Lorne Glick made a passable Captain Ahab. He’d been thwarted, tormented and teased by The Great White One, but had yet to give up. If anything, having spent three weeks in the same hunting grounds a year before, adrift in a sea of foul weather, avalanches and despair, his resolve had only been hardened. Mount Hunter must be skied. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. This elusive gem of the Alaska Range must not be allowed to escape again.
With John Whedon in Queequeg’s place as lead harpooner, and myself with Armond DuBuque manning the oars, our expedition cast off for the Northern latitudes. Provisioned to the gills, we drifted across crevasses, tacked up rolling glaciers and found safe basecamp anchorage below a tempestuous ice fall. A scouting party was sent out to establish a trade route through the towering terrors of ice and succeeded in reaching the remote upper plateau where our quest would begin in earnest.
As if sensing our arrival, the mountain erupted in protest. Snow streamed down from the heaven, clouds obscured our vision and cold gnawed at our fingers as we were driven back to the shelter of basecamp. Thinking it had played itself out, we emerged days later to assess the damage and try again. The mountain responded with an impressive display of avalanche artillery, unleashing volley after volley of crashing debris. It waited for clear visibility to further punctuate the point, then shook loose seracs, which in turn triggered immense billowing slides that tore down our proposed line of ascent, ripped across our Advanced Camp plateau and shot up the other side of the cirque. With the powder still hanging in the air, the message was clear: The little humans should go home.
But obsession was on our side. We traded our harpoons for crampons and started up again two days later just as the sun was beginning to set. Perhaps thinking that severe cold was enough to discourage us, Mt. Hunter slept under a full moon as we climbed through its defenses all night long and emerged on the pointed snout 12.5 hours later. Standing on the summit at daybreak, we realized the precarious position we were in: somehow we’d managed to spear the beast, now, how were we going to ski it without getting pulled down into the depths?
Carefully. Very carefully.
We clipped into our skis and gingerly began scratching turns over our faint crampon up-tracks. After broaching the 13,000’ plateau, the vertical began melting away as we arced down spangling fields of powder on the West Ridge, being constantly alert to the dangers of getting lulled into a crevasse or enticed off a bottomless roll-over. Surviving that, the only thing separating us from our tent was a 50 degree, 3,000’ couloir of ice. Patience was a virtue and turns were at a minimum as we focused on power side-slipping our way down to the flats and at last, freedom.
Seemingly still asleep, Mt. Hunter awoke to our victory howls and sent a last gasp avalanche down the chute we had just skied to try and reclaim us. But it was too late. Hunter had become the hunted and life was good.