2015 New Routes and Significant Repeat Ascents
Researched and Compiled by Denali Mountaineering Ranger Mark Westman
The 2015 Alaska Range climbing season saw a subdued number of new routes established in the range in comparison to 2014. The weather, as usual, was inconsistent and kept climbers waiting and guessing, but there were several opportunistic groups able to utilize the stretches of favorable weather that did materialize. These groups were able to bag some good new lines as well as some significant repeat ascents.
On Denali, the early season was stormy and brutal, with near-constant, strong southerly winds above 14,000 feet, along with several heavy snowfalls, conditions which frustrated teams throughout the month of May. By May 27, only three climbers had successfully reached the summit of Denali, the first of which was winter soloist Lonnie DuPre.
Dupre reached the summit on January 11, becoming the first person to solo the mountain in the month of January. This was Dupre's fourth attempt, dating to 2010, to solo the mountain during the darkest, and often coldest, part of the winter season. Dupre flew onto the mountain on December 18. Much of his time on the lower mountain featured stormy weather as Alaska was under the influence of an unusually mild and wet pattern for that time of the year. Although January is typically one of coldest months of the year, by the time Dupre was ready to move to the upper mountain, the relatively mild temperatures- which were cold by any standard nonetheless- continued. At the same time, a period of stable weather largely devoid of the typically ferocious winter winds settled over the mountain. Dupre took advantage of this pattern and spent only two nights at high camp, grabbing the summit, and descending quickly to lower altitudes before the usually fearsome winds and weather could close back in.
Two acclimatized climbers reached the summit during a brief mid-May lull in the winds, by climbing to the top in a long day from 14,000 feet. During the first four weeks of May, they would be the only persons able to reach the summit. In fact, the high winds were so continuous that they discouraged many teams from even reaching high camp during this period. It wasn't until the last days of the month that a stretch of good weather finally arrived and the upper mountain became more hospitable for teams to make their attempts. In mid-June, the arrival of a very strong and warm high pressure system allowed a large number of climbers to reach the summit. During this window, Jewell Lund and Chantel Astorga made a five day ascent of the Denali Diamond (Alaska Grade 6, AI5+, M6, A1), a difficult and high quality testpiece on the southwest face of Denali. Lund and Astorga's ascent marks the first all-female ascent of an Alaska Grade 6 route, and also marks only the 7th ascent of this iconic climbing route.
From March 20 to 22, a new route was established on the northeast face of Mount Dickey in the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier. John Frieh, Jason Stuckey, and Chad Diesinger threaded their way through an icefall, negotiated an ice smear up a granite slab, then followed a narrow snow ramp diagonaling up and across the intimidating face to reach a complex, time-consuming exit hampered by deep, unconsolidated snow. Upon reached the plateau, they continued up to the summit and then descended the standard west face route through 747 pass to return to their camp in the Ruth Gorge, after over 48 hours on the go. They named their route "Blue Collar Beatdown" and its difficulties are graded V, WI4, M4, with snow to 65 degrees.
From May 2 to May 7, Alik Berg and Skiy DeTray made an ascent of a new and very direct route up the enormous east face of the Mooses Tooth. "Illusions of the Raven" (VI, WI4R, 5.9, A4) follows an uncompromising line directly up the largest part of the east face, just to the right of "Bird of Prey", another very difficult route established in 2013 by Austrians David Lama and Dani Arnold. Berg and DeTray spent 6 days on the face and completed the final section of the route in a 50 hour continuous push, with another 27 hours required to rappel the route and return to their camp. The 5000 foot route is without question the most difficult and sustained new route completed in the park this season.
On May 1, Jack Cramer and Carter Stritch completed a new route on Peak 7,400', which is the prominent point just north of the formation known as "London Bridge" on the east side of the Ruth Gorge. Their route, "Pastime Paradise", climbs through mixed terrain on the upper southwest face of the mountain. The route was completed in 14 hours round trip from the glacier and was given the grade of III, 5.8, 50 degree snow, and involved a vertical gain of 3,000 feet.
