Short Ropes: The Risk Of Commitment

Nestled in the heart of the Alaska Range, lies what many believe to be one of the most beautiful mountains in the world: Mount Huntington.  Rising on all sides to form a symmetrical pyramid of rock, snow and ice, Huntington has captured the imagination of bold and dedicated alpinists for decades.  

When the French Ridge was first climbed in 1964, the mountaineering world took notice.  Then just a year later, when a young David Roberts and crew climbed the stunning west face, the mountaineering world was shocked. Both of these climbs raised the standard of what could be done in Alaska’s mountains, as well as setting a precedent for what future alpinists could expect on Huntington: remoteness, sustained, hard climbing, total commitment.

By 2016, most of Huntington’s major features had been climbed.  But one line, perhaps the most committing of them all, had yet to be ascended: The complete south ridge.  Rising nearly 7,000 feet, the south ridge follows a serpentine spine of four jagged sub-peaks, each connected by delicate gendarmes and stacked cornices.  Of the south ridge, David Roberts wrote, “It was not so much a ridge as five separate, serrated peaks, each increasingly higher.”  Although a few teams had ascended the upper south ridge of Huntington over the years, few parties had considered a go at the complete south ridge.  That is until this year.

Over a stretch of perfect weather in April 2017, American alpinists Jess Roskelly and Clint Helander made the first ascent of the complete south ridge in a single 5 day push.  The climb was everything the duo had anticipated and more, pushing- the limits of their endurance, and forcing them to commit psychologically in a way neither of them had experienced in the past.

A few days later after they got down from the climb, I sat down with Jess and Clint in Anchorage, to recount this once in a lifetime adventure.  The interview picks up on the second day of their trip, as they are crossing the east fork of the Tokositna Glacier, and starting the initial climbing up the first peak of the south ridge of Huntington.

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