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Kraken

[TR] Mount Huntington - Phantom Wall 4/27/2013

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Trip: Mount Huntington - Phantom Wall

 

Date: 4/27/2013

 

Trip Report:

 

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This spring I spent a total of 60 days in the Alaska Range. First I started in the Revelations, then immediately flew in to the Eldridge Glacier and skied out to the road. Several days after that, I met up with Kurt Hicks had a trying soiree on the Alaska Range's most iconic peak, Mount Huntington before bumping over to the Kahiltna.

 

Huntington has always fascinated me. Despite its modest height it is one of the most difficult summits to reach in all of the Range.

 

Most parties nowadays climb the West Face Couloir. In my personal opinion I find the route to be way over rated and would never recommend it, but then again I may just be a snob when it comes to ice routes. The WFC is a long stretch of iron-hard glacial ice with few interesting features and hanging belays. (PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I have not climbed the WFC, but I have descended it and that was enough to kill any interest in ever ascending it!)

 

Anyways, back to the regularly schedule program...

 

Kurt and I met in Alaska several years ago and I'd been wanting to climb with him ever since. Fortune befell us in February and we met in Canmore to climb many of the area's incredible ice lines including Rainbow Serpent, Pilsner Pillar and a five hour round trip ascent of Polar Circus. It seemed like we would get along just fine!

 

Both of us were excited about Huntington, and were in the mood for a seldom-traveled route. Several years ago my friend Jared Vilhauer made the long awaited second ascent of the Jay Smith/ Paul Teare Phantom Wall, which was established back in 1992.

 

Vilhauer gave me some beta and after reading about it in the "50 Favorite Climbs" book, I was hooked.

 

Both parties before us dropped in to "Death Valley", narrowly dodging massive seracs and navigating a huge ice fall. Then they climbed 3,000' of that pesky moderate glacial ice to get to the base of the Headwall that comprises the Phantom Wall.

 

I didn't like that idea too much and I was convinced that we could climb the Approach Gully on the Harvard Route, climb through the Alley and then traverse down and over to the base of the headwall.

 

In the end, that is just what we did. From there we angled up and right through some crazy lightning strike-like xenoliths of diorite amidst otherwise impeccable granite.

 

Several moderate pitches lead to some testy mixed climbing, which Kurt styled. The headwall loomed above and we both wondered where in the hell we were going to sneak through the seemingly impenetrable wall. Consistently challenging climbing lead to the route's 5.10/A1 crux pitch.

 

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Wouldn't you know it was my lead. I will say it was not as technically difficult as it was scary. A narrow cleft made the climbing awkward, and I very nearly took a big leader fall, but somehow managed to escape to easier ground.

 

To this point the weather had been incredible. Suddenly clouds and winds ripped around the side of the mountain and we were blindsided by a serious and cold storm. Snow started to fall and we were now quite scared, but the only descent was up the mountain and down the West Face Couloir.

 

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We made a quick brew after much simul-climbing at the only protected alcove and then made the long exposed and often unprotected simul-climb to the summit. In a total whiteout and with numb hands and faces, we miraculously found a pee stain and then the descent to the rappels rigged from previous climbers. As we walked away from the crowned dome, we looked back through a brief clearing in the otherwise impenetrable clouds and could barely make out a bump a little farther away which was actually the tallest point several meters higher (and I'm talking meters, here) than where we had stood. We thought we were on the top when we got there. Call it what you will. It was meters. When we arrived at the "top," there was no obvious slope leading to a higher place. We summited. If you want to argue, go climb it in those conditions and decipher at your will. I suppose it is the nature of the beast.

 

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We rappelled through the night in horrendous conditions...cold, tired, miserable, numb and scared. We left several screws when our brittle fingers could not tie cord through a V-thread.

 

In a haze, I lead the rappels while Kurt excellently cleaned and used his innumerable guide skills to keep us safe and focused. I threw several temper tantrums when V-thread holes instantly plugged with spindrift, when my eyes froze shut from wind, and when I dropped my new pair of $100 gloves. In my child like state, I maintained a focus on staying alive, but it was like looking through a key hole. Kurt was the glue that held the team together as we made our way down, ever closer to survival. He proved to be an invaluable partner, one I hope to share many future adventures with.

 

Our ropes got stuck on the last rappel and I screamed at them, hiding deep within myself and hoping Kurt would retrieve them. The man has class...he got them unstuck after climbing 10 feet up. Like a boss!

 

We staggered back to camp, slogging in a foot of new snow. We had left camp 22 hours earlier but it looked like a forgotten wasteland. We threw our gear on the ground, stuffed our faces with food and went to bed, trying to forget our trying affair.

 

I had a dime-sized bit of frostbite on my wrist of all places and Kurt was worried about his fingers being numb several days later. With that, he flew out to Talkeetna and I bumped over to Kahiltna, where I waited for several weeks before eventually climbing the Moonflower on Mount Hunter.

 

Thanks for a great climb, Kurt!!!!!

 

This was only the third ascent of this route and I think it is a great candidate for future ascents. Go get it!!

 

 

Gear Notes:

set of cams to #2, nuts, a few pins, six screws, several pickets, a better weather forecast than we had.

 

Approach Notes:

Up Harvard Route Approach Gully, climb several mixed pitches up the Alley and then descend to the long lateral snow ledge to the base of the Phantom Headwall

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I need to make it to AK next spring.

nice work boys! another route crushed that most people just drool over

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Awesome TR, Kraken! Brought back many good memories for me. Our descent down the WFC was in picture perfect weather, but I was still shaken from a 100 foot fall the day before at the top of the Colton/Leech, and my right crampon kept coming off my boot on every rap. The next day I broke my leg descending the French Icefall crossing back to the Ruth. Good Times! I was lucky to be climbing in the range in the '80s, and found my way up Huntington 3 times.

 

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Awesome TR and quite the season up there for you! Thanks for the stoke in these warm PDX summer months.

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Traversing in to the Approach Gully for the Harvard. Denali's South Buttress and Isis Face are in the background. Photo by Kurt Hicks

 

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Me leading near the bottom of the Phantom headwall. Photo by Kurt Hicks.

 

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Seconding on a wonderful mixed pitch midway up the lower headwall. Photo by Kurt Hicks.

 

 

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Me about to start up the crux 5.10/A1 pitch. Photo by Kurt Hicks

 

 

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"Oh shit, look at that weather coming in..." We had lots of climbing to do and had not even begun to suffer. Photo by Kurt Hicks.

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congrats, gentlemen! old as I am, Huntington is still on my phantasy ticklist...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

!

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