My buddy Jung Taek and I started planning an Alaska Range trip sometime last year. We had lots of ideas for climbs, but the one that sounded the most appealing was Ham and Eggs on the South face of the Mooses Tooth. First climbed in the 70's, it was overlooked until the late 90's. Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi pioneered a ski plane landing in the little curque at the base of the face, reducing the approach time from an half day slog up a tumbled ice fall to a 20 minute walk. We pretty much decided this was the climb for us.
The Mooses Tooth is 10, 330 feet tall, and Ham and Eggs climbs a striking snow and ice gully cutting through 3,000 foot South face. It is rated Alaska Grade 4, AI4, 5.9 and is 2700' long. If you want to stand on top of the main summit, tack on another 600' or so of steep snow and ice above the gully. We had given ourselves 16 days to get the route done, taking into consideration the legendary Alaskan weather. We hoped we could stand on top.
We got to Anchorage, and the next day gathered all of our supplies. We barely had enough time to do it all before getting picked up by a shuttle bus service from Talkeetna. We threw all our crap in cardboard boxes and took the 2 and a half hour ride north to Talkeetna, where we would fly into the range. Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) has a rustic bunkhouse that we stayed at, and were up until 2am repacking all of our gear for the plane ride. The next morniing dawned clear and warm, and by 11am we were loaded into the ski plane and flying in.
The flight was amazing, and awe inspiring faces and ridges zoomed by the windows. Within 40 minutes we were setting down on the Root Canal, the glacier at the base of the Mooses Tooth. We spent the next 6 hours moving our gear and shoveling out a tent site. The weather was beautiful, and had been so for a week already. We decided to pack up, go to bed, and try our luck the next day on Ham and Eggs.
At midnight we woke up, ate some oatmeal and drank hot chocolate, and by 12:30 we were walking across the airstrip and standing below the face. The route starts like any other mountain route, climbing a 45 degree snow cone for three or four hundred feet. After crossing the bergschrund, there is a 200 foot traverse on steepening snow to the base of the first pitch. Jung Taek got this pitch of low angled 5.6 rock, then a step down around a bulge on snow and runout the ropes. The second pitch was a short 5.7 boulder problem followed by 150' of steep snow. Pitch 3 started off with a 40' vertical ice step. The ice was the consistency of a lemon slushy, so Jung Taek did some swearing, but he got over it quickly enough. He anchored off inthe rocks at the bottom of a long snow ramp.
We simulclimbed the 55 degree snow for about 800 feet, and got to a fork in the gully. For some reason, we elected to take the right hand fork, which was a rock pitch. The left hand fork is supposedly a full pitch of water ice up to 90 degrees, but is often rotten. I thought Jung Taek was going to get the rock pitch, but the snow continued for 200', and he called off belay. That bastard! The description I had heard made the rock section sound like a body length or two of 5.8ish climbing. The pitch I was looking at was at least 70 feet of a near vertical corner. It took me forever to get a gold Camalot to stick in the iced up 5.9 layback crux. It was without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever led in crampons, and I felt like throwing up when I topped out.
The next few pitches were beautiful rambling and tight ice runnels up to seventy feet long and 85 degrees. Exceptional climbing. After that we simul climbed another 4 or 500 feet of 55 degree snow and topped out on the west ridge. It was 2pm, and we were toasted. We decided to rest up, melt some snow, and eat before doing anything. After an hour long nap we woke up and went for the top. We thought it would just be a rambling snow ridge to the summit, but the first pitch up from the ridge was a 65 degree snow face which ran into 100 feet beautifully blue 80 degree ice. That topped out on a broad shelf. Jung Taek took the next steeper snow pitch through a cornice, and then we were walking. Fifteen minutes later we were standing on the summit cornice. A fantastic view of Denali and the Ruth Gorge greeted us. We took a bunch of pictures, then downclimbed and v-threaded our way back to the top of the gully.
It was too late to start rapping the route, so we did a little bivy on top, and waited for colder conditions. At 10pm we started rapping, and 20 uneventful raps later, we touched down on the snow cone. On the walk back to the tents we were greeted by the most amazing display of the Aurora Borealis streaming over Denali. I was utterly exhausted, but I could not pry myself from the sight. We finally got to bed around 2:30 in the morning, 26 hours after starting.
The next day was cloudy and ominous, and we woke up, cooked steak and eggs, and realized that we had knocked off in one day what we had given ourselves sixteen days to do. What the hell were we going to do now?? Talking to the couple of other teams we decided to give Shaken, Not Stirred a try. Shaken is the sister climb to Ham and Eggs. It is a mixed rock, snow and ice gully that splits the immense south face of the Tooth about 1000 feet or so to the left of Ham and Eggs. Its rated at Alaska Grade 4, AI5, and is around 2,800 feet long.
