written by Trevor Kreznar
Last summer I bought a book. I don’t read as much as I should since the majority of my book purchases aren’t novels, they’re guidebooks. But this particular book, Alaska Climbing by Supertopo, contained elaborate historical descriptions of climbs that piqued my interest. After reading the book cover to cover, the Harvard Route on Mount Huntington really stood out. It was first climbed by a group of East Coast college students. Naturally, I could relate since I started climbing as part of my college outdoor program back East. In addition to its history, the route’s diversity–steep ice, sketchy snow, challenging rock, and delicate aid–greatly appealed to me. So it was decided. I just had to convince Christian, my climbing partner.
I brought up the idea to Christian and, after researching this route, he seemed game. So we set out last fall to practice our aid climbing skills and familiarize ourselves with the pitches we would later complete on Mount Huntington. We trained on ice climbs throughout the mountain west in Hyalite Canyon, the Beartooth Mountains, the Shoshone River Valley, and the Canadian Rockies. With experience under our belts, we felt ready for the technical difficulties that lay ahead.
In April, I packed my truck with all my gear and drove north to Anchorage to meet Christian, who flew in later. We stocked up on supplies and headed to Talkeetna to wait for good flying weather. We listened as climbers recounted stories of their experience in the Alaska Range and quickly realized that the one thing we didn’t train for was minus-40-Degree temperatures.
After waiting several days for the weather to clear (and hopefully warm up!) we boarded our ski plane and were whisked off to the Tokositna Glacier. Upon landing in the vast remoteness, our undertaking really began to sink in.
The first order of business was to create a livable campsite for our three week endeavor. We went to work on the blank canvas of snow with shovels and saws. On day one we created our site; and on day two we organized our excessive amount of gear. Soon after, the weather turned fair indicating it was time to climb!
We left camp around five a.m. and skied across the flats to the base of Mount Huntington. Soon, our legs were burning and our cold toes and fingers were beginning to thaw. After climbing to the upper glacier basin, a wide bergschrund forced us to complete a seemingly endless traverse to the base of the Harvard Route. With the traverse under our belt, our journey to the top began. The first couloir was a mix of moderate, yet bullet-proof ice, steep snow, easy mixed climbing, and decades-old fixed line and anchors, reminding us of the great history of this classic Alaskan route.
Topping out the initial couloir involved a steep scramble up a sugary snow ramp onto the Upper Park area. I was quite excited to be leading—it was my first steep snow lead of the trip! But my feelings changed once I reached the end of the rope. After digging a semi-useable snow anchor, I yelled, “On-belay,” and prayed Christian could navigate the steep snow at the start of the pitch. Luckily, due to the volume of snow that poured down on him while I dug the anchor, he knew we were in no-fall terrain. We were both safely at my belay thirty minutes later.
Next, we crossed Upper Park, a corniced snowfield, and reached The Spiral, our first crux section. Christian led the first pitch and I was more than happy to follow! While the technicality of the climbing wasn’t impressively hard, our packs were heavy and our cumbersome mountain boots made the climbing difficult.
Next came the Bastion Pitches. Climbing these pitches would have been enjoyable in any other situation, but the minus-10-Degree temperatures, a heavier-than-normal pack, and the twenty-hour slog hardened my outlook. Still, we reached the Nose Bivy Ledge after a few easy snow pitches. In retrospect, that ledge is now my favorite camp spot ever—with a near 5,000 feet of exposure down to the Lower Tokositna Glacier, a snow ledge six inches narrower than our tent, and an amazing view of the Alaska Range!
The next day involved the most technical aid pitch of the climb, some easy mixed-ground climbing, and a snow ramp to the summit ridge. We traversed the corniced ridge to the summit, reaching the top around three p.m. And after some quick photo ops amid both sun and wind—we reversed the processes and began our rappel back home. Finally, we put on our skis for the final slog to our tent. Our roomy base camp tent and thick sleeping bags were a welcome sight, as was the knowledge that we had just pulled off our first route in the Alaska Range!
The Harvard route, due to its varied terrain and gear-intensiveness, was a lesson in both packing and nutrition. More equipment meant less room for food and amenities. Thankfully, Kate’s bars, with their compact and wholesome nature, sustained our energy throughout the day. And they don’t freeze like other bars I’ve used—an added plus in minus-20-Degree temperatures. The combo of Grizzly Bars and NutterButters provided us the right amount of sugar, protein, and fat needed for intensive climbing. Plus, we both love peanut butter!