Fallen Rock Reveals Pristine Route on Kichatna Spire

Sometimes diamonds hide in the rough. For two climbers in Alaska, rotten rock buried a superb route — until, all of a sudden, it didn’t anymore.

Mark Thomas and Mike Turner unlocked Thunderstruck on the famous Kichatna Spire over 12 days in June. To do it, they got help from Alaska’s uncharacteristically benevolent weather this season, as well as another unexpected set of conditions on the wall.

Two decades ago, Turner had previously tried the 1,200m line, which thrusts mostly vertical from the Shadow Glacier. But, he told Planetmountain, bad rock forced an unplanned descent.

“I had attempted this fabulous pillar in 2000 with Stuart McAleese, but at the time, we backed off due to loose rock and instead, we went on to establish a new route on the Citadel,” he said. “This year, we were back again and found the 30m of loose rock now on the glacier!”

Surprise, surprise! Death blocks now settled safely on the ice below, Turner and Thomas proceeded — albeit laboriously — up the route. The going proved incredibly arduous initially, as the team needed two days to hammer out the second pitch. And though the weather cooperated overall, it didn’t always obey.

All things considered, though, Turner reported the climb went well.

“The climbing was over 12 long days of consecutive effort. Most of the climbing was completed with the use of aid or french free, in the mix of freezing and warm conditions. The weather was stellar throughout the whole period except for a thunderstorm one day which was quite spooky,” he said.

“The climb followed a fantastic corner crack up the pillar on the right side of the face. The pureness of the top half was pretty special,” Turner said.

new route on Kichatna Spire


You can protect most of Thunderstruck (VI A3+A4 6c) with cams, nuts, and beaks. The team drove no pitons but sank a few bolts to back up belay ledges.

It stands as the second new significant wall route this season in an unusually active and successful year on Kichatna Spire.

Most importantly for him, Turner said, the route constitutes “one of my best big wall routes out of [my] 35 years of big walling.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.