Book of Revelation - Part One

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 19/05/2014
Kris Irwin in front of The Angel. The red line is the 1,200m John Lauchlan Memorial Award; the yellow the descent of the dangerous hanging glacier. Ian Welsted.
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This spring has seen unusual activity in the largely unfrequented Revelation Mountains, with three teams all making notable first ascents over technical ice and mixed terrain.

Akin to their biblical namesake, the Revelation Mountains form the final chapter of the Alaska Range.

Invisible from any road or city, and with only the vastness of undulating tundra separating them from the ocean, the Revelations are some of the most climatically challenged peaks in Alaska.

Lying 110km southwest of the Kichatna Spires, these mostly granite  mountains take the full force of anything coming from the Gulf of Alaska.

For this reason, and the long and expensive light aircraft flight from either Anchorage or Talkeetna, the Revelations have seen few climbers.

First visited in 1967 by David Roberts, who described the weather during his 52-day expedition as the worst of all his 13 trips to Alaska, the range was not travelled to again until 1981 (the indomitable Fred Beckey).

Their are 13 peaks over 2,743m/9,000 feet, the highest, Hesperus, a fraction under 3,000m.

Although not high in absolute altitude, the peaks rise from relatively low glacial basins, making for a number of impressive faces with vertical intervals up to 1,500m

Hesperus is an arresting pyramid of frozen shale rising over 2,100m from the Big River. Sometimes dubbed the Matterhorn of Alaska, it was first climbed in 1985 and remains unrepeated to this day.

Elsewhere there are peaks of immaculate granite. High precipitation but low volume of snow favours technical ice/mixed climbing, but several peaks hold potential for big wall rock routes.

There were a few significant expeditions in the 1980s, far fewer in the 1990s but from 2008 onwards Anchorage based Clint Helander has made annual visits, picking off five first ascents of major peaks and ascending several fine lines on rarely climbed peaks.

In 2013 Helander decided to write an article for the American Alpine Journal, in which he reproduced a photo collection of impressive peaks and giant faces, both climbed and unclimbed.

While only one other party besides Helander's has climbed in the range since 2008, this year, no doubt sparked by his story, three separate teams tackled some of the great challenges.

Very shortly after his route on K6 West with Raphael Slawinski was awarded one of this year's Piolets d'Or, Canadian Ian Welsted flew onto the Revelation Glacier with Kris Irwin and Darren Vonk, the three supported by a John Lauchlan Memorial Award.

Two days after arrival they climbed a new route on The Angel (2,824m), a peak tried six times in 1967 by Roberts. It failed to succumb until 1985, when the summit was reached by Greg Collins and Tom Walter, after climbing a predominantly rock route up the south flank of the east buttress.

The Canadian trio climbed the 1,200m east face at AI4+ M5, by a route they named after the Lauchlan Memorial Award. They found relatively straightforward terrain with a vertical crux. In descent they rappelled through a steep hanging glacier: later they were dismayed to witness its collapse.

Next they tried a new line on one of the Four Horsemen, and had climbed six technical pitches before they ran out of time - not surprising they realized in retrospect, if you don't begin your climb until 10:00am

However, they were successful on unclimbed Dyke Peak, climbing a thin ice line they spotted on the flight in, by a 1,000m route they dubbed Powered by Beans (AI5 M5).

They were now ready for the main objective, the central couloir on Pyramid Peak.

On the first attempt they climbed 10 pitches up the 1,500m face before it began to snow and heavy sprindrift avalanches forced them down.

After this they adopted a more "casual" approach, opting for a line they could start at 10:00am after less than one-hour's uphill ski from base camp.

This resulted in the first ascent of Hydra (2,500m). Thin ice climbing and difficult dry-tooling over a couple of roofs led to the summit and the completion of The Casual Route (600m, AI4 M6).

For their last attempt they re-visited Pyramid, only to see a cornice collapse trigger an avalanche that swept the entire route.

It was now fairly late in the season for ice/mixed lines and the team departed, having climbed a total of 65 technical pitches but left a number of impressive lines for future parties.

Read Part Two here

 



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