These are the plastic pack dogs. They don’t really have much to do with our climbing trip. They were an exhibit we came across in the Anchorage Museum and I thought this would be an interesting title. Our team’s name was actually “Steve Martin and their Bill Amigos”.
Our main climbing objective was so obscure it doesn’t even have a proper name. It was just a spot height on the map known as Peak 11,300’.
Billy Clapp, Steve Towne and Bill McConachie at the Roadhouse in Talkeetna, AK, the town’s obligatory breakfast venue. We arrived in Talkeetna in the middle of the night after a surreal experience with our minivan driver. He took a wrong turn onto a dead-end street, then spent a futile 20 minutes trying to back up with a trailer attached. Eventually we realized he didn’t know how to do that and we had to push it by hand.
All the latest trends in climbing fashion on display at the airstrip in Talkeetna, AK.
The landing site at 7,000’ on the W Fork of the Ruth Glacier.
Billy towing his gear to our base camp on the Ruth Glacier.
Base camp on the Ruth Glacier. In the background is the N face of the Rooster Comb. Avalanches and serac falls came rumbling down this face every couple of hours.
Setting out early next morning for the SW ridge of Peak 11,300.
The first part of the climb is a straighforward snow slope, but then the angle kicks up. What looks like the summit in this photo is just the first night’s bivy site. The actual summit is 1,700’ higher.
Billy leading the Flake Gully, one of the first of many rock pitches.
Me leading the pitch after the Flake Gully. Snow levels were low this year and there was lots more rock on the climb than described in the guidebook (Billy Clapp’s photo).
Billy at the top of the “Thin Man’s Squeeze”, a mixed rock/ice pitch.
Our first night’s bivy site, the luxury Grey Rock hotel. Just enough space for two narrow tents. We got here quite late and the snow lower down was getting worryingly soft in the afternoon sun (Bill McConachie’s photo).
Billy leading up from the Grey Rock bivy early the next morning. In the background is the stupendous 6,000’ N Faceof Mt Huntington.
Lenticular clouds over the summit of Denali. Not a friendly sign.
Me approaching the Second Col (out of sight below). The guidebook suggests this would make a good bivy site but luckily we didn’t rely on that advice, since there wasn’t enough snow for tent platforms (Steve Towne’s photo).
Billy high up on the ridge. Hunter and Foraker in the background. Best to keep clear of those cornices.
Billy leading the last technical rock pitch.
Me leading one of the last pitches before the summit, a 55 degree ice face that seemed to go on for ever. Nerve-wracking with only three ice-screws. It didn’t help that it was now snowing and we were climbing in a whiteout (Billy Clapp’s photo).
Billy and I finally reached the summit at 9pm. The skies started to clear just as we set up our tent. Bill and Steve got there a few hours earlier.
The next morning we had a brief view of Denali from our summit bivy before the weather came in again.
Billy and Steve descending into a white-out. The first part of the descent was quite tedious with many diagonal rappels and traverses across 45-50 degree ice slopes.
Not many pictures of the first day’s descent because of white-out conditions. By evening we got down to a bivy site at 10,200’. This picture was taken the next morning. The summit is on the left. It had taken us all day to cover the half-mile from there to here.
Huntington, Hunter and Foraker from our third night’s bivy site.
Steve rapelling down the S ridge on the fourth day. Mt Huntington in the background.
Steve and Bill rapelling down the S Ridge.
We finally reached the end of the rappels late in the afternoon after two days of descending. There was one more obstacle in the form of a bergschrund that we had to leap across, and then a mile of hiking down a glacier before we stumbled into base camp around 11pm.
Victory shot the next morning. The climb had taken us four days. We went up the left-hand skyline and down the right-hand skyline to reach the glacier in the backgound.
With our handy satellite communicator device we sent a message asking Talkeetna Air Taxi for a flight from the Ruth to the Kahiltna Glacier. They arrived just a few hours later.
Aerial view of the lower part of the SW ridge of Peak 11,300’. The Grey Rock bivy ledge is just out of sight above the top right-hand corner.
Landing on the SE Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier below Mt Hunter.
On the SE Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. This is the landing area for groups heading up Denali and during the climbing season a full-time camp manager and park rangers are stationed here. Quite a different atmosphere from the isolation of the W Fork of the Ruth Glacier.
Our liquor cabinet. The Bailie Nicol Jarvie was a souvenir from Bill and Steve’s recent climbing trip to the Scottish Highlands.
The next day’s weather was unsettled so we opted for a fairly easy one-day climb, the E ridge of Mt Frances. No-one was keen to jump on another multi-day climb just yet. Just as well because we had to navigate through another white-out at the summit.
Denali’s West Rib (center left) and Cassin Ridge (center right) from Kahiltna base camp. On the left is the lower part of the E ridge of Mt Frances.
Billy and Steve skiing up the Kahiltna SE Fork below the Kahiltna Queen. They were on their way to an ice climb, the Mini-Moonflower. The Kahiltna Queen had also been on our list but the snow couloir that normally provides a route to the summit had melted out.
Billy and Steve on their way up to the Mini-Moonflower. Normally this is continous ice but this year it hadn’t formed fully, so they only climbed the first few pitches.
Billy on the lower part of the Mini-Moonflower (Steve Towne’s photo).
We spent a snowy day in base camp wondering if the weather would improve in time for us to fly out on schedule. Fortunately the next day dawned clear and by 9am we were packed up and waiting in line for a flight back to Talkeetna.The peak in the background is Mt Foraker.
Aerial view of Mt Hunter on the way back to Talkeetna.
Talkeetna and the Susitna River. Quite a change to see all this greenery after 12 days of nothing but snow and ice.
Back at the Talkeetna airstrip, a bit thinner and a lot scruffier and smellier than when we started (Bill McConachie’s photo).
That’s all folks!