Yesterday, I realized it was the 4 year anniversary of my solo winter ascent of Denali. It seems like so long ago. Since that time, the ice, snow and rock has been moving under feet with climbs in Nepal of Kyajo Ri at 20,295 feet and another of Ama Dablam up to camp 2 – both led by team member Elías de Andrés Martos.
Photo right: Summit of Kyajo Ri - Nepal 2015
In 2018 Pascale Marceau, Vern Stice and I made the first ascent of Jeannette Peak 10,135 feet in British Columbia. I then went on to solo Mt Quincy Adams, the second highest peak in British Columbia at 13,650 feet.
As a fledgling mountaineer those climbs really helped me prepare for Mt Hunter. My polar exploration background would help me with the rest.
In spring 2016, in an attempt to climb Mt Hunter, our team of four got though the avalanche and overhead serac dangers, then up the crux of our climb. With a real possibility of reaching the summit, an oncoming storm erased our hopes. Nonetheless, we were excited to have done well on that difficult part of the mountain.
Photo left: Negotiating the glacier as a roped team in 2016, the same route I went through this winter.
In winter 2017, I approached Hunter alone only to find unconsolidated snow gingerly hiding numerous crevasses over our previous spring’s route. The next day, I fell into a bergschrund just below a band of rocks. After 20 minutes of terror, I extricated myself from the crevasse. Standing on the lip, shook-up, I peered down the deep black hole, and became sick to my stomach. I was lucky and now with a loss of focus, went home.
After two tries and much research I concluded that Mt Hunter could not be climbed solo in the winter by the normal summer routes on the west ridge of the mountain. This is mostly due to the two miles of dangerous ridge climbing to get to the summit. North and east flanks of Hunter are too hazardous and technical. I believe this left only the Ramen route on the south side of the mountain as a real possibility for me.
During summer, climbers have relatively warm weather and the advantage of nineteen plus hours of daylight. In winter the average is six hours. Morning and evening chores are done under headlamp. Add extreme cold, increased food and fuel weight and you have a recipe for quite a challenge.
Photo right: Selfie Mt. Hunter 2019... it was getting chilly!
The Japanese mountaineer Masatoshi Kuriaki, famous for his solo winter climbs, attempted Mt Hunter ten times, reaching the highest altitude at 12,000 feet. On his last attempt, he was rescued by helicopter at 8,400 feet having gotten separated from his supplies due to high avalanche hazards.
… look out for Part 2 of Lonnie’s journal where he shares more about his decision to turn around.
Photo: Basecamp Jan 2019 - Denali in the alpenglow