On March 25, Clint Helander and Andres Marin stood on top of Golgotha (8,940′) in Alaska’s Revelation Range after completing the first ascent of Shaft of the Abyss (VI AI5 R M5 90? Snow A0, ca. 4,000′). They had previously attempted the route three times together in 2016, 2017 and 2018, reaching a high point about halfway up in 2017 with Leon Davis before a crampon broke.
A Slovenian team made it nine pitches up in 2019 but was turned around by deteriorating conditions. Janez Svoljsak and Miha Zupin subsequently reached the top by an easier new route on the right side of the east face.
Helander’s April 5 Instagram post reads:
Fourteen years ago, Seth Holden and I stared westward at this sinister black mass of stone and ice during our first expedition to Alaska’s remote Revelation Mountains. We gazed from afar as the sun set behind the unclimbed Golgotha, casting its east face into a mesmerizing blackness. The pact was made: someday, Golgotha would be our cumulative masterpiece, after other efforts gave us the ability and confidence to attempt its stunning Direct East Face.
Seth died in a plane crash in 2010, but I have carried his memory and our collective vision with me on each of my 12 expeditions to this secluded and wondrous range. Our shared dream of completing this goal has occupied a dark recess in my dreams and nightmares.
David Roberts and five of his cohorts were the first to visit the Revelations in 1967. Of Golgotha’s east face, he once told me “I remember walking under it in 1967 and thinking it was a route for the next generation, or the next.” Numerous times throughout the past fourteen years, I’ve wondered if he was right about the end of his statement….
In 2016, Andres and I almost died in an avalanche in a narrow cirque below Golgotha we called the Misfit Glacier. Our base camp was destroyed by the avalanche and we were caught as we ran for our lives. In 2017, we returned with Leon Davis and made it halfway up our route before a broken crampon forced our retreat. 2018 was too snowy and we didn’t even get to try the route.
Finally, on March 25, 2022, Andres and I stood on top of Golgotha after completing the vision that defined so much of our lives. The climbing proved even more challenging than we could have imagined, but those quantitative details were overshadowed by feelings of gratitude and completion. Thank you, [Andres Marin] for your friendship. I hope Seth would be proud.
Marin’s Instagram post on April 5 reads in part:
While belaying Clint from the summit, I couldn’t contain my tears of happiness and gratitude. Golgotha had provided us with a safe passage up and ultimately down back to flat ground.
I can’t express the huge sentiment of gratitude that I have for my climbing partner and all the people that year after year helped us to have another visit to this beautiful place! You know who you are and I want to thank you from the depth of my heart!! You all were with us in every step of the climb….
After Helander spotted the line with Holden in 2008, they returned to investigate in 2010 shortly before Holden’s death. Helander didn’t try the line until 2012 with Ben Trocki; they bailed on their primary goal but completed the first ascent of the peak. In the 2013 American Alpine Journal, Helander wrote:
From base camp, Golgotha…presents few climbable options; however, a recon several years earlier unveiled several potential routes on its 3,700′ east face. Ben and I focused on a shaft that cleaves the east face like the crease of an open book, never more than two meters wide. On our first attempt, we were cast out by spindrift and deteriorating weather. However, before returning to base camp we decided to salvage our attempt and traversed up a couloir that wraps around to the southwest face. Several moderate pitches (5.7) were made harder by 80 mph gusts that threatened to rip us from the mountain. However, the summit was within our grasp, so we continued upward as the blizzard welded our eyes shut with ice. After tagging the summit, we retraced our steps and descended the couloir, reaching our advanced camp after 17 hours on the go.
Helander and Marin ultimately descended that route after completing Shaft of the Abyss on March 25.
During the ascent, they spent their first night at a sheltered bivy cave that they had found in 2017. On Day 2, they surmounted a free-hanging icicle that presented one of the main cruxes. Helander took a short lead fall while climbing out of a hole he’d chopped through a curtain of ice. He described it to Alpinist in an email:
I took a small lead fall pulling the crux of the runnel. I had chopped a window through a curtain of ice and had been bashing away snow for a long time. My right leg was hooked inside this window, which gave me a lot of security. I had a few cams nested together and it was time to work up and to the right of a free hanging dagger of ice. When I pulled my right leg out of the window, it really hit me how steep this bulge/ice dagger was. I had to bash away at more snow in search of tool placements and I took about a meter-long fall that sucked Andres, who was inside the cave, into the ice wall. After a point of aid, I was able to carefully move onto, and then around, the ice dagger until I could find rock pro and then snice for a much-needed breather.
Marin then took over the sharp end for a 170-meter block of simul-climbing up ice and neve. After another pitch of ice, the pair spent the night on a shallow ledge chopped into the slope. The technical difficulties persisted for five more pitches on Day 3, letting up just below the summit.
Their effort was far from over, however. Anyone reading through trip reports from the Revelation Range will notice a theme: strong winds. Base camps are regularly ripped apart and filled in with snow. Helander and Marin have dealt with this misfortune a few times, and this trip was no different. After descending the mountain, they packed up a small camp on the Misfit Glacier and surmounted a pass to return to their main base camp, only to discover it had been demolished. Helander explained:
Basically, there was a massive wind event while we were on route. We knew it was windy up high in the jet stream, but we didn’t think it was doing much on the glaciers. We scarcely had any wind on us during the climb, but that was likely due to the aspect we were on. We think the wind came from the southwest and we were on an eastern aspect. Anyways, upon returning to camp at 11 p.m., we only saw one tent and a glacier that was completely scoured down to sastrugi and boilerplate snow. Our big dome kitchen tent was gone and all that remained was the completely filled-in pit. Fuel bottles, stoves and remnants were covered with snow and we hoped all our important items had been blown into the pit and then covered with snow, which they had (including $15,000 worth of camera gear, stoves, shovels, food and whiskey!). We found the fly of the tent the next morning, but the body and poles were never found. We think the wind caught an edge and just turned it into a sail while we were away, ripping out the anchors and casting anything exposed all over the glacier. We used the tent fly to make a rudimentary snow cave shelter with a bunch of ski poles and avalanche probes taped together. It worked, but it was not nearly as pleasant as the original tent.
More details about Helander and Marin’s ascent can be found in a story published on PlanetMountain.com.
Helander wrote an overview of the Revelation Range for the 2013 AAJ that can be found here.