The Rumor of Haley and the Moonflower Buttress

On Sunday, I saw a Tweet saying that Colin Haley had soloed the vast majority of the Moonflower Buttress on Mount Hunter in the central Alaska Range. I got excited immediately. The word came from the John Frieh. That’s credible. John wouldn’t post news he didn’t think was untrue.

A short while later Frieh posted a correction; it wasn’t Moonflower — the route made by legendary alpinist Mugs Stump on the toughest wall in the Alaska Range — but it was indeed a solo on Mount Hunter’s North Buttress. According to the updated Tweet, Haley came to within about 300 meters of the summit. Stump didn’t go to the true summit either, for the record.

This is exciting because it hasn’t been verified yet. And it’s Wednesday night now when I am writing this! We live in a time when a plane crashes, everyone knows about it. Twenty-four hour news alerts us and our friends. Twitter travels faster than sound too, it seems. News is inescapable.

But news from remote ranges (at least other than Everest and El Chalten) news still travels slowly. Like before Twitter, on-demand TV, and speed internet. Well, maybe not quite, but you get the idea.

Compare the Central Alaska Range (other than Denali basecamp and it’s West Buttress route, of course) to news from Mooses Tooth, the “Moonflower” wall, or Mount Huntington: Recently on Mount Everest we saw how the news trickled out from Mount Everest a few weeks ago where 10 climbers died. However, the town of Mount Everest Basecamp (unincorporated) is wired. While I don’t know the quality, phones and Internet are available in some format. Getting news is simply (as if anything is simple) a matter of passing radio messages from up high to Basecamp, Khumbu, Nepal. From there someone will be happy to email, Tweet or update their blog with your information.

So why hasn’t more news come forward about Colin Haley’s attempt? My guess is that Haley is probably exhausted in camp, or climbing something else, or trying again. He doesn’t tend to sit still for long.

But there is also the matter of how inconvenient it is to get word from his location to the rest of the world. Some other unconfirmed news has it that Haley descended with a group of Japanese climbers. If so, we may have received word of his work from them.

All of this speculation and skepticism reminds me of golf. I played a round of golf on Friday with some work colleagues as part of a charity tournament. It was up to us to record our strokes accurately. What was to stop one of us from claiming we had a lower score on a hole? It’s about honesty and honor, really. But there is credibility too. It’s unlikely that I would be putting down a string of birdies. People know my handicap.

In Haley’s case, most of us know his track record. It’s Stump-esque. And if he turned around about 300 meters from the top, I’m sure it was tougher than what 99 percent of climbers today could do.

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Weekend Alpinism and a New Patron Saint

This Memorial Day weekend tested my New Year’s resolution to not complain so much about the heat and humidity in Peaklessburg. This was tough since it was consistently about 90(F)/32(C) and very humid. If you were in the cooler mountain air — even if the conditions were cloudy or rainy — remember, I think you had it made!

If you are a weekend warrior, you know these three-day weekends are great. You can get out there in between work and have an extra day to go farther or perhaps add a recovery day before returning to the 9:00-to-5:00 grind. Still, escaping responsibilities of family and friends, let alone work, can be difficult. I keep thinking of what alpinist David Burdick said in the Smash and Grab video: “Our life windows are shorter than our weather windows.”

This particularly rings true for a weekend alpinist, where high, steep, snow and ice routes mixed with blue skies are sought but often do not coincide with the free times when we don’t have to be there for plumbing repairs, graduations, and family quality time — the things that often can’t be rearranged on the schedule. This also makes me admire John Frieh all the more. Let me explain…

Burdick, Frieh and partner Zac West made a weekend dash from Seattle to southeast Alaska on the Stikine Ice Cap to attempt of Burkett Needle near Devil’s Thumb. It was a first ascent to boot that they named Repeat Offender (IV 5.9 AI3 M5).

You’d expect that on an ascent like this, two days before they topped out, that they would be climbing, waiting out weather in a camp somewhere or at least hanging around a tarmac for the weather to clear so their plane could taxi them to base camp. Nope, they were home, in Seattle able to sleep in their own beds, and in the case of Frieh, with his family. They went from home to summit and back in three days!

