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Trip: Denali - Isis Face Date: 5/18/2008 Trip Report: BACKGROUND: In 1996, Joe Puryear and I made what was probably the most recent (as of 2013) ascent of Denali's 1954 South Buttress (Thayer) route. At the time we were inexperienced on technical terrain, and engaging it in Alaska at that time still seemed to be just a distant dream. On this climb, we hauled enormous sleds and packs from the Mountain House in the Sheldon Amphitheater all the way up the west fork of the Ruth, across the colossal south buttress, down into and across the mysterious Thayer Basin on Denali's east side, and then up the Thayer Ridge to where it arcs into the northeast ridge, which we followed to the summit on May 6th, our 28th day after leaving the Mountain House. We spent the next three days carrying all of our still heavy kit up and over Denali Pass and down the west buttress, arriving at basecamp on our 31st day on the mountain. We saw nobody for 26 days at one point! Joe Puryear on the south buttress, April, 1996: Early in the trip, while in the west fork, we stopped to take a lunch break as we passed by the Isis Face, looming above us. Isis takes the central rib: The Isis is located on the southeast face of the south buttress of Denali and rises over 7000 vertical feet above the glacier. It is imposing, and the line of ascent, first completed by Jack Tackle and Dave Stutzman in 1982, is the only reasonably safe line on an otherwise savage wall rimmed by menacing hanging seracs. I vividly recall sitting on my sled eating my lunch and silently wondering how something like that could be climbed. Tackle had made two attempts on the face prior to his successful ascent. The first ended when his partner took a 240 foot leader fall and fractured his femur, resulting in Tackle having to ski out alone for help. Help returned to the scene in the persons of Tackle, Mugs Stump, and Jim Logan, who lowered Tackle's partner to the glacier and who was then evacuated by air. Tackle's second attempt didn't make it far due to illness and poor conditions, but the third time was the charm. Even then, they did not continue on from the intersection with the 1954 route atop the buttress crest due to Stutzman having contracted a staph infection from gashing his wrist with his crampons. As it has been with a number of routes I've done in Alaska, it was this story of persistence and determination which captured my imagination, and, even as a wide-eyed novice sitting in the shadow of the route, motivated me to be up there someday. Six years and many routes later, Joe and I skied to the base of the route, knowing full well that we would not be climbing it, as the June warmth had turned the snow to mush. Nonetheless, the foray added a layer of knowledge and also strengthened the aura of intrigue and mystery. In 2005, I returned with Marcus Donaldson and Chris Donharl. This time, we were armed for combat and loaded for an ascent. Unfortunately the invaders were armed with slingshots, to quote an old phrase, and as we approached, less than an hour from the foot of the wall, a serac at mid height which I judged a bit questionable suddenly discharged a massive amount of debris right down the line of ascent. Had we been 1-2 hours earlier it would have been the end. The crew wisely mutinied and we ran away to do something else. The next two seasons Eamonn Walsh and I had loose plans for an attempt but other routes and better conditions in other parts of the range kept us away. In May of 2008, Eamonn and I made the route our top priority, and the snow conditions in the range fortuitiously aligned with our intentions. In cold conditions, we acclimatized by ascending the lower south buttress starting from Kahiltna Basecamp, following terrain I'd been over before. This ridge (aka Pt. 12,200' and Pt. 12,240') is absolutely breathtaking as it takes you to "Margaret Pass" between the Kahiltna's east fork and the Ruth's west fork and an intersection with the 1954 route. I had descended this ridge in the blind on a failed attempt on the south buttress in 1995 and it remains one of my favorite spots in the Alaska Range, commanding panoramic views all at once of Hunter, Foraker, Denali, and Huntington...a real seat amongst the action. In frigid weather and utilizing snow caves for comfort, we ascended to 15,400'. Along the way we passed the "Lotsa Face" a 1000 foot, 50 degree face of