In the evening on October 8, Alex Hansen and I (Benjamin Lieber) picked up Austin Schmitz in Anchorage. We had excellent weather in the forecast and we’d already packed the expedition kit. We drove into the night and arrived back at the Lodge at Black Rapids at about two in the morning. Just hours later, we woke and flew one by one into the Hayes Range.
We utilized “Air Mail,” which Alex and I had done just weeks earlier in the range, to drop our equipment below the North Face of Mount Moffit. With the clamshell door open and one bag at a time on the wing-frame of the two-seater super cub bush plane, we sped in round after round into the cold shadowed valley of Moffit’s North Face–which has zero minutes of sunlight during October—and pushed bags out onto the rocky glacier below.
Eventually we were all together in the Tundra about 10 miles down glacier from basecamp where our equipment bags were. Our pilot Jesse Cummings of Golden Eagle Outfitters did an excellent job with our requested logistics. We spent the day doing the approach and then built basecamp when the slog was over and we’d made it to the bags.
We spent the next seven days in the shadows of Mount Moffit. This time of year in Alaska there is six minutes less light each day so we lost nearly 45 minutes during our stay!
We made the first try at our route on the second day, which we would’ve completed had we just some more energy and time; we started too late and with too little in the tank.
A few days later we went out early and got back on the route. It was great climbing and we found our best pitch at AI 5 above our previous high point. Alex got on the lead and had a blast on the steep airy ice. Great sticks and poor pro. We topped out our route where it meets the Northeast Ridge. It is about 800-meters long and has difficulties. There are stretches of steep snow, thin ice, steep ice, and rolling bulges. We rapped the route through the night on pins and threads.
The next day winter arrived with new snow and an arctic trough. In my opinion, the day we climbed the route was the last good climbing day of the fall. The hike out was brutal with all the equipment we’d chucked out of the bush plane now on our backs and the fresh snow making the miles of loose boulders an endless blind terrain trap. We each snapped a trekking pole and it took a day and a half to get back to the air strip, as opposed to our half day on the way in.
The final night, after crossing the Trident Glacier and setting up the tent at nightfall in the Tundra, temps must have been well below -20 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a tough night for all of us and we rejoiced when we flew out one by one back to the lodge with Jesse. The trip concluded our autumn exploration of the Hayes Range which was composed of a recon flight and two expeditions.
Our climb is the second trip of our new pursuit: Alaska Wilderness Project. AWP is a multi-year journey to the far-reaches of Alaska where modern climbers will seek to embody the timeless spirit of Alaskan alpine climbing. Offering a historical review of its past, we will try to connect the dots to its possible future.