On May 11, Cramer and Stritch completed another new line in the Gorge. This route is located on an unnamed point (approximately 5,850' elevation) located immediately south of Hut Tower at the southern end of the Ruth Gorge. Their route follows a serpentine course up a couloir system on the formation's southwest face. The route features a blend of rock and thin ice climbing, with some detours to avoid unprotectable sections of ice in the couloir, and finished with a corniced ridge to reach the western summit of the peak. The descent used involved two rappels to reach the straightforward snow couloir separating this peak from Hut Tower. They named the 1,800 foot route "Triple Wannabe Couloirs" and graded it 5.7, WI4.
Over on the Kahiltna Glacier, on May 18, climbers JD Merritt and Brett Backey climbed a major variation to the north couloir of the Mini-Moonflower, one of the classic climbs of the area. Merritt and Backey climbed an obvious gully and ramp system to the left of the north couloir. This began with easy ice climbing for 200 meters followed by 85 degree ice through a runnel, then a rising rightward traverse. Vertical downclimbing over a snow rib provided access back into the final pitches of the standard north couloir route. While it is possible that this obvious feature was climbed previously, Merritt and Backey's ascent of this line is the first one to be publicly reported. At the end of May, Merritt, along with Kurt Ross, also made what was likely the fifth ascent of the difficult Grison-Tedeschi route (aka North Buttress "French" Couloir) on the north buttress of Mount Hunter, reaching the summit and descending the mountain's west ridge. Only one other team succeeded in reaching the summit of Hunter by way of the north buttress;in early May, Jimmy Voorhis, Peter Mamrol, and Jeffrey Longcor climbed the iconic Bibler-Klewin route (aka "Moonflower") and descended the west ridge. Warm conditions in mid and late May resulted in much falling debris on the buttress and caused many teams to abandon their attempts.
On May 19, Tim Blakemore and Kichatna/Alaska veteran Mike "Twid" Turner, both from Britain, established a new route on North Triple Peak in the remote Kichatna Spires. "No Country for Old Men" follows the broad northwest couloir up ice for six leads before branching left and tackling a series of steep, thin, and difficult ice smears leading into a gully with moderate and enjoyable ice climbing. A hard exit through a cornice capped this quality 17 pitch route, which was graded ED, WI6.
In the Ruth Glacier's west fork, Seth Timpano, Sam Hennessey, and Willis Brown established two new routes during the month of May. The trio climbed a new route up the west face of "Reality Peak" (Pt. 13,100'), a significant point which is also the junction of Denali's Reality Ridge and Southeast Spur routes. Timpano, along with Jared Vilhauer and Jens Holsten, had established another new route on the east face of Reality Peak back in 2013. This year's route featured sustained grade 3 to grade 4 ice climbing, with one crux lead of WI5. The trio reached the crest of Reality Ridge and after negotiating some difficult snow and cornice climbing, they reached the same bivouac site used on the 2013 ascent. They reached this point 16 hours after crossing the bergschrund. They remained in this bivouac for a full day due to inclement weather. On day three, they reached the summit of "Reality Peak" and then rappelled their route of ascent. The 4,200' route is graded M4, WI5.
Timpano, Hennessey, and Brown also climbed a couloir system on the far left side of the west face of Peak 11,300'. They reached the northwest ridge at a point just a few pitches from the summit. The final portion of the northwest ridge, which itself is unclimbed, and the summit icecap, featured difficult serac barriers and cornices, and proved very complex to navigate as the weather deteriorated into complete whiteout conditions. The team was eventually forced to retreat at what they believe was the final step to the summit. They returned to their basecamp at the foot of the mountain after 27 hours round trip. The difficulties encountered on this 3,200 foot route are graded M5, AI5.
At least two known routes exist on the west face of Peak 11,300', both of which- likely unrepeated- are located on the right hand side of the face and were established in 1982 and 1983.In 2015, Timpano, Hennessey, and Brown found an old chock and carabiner rappel anchor part way up their line of ascent, but saw no other signs of prior visitation. No record of any prior ascent or attempt of this line exists, so it is unknown if the party who left the anchor completed this line to the summit.