After canceling their trip to Pakistan because of the recent terrorist attack on Nanga Parbat, Scott Bennett and Graham Zimmerman refocused their sights on Alaska’s Revelation Mountains. Before leaving on July 12, they spoke with Clint Helander, the godfather of modern Revelations climbing, about possible objectives in the area and decided to attempt a new rock route on the east buttress of The Angel (9,265′).
Returning from their trip Scott Bennett reported on the adventure:
Graham and I have just returned to Talkeetna after spending a fun-filled 10 days in the Revelation Mountains. This remote range, on the far southwest end of the Alaska Range, has been visited a few times in this Spring season, and climbers have returned with stories of amazingly huge mixed lines and perfect “J-Tree” white granite. We had found almost no information on summertime rock climbing activity in the range, so we were excited to make a reconnaissance mission and see what these mountains could offer.
We flew in with Talkeetna Air Taxi on their new R44 Helicopter piloted by Will Boardman. Lack of snow for a ski plane landing made the helicopter essential, so we’re very thankful to Will and TAT for their help. It should be mentioned that landing a helicopter in Denali National Park is illegal, but the Revelations are outside of the park. It was TAT’s first helicopter insertion for a climbing trip.
During the hour and a half ride into the range, during which we saw no roads and few signs of human life, we got a visceral feel for the scale and isolation of Alaska. The drone of the chopper faded and Graham and I were left on the glacier with our gear, and we entered our own little mountain kingdom, sole rulers and inhabitants.
Once we had gotten a feel for our realm, we realized that we were camped directly underneath the most enticing objective: the east buttress of The Angel!
We began climbing on July 13, starting up a beautiful granite wall with cracks and corners aplenty. Six hundred meters of quality rock climbing, with difficulties up to 5.10, filled most of our day. Everything was climbed onsight and followed free. We were stoked to find a perfect bivy spot on the ridge, where we set up our comfy little tent that was sheltered from a passing squall. After a few hours of rest under the midnight sun we began climbing again surrounded by blue skies! A low cloud layer below us brought the surrounding peaks, jutting through, into beautiful relief.
Another 500 meters of classic ridge terrain separated us from the summit, and we occasionally donned crampons to navigate snow and ice while simulclimbing. At this point we shared terrain with the 1985 ascent of the Southeast Buttress made by Greg Collins and Tom Walter.
Reaching the summit midday, we paused to remember our friend Zach Orman, who passed away earlier this year in a paragliding accident. (We miss you Zach!)
We descended to the north and then rappelled 600m down the eastern aspect of the north ridge to a hanging glacier that we mostly walked down to reach the main Revelations Glacier.
After that climb, our options for other routes were extremely limited because of multiple core shots in our ropes and terrible weather. On July 21 we flew out of the range after five days of being pinned down by heavy rain and wind.
The Angel has more history than any other peak in the Revelations, Clint Helander says, but that’s not saying much. The Revelations are relatively unfrequented, though that’s changing through Helander’s efforts. Greg Collins and Tom Walter were the first to climb The Angel in May of 1985. They succeeded, after four attempts, via “snow ramps with an occasional rock move or two along the left flank of the [east] buttress,” Walter wrote in the 1988 American Alpine Journal. After a 5.10 crux slab, they gained the east ridge and followed that to the summit.
(In the report Collins and Walter describe their route as the “Southeast Buttress” of the peak. Bennett and Zimmerman believe that route actually climbs the south side of what they are describing as the ‘East Buttress.’ Bennett and Zimmerman’s route joins the 1985 route at the top of the buttress and follows the same moderate ridgeline to the summit.–Ed.)
Twenty-seven years passed before the second ascent. In April 2012, Helander, who has now made five trips to the Revelations, and Ben Trocki climbed the coveted south ridge (with funding from our Mugs Stump grant) in a 21-hour push. In 1967, a group including David Roberts attempted the south ridge six times during their 52-day expedition. Roberts’ last attempt with Matt Hale brought them 700 feet from the summit, but an ice traverse turned them back once again.
In his book, On the Ridge Between Life and Death, he writes, “From the vantage point of middle-aged nostalgia for meteoric youth, it is hard to congratulate yourself for prudence rather than for boldness. I still think Matt and I made the right decision on August 28, 1967. Yet of all the regrets I have about my years in the mountains…letting the Angel slip through our fingers when we were within 700 feet of the summit on a perfect day still stings the sharpest.”
While the south ridge of The Angel is “one of the Range’s most striking features,” Helander says, the Revelations still hold a large number of unclimbed, mixed alpine and long rock climbs. “Someone really needs to make an assault on the rock buttresses on the west face of Mt. Mausolus, left of the line I climbed with Scotty Vincik in 2011. That thing would be huge and the rock looks very clean,” Helander says. “There’s tons of objectives in there, but I’ll let people discover the rest of them for themselves…that is, if they can beat me to them!”
After a group of men murdered 10 foreigners and one Pakistani man in the Diamir Base Camp on Nanga Parbat in June, climbers from around the world cancelled their Karakoram expeditions. For Bennett and Zimmerman, the decision not to move forward with their trip was clear, they told the Mugs Stump committee (of which Alpinist is a part). The committee awarded funding for their attempt on the northwest ridge of Tahu Rutum (6651m) this year. Shortly after the Nanga Parbat attack, the climbers requested reallocation of some of their grant money to go new routing in the Revelations. The committee acquiesced, and their resulting ascent of the south ridge “may be the most technical rock route done in the Revelations yet,” Helander says. “James Funsten did some rock climbing with Fred Beckey in the mid 1990s, but nowhere to the scale of what Graham and Scott just pulled off.”
Read about other notable ascents in the Revelations below.
April 30, 2012 NewsWire: The Revelations of Helander and Trocki
August 7, 2012 NewsWire: Slovenian Revelations
January 9, 2013 Feature: Golgotha and the Angel: Reveling in the Unclimbed
April 11, 2013 NewsWire: Helander, Stuckey Climb Apocalyptic FA in Revelations