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Hard Days in Alaska
May 2010 :: United States :: Revelations, Alaska

Clint Helander reports on his trip to Alaska in 2010.  Tough conditions did not allow for the successes he and partner Seth Holden yearned for, but it was a learning experience and life altering trip.  Clint was partially supported the McNeill-Nott Award, an AAC grant offered annually.

 

After waiting an agonizing twelve days to fly in, Seth Holden and I finally landed under the massive west face of Mount Mausolus. In the 1968 American Alpine Journal, Dave Roberts called the peak a “hopeless labyrinth” and “perhaps the toughest climb in the range.” He wasn't wrong. Masoulus could almost be classified as a massif. It's west face is composed of a series of massive protruding granite spines and narrow runnels and couloirs. Like Roberts' Mount Huntington, Mausolus was the mountain of my fear. 

 

Dividing the Swift and Stony river drainages, it stood proud, unclimbed and one of the largest mountains in the entire Revelation range. Seth and I had made two previous forays into the Revelations, a small pocket of granite spires that make up the southwestern most part of the Alaska Range. Mausolus had been my sole fascination since I read Roberts' words in the AAJ. 

 

The logistical problems of even getting to such a remote range of mountains was almost as much of a nightmare as climbing them. The first year, Seth and I landed north of Mausolus on a series of small glaciers at the head of the Big River. It soon became apparent that we couldn't even feasibly reach our mountain due to a critical pass having severe avalanche danger. 

 

The second year we landed at the same spot and made the first ascent of the Ice Pyramid. From the top, we gazed south at Mausolus. 

May 2010. Seth and I watched our 21-day window dwindle to just over a week as we waited for flyable weather. On the third try, our pilot finally landed us under Mausolus' 4,500' face. Just knowing that we were the first people to ever be here made the trip worth it. It quickly became apparent that we were a little too late. A crescendo of avalanches ripped down Mausolus every day for the next five days. At night, things grew quiet and the snow firmed. We were torn. The mountain was clearly telling us to stay away, yet we had come so far. We calculated our time frame and decided to at least reconoitre the bottom half of the face. In two hours we simul-climbed roughly half of the face before the intense technical difficulties began. Continuing up would be a fool's journey, so we happily bailed. It was the last night the temperature dropped below freezing.

 

We called our pilot, who transported us to the main spine of the range. We scoped our second objective, the south ridge of the Angel. In 1967 Dave Roberts and his party made six attempts on the Angel. In his book “On the Ridge Between Life and Death,” he devotes an entire chapter to the Revelations. In it he says “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, in terms of sheer simple “what-might-have-been” - even more than the pang of not accompanying Rick and Art to the top of Kichatna Spire – letting the Angel slip through our fingers when we were within 700 feet of the summit on a perfect day still stings the sharpest.” 

 

With sun beating down, Seth and I quickly started up the South Ridge. For me, the sheer history of the route made it beautiful. The fact that one of my idols had coveted it, and that it remained unclimbed made it desirable beyond words. We simul-climbed most of the lower ridge, stopping to belay on only a few sections. We reached a steep notch that would require some aiding and retreated to collect more small gear. From half way up the ridge, we watched as the sun turned our runway into a literal pool of water. Despite splitter weather, we were out of time. Plus, the pilot felt the glacier was becoming almost un-landable.  Still, we both agreed that it was the best day of climbing either of us had ever had.

 

Seth and I schemed for the rest of the summer about getting out to finish the Angel in late August or early September. It looked like it might actually happen too. On August 24th, I went to a beach-side barbeque in Anchorage. It was a perfect Alaskan evening. I looked across the Cook Inlet at the jagged mountains that made up the Tordrillo and Neacola ranges. Somewhere behind them were my beloved Revelations. As the sun set, it cast an alpenglow upon the peaks that was as beautiful as any I had ever seen. I texted Seth, saying “Man, watching the sunset tonight I felt a deep pang, knowing that the same light was beaming across the summit of the Angel.” I didn't find out until the next afternoon, but he never received the message. As the sun fell below the horizon that night, Seth and another friend died in a plane crash across the inlet. 

 

I would like to graciously thank the McNeill-Nott Award committee for providing us with the grant to pursue our dreams in the Revelations. Despite our problems on this particular trip, it was filled with fond memories that will forever be a part of me. Thank you.