Mount Hayes is the highest mountain in the eastern Alaska Range and one of the largest peaks in the United States in terms of its rise. The Northeast Face rises 8,000 feet in approximately two miles. The mountain was first ascended in 1941, but it’s infrequently climbed due to its remoteness and the resulting difficulty of accessing the mountain. Check out Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Angela VanWiemeersch’s report on her team’s 72-hour ascent of their first ascent.
One, two, three in a row. Jason Stuckey, John Giraldo and I stood at the base of Mount Hayes with our chins high in the air, staring at the Northeast Face. We passed the binoculars back and forth discussing how to best approach this beast. I remember feeling like we were the Three Musketeers, getting ready to embark on an epic battle. However, I later realized that we were more like the three Ninja Turtles avoiding a run-in with their archenemy Shredder.
The Northeast Face of Mount Hayes is an object of intimidation and inspiration. Its poor quality rock face has many runnels, prows and snow slopes; a marvelous set of features to climb. The only catch was that nearly every line was threatened by seracs (blocks or columns of glacial ice), including our originally planned line. So down went the cards, and we folded. It wasn’t worth it. We decided to try and climb the line on the far left with the least amount of overhead hazards. Moms and Dads, from Alaska to Michigan, would be psyched.
Night passed, morning came, and we soon ditched our skis and headed up and over the bergschrund. John blasted up the first block of steep “snice,” placing gear in small rock outcrops when he could. Our gear was always in places that were sketchier to get to than the actual climbing. So on cruiser-terrain we didn’t worry that much about the gear and kept pushing upward. We swapped leads in blocks while simul-climbing just about everything until the top 1,200 feet of the face.
We then started pitching things out here and there when the climbing got trickier. We experienced icy snowfields, super fun rock moves, and calf-burning pitches of glacial ice. From there we thought it was a straight shot until I led a mixed pitch to the edge of a cliff. I traversed out left and set up a belay in hopes that the terrain above didn’t cliff out as well. As I handed the rack to John, I suddenly realized which Ninja Turtle he was. As he flew out of the belay and styled the exposed crux I had no doubt in my mind he was Raphael. No, he did not talk with a Brooklyn accent but he had that fiery, strong-willed, go-for-it attitude. Not to mention a witty comment here and there to keep me giggling all the way up the route.
Jason led us up some steeper ice pitches to a knife ridge as the sun went down. We were psyched to have finished the face. The cold temperatures settled in and we were getting sleepy. Our current location didn’t provide for a good bivy. John cruised up high on the ridge looking for a place to dig, but it was too steep and all ice. He eventually struck gold and found us the most amazing snowy cornice to sleep beneath. It was such a lucky find, really the only thing around. We dug out a trench as much as we could, but it was still only wide enough for one grown man to sleep comfortably. So there we were, three smelly alpine climbers playing Tetris with body limbs and sleeping mats. We made it work and we were stoked.