Updated: May 7, 2020
Following my one-hang of Moonlight, I felt that success was in reach. I returned to Bozeman with Zion in the front of my mind. Nic had volunteered to help me give it another burn, so I called him up and plans were formed to make a "little" detour on the way back to California. We met up the night before and I sprayed Nic down with all the beta, including how to belay from above (as this would be one of his first multi pitches). We cruised right up to the crux and promptly got shut down 5 times. The heat, the humidity and, most importantly, the difficulty shut me down. We bailed.
The next day we picked up what was left of our crushed egos and cragged at the Hurricave, only to have them pulverized into dust that blew away in the light Utah breeze. In need of some relaxation, we visited a nearby lake only to have a run in with some State Troopers- that's a story for another time, however.
Looking out from the back of the Hurricave
We split ways after a hearty meal at In N Out and I drove straight to California. Upon arrival, I found out that I had a buyer for my van in Montana... After some shenanigans, the van was paid off, driven halfway across the country, and sold. With the Alaska trip only a few days away, I was scrambling to get something set up for my return. I found myself talking to Mercedes Dealers across the state and a good deal popped up. All of the sudden I had an empty van in my hands...
The last road trip (with me) for Le Papillon
With all this on my plate, I still had a trip up the Captain planned with my friend Vivek. We rallied Lurking Fear in a few days. It was a ton of fun climbing the West side of El Cap and the Thanksgiving ledge bivy was all time. Vivek roasts his own coffee and makes freeze dried dinners, so we indulged in the best meals I've ever had on El Cap.
One of the final pitches on Lurking Fear
Almost immediately after Yosemite I took off to Anchorage where I met the boys. Ian, Nate, Ryan, and Matias picked me up in their U Haul van and we went to work grabbing supplies from Costco, Walmart, and REI. After spending way too much money, we settled in to a homemade dinner at our friend's place in town. Many thanks to the Hess family for the Alaskan welcoming!
From left to right: me, Nate, Ryan, Ian, and Matias
We cruised up to Talkeetna and checked in with our respective flight providers. During this process, we were asked to provide a team name. Ian wrote our initials down and team RAMIN was born. RAMIN' was sharpied on all of our weighed out bags and totes- we could fly at any moment. Little did we know, this would be the case for five more days.
Killing time at the airport
Photo courtesy of Ryan
Team selfie, courtesy of Ian
We killed time organizing and reorganizing gear while talking to climbers who had just come out of the range. Apparently this season had some particularly awful weather, meriting the nickname "year of the shovel". Finally on the fifth day, we flew in. I was beyond ecstatic to ride shotgun as this was my first time in a small airplane since my dad flew them when I was a kid. Seeing the range from the air was incredible and our psych was high.
Our first view of Denali
The mid-50s Otter that we flew in
We set up camp in clear weather and made plans for the next day. Our friend Dane was on the North Buttress and appeared to be moving well through the scopes. Although he bailed later that evening, the conditions looked good and the bootpack must be set in.
Setting up camp with the N Buttress of Hunter above and behind the tents
Gear sprawl in preparation (photo by Ryan)
All of us took off at 4 am, with enough gear (a tent, stove, and no sleeping bags) for two bivys. Our friends Jackson and Wyatt were a few pitches above when we crossed the 'schrund. Ryan and Matias split right to try Deprivation while Nate ran out the rope above me and Ian on the Mugs start. We made slow progress due to a blown in bootpack. There was little ice on the route and much of the rock was well covered by snow, making the short sections mixed climbing more difficult.
Matias traversing steep snow at the base
Belaying Nate on the Mugs start (photo by Ian)
Ian cruising on the Mugs start
By 3 pm, we were traversing to Nate at the base of the prow where he snapped his crampon bail. Fortunately for us, Jackson and Wyatt happened to be bailing and offered Nate a crampon. I took the prow and scratched my way up, finally climbing technical terrain in Alaska.
Awkward belay stance at the scene of Nate's crampon failure (photo by Ian)
The Prow (photo by Ian)
My elation was short lived as by the time I got to the anchor, it was snowing very heavily. We weighed our options and talked Ian out of bivying on the vertical terrain we were at. The rappels took way too long as the ice on the normal start was not in condition. The "spindrift" got increasingly forceful, but soon we were back at our skis. We returned to camp with our tails between our legs.
