The Alaska Range is one of the most inspiring ranges I have ever visited. Iconic peaks: Denali, Hunter, and Foraker surround the Kahiltna basecamp and adorn the Talkeetna skyline. This range attracts alpinists from all around the world to come test their skills in one of the greatest, albeit most challenging ranges on the planet.
I was fortunate enough to guide a trip to this great range with Senior Guide Steve Johnson and 3 guests. Our initial itinerary was to fly into the Root Canal to attempt Ham and Eggs on the Mooses Tooth. With difficult conditions this season combined with a fatality at camp the week before, we amended our plans and flew onto the Kahiltna Glacier. Mini Moonflower and Bacon and Eggs on the North Flank of Mt. Hunter were the primary objectives on our new itinerary. Akin to Ham and Eggs, both routes are mostly ice with a few mixed sections and similar in length.
Day one, we all met at Talkeetna Air Taxi and began weighing our bags. As per TAT rules, each person is allotted 125lbs of equipment on the plane. This can be a difficult task to make weight with food for everyone for a week plus climbing and camping gear to survive on the glacier. After an hour or so of sorting gear and weighing in, we were ready. Like most things on expeditions, nothing happens fast. With the weather deteriorating in Talkeetna and clouding up on the glacier, no one was quick to fly. After scrambling to pack, we sit and play the hurry up and wait game.
Around 5pm we get the call that we are flying. We quickly grab our bags and haul them over to the airstrip to start loading the “Otter” that we will fly in on. Thirty minutes later we are in the air.
We arrived at Basecamp around 6pm to sunny skies and no wind. We unload the plane and slog 700lbs of gear up the hill to camp. The rest of the evening is spent getting our tents up and eating dinner before the sun drops behind Forakers’ North Ridge and temperatures plummet.
A restful night of sleep finds us with clear skies in the morning. We make eggs and sausage for breakfast with some fresh instant coffee to wash it down with. Most of day 2 is spent digging in the kitchen and our “living room.”
Despite the 20 hours of daylight in AK, the days go quick. Before long the sun has once again disappeared behind Foraker and it’s getting cold.
Day 3 was a climbing day. We left camp around 7am for the Mini Moonflower and Bacon and Eggs. It’s a long walk to the North Flank of Hunter from basecamp, around 2 hours. Fred and I were the first on Bacon and Eggs this season, which made trail breaking very difficult. We wallowed in steep waist deep snow up to the bergshrund where the initial pitches start. I could see Steve, Jim, and John cruising up the trail to the ‘shrund where Mini Moonflower begins. Getting through the bergshrund onto the first ice pitch, to my delight, was much easier than I had anticipated. With a high step and some marginal sticks, I was on the hard glacial ice. Due to the frigid temps the ice was extremely brittle and to my dismay, harder than it appeared.
After a few pitches of bullet hard ice and frigid temps, we decided to retreat as the weather was rapidly deteriorating. We rapped down and began our descent on the glacier back to camp as visibility diminished. We arrived back at camp around 6pm, 11 hours after we left.
We awoke to broken skies and light winds. We spent most of the day melting snow and fraternizing with our British friends, “Paul” and “Spider” who were camped next to us.
The following day was an early rise for climb on the Radio Tower. We crossed heavily crevassed areas with poor visibility. Temperatures were warmer so we were sure get through the hanging serac zones early before they had time to melt. The climb consisted of classic Alaskan ridge climbing and moderate snow. We all summited with mostly cloudy skies and once again, not much for visibility. The team returned to camp 8 hours after our early departure.
We departed from the Kahiltna 2 days later after high winds shut down most flights for the day. The team met for dinner that night at “The West Rib,” a classic Talkeetna watering hole. We left for Anchorage the next day, parting ways after a successful trip in the Alaska Range.
Not everyone can make it up to Alaska, and that’s fine. Our backyard, Rocky Mountain National Park, has some world class mountaineering of it’s own. If you’d like to get out, I’d love to be your guide.