Alaska: A Roundup of Expeditions

Alaska Climbing
Skiers on the Ruth Glacier in Denali. Photo: Fran Durner

The climbing season is well underway on Denali, and several other interesting expeditions have set off into the Alaskan backcountry. We round up the action.

Considering COVID, Denali is surprisingly busy. There are 905 registered climbers this season, and 349 of them are currently on the mountain. Already, we have seen the season’s first summit: On May 14, an AMS/Navy Seal team topped out.

One climber of note on Denali is para-athlete Kristie Ennis. Ennis suffered life-altering injuries, including the loss of her lower-left leg, in a helicopter crash while serving in Afghanistan. Ennis is attempting the Seven Summits and has already tried Denali once. In 2018, a week-long storm on the upper slopes turned her back.

Kristie Ennis on a previous climb. Photo: Rob Gowler

A further 29 climbers have registered for 5,304m Mount Foraker, 22km southwest of Denali. There are no summit reports yet, but 15 climbers are on the mountain.

The weather has been good on both mountains over the last week, though the Denali National Park Service reports that Denali’s lower glacier is “already getting problematic above 7,800 feet, particularly for this early in the season. Snowpack seems less supportable than normal for mid-May. Reports of random, unusual punch-ins.”

A new route on Mount Huntington

Elsewhere, Ines Papert and Luka Lindic have completed a new route on the west face of 3,731m Mount Huntington. They christened the 1,050m route Heart of Stone. It is graded M7, with a 50° to 90° gradient. The pair summited on April 26 after a two-day climb from their base camp.

On Mount Neocola in the Aleutian Range, Ryan Driscoll, Justin Guarino, and Nick Aiello-Popeo completed the first full ascent of the Medusa Face (the mountain’s north face). Topher Donahue and Kennan Harvey climbed most of the face in 1995 but stopped roughly 250m before the summit ridge. Deteriorating rock and choss made this final section a nightmare.

When Driscoll, Guarino, and Aiello-Popeo eventually made the summit ridge, they had been on the wall for seven days. They had hoped to reach the still-unclimbed north summit, but zero visibility and high winds made them reconsider. Instead, they headed down via the untouched east face.

Justin Guarino in his bivy on the fourth night of their ascent on Mount Neocola. Photo: Nick Aiello-Popeo

Unfortunately, there have already been two major accidents this season. On May 5, a ski mountaineer died after falling into a crevasse in Denali National Park, near the Eldridge Glacier. Then, on May 15, two climbers were hit by falling ice from the Ruth Glacier. One died and the other suffered significant injuries but lived. Park rangers rescued the survivors after he triggered the alarm on his InReach device.

NOTE: If you plan any Alaskan expeditions this summer, whether climbing, packrafting, or trekking, let us know for future updates.

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About the Author

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh is a freelance writer and wildlife photographer based in Da Lat, Vietnam.

A history graduate from the University of Nottingham, Martin's career arc is something of a smörgåsbord. A largely unsuccessful basketball coach in Zimbabwe and the Indian Himalaya, a reluctant business lobbyist in London, and an interior design project manager in Saigon.

He has been fortunate enough to see some of the world. Highlights include tracking tigers on foot in Nepal, white-water rafting the Nile, bumbling his way from London to Istanbul on a bicycle, feeding wild hyenas with his face in Ethiopia, and accidentally interviewing Hezbollah in Lebanon.

His areas of expertise include adventure travel, hiking, wildlife, and half-forgotten early 2000s indie-rock bands.

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Jake
Jake
18 days ago

Nice story, great to hear about some Alaska adventures!

Contact @drewlaymn on instagram. Him and another buddy of mine just got back from a 2-week packrafting and ski-mountaineering expedition in Alaska after their ski-mountaineering expedition to Kashmir got abruptly cancelled from COVID. He may have a fun story or two for ya!

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Sid
Sid
18 days ago

There’s been another accident on Denali last evening. A climber fell 1000 ft from Denali Pass while descending to 17k Camp. He’s now in critical condition in Anchorage. Seems like wind blown conditions i.e. icy up high and very broken even past the lower glacier and towards Windy Corner.

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Last edited 18 days ago by dennelli84
Jay Kerr
Jay Kerr
16 days ago

Id love to see a route photo of Heart of Stone. My partner and I did the 2nd ascent of the Colton/Leech route in 1983, and I understand that Heart of Stone is nearby, between the West Face Couloir and the Colton/Leech. There was some fantastic steep mixed ground on the Colton/Leech above the top of the initial couloir.

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