Beginning our rappels
Hours later after a few mistakes (photo by Ian)
The next five or six days consisted of bad weather but good times. A few of us were fighting a cold, but our friend Matt arrived randomly with even more alcohol. The next climbing day Ian and I partnered up to climb Bacon and Eggs, a classic ice route that is sometimes called the "mini mini moonflower" because it is overshadowed by it's two neighbors.
Another shot of the crew, this time with Matt included (photo by Ryan)
We scoped what we thought was bacon and took off. As Ian was leading the first pitch, Nate skied by the base and commented that he thought the route was to the left of us. With this in mind, I took off on the second pitch angling left. We got to a rock band after 200+ meters of beautiful ice. Unsure of where the route went, I took off on some mixed terrain. Soon I was standing in makeshift aiders trying to ascend a crack with 2 cams. After a few other attempts to surmount the rock band, we decided this was not the classic ice climb that was described at camp. With Ian's cold in mind, we rappelled.
More days went by; full of skiing, reading, rummy and rest. We even won a few of the trivia questions on the nightly forecast. Matt eventually flew out, leaving us with some of his gear (thanks for the down booties!). At some point, the halfway mark of our trip passed and we began to realize that we needed to be very optimistic if anything was going to get done.
Standard scene in the cook tent
Gear drying between attempts (photo by Ian)
Lots of rummy
Never a dull moment (photo by Ian)
Soon we made plans to climb in marginal weather, disregarding the forecast completely. Psych was through the roof as we geeked out over our rack and calorie count for each day. We cached our gear at the based of the North Buttress with high hopes..
Our alarms went off at 12:30 am, but we were already up. For once the forecast was correct and it had snowed all night. My first thought is of our cache, unmarked at the base of a large alpine face. Surely its buried by now- is our trip over? We rally to the tent and pass time waiting for the snow to die down.
Two hours later, we take off onto the glacier with decreasing visibility and low expectations. As we get farther up the glacier, the snow depth increases rapidly and the temperature seems oddly warm. Soon we think we are under the face, but with no reference as to where we actually are. Visibility was down to 100 meters and the constant roar of avalanches to our sides had us arguing over our position. Were we safe?
Nate trying to get a GPS signal while Ian searches for an old skin track
Eventually we get close enough to the buttress to locate our bag, which was only visible by a grapefruit sized spot. Feeling lucky enough to get our gear, we ski back to camp. That morning I write in my journal: "chances of another attempt are quickly smothered by sound reason."
Our cache, visible only by the patch shown
Team spirits were at an all time low after the gear retrieval. We basically scrapped any attempt of trying Hunter again when Ian and Nate agreed to ski up Denali for the next two days. On the first day, I cragged with Matias and Ryan, tagging a few glorious rock pitches.
It was a little forced, but we did climb a shirts off pitch (photo by Ryan)
And another beautiful splitter with basecamp on the glacier (photo by Ryan)
The next day I teamed up with Arthur, a friend whom we met at camp, for the SE ridge of Francis. We climbed beside Ryan and Matias and had a great time in perfect weather, despite my off route crux pitches that lead to a coreshot rope...
Our detour crux pitch (my fault) (photo by Arthur Eng)
Cheesin (photo by Arthur)
Summit Selfie with Denali behind
Back at camp, Ian and Nate made plans to get on Mini Moonflower the next day. Fortunately, they welcomed me and we took off that morning. We cruised up the climb with only one mishap (a story for Nate to tell) and were relieved to rest our calves once we got back down.
Nate and Ian cruising high up the mini
With only a few days left, we weighed our flight options given the terrible forecast. Ian and Nate decided to rally Francis the next morning and then we would fly out. Incredibly, they fired the route in just over six hours. Before we knew it, we were packing up camp.
Ian and Nate on their last hoorah
After a day of waiting for a flight on the runway, we were celebrating at the Fairview Inn in Talkeetna. We all split ways the next evening with our separate flight plans.
Our dismal scene for the last days
And just like that, another trip was over. I had little time to reflect, as I went straight to work on the new van. I know that I learned a lot from those mountains and working with a larger group, despite not having climbed much. Before I knew it, I was back in Yosemite for the weekend and then driving home to Bozeman for work.
Enjoying some Coke on Big Sandy before rallying home
The new van on her maiden voyage- more to come! (Photo by Ryan)
In other news, our friend attempted Kingpin and confirmed the grade. Not too shabby for some gumbies who took off from the ground!
'Till next time.