The Northwest Spur of Mount Hunter Alaska

The Northwest Spur is a regular magical mystery tour, with all sorts of fine problems, from snow aretes to cornices to ice cliffs to mixed climbing on the Triangle Face. Although it is not particularly difficult in modern terms, it is the steepest of the major ridges on the north and west sides of Mount Hunter, rising directly above the "Kahiltna International" glacier landing strip, the jumping-off point for south-side Denali expeditions. It has been an obvious challenge for a couple of generations of climbers. A very fit twosome traveling without bivouac gear could make the round trip climb up and down from base camp to summit in a long Alaskan day, which would be a way to keep the commitment level on this climb very high. Most people will choose the more conservative compromise, however, of bringing adequate bivouac gear and food,- this will cause them to move slower and force them to make at least one or two bivouacs. In any case, the Northwest Spur offers thousands of feet of enjoyable, rapid movement on varied angles of ice and snow, with a few more difficult pitches to break up the rhythm. Location: Mount Hunter rises out of the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier (the normal landing site for west- and south-side Denali climbs) in the Alaska Range.

First Ascent: George Lowe III and Mike Kennedy, July 1976

201 ▼ The Northwest Spur of Mount Hunter, Alaska

Mount Hunter Alaska
lope: Rithard Rossiter

Elevation Gain: About 7,000 feet Difficulty: Grade VI, AI5, M4

Time: 3 to 4 days round trip from base camp at the "Kahiitna International" landing strip

Mount Hunter Photos

George Lowe III and Mike Kennedy on tbe Triangle Face of Mount Hunter

(Photo: Jeff Lowe)

Equipment: Eight or ten ice screws, a handful of rock pitons and nuts, a couple of deadmen, snow shovel, full bivi gear (optional), map, and compass

Season: May to August (has been climbed in winter}

Comments: The Northwest Spur of Mount Hunter is technically the easiest of the climbs highlighted in this book. It is still a big Alaskan route, though, with all the attendant hazards of avalanches, cornices, storms, and route finding, which maintain the climbing interest and challenge. If you want a state-of-the-art modern climb, do the North Buttress, or the slightly easier Moonflower Buttress variation, on the rocky pillar three-quarters of a mile further to the left of the Northwest Spur.

Approach: Fly from Talkeetna (50 miles away,- flying time, 30 minutes), or drive to Petersville and ski or snowshoe up the Kahiltna Glacier for 5 or 6 days to reach the southeast fork.

Route: Cross the bergschrund to the left of the toe of the spur (This minimizes exposure to ice cliffs that hang on the right side of the spur.) After 300 or 400 feet, skirt a rock band by way of a short gully on the right, then angle back up and left until the crest of the spur is met. Follow this until you encounter a seraclike obstacle at about the 1,500-foot level. A pitch or two of steep climbing (A13) on the right side leads to easier cruising for 1,000 feet up a trough

203 ▼ Keystone Green Steps, Valdez, Alaska

Keystoee Oreen Steps

{Photo: Jeff Lorn)

between seracs on the crest of the spur, which is now quite broad and ill-defined. This section ends at the 2,500-foot level in a large, very low-angle area below the Triangle Face. A good camp or bivouac could be made here. Climb directly up 45* to 60° (A13) ice for about twelve pitches to the top of the Triangle Face (there are two or three pitches of mixed climbing near the top, M4), At this point a heavily corniced and extremely steep-sided ridge leads 300 feet horizontally back from the top of the face to the base of the ice cliff that bars access to the summit snow slopes. This is the crux of the climb (Al4—5) and involves several intricate pitches of weaving in and out among the cornices and sometimes traversing the very hard 80° ice on one side of the ridge or the other, (A shovel is useful for removing some of the smaller cornices.) From this point the first ascent party discovered a moderate ramp leading through the ice cliff, above which there is 2,000 feet of snow slogging to the base of the final summit pyramid. The summit is climbed via a prominent ridge on the southwest side. (The route here corresponds with the West Ridge climb.)

Descent: Follow the West Ridge route down to the Kahiltna Glacier and walk the 3 or 4 miles around to the landing site on the southeast fork. The trickiest route finding on this descent occurs after you have come down from about 14,000 feet to the point where the summit ice cap meets the West Ridge. (This is a narrow spot with huge ice cliffs on either side and is very hard to locate in a whiteout. Therefore it might be worth taking bearings and distances from a map at the summit before descending.) At any rate, once you have gotten onto the ridge, follow it all the long way down to the glacier. This main ridge runs almost due west,-care should be taken not to accidentally follow one of the sub-ridges in another direction, The descent is extremely long and requires considerable moderate down-climbing and care in dealing with cornices.

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