Trip: Mt. Hunter, Mt. Francis - Minimoonflower, E Rdg of Francis, W Rdg of Francis
Trip Report: (Narrator’s Note: We last left the two dog-faced boys at Denali base camp, after their crash course in Alaskan meteorology while on the Moose’s Tooth)
We’re living proof that anyone with $550 and a hockey bag can suddenly find themselves clinging to some of the baddest mountains on earth. You don’t come to the Alaska Range to conquer; you come to get away with whatever you can. Some get very good at this, like the party who flashed all 35 pitches of Moonflower Buttress on Mt. Hunter this year in a blistering 40 hours. Others, who suck like us, are lucky if they can sneak their way up a few pitches of Minimoonflower; Mt. Hunter’s most benign offering. Still others, like Japanese hardmen Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue, are swallowed whole by the spectacular landscape, never to be seen again.
The range takes all comers with timeless indifference; sponsor-clad Spanish women in matching red will lose their toes, clueless dad’s who leave their teenager’s behind unattended to wander around aimlessly at base camp will lose their climbing permits, and certain Washingtonians will lose an ice screw, an ATC, and a few pounds off their middle aged guts.
The Alaska Range simply means MORE: more crevasses, more snow, more weather, more avalanches, more cold. If one learns nothing else, one learns that.
After another difficult, sled assisted approach; nearly 100 yards dragging our duffels uphill to a pre-dug campsite, Gene and I set about doing home improvements. I did what Irishmen do second best: I started digging. By the time I was done, we could have fought a trench war from our kitchen and latrine.
After a lazy weather day lounging in our luxurious VE25, the sun came out too late for climbing, so Gene and I went up glacier to check out the Minimoonflower route on Mt. Hunter. Unlike the south face of the Moose’s Tooth, this north facing route looked like it was in excellent shape.
Denali, from camp. The east ridge of Francis begins on the left.
Foraker, from the base of Hunter
Quarks: no kitchen is complete without one
For our first objective, we decided to climb the descent route (the east ridge) of Mt. Francis to take advantage of a questionable forecast. Another party was in line for Minimoonflower, and we had no interest in another day of playing Dodge the Fucking Huge Ice Chunk.
The day was spectacular, and the route straightforward. I only punched through two crevasses, which, unlike here in the Cascades, have a way of straddling ridge crests. The summit was cold, windy, and utterly amazing.
Denali, from the East Ridge of Francis
Alaska gnar gnar: Gene on the Mt. Francis’ windy summit.
The author doing what he does best on the summit of Mt. Francis. Foraker in the back ground.
A panoramic video from the summit of Mt. Francis. In order of appearance: Hunter, Foraker, Crosson, Denali.
We finally got our perfect day, got over some of our testicular atrophy, and headed up glacier towards Minimoonflower on Mt. Hunter. It was clear and very cold. The ice was old, rock hard, and sustained; hanging belays only. It was difficult to chop even narrow ledges. A few light spindrift avalanches, but nothing like the Moose’s Tooth. The huge overhanging mushrooms clinging to the shear rock overhead were considerate enough to not rain death down on us.
Minimoonflower, Mt. Hunter
Gene on the ramp of Minimoonflower
Further up route
After six 70 m pitches, we looked up at the crux; very thin ice over vertical rock with an overhanging mixed traverse, demurred and called it good. We doubled up the existing v threads and rapped down.
For you hardmen out there: Moonflower Buttress on Mt. Hunter. Minimoonflower is to the far left.
Mt. Crosson, sporting a baby lenticular. One must first summit Crosson to gain the Foraker’s infamous Sultana Ridge route. No one had yet successfully summited Foraker in 2008 as of our visit.
I spent our a couple of rest days skiing up the Kahiltna to the next climber’s camp and taking photos. Every (good weather) day, otters would disgorge more climbers, who would then pack up and drag cheap plastic sleds laden with large duffels up the Kahiltna. From afar they looked like tugs with barges plying an undulating sea of shimmering white.
A large storm was forecasted for our departure day, so decided to climb the southwest ridge of Francis, then fly out a day early. The weather was perfect; we waiting until about 9:30 for it to warm up a bit (a luxury of 24 hour daylight), and started up the arduous one hour approach across gently rolling glacier.
The route is a must do; a spectacular convoluted ridge with solid rock, fun mixed, and a dicey little ice traverse under a huge cornice for spice.
T shirt weather and beautiful rock on the West Ridge of Francis
Looking down on the Kahiltna (W Rdg of Francis)
The author on the W Rdg of Francis
Kahiltna Glacier (W Rdg of Francis)
Kahiltna Glacier (W Rdg of Francis)
Too much fun in the sun (W Rdg of Francis)
More spectacular views (W Rdg of Francis)
Goodbye sunshine, hello snowstorm. The author traversing beneath the large cornice on the false summit (W Rdg of Francis)
The weather came in that afternoon. By the time we were negotiating the final mile of ridgetop, we were in a full whiteout. Fortunately, we had a previous parties tracks to follow.
The following day the weather was changeable, but we were able to fly out. It was a good thing; there were parties in Talkeetna who waited 5 days to fly in vain afterwards.
Eerie weather on Mt. Hunter
Avalanche, Mt. Hunter. For a sense of scale, note the camp a mile up glacier from the photographer.
Our takeoff from Denali base camp:
Gene got an early flight home to rejoin his wife and one year old. I stayed in Talkeetna to await the arrival of my friend Don, who was flying up to join me for some skiyaking in Prince William Sound.