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[TR] Low altitude climbing - Kahiltna and Ruth - Hunter (att.), Barrill, Moose's Tooth (att.) 5/10/2010

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Trip: Low altitude climbing - Kahiltna and Ruth - Hunter (att.), Barrill, Moose's Tooth (att.)


Date: 5/10/2010


Trip Report:


Bring skis and stay flexible about climbing objectives. That was the sage advice we partly followed on our recent trip to the Alaska Range. We regretted our slow, cumbersome (and less safe) travel on snowshoes. But we did have the good sense to move on to smaller objectives when snow conditions precluded our intended ascent of the west ridge of Mt. Hunter. Deep unconsolidated snow meant waist deep post-holing on the initial 2,000 feet of the west ridge’s approach slopes. It took us 2 days to reach camp at 9,000 feet just below the start of the real technical climbing, an approach that can be accomplished in 3 or 4 hours with good snow conditions.


After flying into the Kahiltna airstrip (KIA) on Mon., May 10, we lugged all 375 pounds of our gear and food to a quiet basecamp below the route and adjacent to Mt. Foraker. In contrast to the crowds at KIA and to the north, we had Mt. Hunter to ourselves for the next week, cheerfully paying for our solitude with relentless trail-breaking. On Wed., we began the ascent with heavy packs, intending to lighten our loads along the way with strategic caches on the ridge for the long descent.


At the end of a grueling day of post-holing (a misnomer because there really is no “end” of a day in May in the Alaska Range – at the end of our energy reserves is more apt) we had ascended perhaps 1500 feet. We dug a tent platform into a corniced ridgeline, below the fracture line (we hoped) and dubbed the place “Camp Perch.” When the skies cleared - breath-taking 360 degree views! – Mt. Foraker to the west, Denali to the north, and most alluring of all, the west ridge of Mt. Hunter to the southeast. We went to sleep encouraged.


But the following day we encountered even deeper powder on the steeper slopes leading to the Cat’s Ears. Daily progress: 500 vertical feet. We dug another platform on the nearly level slopes at 8900 feet, where we waited 3 days in vain for high pressure and improved snow conditions. By day 3 we had dubbed camp 2 – “Camp Purgatory.” The west ridge is a roller coaster of up and down climbing. We made a few forays up to the Cat’s Ears to chop the rap anchors out of the ice. (We were the first party on the route in 2010.) But otherwise we got no higher. On Saturday, a foot of snow fell, bringing avalanche conditions to the technical sections of the ridge. We agreed to descend to basecamp.


After a night’s rest, we backpacked and sledded back to KIA in the hope that conditions might be better on some of our lower, back-up peaks and routes. No such luck. A French party had taken down the crux ice section of the Mini-Moonflower, and Kahiltna Queen was likewise buried in unconsolidated powder.


So we called an audible. A Talkeetna Air Taxi plane had just landed at the airstrip. We thumbed a ride (for $150 each) to the Ruth glacier to the east. Maybe conditions would be better there? If not, at least we’d see more of the range.


After a 15 minute flight past Mt. Foraker and over the spectacularly wild Hunter pass, we swooped north over Mt. Dickey and made a wide turn into the Ruth Glacier amphitheater, where Don Sheldon built his mountain hut in 1966. Over the next five days, from a camp right off the airstrip, we climbed Mt. Barrill via the Japanese couloir, and made an attempt on the west ridge of the Moose’s Tooth. A horrible breakable crust thwarted our efforts on the Moose’s Tooth shortly after ascending the icefall leading to the upper ridge. All was not lost though. Because we started climbing at midnight, we were in position to view and photograph Denali and the upper Ruth glacier peaks at sunrise while descending.


Returning to basecamp, we knew without discussion we were done climbing. We returned to Talkeetna later the same day – full of ideas for a return engagement with the beautiful peaks of Kahiltna and Ruth glaciers.



Edited by AOC

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Great photos from the West Ridge! Too bad about the snowpack... but at least you got to sample our famous sugar snow. Nothing says good times like wallowing in chest deep snow for 14 hours.


Hopefully next time you visit the snow will be better!

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