There is an aggressive 1,200 foot massive icefall that guards access to the south side of the mountain leading to the Ramen route. Huge crevasses and stacked blocks of ice the size of houses. However every other year, depending on glacier movement and snowfall, the south flank of the icefall becomes just passable. The glacier movement slows down and heavy snows fill the voids.
We flew to Kahiltna basecamp which brought us directly over the icefall on the south side of Mt. Hunter. It appeared intimidating and impossible as everyone in the plane scanned for a possible route through. With four experienced mountaineers in the plane counting our pilots, all agreed the route was a no-go. The ice was a chaos of ice blocks and massive crevasses across the entire route from mountain side to mountain side.
Photos: Left image: icefall late April 2016, I used these conditions to plan my Ramen route attempt. Right image: late May 2017 (Google Earth) showing similar condition to what I encountered this year – actual images coming soon.
This left me with basically no options but I decided to be dropped at basecamp anyways. I skied with full supplies to re-look at the NW basin of the west ridge. I was already skeptical, having been on that route twice before.
With great effort through deep snow, I climbed to 8,100 feet and put in a large cache of supplies safely in a rock outcrop to the side of an avalanche chute. Back at camp that evening I began doing the calculations for supplying the two miles of ridge that lead to the summit. No matter how conservative my estimates, I always ran short of getting enough supply caches in to the summit, let alone for getting back. It involved multiple double carries of heavy loads through deep snow in avalanche terrain. A seemingly impossible task, especially with heavy snowfall on the way.
I always aim to never be without at least five days food and fuel on any given part of the mountain, due to the possibility of being pinned down by storms. It would be impossible for me to put in enough supplies on any of the west, east or north routes of Hunter in winter…that’s why I had chosen the Ramen route on Hunter’s south face. I can sled most of my supplies to 8,000 feet in a basin that lies almost directly under the Ramen couloir – a route that would require only two camps on the ridge. Photo: My footsteps after having navigated the crevasses and climbed up to stash my depot.
Another thing weighed in on the decision too. With this year’s government shutdown and its impact on park staff, a rescue this year would have been extremely limited and possibly impossible - even with my SAR insurance.
Early the next morning under headlamp, I retrieved my cache at 8,100 feet and retreated all the way back to basecamp. That night it dropped to -37F. With limited options and a big storm brewing in the gulf, Paul Roderick with Talkeetna Air Taxi swooped in and picked me up. Mt. Hunter decided that it would not yield its winter solo summit yet…
Video: Digging up my supplies after the decision to turn around.
That evening, while soaking in a hot tub, the gears were already shifting to ice climbing frozen waterfalls in the Canmore/Banff area of the Canadian Rockies. We aim to share the stories to friends and supporters of our projects as Pascale and I prepare for our winter climb in the Yukon this March.
We would like to thank PrimaLoft Insulation, which is in most of my expedition clothing; from the yarn in my socks to the insulation in my parka. In all the years of exploring, I have yet to find a warmer, lighter and more compressible synthetic insulation.
Thanks also to the gang at Granite Gear for crafting a high volume pack that is comfortable and easy to use for expedition climbing in the cold.
Best to our communication sponsor SpotX and Globalstar for providing clear & reliable communications with our family, friends and supporters allowing us to share our whereabouts and to convey our stories from the mountain.
Stay tuned as we post images and video from my visit to Hunter and upcoming ice climbs in Alberta.
Cheers for now.