Pierre Darbellay on the waterfall pitch on The Journey to the End of the Night (IV WI4+ R, 450m), west face, Kahiltna Queen, Alaska Range, Alaska. Raphael Slawinsky and Pierre Darbellay climbed the route on June 9. [Photo] Raphael Slawinski
Pierre Darbellay and I recently came back from two weeks in the Alaska Range. Our token objective was the north buttress of Mt. Hunter, but mostly we were just keen to climb whatever looked good.
After a few days of snow showers the skies finally cleared
in the evening of June 9. Leaving basecamp around 7 p.m. we skied up the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, where we spied an aesthetic little gully just right of the West Face route on the Kahiltna Queen. The result of our outing was Le Voyage au Bout de La Nuit (Journey to the End of the Night: WI4+ R, 450 m). We soloed past the ‘schrund and up squeaky neve to where the gully reared up, at which point we donned the rope. Not that it did a whole lot of good for Pierre as he led up a curtain of unconsolidated chandeliers, but I certainly found it comforting while following the pitch. Above, simul-climbing up snow and thin ice runnels led to an iced-up dihedral. Perfect mixed climbing with perfect protection (slotting cams at will feels like cheating to someone weaned on Canadian Rockies’ choss), topped by spooky wallowing up bottomless snow deposited us on the ridgeline. In the blue dusk of Alaskan twilight, we looked down on the Tokositna Glacier and across at the south summit of Mt. Hunter. Unfortunately Mt. Huntington was hidden by a crease in the ridge.
The west face of Kahiltna Queen, Alaska Range, Alaska. The gully of The Journey to the End of the Night (IV WI4+ R, 450m) is the prominent gully to the right of the center of the image. [Photo] Raphael Slawinski
We managed to venture above basecamp a few more times, including an attempt at the Moonflower Buttress. Being lazy, we both intensely dislike carrying heavy packs, so we decided to approach The Moonflower as an overgrown day route. Blessed by Alaska’s twenty-four hour daylight, we left our skis shortly after noon on June 14 and made it to within one pitch of the base of The Shaft by 8 p.m. Up to that point the climbing had been great fun, all the more so because of our light packs. But it was also spiced up by sections of rotten, detached ice, a spooky reminder of the lateness of the season. As we neared our high point, we were increasingly drytooling around the disintegrating remains of what was once ice. In the end, we decided that slush and running water were not what we had signed up for and headed down. A dozen rappels later we were back at our skis, disappointed but also happy to have at least been given a shot at the route.