Although unseasonable snowfall in Alaska's Hayes Range prevented them getting to grips with their original objectives, at the '11th hour' Neil Warren and Guy Wilson snatched a possible first ascent of the North East Face Direct on Mt Geist (3,268m).
Supported by grants from the BMC, MEF, Alpine Club and a Berghaus Adventure Challenge award, Warren and Wilson, together with third team member Chris Johnson, flew into the Hayes Glacier at the end of April.
Before leaving the UK their main goal had been the first ascent of the West Ridge of Mt Hayes. But on arrival, and after discussing their aims with local climbers, they discovered the West Ridge had been climbed in the 1970s.
This situation is not atypical of the region, where a number of first ascents by local climbers have gone unreported, allowing subsequent parties the pleasure of making "second first ascents".
The British team decided to stick with its plan but were unsuccessful on the ridge. Instead they investigated several ski descents and climbed two neighbouring mountains.
The first was Skarland (3,145m), which they climbed by the South East Ridge. Though not steep, it proved slightly precarious due to poor snow. The three had hoped to ski from the summit but at c2,800m met hard ice and decided to leave the skis at this point and climb to the top. Subsequently, the ski descent from 2,800m was superb.
Skarland's South East Ridge was first climbed in April 1976 on the second ascent of this fine pointed snow peak by Americans Dave Davis, Dakers Gowans and Keith Hansen.
Just before their leaving date, Warren and Wilson climbed a direct route through the mixed rocky section of Geist's North East Face.
This face has been climbed several times, though the only references point to a line up the obvious snow slope/couloir towards the left side, originally climbed in May 1974 by Dusan Jagersky and Bill Sumner to make the first ascent of the mountain.
Warren and Wilson completed the 1,000m face and descent of the North Ridge in a single-push round trip of 22 hours from camp.
The ascent involved good 55-60° névé, tricky mixed climbing through rotten schist, sections of ice, and some of the steepest snow the pair have encountered. Protection and belays were often poor.
Once on the summit ridge they were met with a scary traverse over and around cornices, a little 'a cheval' and nothing in the way of protection before reaching the summit - very similar conditions to those experienced by the 1974 party. The overall grade of the ascent was considered to be TD+.
They rappelled the North Ridge from a mixture of snow bollards and Abalakovs. The verdict? "One litre of water just isn't enough; next time we''ll take a stove".
The following day they were flown out to Fairbanks.