Tom Livingstone and Uisdean Hawthorn went to Alaska’s Revelation Range on March 23, intent on trying a new route on Jezebel’s north face. After several runout pitches on poor snow, they reached a dead end: a giant chimney filled with vertical snow that had no apparent cracks. Consequently, they abandoned their attempt and turned their attention to the mountain’s east face, where they completed a new route called Fun or Fear (AI 6 R M6+, 90 degrees, ca. 1200m) over two days on April 6-7.
The north face of Jezebel is notorious for dangerous seracs and finicky conditions for climbing–the times when the snow and ice are most ideal are also those when there is the greatest danger. Several people have tried the north face, including a recent near miss in 2017, but no one has succeeded yet. Livingstone and Hawthorn attempted a line up a huge, obvious chimney that appeared to have less objective risk than the face to the right.
“We thought the route might have three distinct sections,” Livingstone wrote on his blog. “The first looked like steep snow; the middle was an enormous chimney [that] swallowed everything falling from above. The final section looked like climbable black ice, but was perhaps threatened by moderate-sized cornices.”
The pair set off March 31, full of optimism, climbing “many hundreds of meters of steep neve” with scant pro and sub-optimal belays between stretches of simulclimbing.
Neve is that intoxicating mix of “relatively” easy climbing, but often with no gear. It’s all fun until you look down and realize you’re 40 meters out, with no pro, and it’s suddenly turned into steep snow….
We reached the biggest unknown factor of the route by mid-afternoon. The huge slot, which gave the route its namesake, was like a giant elevator shaft or chimney stack. It rose straight up for about 75 meters. We hadn’t been able to see inside, and we’d wondered what lurked within–until now…. Between dark waves of spindrift washing down the cliff, we snatched upward glances. The chimney contained two overhanging mixed pitches of compact-looking black diorite, and then a long overhanging pitch of snow. It was all capped by an enormous snow mushroom….
We ain’t no punters, and we’ve done enough climbing around the world to know when a pitch looks easy, hard, or really hard. And this chimney looked to be at least one level above Really Hard. We couldn’t see a way: how do you climb overhanging sugar snow? This isn’t Cerro Torre, either. The two shorter pitches of overhanging diorite also didn’t look good. I don’t want to say it, but in its current condition I’m not sure if it would be climbable….
They rappelled back to the glacier after eight pitches and shifted their attention to the east face, which was climbed by two of their British countrymen, Peter Graham and Ben Silvestre, in 2015 via a route named Hoar of Babylon (WI6 M6 A0, 1200m). Livingstone and Hawthorn found a line to try to the left.
After scoping the route and a couple days waiting for weather to clear, the two stepped across the bergschrund at 6 a.m.
A blog by Hawthorn’s sponsor quotes his account:
I tied in, racked up and started climbing up 85-degree neve for 30 meters. Thankfully it had two runners [protection] in the rock at 15 meters. After 30 meters it steepened and quickly became vertical sugar snow and quite serious. I inched towards some rock in a corner below a roof.
Eventually, after thinking light thoughts and digging lots, I found some good runners under the roof. I climbed the rocks on the right of the roof and shouted, ‘Watch me!” before climbing out left to step around the roof. As I moved my feet round, the snow under the roof all collapsed, and I hung off my axes. I quickly pulled up and did a campus but with my body smeared on the ice. I took a moment to relax once established on the ice.
The next two pitches were easier but still serious, Livingstone wrote: “steep, always long, and often run-out. We’d explored our comfort zones whilst climbing run-out and steep neve on our north face attempt, so this felt very familiar.”
Later, Livingston encountered a “steep wall of ice” that was “totally detached from the rock.” He wrote:
The sheet of ice hung 5 inches away from the rock, like the skin of an onion. I committed to it with a few high side runners, then climbed higher and farther away, heading for the re-attached ice about 5 meters above. I climbed carefully, meditatively, although I’m sure I was also making all sorts of noises. “Watch me here, no bueno!” I shouted down. The onion-skin of ice was so brittle I broke a 12-inch-square hole into it and put my arm inside as a better hold than my ice tools. I almost laughed when I looked into the hole and saw my ice pick poking into the inside of the onion skin, almost touching the rock underneath.
“I belayed below listening to the horrible noises while the ice creaked and boomed as only rotten ice can,” Hawthorn wrote.
Easier and pleasant climbing continued above and they found a bivy ledge on the east ridge that evening.
The next day, “the remainder of the route featured some ‘classic alpine bullshit,'” Livingstone wrote. “We traversed up and down, weaving left and right, avoiding towers and traversing snow slopes. We tried to judge when to pitch and when to keep going.”
They topped out after noon with clear, calm skies.
“It felt like a real treat to be somewhere so special, after a rewarding experience, and with perfect weather,” Livingston wrote. “So many ‘unknowns’ had finally been answered. We could relax on the summit, lying down and soaking in the view of endless mountains.”
They descended into unknown terrain on the west side. Some rappels and down climbing brought them to the southeast couloir, which provided an easy 40-minute walk. Unfortunately it deposited them on the wrong side of the mountain, and their hearts sank when they realized they would have to climb back up 250 meters to reach a col that would allow them to reach their skis and their camp on the east side.
“I sat thinking that we had made a big mistake and that we were about to have to do more run-out steep snow climbing,” Hawthorn wrote.
To their relief, the climbing to the col turned out to be easy enough.
“Four long pitches, then four long raps and some down climbing, and we whooped into the darkness as we crossed the ‘schrund back [to] the Fish glacier,” Livingstone wrote.