Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Cassin Ridge

4:22am. Shit! As usual the alarm on my expensive alitimetre watch had been too quiet to wake me. I shook Tom awake and he quickly got the stove going. Over the next hour we ate oatmeal and brewed up. At six we shouldered our miniscule rucksacks and set off. We soloed the first part of the Japanese Colouir to the start of the difficulties where we put the rope on. Tom lead a steep bulge reminiscent of the Rouge Pitch. The wide gully above looked straightforward so we simu climbed, reaching its’ top three hours after we’d crossed the ‘shrund.

My block was straightforward easy snow climbing followed by the alleged crux. The guide said 5.8 so I was expecting a VS fight but was pleasantly surprised to find a straightforward gully that was barley Scottish IV. Tom lead off up the Cowboy Arete finding secure snow with the occasional bomber screw. Stupidly I’d put my water bottle in my sack and was suffering for it. I had a big drink and clipped it to my harness before setting off up the towards the First Rock Band. At the ‘shrund below we stopped and brewed up for an hour. The weather was still perfect and we were both pretty upbeat and pleased with how well we were moving. We talked rubbish and tried to pick out Nick and Andy’s tracks on the glacier below.

I then set off into the First Rock Band, moving together through easy mixed terrain until I ran out of gear. Tom lead a tricky goulette and I continued upwards on easy snow towards the start the second rock band. Both tired and out of water we stopped, brewed up and ate a freeze dried each. We turned the radio on 8. Lisa’s forecast wasn’t good: snow the next evening, but we still had twenty four hours she reassured us. Silently we packed up and set off, both knowing we had to get out of here.

I was pretty spent and let Tom lead us up the straightforward mixed ground through the Second Rock Band, while I plugged into my Ipod and escaped. At midnight we arrived at the small ledge that was the poor bivi marked on the topo. Even though there was only two more pitches of climbing to the top of the difficulties, after twenty hours of climbing we were too tired to continue. I brewed and boiled water for hot water bottles, whilst Tom struggled to make platform large enough to squeeze our tiny tent on. We slept tied in.

We didn’t set an alarm and were alarmed when we woke to snow, which had arrived early. This wasn’t in the plan. After brews and breakfast we set off, apprehensive about what the day would bring. Tom lead off and after dispatching the a tricky slab struggled up a tricky crux corner, with spindrift pouring down. We were now atop the Second Rock Band, the end of the route’s technical difficulties. However the prospect of 6000 feet of wading in a whiteout on North America’s highest mountain meant we were far from relaxed.

I broke trail across Big Birth, squinting through the clag for the colouir that bypasses the Third Rock Band, scared that I’d miss it or follow dead end. Thankfully I choose the right fork and kept stomping up. We were both concerned about the weather and the snow were considering bailing leftwards towards the safety at the earliest opportunity. After a while a tent platform appeared. We stopped, sat on our pads, and dozed while we melted snow. The clouds parted, the summit was back on.

We kept trudging upwards through the calf deep snow. Swapping over every hour and using my altimeter to monitor our progress. The top of the Cassin went on and on and on. We stopped to brew up at weather time and shared a freeze dried meal. We were both tired and would have gladly stopped for the night but the forecast told us we had to keep going. We kept going avoiding the freezing shade, eventually reaching Kahiltna Horn, lungs bursting, feet freezing around eleven pm. We dropped our sacks and walked the final few hundred feet to the summit.

Exhausted. I stumbled down, bent double, in a world of my own, wondering why Tom still looked fresh. My water had frozen. The final tiny hill back in 17k Camp was my stumbling block. Head in my hands I sat on the snow. Tom picked up my sack and carried it into to camp. We’d planned to just brew up and continue down to our warm beds at 14k camp, but our stove wouldn’t pressurize. Too tired to fix it we admitted defeat and collapsed into our tiny tent.

When I woke I went over to the rangers tent and sheepishly asked to use their stove. They knew what we’d done and were relieved to see us. They plied us with congratulatory hot drinks. After a couple of hours talking gibberish in their huge party tent we set off on our tired legs back to 14k Camp.

Anyway enough waffle from me here are some photos: 

Descending the Wickware Ramp with Andy Houseman and Nick Bullock.

Me in the camped below the Japanese Coulior. Photo: Tom Livingstone.
Tom Livingstone on the crux of the Japanese Couloir.
Me straddling the top of the Jap Couloir. Photo: Tom Livingstone.
Me leading the 5.8 crux. Photo: Tom Livingstone.
Brewing up beneath the First Rock Band.
Tom in the First Rock Band.

Tom in the Second Rock Band.

Tom in the Second Rock Band.


In the couloir that bypasses the Third Rock Band.

The weather cleared up so we kept going...

And going...

Until we got to the top!

Tom on the summit.
Summary: An account of a two day ascent of Denali’s Cassin Ridge in late June 2012. Tom Ripley and Tom Livingstone are indebted to following organizations who provide their expedition with financial support: British Mountaineering Council, Mount Everest Foundation and Welsh Sports Association. They are also indebted to the following companies who provided them with equipment: Anatom, Cotswold Outdoor, First Ascent and Mountain Equipment. Thank you.