Ines Papert

First Ascent in Alaska

Heart of stone

First ascent by Ines Papert & Luka Lindič on Mount Huntington’s West face, Central Denali Range, Alaska in April 2021
Story: Luka Lindič

Archiv Ines Papert
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

We are first month in what might be a journey of our life. Traveling and climbing along the whole “Panamericana” finally started for us and considering the situation we definitely feel privileged to be able doing it.

This year we are staying in Alaska for three months and first month already offered us both sides of alpine climbing. In Revelations we got totally shut down because of weather and conditions in the beginning of April. After s short break in Seward luck was on our side in Denali National Park.

Flying into the Denali Range with Pilot Paul Roderick (TAT)
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

After checking the walls along Ruth glacier Paul Roderick dropped us below Huntington west face, as it seemed in most promising conditions, from what we were able to see from the small airplane.

We set up our base camp and quickly went to work on the route Colton Leach early the following morning. We were relieved to find good conditions and quickly progressed on moderate ice, many times stretching the pitches up to 150m. Being quick payed off as the snow on the ramps in the middle part wast still frozen when we reached it and enabled us to continue in good peace.

Approaching.
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

At the end of the ramps we “zig zaged ” through the rocky section and climbed a short section or really cool step cracks in perfect granite to the snow flank above. On this we found a trail from the party that had climbed the Harward route a couple of days prior. We smoothly followed it to the summit ridge and along it to the top of Mt Huntington.

It was really calm and warm at the summit but we quickly started with the descent as we didn't bring any bivy gear. We down climbed the ridge and one more rope length from the ridge and then rappelled making V-threads except from a few rock belays that we found. It was a rather straight forward rappelling and once in the west face couloir I kept looking in the steep wall to the climbers left of us. The rock looked very solid but full of good looking cracks. The idea of climbing in this part of the wall seemed very good but at that moment we didn't seriously think of doing it as we were still busy with coming back to our tent in the last light of the day.

The day after we were relaxing in the warm sun and started thinking what to try next after we got a very promising weather forecast for three more days from Jack Tackle who is very kindly sharing his knowledge with us while we are her in Alaska. Warm temperatures seemed perfect for that steep rock wall, we saw on the descent.

Just enough ice to climb it.
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

We even had climbing shoes with us in base camp, because we didn't know, where we will end on this trip. We relatively quickly decided to try it after one more rest day. This time we packed bivy gear more friends and also rock shoes. From what we saw, we thought, we will be rock climbing for few pitches to reach an obvious mixed ramp system. For that same reason we decided to start late from our base camp to use the warmth of afternoon sun for rock climbing.

Cloudless blue sky accompanied us, when we left our camp for the second time at 11am on April 26th. We found perfect conditions on initial snow slope that we shared with the West face couloir route and arrived smoothly to the steep wall, just when the sun hit it. At the place where we started climbing new terrain we spotted a big heart feature on a blank granite face. It felt almost to sweet for us a climbing couple, so we both laughed at the belay. To our surprise the crack system that seemed the most logical was filled with ice. It was kind of a weird ice. It was the same colour as the rock because of all the dirt in it. This is why we couldn't see it from the distance. Rock shoes stayed in the backpack and we continued in full on mixed climbing mode.

Steep mixed climbing in the new Route.
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

The climbing was steep and almost every pitch had a kind of a boulder problem crux. Some of them quite powerful but luckily with mostly decent protection. At that point there was already water running down the face and ice became really rotten and slushy. It seemed we got the last day in that window before the ice would disappear. In the last pitch before reaching a right trending ramp system we had a first little shock when Ines pulled of a loose hold and just barely managed to catch herself. The ramp itself went very quick for a half rope length and then I got stuck for quite some time on one of those boulder cruxes. I underestimated it and started climbing up it with a backpack. Move for move and lots of cleaning of useless snow and trying to find ok placements in thin ice I found myself in a really awkward position where I couldn’t take of my back pack anymore and hang it into a piece. I started reaching as far as I could towards the first ok looking ice but I couldn’t reach it. I hammered the lower tool as deep as I could into the ice and grabbed it at the head of the tool. With this extra reach I just barely reached the next ice and though I have it when it all broke and fall off. I was off too for a moment and I still don't know how I managed to catch the lower tool in the fall and actually not fall. After a some breathing I tried again and that time it luckily worked out.

The rest of the ramp went really well with some great ice and good hooking in the cracks until the very last pitch before snow flank. This pitch took almost two hours of digging on the side of a huge mushroom and with quite bad and run out protection. It was definitely the most serious pitch in the route, especially as it was already dark when we climbed it. In two more rope stretches we reached a perfect bivy spot below a big block. It was already 3 in the morning and we felt tired but full moon came out and we couldn’t go to sleep for almost two more hours as it was so nice.

Our Bivy high up on the mountain.
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

The next morning we left our bivy site with one backpack only and reached the summit of Huntington already at 11am. We were sitting there for almost an hour and couldn't believe how warm it was. In any direction we looked we could only see wild Alaskan mountains and started wondering where all our journey will take us. The descent went really smooth because we knew it already and we reached our base camp in the afternoon for an early dinner.

After checking with Jack Tackle and Mark Westman, we figured out that, we climbed a new route. After initial snow slopes we climbed 20 pitches of new terrain before joining other routes on the summit snow flank.
The feature that perfectly marks the start of our route gave the route its name “Heart of Stone”.

Can you point the Heart of Stone?
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

We would like to thank Jack Tackle and Mark Westman for their help and knowledge about Alaska they shared with us.

Repelling the west face couloir.
Photo: Archiv Ines Papert

Facts

Central Alaska Range

Mount Huntington, west face

First Ascent " Heart of Stone“

1050m, M7, 50-90°

26.& 27.4.2021

The Gear we used:

  • 6 Ice Screws
  • 1 Set Totem Cams 0,2-3 and some extras in the medium sizes
  • 1 Set Nuts
  • 4 Pitons
Our new route "Heart of Stone" 1050m on Mount Huntington
Photo: Mark Westman

Stories of Rock and Ice