British climbers, Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool returned from Alaska at the weekend with 2 new routes (one on legendary „The Fathers and Sons wall“ on Denali) and a repeat (and first British ascent) of THE local testpiece, Moonflower on Mount Hunter.Their first new route was „a warm up“ which turned out to offer superb mixed and ice climbing on a relatively short tower just to the left of the North buttress of Hunter. They dubbed this feature the „Mini Moonflower“ and their 15 pitch line „Kiss me where the sun don´t shine“. They didn´t go to the summit, but turned round 3 pitches below the top having climbing 15 pitches of sustained Scottish 6 with an exciting crux of 1 inch thick ice with crampons „smearing“ on rock leading, to overhanging mixed that they rated Scottish 7. They were experimenting with „single push“ style climbing, the most committing of alpine styles whereby equipment is pared down to the absolute minimum and the climbers just keep on going rather than biving. This isn´t as daft as it sounds, as in May and June Alaska has almost 24 hour daylight and it means you get up and off the climb before bad weather hits. They turned round after pushing it till the end of the difficulties, having discovered enough about going light for the big route on Denali.Passing by the north buttress Kenton fell in love with „The Moonflower“ so they attempted to make the first free ascent taking rock shoes for the previously aided prow pitch. They had heard that it was a hand crack but found it instead to be a vertical corner with a thin peg crack up the back choked with ice and leading to a hanging tongue of thicker ice. Ian managed to free most of it by knocking off the ice with his fists and bridging at about 5c for 20 metres before using three points of aid (his only three on the entire route) to get past a very slippery verglas section and changed back into proper boots and crampons for some Scottish 7 ice. Kenton, followed with the odd pull on gear.It turned out that attempting it in rock shoes had been a mistake – a couple of days later, Marko Prezelj and Stephen Koch used axes and freed the pitch to make the first free ascent.Higher up Kenton led the ice crux of the route combining two pitches of overhanging ice in a feature known as the „Shaft“. Higher still Ian free climbed the Pendulum Of The Vision which felt like very hard laybacking with both tools popping on the last move (he got them back on in time!). This was Scottish 7 and pitch 20!They had aimed to go to the summit but on final day it snowed so they went to top of the rock buttress (60 degree ice above) in the face of continuos spindrift avalanches. All in all they took 2.5 days for the round trip (normal time 6/7 days). Their final route was a new one on „The Fathers and Sons wall“ on Denali (Mt McKinley – USA´s highest peak). This legendary wall was the dream project of Mugs Stump, one of the godfathers of modern Alaskan alpinism. Unfortunately he died before he could attempt it. Steve House and Eli Helmuth made the first ascent (and only other route) in 1995 (not to summit, but to top buttress).Ian had this to say about the route:„We decided to go ultra lightweight on this 2000m+ wall taking only one day sack between us, 7.5 mml ropes, stove but no tent or sleeping bags. The route ended up being 2200m long with a short crux of hard Scottish 7 but lots of Scottish 5 with the odd step of 6. We stopped for a brew after 22 hours (and got 1 hours sleep) on the go and again after 38 hours. We topped the buttress after 40 hours and then attempted to continue up the NW Buttress to the North Summit but with 40 mile an hour winds and Kenton suffering hallucinations we turned round after 4 hours and crossed to join the West buttress and descend to our camp for a 46.5 hr round trip. Hard to describe at the moment the amazing feeling we both felt on this. Going so light was one of the most beautiful, committing and intense mountain experiences I´ve had. And a real personal window on what this style might be able to achieve on the mountains. Looking out at the sun setting over the Alaska range knowing everyone else was turning in to sleep and we were in the middle of such a massive lonely wall, then turning and looking into your partners eyes and recognising just how deep we were having to reach. Special. “ Top American alpinist and Alaskan guru Steve House rated this season the best ever in Alaska. He together with Rolando Garibotti repeated the other classic testpiece The Infinite Spur on mount Foreker in 25 hours (previous fastest time 7 days). Other action included 4 ascents of the Moonflower including the first free ascent by Marko Prezelj and Stephen Koch plus 2 other new routes on Denali (a new route on Denali is usually done once every 5 years or so).
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