Before we could give it a go though a 4 day storm set in that dumped over 4 feet of snow on the glacier and surrounding walls. We also had a magnitude 3 earthquake roll through and shear off some seracs above us. When all of that subsided we decided to try a variation start to the route that climbs up snowy slabs to the right of the route, surmounts an M6 pitch, and joins the gully about 6 pitches up. Jung Taek led the M6 pitch fabulously, if not a little desperately. The rock in this section was the equivalent of mixing Grape Nuts with yogurt and sitting it in the sun for a week. Not the most solid. When he finally made the delicate step out of the overhanging alcove and cleared the bulge, we tied off the rope and descended for a rest. The next day we started early, 3am, top roped the M6 pitch, and soon were cruising up 800 feet of the most exquisite 60 degree neve I have ever climbed. It was amazing.
This led us to The Narrows, a section of the route that was over 700 feet long and consisted of an eighteen inch wide runnel set inside a 4 foot wide slot. There were two AI5 cruxes to be had here. Most of the ice in the Narrows is beautiful and well protected AI3+ or 4-. Two chockstones have gotten wedged in the slot, creating six foot ice overhangs to surmount. The first was well protected with 2 Camalots, but not much in the way of ice. I nearly pulled the roof, but blew off when both tools popped above the crux. I found the requisite hook move next time, and pulled over without a problem.
A section of about 30 feet of the Narrows literally narrows down to about 2 feet wide. Narrow enough that I used my hips as a chockstone, and could not fit my shoulders inside. I struggled here for what seemed an eternity while spindrift poured over my uncovered head. Eventually I figured out how to climb with only one side of my body, and I finished it. Jung Taek took the second chockstone crux, and almost had it the first time, but had to hang on a nut to get rid of the pump. His fall would have been uglier than mine was, so he didnt want to chance it. After that we rambled up on perfect neve for another 500 feet or so to Englishmans Col. It was getting late, so we decided not to go to the west summit. We ate, brewed up, and began the 19 or so v-threads raps back to camp.
Shaken, Not Stirred is an absolute classic route. Its quality is miles above ham and Eggs. It is the finest ice route I have ever done. Ham and Eggs is classic as well, but is more rambling and broken up than Shaken. The 2 cruxes on Shaken are short, and very well protected.
We decided to fly into Kahiltna Base Camp for a try at the Mini Moonflower. It was May 3rd, and Denali base camp was still pretty quiet. Two Norwegians, and a group of Japanese were on the Moonflower Buttress, so we watched them through the spotting scope. The moonflower buttress is on the north face of Mount Hunter, and is 6,000 feet of brutally cold rock and ice. The Norwegians climbed the buttress and were back in camp in two and a half days, a pretty fast time. The Japanese team was on day seven when we left base camp, and as far I know were still climbing when we left. Pretty determined Id say!
Anyway, The Mini is an ice route that ascends a gully to the northeast ridge of Hunter, then summits a sharp point on that ridge, called the Mini Moonflower. It is about 2000' feet or so of ice and snow climbing up to WI4+. Two parties had tried it before us and both were turned away below the crux. Jung Taek and I waited for two days for the skies to clear, and then made a go for it. The approach is a 3 mile ski up glacier, underneath the North Buttress of Hunter, and into a pretty amazing cirque with Kahiltna Queen at its head. It started snowing as we approached the base of the route, and I could not keep my toes and fingers warm at all.
I took the first pitch and did about 300' of steep snow climbing, crossed the bergschrund, and did another 150' of grade 3 ice. JT came up behind me and I led off again on a rising traverse for another 200 feet, and entered the gully proper. The ice was beautiful, once 3 inches of crappy crusty stuff was cleared away, and it took screws easily. However, it was very cold, and snowing harder. Spindrift started coming down in regular intervals. Jung Taek took over the leads and did a 300' pitch of 3+ ice, then took off on another 300' of ice up to grade 4. At the top of that pitch it narrowed into the crux section of the gully, and all the spindrift pouring off the walls above was forced through a slot 6 feet wide. It was getting desperate. Every 30 seconds a wall of powder rushed down and pounded us for 10 to 15 seconds at a time. Luckily, the ice was thunker, and we were able to run up between the slides. We eventually made it to a sheltered belay underneath the crux pitch.
We melted some snow, and ate for about an hour. My fingers and toes especially were not really thawing out properly, and I decided it was not worth it for me to go any further. However, after several shameful begging episodes, I agreed to let Jung Taek at least try to lead the crux. He did it, a full 200 feet ov near vertical ice to an ice choked overhanging squeeze chimney. It was a full on battle with the powder thundering down on him relentlessly. After 2 hours of shaking, climbing, screaming, crying, hanging, and smiling, he topped out the pitch, rapped down to me, and we were off down the chute.
8 V-threads later we got back to our skis which were just about buried by all the spindrift that had come down, skied back under the North Buttress, past the remains of a massive serac avalanche just 2 hours old, and got back to camp at 12:30am, (still light out by the way).
We were absolutely done climbing, and managed to score a plane ride out the next morning, and by 8pm the next day, we were partying in Talkeetna, a drinking town with a small climbing habit. The Norwegians were there, and we did shots and told stories until 3am. What a great trip!!!!!