Compare Frieh to Ed Viesturs. While a lot of aspiring climbers with family have admired Viesturs for his balance (better word might be arrangement, really, since balance doesn’t always necessitate a 50/50 split) with his family over the place climbing plays in his life, I think John Frieh could be the new contemporary role model here. Frieh has a family and works a full-time job in the Pacific Northwest. He’s consistently a part of establishing challenging first ascents in some great locations in Alaska and he works a “real” full-time job as an engineer and he is a husband and father.

While Viesturs worked as a veterinarian and then a carpenter when he wasn’t climbing, he was essentially a full-time professional climber by the time his children arrived, where work was guiding, giving slide shows and planning the logistics for the next ascent. I don’t know what kind of support or agreement Frieh has from his family, but he’s fortunate to have his family and be able to explore some of the most amazing mountaineering challenges today.

On a related note, one of my good friends Chris McGurn — a solid guy all around — got out this weekend with panache. On Saturday, he took a plane as a passenger to several thousand feet above the Virginia countryside, looked out the window and took the express way down with some friends. I’m really glad he got to jump and for the support he got from his wonderful wife! (And by the way, there is no jealousy here; I would have preferred the long way down and a wait on the tarmac before getting to the terminal, like usual.)

I’m also really glad the chute opened and that he didn’t bust an ankle on contact with earth. He’s my climbing partner for a rare day at the gym next month!

Well, thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ’em!

New Challenges in the Alaska Range

I woke extra early this morning unwillingly. It is, after all, Friday the 13th. My back spasms woke me and I went downstairs so I didn’t bother Edelweiss with any more tossing and turning. Sitting at my laptop (or rather not lying down) usually helps the pain go away.

That’s when I came across a delightful comment from Leland Anderson. This was his announcement: “Clint Helander et al have Crucified Golgotha.”

If it was true, it had to be verified somehow. It was at least believable.

The Easter Story talks of Jesus going to Golgotha — which means place of the skull — to be crucified before rising from the dead. Golgotha  (8,940 ft./2,725 m.) is  also what alpinist David Roberts named one of the most significant challenges in the Revelation Mountains in the Alaska Range, which all the peak names relate to the Bible. In Climbing magazine issue 299, Roberts wrote about his 1967 pioneering expedition to the sub-mountain range of the Alaska Range. There he confessed that he had been keeping the opportunity of Golgotha a secret ever since.

Roberts’ article became a challenge to Clint Helander, Scotty Vincik and Mark Westman. They applied for and won a Mugs Stump Grant Award to help them in their desire to attempt the unclimbed east face.

The claim was verified: According to Clint Helander’s Facebook post on April 12, 2012, he and his two partners attempted the east face but were turned back twice due to spindrift. The weather conditions were reported as being “horrible.” and were estimated to reach 70 miles per hour. The team did much simul-climbing over mixed terrain on an alternate route — not the east face in clear profile, unfortunately, rather “around the southeast face.” I am looking forward to hearing more details about this soon. Perhaps we might get it on Helander’s blog, Higher Dreams.

I share this mainly because I suspect that Golgotha may be a popular new calling for progressive alpinists climbing in Alaska. I think this may be the case in part because of the legend Roberts help create, the affirming information that seems to be coming from Helander and because the east face has yet to be climbed. That could be the second ascent. Could it happen this season? Hard to tell since it is my understanding that getting to the Revelations is especially difficult even by bush plane.

While the Gogotha first ascent is the most significant news to me, I also shared exciting news on the Facebook page news of John Frieh and Doug Shepherd made a new route up the unclimbed northeast face of Mount Dickey (9,545 ft./2,909 m.), also in the Alaska Range, along the Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier. The line they climbed is a 5,000-foot route they named No Such Things as a Bargain Promise (VI A0 WI5R M6). Check out the route here at Alpinist.

The season in Alaska is certainly underway, and it’s only the middle of April.

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook orTwitter. Happy reading and carpe climb ‘em!

Sources: 1) Clint Helander’s Facebook Page, post dated April 12, 2012; 2) 2) Roberts, David, On the Ridge Between Life and Death, Simon and Schuster, 2005; 3) Alpinist Newswire on Mugs Stump Award; and 4) Alpinist Newswire on Mount Dickey route.