On March 12 Colin Haley and Jed Brown made the likely first winter ascent of Mt. Huntington (12,240′) via the West Face Couloir (aka Nettle-Quirk: V 85 degrees, 3,250′). Haley has just completed the steep ice on the west face and is beginning the long haul on the upper ice fields. [Photo] Jed Brown
On March 12, Colin Haley and Jed Brown climbed to the summit of Mt. Huntington (12,240′) in the Alaska Range via the West Face Couloir (aka Nettle-Quirk: V 85 degrees, 3,250′). Haley and Brown’s climb is likely the mountain’s first winter-season ascent. Other recorded winter attempts on Huntington were made in 1991, 1994 and 2005.
The pair arrived on the Tokositna Glacier on March 10. Two days later they found cold but excellent climbing, which allowed them to complete the West Face Couloir in record time, notwithstanding the winter conditions. Because of its more direct but steeper access to the summit ice fields (climbing from the Tokositna Glacier to the ridge can be made in a mere nine pitches of steep ice and snow), the west face has become the obvious choice for speedy attempts on Huntington. The mountain’s first one-day ascent, by Kelly Cordes and Scott DeCapio in 2001, took the same line. Haley and Brown (read about their ascent of Mt. Moffit’s Entropy Wall in Issue 19‘s Climbing Notes) managed Huntington’s west face in under fifteen hours round-trip–the face’s fastest summit sprint ever recorded.
The West Face Couloir has been one of the range’s most controversial routes, with a disputed first ascent. James Quirk and Dave Nettle wrote about their ascent of this line in the 1990 American Alpine Journal. Several parties had climbed the entirety of the steep ramp in the past, but it seems they all had turned around at either the intersection with the Harvard Route or the French Ridge, whereas Quirk and Nettle continued to the summit–and thus some credit them with the first true ascent of the route. The difficulties between the ridge and the summit, along with undependable weather, keep many from continuing above the ridge. Haley confirmed that “although many teams descend from the top of the ice ramp, we found it to only be half-way to the summit, in terms of time and effort.”
Haley and Brown’s double record-breaking accomplishment is one of this winter’s finest; however, they did not best the fastest “airplane-to-airplane” ascent of Huntington, completed in three days by Michael Kennedy and Greg Child in 1993. Instead, the two milled about camp with frostnipped digits contemplating other objectives, then took off on March 16 for thick waterice in Valdez.