June 26, 2009

Hayes Range Expedition Update

The Alchemy Ridge of Mount Balchen. Photo courtesy of Jed Brown and 59A2.org.

Matt Klick and I had a great trip to the Hayes Range despite abysmal weather. Were the weather better, we would have climbed a lot more. As is, we pushed a new route on the northern ridge of Mount Balchen (11,140 feet), Alchemy Ridge (V AI4 M7), through a monster storm over two days (round trip) with minimal bivy gear (bivy bags and a jetboil, no sleeping bags). Retreat options were limited prior to our bivy halfway up the ridge at which point we had passed much of the harder technical ground. We feel that the Alchemy Ridge is a reasonably serious and sustained route, though nowhere near the most difficult route in the Hayes Range.

The above photo really shows the lower, more technical, half of the route quite accurately. The remainder of the route consists of snow/rime climbing to the summit. It may be good to note that the route we chose on the ridge was often dictated by the amount of snow that was present, though we still feel that we climbed the line which was truest to the ridge. There are likely many options to pass the steeper buttresses. The main crux pitch was an absolute classic, perched on the arete between the east and west faces of the mountain.

Due to the weather, we felt lucky to have completed this one effort successfully, spending most of the expedition tentbound in high winds and precipitation. 12 of 14 days had significant BAD weather events, with localized and generalized weather patterns tag-teaming our expedition except for our reconaissance day and our walk out day to the Hayes airstrip. Most of the route was sustained moderate fifth-class terrain, on splitter granite and snow over slabs, on the east or west side of the ridge which winds sinuously to the summit. Stay tuned for a trip report as we pull our photos together.

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