Account of a new route up Mount Foraker

December 22, 2010 

Colin Haley of Seattle and his climbing partner, Bjorn-Eivind Artun, pioneered a route up the southeast side of 17,400-foot Mount Foraker last summer. Here's a portion of Haley's account of the climb, published on his blog, Skagit Alpinism:

"After a few days in base camp the weather forecast called for one day of high pressure, and we thought we might as well pack our backpacks and ski over to the base of the face to check it out. We skied to the base ... in a whiteout, and never even once that day were able to see the wall that we hoped to climb.

"We set up our tent in dumping snow, and assumed that in the morning we would simply ski back to base camp. However, we awoke at 4 a.m. (on) June 13 to a clear sky, and made a hurried decision to launch.

About 6 a.m., the duo reached the base of the face at 6,800 feet and spent the next two hours among dangerous pinnacles called seracs.

"Above the dangerous terrain we climbed up a hanging glacier ... to the base of the large diamond-shaped wall that we hoped to climb. ... The wall itself is about 3,000 feet tall, and comprised of first a large left-trending ramp system, and then a large right-trending ramp system.

"We kept climbing through the night, up interminable 60-degree ice slopes to the junction with the French Ridge. Climbing through the night, combined with severe dehydration and wet socks (left me with) frostbite on my big toes.

"At the junction with the French Ridge, we stopped to rest and melt snow in the dawn light. Eventually we got on our way again, and slowly began the long plod -- traversing under the south summit and on towards the true summit -- quite exhausted.

"We finally reached the true summit at 1 p.m., 31 hours after leaving our skis. The skies were clouding up, however, and we scurried off almost immediately, heading down the Northeast Ridge.

"We quickly descended 5,000 feet ... and stopped in a convenient crevasse to melt snow out of the wind. When we exited the crevasse, we were greeted with complete whiteout and 50 mph winds.

"After a brief attempt along the ridge, we returned to the protected crevasse. A little while later we tried to start out again -- but again realized we had no chance to continue in the blizzard.

"We had half a canister of (fuel) left, a handful of energy bars, no sleeping bags, no tent, no sleeping pads. Staying long was out of the question. We spent the night sitting in the crevasse shivering, hoping for the weather to improve.

"In the morning it was just as bad, (so) we decided our only reasonable option was to descend via the original Northeast Ridge route, established in 1966 by a Japanese team. It would be much less exposed to the wind.

"We had no information about it. I don't think it has been ascended or descended in at least a decade, although probably two or three.

"Slowly we fought our way down the 1966 route.

"It was sometimes quite tricky, and included a couple overhanging rappels, but finally we made it down to the glacier. Once far enough away from the face that we felt relatively safe from avalanches, we stopped to melt snow once more, and then began the long post-holing session back to Kahiltna base camp.

"When we finally reached camp, we had been awake for about 71 hours, and I was hallucinating a lot. The toes that I had frostbitten during the ascent had re-warmed during the descent, and had been excruciatingly painful for most of the descent.

"My frostbite looks as though it will heal up, but in base camp I could not yet put on boots, and Bjorn-Eivind retrieved our camping gear and skis from the base of the route.

"The whole climb and descent felt massive, and made the Cassin (Ridge climb on McKinley) feel like a small, non-committing route by comparison.

"We named our route Dracula."

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