This past May, Andres Marin and I made a short, but exhilarating expedition in to the Alaska Range. Our goal was to explore the East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier for new routes. Despite its immediate proximity from Kahiltna Base Camp in the Southeast Fork, the East Fork receives little traffic. Based off of several photographs Andres had seen from friends who had previously ventured into the area, we decided to take a look. After much reconnoitering, we found a hidden gem that we had initially overlooked.
Unseasonably warm temperatures in the Alaska Range made climbing on nearly every aspect at lower elevations questionable. Regardless, we skied past the south faces of East and West Kahiltna Peaks, Vince Andreson and Barry Blanchard established several lines in the early 2000s. South facing routes were more or less out of the question, as every steep mixed line was seemingly bare; only defined by traces of slush avalanches and rock fall. Further up glacier, we scouted Mount Andrews, which is a prominent sub peak on Denali’s South Buttress. Going Monk, established by Kelly Cordes and Jonny Copp, is the mountain’s only line, but contains well over 4,000-feet of relief. Other magnificent lines were just barely threatened by one of several large seracs that adorn the upper wall.
Pictured is Marin and Helander's ascent (red) and descent (green) of the FA of Scratch and Sniff on Mount Francis. Photo courtesy of Marin and Helander
We moved further up the glacier, but the conditions were the same. Feeling slightly disheartened, we skied back to our camp under the East Ridge col of Mount Francis. Temperatures were so warm that it didn’t even freeze at night. As we weighed our next move, we looked at the snaking hoards undulating up the well-worn trail of Denali’s West Buttress. Suddenly, I found myself tracing a line up a rocky buttress on the north side of Mount Francis. Although significantly shorter than any line we were hoping to climb, it seemed like a worthy consolation and a fun day out.
The next morning, we left at the leisurely hour of 11 a.m. and began climbing a deep wallow in slush over the schrund and enjoyed some simul-climbing up a right-trending snow ledge lead to a weakness in the first steep rock band. Andres lead an amazing 65 meter pitch up a steep corner and then up a wide left-facing chimney that required an array of techniques, including placing both feet against the opposite wall and moving into an almost completely horizontal body position.
Almost every pitch contained some kind of technical 5-to-15-meter crux section of engaging M5/6 climbing. Just as one option closed, another opened. As the sun set, we found ourselves near the top, but the climbing remained stiff. After about nine hours, we topped out on the pointed buttress. Several rappels on rock gear led to an easy descent down an adjacent ice gully where, after eleven 65-meter rappels we crossed the schrund.
Photo courtesy of Marin and Helader
The next morning we skied back to Kahiltna base camp and concluded that conditions were not ideal for further pursuits. Regardless, we both left with a feeling of joy and accomplishment. While we were unable to attempt any of the intimidating and challenging 4000-foot climbs we had planned on, we discovered that big things come in small packages. Our new route Scratch and Sniff (IV/V M6 5.8 1200') on Stubbs’ Buttress (named in honor of Talkeetna’s world famous cat mayor) contained twelve pitches of incredible climbing on a previously untouched feature, less than two hours from Kahilta Base Camp.
Andres and I have been friends for the better part of a decade. We first met in 2005 while working on Mount Rainier. In the wake of the Liberty Ridge tragedy (where we both lost our good friend Eitan Greene), we felt truly satisfied to share a wonderful day on a steep face together, relishing the exquisite climbing almost as much as the reaffirmed friendship.
This was the appreciation from the media about Sean's ascent of Bridalveil Falls.
Here is the ROCK and ICE report and also a very cool video that The Denver Post made. Also, a cool blog that one of my favorite sponsors PETZL did about our climb. Last but not least, here is the recount that MILLET did.
I had the great opportunity to climb Bridailveil Falls WI5+/6 with Sean ONeil.
He became the first Paraplegic to climb the falls and to climb the hardest ice climb that a paraplegic has climbed.
Sean has a very impressive climbing resume with 3 ascents of El Capitan, an ascent of half dome, amongst many other big rock climbs.
For me, climbing with Sean was one of the most inspirational things that I have wittnessed and something that I will always be thankful for.
This awesome adventure would not have been possible without the help and support of: Paradox Sports, Timmy ONeil, Leon Davis, Kevin Zeichmann, Dan Sohner, Pete Davis, Ben Clark, Dane Cronin, Kirk Williams, Hellen Davis, Abbott (snow machine expert) and off course PETZL, MILLET, BLUE WATER ROPES, GU, JULBO, FIVETEN.
Thanks a ton!!!!!
Here Sean is explaining me his new system. We are soooooo stoked to climb and see how it works....
At the base of the route contemplating our climb Bridailveil WI5+/6, one of the most iconic ice climbs in USA, maybe in the World too!!!!
Working out last minute details before heading out to climb the first part of the falls.
Let the climb begin, all sorts of rope systems we had to use. Basically, we used big wall ice climbing techniques.
Time for Sean to try out his new ice climbing system. That blue ice was very hard to penetrate, but it was very awesome for the eyes :)
Mid way up the route Sean is climbing like a machine, the ascent was recorded for a movie that a very prestigious outdoor film making firm is going to make. The short film will be out and in all the major outdoor film festivals.
Last moves before reaching the top of the climb. By that time our effort, especially Sean's is 110%.
Sean it is super stoked about his accomplishment. Check out that awesome smile!!!!!
I been using this rope and I juts love it. Not only works just for climbing but also for all kinds of stuff including my laundry system!!!!
BLUEWATER calls it the ROPE CAULDRON. Once again BW just kicking ass with another great product.
It is totally collapsible for transportation. Once deploy, it has room not only for the rope but whatever else you like to put inside. Also contains 3 gear loops and a zipper pocket.