Begguya – Mount hunter – at 14,537 feet tall – a massif that is dominated in scale by its neighbors Sultana and Denali – but a mountain that dominates the minds and hearts of many a mountaineer.
And this was the case for Alaskan alpinist Clint Helander in the spring of 2021 when on a hunch, he called August Franzen – a young Alaskan climber who’d been making a name for himself on the frozen waterfalls of Valdez – with a proposition. To attempt a monolithic line on the unclimbed West Buttress of Mount Hunter.
Franzen agreed instantly, and in May of 2021, the duo flew into Denali Basecamp. The route, which starts with a 9 mile ski from Denali basecamp, weaves its way up and through the broken labyrinth of the Ramen Icefall, up to a dicey corniced ridge, then through a plum line up the golden granite buttress, before finally topping out on a plateau below the south summit.
But on that first trip, many lessons had to be learned. First, Helander took a 30 foot crevasse fall in the icefall. Able to extract himself, the team was shaken, but continued on. 19 hours later, they shivered through a miserable night a few pitches up the crux buttress – a lone soggy sleeping bag shared between them. Mentally and physically exhausted, they retreated the next morning. But as they took the edge off with whisky in basecamp a day later, the duo made a pact. They would return to finish the west buttress.
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