It seemed doubtful the trip would even happen. Bad weather had locked Clint Helander in Anchorage for 10 days, forcing one of his partners to drop out. Another, Aaron Thrasher, was running very short of time. When a flight window finally opened, Helander was near desperation. He called Jason Stuckey, a friend of a friend he’d never met, and together they flew to the Revelation Mountains.
The Revelations are a somewhat-obscure and seldom-traveled subset of the Alaska Range nearly 130 miles southwest of Denali. The first recorded trip to the range wasn’t until 1967, and the difficulty and expense of accessing the remote peaks have made climbers infrequent visitors indeed. Helander has gone every year since 2008.
“It’s so rare to find a place like that, that’s so untapped,” says Helander. “I’m drawn to go where other people aren’t going, and do what other people aren’t doing.”
Apocalypse (9,345′), one of the largest peaks in the Revelations, was described by David Roberts in the 1968 American Alpine Journal as “a massive Gothic structure split down the middle, like McKinley, by the contact line between granite and schist.” Flying into the area, “any team that came in would see it immediately,” says Helander. “It has several 3,000-foot big walls.” Even so, it was not the team’s first objective. “We initially had intentions on Pyramid Peak,” says Helander. “There was too much snow on the route last year, and we had to bail early. This year we made it six pitches up some really hard, run-out mixed climbing. We were stopped by overhanging snow mushrooms–they didn’t look that steep from down below.” The clock had now run out on Thrasher’s trip, and he flew back to Anchorage. Helander and Stuckey, camped on the Revelation Glacier, mulled their options. Apocalypse loomed above.
Two days and two nights up a thin line on the west face in early April brought them to the summit of Apocalypse. The small couloir they chose barely connected to the ground with a pitch of water ice. Without that connection, Helander says A Cold Day in Hell (AI5, 4,400′) would have been impossible. With it, they gained access to nearly 2,000 feet of ice climbing. “It seemed ephemeral, like it might not be there in a week. But conditions for us were phenomenal. Actually, the ridgeline at the top felt much more committing.”
The “wild, very exposed” ridge sported a nasty cornice, and felt particularly difficult for Helander and Stuckey because they had brought only two pickets. The team reported that the true summit is only about 20 feet higher, making the ridge a frustrating psychological hurdle as well.
Named by David Roberts in 1967, Apocalypse is one of the few peaks in the range that has some climbing history. Roberts’ partners Ned Fetcher, Matt Hale, Jr. and Rick Millikan tried a “steep icefall” on the peak that year. In late December, 1982, Dick Flaharty and Mark Wumkes made a six-week journey to the Revelations, climbing multiple icefalls on Mt. Hesperus, the Revelations’ highest peak, but achieved no summits. The weather was brutal. Temperatures dropped as low as -55 degrees Fahrenheit. At one point, a Forest Service plane landed and offered them an early evacuation, which they graciously declined. Astonished at the potential in the range, Flaharty corralled a group of his boyhood Californian friends, now big-wall climbers, and brought them back to the Revelations the next summer. After rockfall forced a retreat from Hesperus, Flaharty and friends started up the central buttress on the west face of Apocalypse. “We picked a steep line,” says Flaharty, “to minimize rockfall.” After 10 days on the wall and nearly 1,500 feet, the party reached a small band of rotten rock that stopped them. “It made a big enough impression on me that I named my business after it,” says Flaharty. He calls his equipment company Apocalypse Designs. In 1985, Alaskan Karl Swanson attempted to solo the peak, but was unsuccessful.
Helander has personally created much of the range’s recent history, bagging a new route on each of his last six visits. In 2012, with Ben Trocki, he made the first ascent of Golgotha (8,940′) and the possible second ascent of the Angel (9,260′) via new routes. On earlier trips he claimed first ascents of the Ice Pyramid (9,250′), Mt. Mausolus (9,170′) and Exodus (8,385′).