
After this two technically and physically very demanding climbs we got hit by a huge front of bad weather. We had to build and reinforce solid snow walls around our tent’s and the storm hit us full force. The strong winds at night almost ripped our tents in pieces and made a hell of noise. Sleep was not really an option. During the days we killed our time playing poker with the neighbors.
Yet we could pull of some nice climbs after all and one day, Andy, Simon and I came back from a 3 day climb, Franggi had a nice surprise for us. It was his birthday.
First we had to get some sleep because we were all death tired but on the following morning around 9.30 the first plane from Talkeetna touched down. Franggi who couldn’t sleep for days, anxious to get his birthday present, was very pleased to see his delivery arriving perfectly on time: 1 x Pizza Hawaii ,4 cases of beer, a bottle of Jim Beam and a birthday cake! I would have payed a 100$ extra for some fresh apples. The same night most of the goodies where gone and we only had a couple of beers and a sip of JB to spear...
Simon and I packed for a last climb. We only had 6 days left and wanted to take advantage of it. The weather forecast was fifty fifty and we were heading towards the Cassin ridge on Denali. Unfortunately the weather decided against our plan and we had to turn around to base camp.
Two days later after 24 days on the Kahiltna glacier we packed our tents and gear and flew back into civilization.
I was never so happy to see a green tree and then a shower!