Good Thrill Hunting
By Andrew McLean

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Originally published in Powder Magazine

For 50 years, Mount Hunter has been flown over, climbed on, photographed and explored, but never skied. Part of this is because it’s nearly vertical with no easy way up or down, which has led to it being called “the most difficult 14,000’ peak in North America.” When we told people that we were going to try skiing it, a common reply was “How the hell are you going to do that?”

At 14,570’ it is the third highest peak in Alaska’s Denali National Park, right behind McKinley and Mt. Foraker. Referred to as “The Child” of these two peaks by Native Americans, it was most likely a problem child. Aside from being steep, it has the added difficulties of extreme Alaskan cold, high northern latitudes, crevasses and omnipresent avalanches. It is also the only peak of the three that had never been skied; Denali was first skied in 1970 and Foraker received its first descent in 1981.

It took Lorne Glick from Ophir, Colorado to actually try it. After much research, he found a way around the technical hardships of the lower West Ridge and attempted it in May of 2002 with three partners. Defeated by weather, he returned a year later with telemarkers John Whedon and Armond DuBuque along with myself, the lone Alpine Touring guy, for another try.

The adventure began with a flight to Anchorage, then a four hour van ride to Talkeetna where we hopped a bush plane into the Alaska Range. Landing 45 minutes later, we unloaded hundreds of pounds of food and equipment, then shuttled it up to our Base Camp at 6,500’. Anticipating long spells of bad weather, we brought all the amenities – CD players, speakers, bacon, eggs, four tents, books and plenty of whiskey.

Our first chore was busting a route through an ice-fall to place a gear stash at 8,000’. A few days later, we sacrificed some Beefy Jerky and rum to the Mountain Gods, then started up the route at 9:00pm under a full moon. With shelter never being more than a few hours away on skis, we left all bivy gear behind and climbed with only light day packs. After booting up the initial couloir, we intersected the wildly exposed West Ridge and began skinning up it. Aside from Armond going headfirst into a crevasse, our biggest concern was the –25ºF cold, which slowly melted away with the alpine sunrise.

Twelve and a half hours after starting, we were standing on the summit. There was a lingering moment of intense happiness which was only interrupted by the pucker factor of the impending descent. Putting on skis, we began scratching turns down the summit plateau which fell away into sweeping fields of powder, exposed traverses and face-shots down an ever narrowing ridgeline. When at last the ridge tapered to a knife-edge, we were forced into the final 50º couloir. Looking straight down 3,000’ we could barely make out the top of our tent far below. Dodging the rising sense of fear, we quickly slid out into the couloir and spent the next hour picking our way down the steep, icy slope covered with a hanging layer of glop, while being careful not to avalanche one another.

Jumping the final crevasse and howling with joy after surviving the descent, we turned to admire our tracks. As if on cue, Hunter erased them right before our eyes with a massive avalanche, leaving no doubt who was really in charge that day. We had been treated to an incredible descent by the mountain’s good graces and lived to ski another day. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Copyright - Andrew McLean Back to Writings Index