Alaskan blue boilerplate. In 1996, with our 90 pound packs and embarrassing lack of experience on ice, this face took us the entire day to climb...each of the two times we climbed it. On this day, 12 years later, it took all of one hour. We left a cache of food and fuel atop the Isis Face, for use in either continuing on to the summit after our ascent, or for dealing with getting down were we to top out in a storm. The route only had two ascents- the second was in 2003 by four French climbers- and neither ascent had continued beyond the crest of the buttress. After returning to basecamp, we waited about a week before a stable stretch of weather arrived. We were flown to the west fork of the Ruth by Talkeetna Air Taxi. Late in the afternoon we started up the route and we topped out on the face 47 hours later. The Japanese "Giri Giri Boys' had climbed the route about a week earlier for the route's third ascent. Snow in the meantime had obscured all trace of their passage save for a dropped ice screw we found high on the route. Atop the route, we learned by radio that Jumbo, Sato, and Ichi had continued from here by descending the dangerous Ramp Route into the East Fork of the Kahiltna...from here they made the fourth ascent of the Slovak Direct on Denali's 2700 meter south face, rising directly across from us...one of the most impressive achievements in modern Alaskan climbing. Their linkup relieved us of any 'ego burden' of doing the route's first linkup to the top of Denali. Our own comparatively diminutive plan of continuing up the much tamer southeast spur, including a lot of terrain I had been on before, now seemed more like an enormous hypoxic slog. So despite the continuing good weather, Eamonn and I were content with having made the fourth ascent of the face. The ascent had been as smooth as we could ever have hoped for, the technical difficulties were high quality and easier than we had expected, and the scenery on route had been spectacular beyond belief. For once we did the right thing and quit while we were ahead. We retrieved our cache and made a casual descent of the lower south buttress and arrived back at basecamp the following afternoon. A few days later we made the first ascent of "Bacon and Eggs", a fun ice and mixed route on a small tower next to the Mini Moonflower on Hunter's northeast ridge. It capped another great trip in the mountains I love the most. PICTURES, VIDEO- In HD quality, here's the visual story: https://vimeo.com/75055591
Trip: Incredible Hulk - Positive Vibrations Date: 9/3/2012 Trip Report: I concluded a really fun six week summer road trip with this stellar route. I’d done it before in 2009 but it is worth doing again and again. Jed and I met up in Reno, I was driving from the Tetons where my wife and I had just had a blast climbing the Exum Ridge and Irene's Arete. Jed flew in from Chicago. We got our permit early the next morning and we made the hike in to the base in two hours from Twin Lakes. Hulkamania: We had enough time that we really could have done the Red Dihedral that afternoon but I figured we’d want to be feeling pretty fresh for the PV. Jed started us off the next morning at first light, climbing awkward cracks with a distinct 10a crux passing a small roof. I fired us up the next pitch, a short 10c tips splitter and some easy but runout face climbing that gains two bolts on a nice belay ledge. First pitch: Jed continued up the 5.8 corner above, then across the delicate traverse which ends with a somewhat spicy, but short, sideways 5.11a sequence to gain a handjam, then a jughaul to the belay, another pair of bolts. Beginning of pitch 3. The crux traverse is just above the roofs. Pitch 4 is 5.10c and is a great stemming and bridging corner, with two distinct bulges. Gear is anywhere you want it. I passed a set of bolts and continued up a thin and tenuous finger crack in a corner with a hard stem and crack switch right at the end, a long 50 meter pitch. Jed following p4: Jed took us up a fantastic pitch towards the prow of the Hulk’s west face. Multiple cracks lead to a single crack which begins wide and tapers to thin hands, a rather awkward and strenuous section that felt a little harder than the 10a rating would suggest, but soon gives way to an extended section of splitter hands. Pitch 5: I now tackled the crux pitch which begins in a smooth corner with intricate stemming and some pretty dicey gear; suspect tiny cams (incl. #000 and #00 C3’s), a mishmash of rp’s, and the need for long slings due to having to protect mainly in the crack on the left wall. Just after I got the gear arranged and started going for it, my foot skated and I whipped onto an HB brass nut and blew the redpoint. After a unnerving runout to the roof where you can finally get some good gear, I continued past burly underclings with crispy feet into a steep, sustained, and incredible crack that passes a bulge on thin hands. A little unnerved from the fall, I dogged it a bit through here until I got my mojo back, and then continued on up in better style as the crack becomes a stellar finger jamming extravaganza on an open wall with incredible exposure. Due to rope drag (and being a bit worked) I made a belay at a small stance just below the 5.11 crux. Up to here the pitch rates 5.10d although I thought overall it is much harder (due to being physical and sustained) than the next section of technical 5.11a fingers. Jed coming up p6: I led us past the 11a thin fingers and face sequence passing a wildly exposed overhang with a ton of air beneath the feet! I pressed the pitch another 15 meters higher and belayed below the next set of splitters. Jed leaving the belay to start following the 11a section. Exposure and beautiful rock! The next pitch begins with steep, strenuous fingers and thin hands, giving way to another incredible hand crack. The angle lets off but then the pitch gets harder, with a difficult face move to the next crack right, then cranking hard up a sustained off fingers jam crack that never seems to let up. At the end, make an improbable step down and left to gain a great belay ledge. 5.10d. Jed in Splitterville: It just stays awesome. The next pitch can go to the very top if you have a 70 meter rope and a lot of endurance and don’t mind spacing your pro, a lot. I took it only 40 meters before I wimped out and belayed; I was low on hand sized gear and our rope was a 60m. The corner starts easily enough but becomes sustained 5.10b hand and fist jamming up a very steep corner and past a roof. A short distance above the roof I made a belay in the crack system at a blockier area, about 10-15’ right of a solitary bolt on the prow that makes no sense. Jed took us to the ridge from here, moving to the right and climbing another phenomenal finger, thin hands, then hands, hands, hands crack!!! Last pitch on the wall: From here, if you don’t plan to rappel Venturi Effect (70 meter rope mandatory) continue along the ridge- not entirely trivial. Apparently you can stay right on the crest and go through a chimney between flakes, but both times I’ve now stayed down and left. This is not entirely straightforward and is rather dirty and loose. After a couple ropelengths of “mostly” 4th and low 5th you join the Red Dihedral for the final 5.8 crack and the classic wormhole exit onto a bench just below the top. Jed coming on through: Jed on the summit, psyched: This route is at least as good as the Rostrum, maybe better because it is up in the mountains, and it’s longer. The rock is flawless, if the pictures don’t already demonstrate. Go do this thing. If it’s super windy at the base, consider another route- the upper part of the route is extremely exposed as it is right on or near the prow. The next day we got a more civilized start and ran up the Red Dihedral, the third time I had done this classic. Not quite as quality as the PV, but this is sort of like saying, for example, Seasoned in the Sun in Squamish isn’t as good as Exasperator. Do them both. Now. Gear Notes: Set of stoppers including rp’s, long slings. Double rack of cams from tiny stuff (#000 or grey tcu) to #3 BD camalot, with triples from 0.3 BD to #2. Nothing bigger than a #3 needed. Could avoid some of the triples perhaps, but most pitches are quite long so you either would have to break them up more, or run it out a fair bit. 70 meter rope could be useful especially if wanting to rap Venturi Effect. I’ve heard that rope hangup can be an considerable issue if choosing that course. Approach Notes: Climbers trail seems to get better by the year. Supertopo beta is out of date, there’s now a good log crossing and no wading in swamps is needed. Trail begins climbing the slope well to the looker’s left of the canyon entrance, then eventually traverses into the canyon. 2-3 hours from Twin Lakes. Bikes are NOT ALLOWED any longer on the initial part of the trail.