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Huge New Route on Alaska’s Mt. Huntington

This article originally appeared on Climbing

From April 19 to 21, American Dane Steadman and Canadians Zac Colbran and Grant Stewart made the first ascent of The Technicolour Superdream (A2 AI 5+ M6+; 4,200ft) on the striking West Face of Mt. Huntington, in Alaska. Located on the prominent buttress right of the Colton-Leach, their new route tackles 2,300 feet of new mixed terrain before merging with the Colton-Leach at a ledge system above the couloir.

Steadman had camped below Mt. Huntington's West Face the year prior and spotted the iced-up corner system while attempting various routes on the face. He shared a photo of the lower face with Colbran and Stewart, pointed out a stiff-looking start with delicate, discontinuous ice, and suggested they try it together.

The trio landed on the Tokositna Glacier on April 15 amid a spell of clear, stable weather. The first pitch looked to be even less icy than the year before, but the team quickly packed for a reconnaissance of the line, not wanting to waste the day. Steadman racked up below the vertical start, clipping no less than eight bird beak pitons of various sizes to his harness alongside a rack of cams down to #000. Bringing so many beaks "was Dane's idea," Colbran told Climbing. "It was his gut instinct that we'd need them."

 

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Colbran took the first pitch of "very thin, engaging" rock-protected ice climbing, which terminated below a 50-foot seam with spatters of ice. Steadman led the section at M6+ and placed all eight of their now-invaluable bird beaks. Satisfied with their recon, the team rappelled back to camp and waited out several days of stormy weather. "We let the face shed its new snow on the first nice-weather day, and set off the day after that," Colbran said.

They linked these first two pitches on day one and then climbed nine more, including the route's most dangerous, a vertical granite corner coated with a smear of snow-covered ice. "It was just a few centimeters of snice, really," Colbran described. "And thin enough to dull the picks." The final pitch of the day was the only one requiring direct aid: a right-leaning A2 corner that took cams, nuts, and, of course, a few beaks. "Dane and I climbed it on second with our 40-pound follower's packs. He freed it at M7 while I cleaned the gear, having to hang while banging out the [beaks]" Colbran said. "We almost contemplated going down to free it [on lead]. There's no ice below [to hit], clean falls, and good gear."

Two ice climbers top rope a mixed pitch on Mt. Huntington, AK.
Looking down moderate terrain on day one. (Photo: Courtesy Dane Steadman)

They opted to forge on upwards to save time, but even with their time conscientiousness, the team, alas, didn't make it to their intended snow ledge where they'd hoped to set up their two-person tent. They settled on a much smaller ledge (fit for one person, lengthwise) and sat upright, side by side, on a sleeping pad through the windless -4 night.

Mixed climber stems up a vertical granite pitch on Mt. Huntington, AK.
(Photo: Courtesy Zac Colbran)

Day two began "absolutely splitter" with no wind or clouds to speak of. Leading in blocks, in terrain up to M5-6, they reached the Colton-Leach ledges at noon and brewed up for an hour. At this point in the day the West Face was now seeing full sun and the team moved cautiously through deep and exposed snow along the ledges. "Normally we would take the rope off in this type of terrain, but the warm [unstable] snow caused us to simul climb," Colbran explained. Day two ended on the summit icefield, where they were grateful to erect the tent that had been carried unused for 4,000 feet.

Two alpinists walk along the summit ridge of Mt Huntington on a sunny day.
Day three began at a leisurely pace, requiring only 30 minutes of walking to reach the summit. Colbran called the conditions "absolutely crystal clear. We didn't see a cloud for the entire three-day climb." (Photo: Courtesy Zac Colbran)

In Alpinist 20, after Kelly Cordes's first one-day ascent of the mountain in 1998 with Scott DeCapio, he wryly noted: "I now understood why so many people stop at, ahem, 'the end of the difficulties.'" It was a snarky way to describe Huntington's hazardous summit snow slopes; a technically benign (but avalanche- and cornice-prone) feature that has kept several respected climbers from truly completing their new routes. This team, however, found surprisingly simple conditions on Huntington's most notorious feature, and followed a recent bootpack up supportive snow to the summit, and a four-hour descent back to camp.

Purple and neon aurora borealis above Mt Huntington, AK.
(Photo: Courtesy Zac Colbran)

Colbran and Stewart are recipients of the 2022 John Lauchlan Award, a one-of-a-kind grant for younger Canadian alpinists. "[The grant] was hugely helpful," Colbran said. "We weren't sure if the [first pitch's ice] was even going to be in this year, so there were a lot of 'maybes' with the climb." As none of the men are professional climbers, taking expensive flights to remote glaciers is not something any of them do on a regular basis, and they want to make the most of their climbing vacations. But Colbran said the financial support helped them stay committed to their unlikely objective: "It took the pressure off of doing something that was not a for-sure thing."


Anthony Walsh is a digital editor at Climbing.

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