May 15, 2013

Hayes Range 2013: Consolation, Solo, on Mount Hayes

In light of some of the major new lines that have been climbed in the Alaska, Kichatna, and Revelation ranges my recent consolation prize solo of the Southeast face of Mount Hayes seems like pretty small potatoes. However, my climbing friends remind me that a solo single push approach to alpine climbing in remote areas of Alaska is a rare thing - so I am choosing to share about my experience with you here. Rock and Ice and Climbing also chose to share a little info about the climb on their respective websites, linked above. In reality, I was surprised that this climb generated so much public interest as I feel I am capable of so much more in this realm.

Ryan Johnson and I arrived in the Hayes range via Rob Wing's Super Cub after a week of waiting for wind and snow to stop. Unfortunately, this was the coldest Spring on record since 1924 (links to Accuweather article and NewsMiner article on the interior's Spring weather). As I arrived the sun was leaving the Trident glacier and within an hour the temperatures were pushing - 40 degrees outside the tent at basecamp with our stoves struggling to produce the smallest amounts of water.

Another team (consisting of New Englanders Eliot Gaddy, Bayard Russell, and Michael Wejchert) was in the range looking at the South face of Mount Deborah around the same time, and found weather so cold they didn't even get on route (http://farnorthclimbing.blogspot.com/2013/04/deborah.html). Michael's thoughts on the feasibility of climbing in these temps parallel our own discussion and logic around the decisions we made on our trip.

Supported by the Mugs Stump Award, we had our eyes set on a steep line on Hayes' 2000m East face that was primarily North and East facing, intending to climb technical ground in single push alpine style and be out for 24-36 hours including a traverse of the mountain. With the extreme temperatures, however, discussions on strategy slowly turned from how amazing the climbing was going to be to whether we were going to be able to avoid severe cold injury during the climbing and the bivies that we now had determined would be mandatory to avoid exposure in the coldest hours of the night. 

After an initial attempt on the line was aborted in its initial phase due to unprotectable, unconsolidated overhanging snow and hypothermia, we headed back to the tent to take stock of our situation and determine a more realistic plan. 

The North and East facing climbing simply wasn't going to be receiving enough sun to be feasible in the temperatures that we were experiencing. Alternately doubting our chutzpah and considering a vaguely suicidal high commitment attempt, we turned our attention to a possible consolation prize on the sunnier Southeast face. 

Going to sleep in the evening, I was excited for the prospect of doing some more climbing in the beautiful and remote Hayes range, even if it was going to be more moderate. In the evening and throughout the night, however, Ryan remained awake the entire night coughing. When I roused him at around 6:30am to launch, he continued coughing and was unable to eat. He considered launching with me regardless but we both agreed that such a plan was at the very least imprudent and would possibly compound the already present issues of extreme cold and altitude we would encounter on the face. After a brief discussion, I posed the possibility of him resting while I walked over to the face to consider a solo attempt. After 45 minutes of deliberation and more time cooking a big breakfast I was on my way out of camp and walking over to the face. 

A couple hours later I had completed the approach to the base of the face, geared up, and entered moving the moving meditation mode I typically experience when soloing. When I crossed the 'schrund I had divided the face into three sections; (1) a lower snow apron, (2) an hourglass shaped icefield topped by a steep rock wall, and (3) steeper alpine ice finish. Routeline taken indicated in photo below (2030m of relief), with climbing to around AI3 M3 along the way.


It turns out that the line I took parallels a line completed by Tom Walter and John Bauman in 1988 to approximately 2/3 height. There, the lines separate with the Walter-Bauman traversing right to gain the ridge at a lower point while my ascent heads direct from the mid-face icefield to the summit ridge. Essentially, this is a minor variation to the Walter-Bauman, as far as I know the first solo of the face.


Nearing the top of the lower third of the face.


Levi's Bump (9800 ft) from the Southeast face. It turns out that Ryan skied up glacier to watch me climb for a couple hours and said I was moving fast.


My lonely tracks just after exiting the hourglass shaped icefield at about the 2/3 mark.


Moffit and Shand from my third food/water stop. Things started clouding up, which was a mixed blessing. The clouds brought less extreme cold, but this was accompanied by moderate snowfall and a loss of visibility. 


Hayes' South summit from the upper mountain. The building cloud you can see ended up turning into snowfall and deposited about 8 inches of new snow in basecamp by the time Ryan and I awoke to prep to fly out the next day. 


Finally, flat-ish ground. And its been snowing for the past 2 hours. Time to change clothes, hit the summit, and start the 2000+m descent of the extremely crevassed East Ridge in quickly dropping temps. To all those who say that solo climbing only yields two kinds of photos, scenery and self-portaits, take that - you can also take pictures of your own gear. 


In the white room on the summit of Hayes (13,832 ft/4216m). I also visited here in 2010 with Ryan Hokanson via a moderate new line on the West face. So far, three of my four climbs in the Hayes have been accompanied by inclement weather. Here are links to my 2010 trip with Ryan Hokanson, and my 2009 trip with Matt Klick. Following this, I returned to my backpack and began the rest of my descent of the crevassed East ridge of Hayes in deteriorating weather. As often happens, the descent was the crux of my personal experience due to the darkness, snow, crevasses, icy downclimbing segments, and all that time on the go.

Of the many crevasses I encountered on the East ridge of Hayes, this was among the last as I neared Levi's bump and the last portion of my descent back to the Trident. The final segment of the descent was in the pitch black with snowfall to boot. I had to trust my instincts as I completed my onsight descent of the East ridge and struggled around on the glacier in search of basecamp - the sight of Ryan's headlamp as he came to find me on the glacier after 18 hours on the go in such severe temps was welcome to say the least.


A short video with a few reflections from my time alone on the Southeast face. I am happy Ryan and I were able to salvage something from our trip! Thanks to our friends and family, the Mugs Stump award, Black Diamond, Arc'Teryx, Sterling Ropes, GU Energy Labs, and Alaskan Brewing for their support of our climbing ventures. 

2 comments:

  1. How did you get to the base of the Climb? Plane? On Foot? I am heading up in May to do the East Ridge and am working on logistics.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry for the delay Robert! I never saw your comment. Plane, TAT, Wing Air, Golden Eagle will all take you there.

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