Trip: Alaska - West Ridge of Mt. Hunter (Begguya) Trip Date: 06/07/2019 Trip Report:
It wasn't apart of the plan, it wasn't necessarily on our radar. My partner and I were coming off of a total failure. We had spent time and energy to attempt to climb the Cassin Ridge. We spent 2 and a half weeks acclimatizing and waiting for a proper window at 14,000’ camp. Including reaching the summit from 14’ camp round trip in less than 12 hours. We were feeling good and were poised to send. All the work was going to pay off, all the time, energy and money were going to come to fruition. After descending down the Seattle Ramp to close to the base of the Japanese Couloir, my partner started displaying signs of HAPE. He wasn't exactly a rockstar at altitude while we were acclimatizing, but this came out of absolutely nowhere. It was out of the blue and I didn't know how to react. It wasn't setting in yet, the fact that we had to keep walking downhill, right past the base of the route we had been planning on for months.
It wasn't until we were walking out the Valley of Death in the middle of the day, sweating and scared. Chance (my partner) was feeling better as we descended and our plan was to head to 7800’ camp. Eventually making it to the safety of camp we contemplated what to do. It had finally sunk in, that we bailed on our main objective. I was pissed and mad. Not at Chance, but at the circumstances. Chance wanted to head back up since he was feeling better. I was adamant was that I wasn't going to go through all of that again. Knowing that there was no way he was going to be 100 percent. I told him to stay at 7800’ camp, while I go up and retrieve all of our gear from 14,000' camp. And boy did we have a lot of stuff at that camp. I ran up to the camp in less than 6 hours and slept the night at 14,000’. Planning on descending the next day. I packed up my 100-liter pack and 2 sleds full of gear. With so much gear I shuttled loads up and down Windy corner and Squirrel Hill. Against my wishes, Chance met me up at 11,000' camp to help the gear shuttling shitshow. We then made it down to 7800’ camp and discussed our options. We settled on heading down to the Airstrip where we had friends and booze. With maybe having a chance at the West Ridge.
A few days go by and we get a solid 2-day weather window to try something. Chance and I settle on the West Ridge of Hunter, where we will be accompanied by our friends Ryan and Chris. Just coming off a successful ski descent of Denali via the Messner Couloir and were looking for some more exciting “climbing”, or so we thought. We leave at 6 pm the day before the weather window, skinning down to the base of the route at 6500’. The first section is snow and has some considerable overhead hazard. We are able to move quickly and make our way up to the Cats Ears, where we rappeled 2 60 meter rappels to the base of ice face. We kept trucking along the beautiful ridgeline until we got to the rock steps. Where the 5.8 Beckey Chimney proved to be more demanding than expected, a few more simul pitches of some easy mixed terrain brought us to a nice bivy at around 4 am. We then slept until 10 am and continued on the ridge. Some more rambling ridge terrain moved slowly on, as we were tunneling through cornices and were dealing with some deep snow. We finally got to the base of the “Ice face” which didn't have any ice on it. Just before hitting the saddle, Chance was downclimbing a snow face and he took a crevasse fall, fully overhead. After pulling him out, the 4 of us were a bit shaken. We still had lots of ridge to go and were unsure of the weather in the future. Ryan and Chris made the decision to bail back down from there. Leaving Chance and I a bit more out there than we were planning. We were sad to see those 2 go but knew that we were going to be able to move a bit faster and focus more on the climbing. We continued moving up, passing another easy mixed pitch and passing an overhanging ice serac feature that required legit WI5 ice climbing, even for just a body length. We made it to the top of the famed Ramen Couloir and got caught in a whiteout, with no ability to see where we were going, we decided to bivy again. Splitting one mountain house between us and taking rations for food. We had planned on a single push effort, but with the weather, we had decided to wait until the morning. After sending out messages for weather info, we had received confirmation that we would have a full day of climbable weather the following day. We slept and woke to beautiful clear skies and the ability to see the route in front of us. A bit of new snow, made trail breaking slightly more difficult but after some chest deep postholing, we ventured onto the Summit Plateau. The Plateau seemed safe and smooth, and we couldn't see any cracks. Honestly, we both got complacent (mostly Chance) and he walked up on me while I was trying to route find. The new snow had blanketed a massive crevasse and I popped in 25 feet. Dropping my trekking pole and a picket. I was fortunate to be ok and was able to climb out. We learned from our mistakes and kept going to the summit. The final 50-degree snow pitch turned out to be blue ice covered in 3 inches of snow. It made for slower progress than anticipated, but we were on the summit of Mt. Hunter after a short ridge traverse. We saw wonderful views of the South Face of Denali and all other parts of the range. Now we just had to get down.
We descended back to the camp above the Ramen Couloir and finished our food, besides one single Gu. We made 5 or 6 V-thread rappels down the top of the Ramen Couloir and decided to unrope and start downclimbing. The conditions were great besides the final 1000 feet, where it turned into 3-inch breakable crust to bottomless facets. Eventually making our way to the base of the Ramen somewhere around midnight. Out of food and wasted we were unsure where the sneak around was. The Supertopo beta we had said to climb 700 feet up an “easy snow slope” We blindly started rappelling into a couloir and had to climb back out. Chance and I are great friends, but in this instant, we were mad at each other and tempers were flaring. We took a pause at 2 am and brewed up, realizing being mad wasn't going to solve any of our problems. We had a description, but couldn't pick the correct gully. Finally choosing one. Knowing that we could see the bottom of the couloir but not the middle. We choose to descend as any more time up there could turn out poorly. We left gear all of the places, using all of the slings we had, even expending my prusik cord. 1 nut anchors and shitty chossy cam placements led us down to more steep snow. Similar to the conditions in the Ramen but worse we made slow progress. This was where I had started to hallucinate. The snow was so variable that the mini slide paths in the couloir proved firm enough to front point down, whereas the rest of the snow surface proved slow and postholey. The trick of the slide gullies was to get out of them when the barrage of rocks and ice funneled down the 5 foot deep paths. It was a risk, but I wanted to get off this thing so bad, the safety of the Kahiltna was right in front of us. The whole ordeal from the bottom of the Ramen to the Safety of the Kahiltna lasted around 10 hours. We then walked back to our skis at the base of the route. While walking on the Kahiltna a heavy cloud layer moved in and started dumping snow on us. We just really didn't care. We were off and thankful to be alive. With no food, fuel and very little water left we continued the journey back to the Airstrip. Our GPS’s on our phones had died and were “walking blind”. Chance took us into the wrong basin mistaking it for the Airstrip, realizing just short of some extremely crevassed area. We finally make it back to our camp at the Airstrip and stuff our faces of bacon and sausages and chocolate. It's now 5 pm and we had been awake and on the move for the past 36 hours. Those 36 hours didn't contain the hardest climbing I have ever done, but they pushed Chance and I the farthest we have ever gone. Those 36 hours gave me the most intense time period my young adult life has had so far. And the best part was I fucking liked it.
As of the time of writing, we were the only party to have climbed Mt Hunter in the 2019 climbing season. The only team to have climbed the full West Ridge in at least 2 years. And both at the age of 21, we believe we were the youngest team ascent of the West Ridge and possibly the summit of Mt. Hunter via any route. Not that any of that matters, but I like to feed my ego sometimes. Please reach out if you know of anything different.
5 Screws, 2 pickets, a small selection of cams. Approach Notes: