“Everything went perfectly: there was no strife, no discomfort, no unpleasant sections of the route, and the conditions literally could not have been better,” Will Mayo wrote of his May 11 ascent of a new route on the west face of Mt. Huntington with Josh Wharton. The duo established Scorched Granite (AI6 M7, 4,200′) in an impressive 13 hours and 30 minutes roundtrip.
Both climbers entered the Alaska Range with a new and distinctive perspective on alpine climbing gained from recent experiences–Wharton as a new father and Mayo returning to the range after an eight-year absence. “It is so good to get back into the alpine game. I feel like a climber again,” said Mayo, whose long hiatus was sparked by dangerous conditions on Mt. Foraker one day in 2006. Less than half an hour after Mayo and partner Maxime Turgeon left the summit, a huge piece of their barely-established WI5+ M6 R route gave way in an avalanche of rock and ice that would have certainly killed them both. Meanwhile, Sue Nott and Karen McNeill disappeared from Foraker’s Infinite Spur and were never found.
Mayo left the Alaska Range and the alpine-climbing realm, instead focusing his attention on the “gymnastic aspects of climbing.” In December 2007 he put up a difficult mixed route on New Hampshire’s Cannon Cliff with Andy Tuthill; Mayo and three others established an M11 in the Ghost River Valley of Alberta last year; and he redpointed an M14- sport mixed route in Vail, Colorado. Not long ago, he says, he began to notice a change in his climbing experiences: “[T]here was something intangible that was lacking in recent years, something I was only abstractly aware of, yet there seemed to be something missing in my experiences….”
Wharton, whose daughter Hera was born on January 16, waited for perfect conditions on Huntington to forestall a long absence from his five-month-old. “My daughter Hera has brought lots of joy into our lives, and I think happiness spills into all aspects of life,” Wharton wrote. “Lately my climbing has been going very well, and I think that’s partially related to some of the joy Hera gives me.” Scorched Granite was no exception: “[T]he climb and descent went incredibly smoothly, and were consistent Type-I fun.”
On May 10, Mayo and Wharton flew onto the East Fork of the Tokositna Glacier. Their intended route, a thin ice line to the left of the Colton-Leach (85 degrees, 3,100′) on the west face, is a mere ten-minute walk from Base Camp. The climbers left the following morning at 10 a.m. to solo the initial 800 feet of AI4 in the Colton-Leach couloir and reach the base of the smear. They simulclimbed another 300 feet before reaching the M7 crux. “The crux pitch was alpine mixed perfection. There was not an over-abundance of gear, but there was enough to make it safe,” said Mayo, who led the pitch. He wasn’t sure the route would go until he high-stepped onto a solid foot placement above a .75 Camalot.
Mayo and Wharton continued up, reaching the French Ridge at 5:20 p.m. Perfect neve snow pocketed with solid ice composed the final ridge, leading them to the summit at 7:30 p.m. “We descended the West Face Couloir [aka Nettle-Quirk] and returned to camp at 11:30 p.m., completely in disbelief that the math kept resulting in thirteen and half hours total time.”
Kelly Cordes, who made the first one-day ascent of Huntington in 2001 with Scott DeCapio, explained in Alpinist 20 that the speed of his ascent was due mainly to the fact that he and DeCapio went “full-on sketchball Disaster Style.” Luckily for climbers on Huntington this year, no such tactics have been necessary. John Frieh reported similarly idyllic conditions during his, Brad Farra and Jason Stuckey’s winter ascent of the French Ridge in early March. “In a way, it seemed like we cheated the mountain,” Mayo wrote after his recent ascent. “The conditions were so good it felt like we were on the West Buttress of Denali. For decades the upper snow slopes of Mt. Huntington have stymied some of the best alpinists in the world, yet for us it was cruiser. It almost seemed wrong.”