“I’ve got my projector set up,” Glen Deal tells me from across his cider house. “You can smell the film heating up and everything.”
He advances the carousel and the mechanism drops the 35mm slide film into place with a two-part clicking noise. It is 11 a.m. in early May in Bozeman, Mont., and Deal’s sharing the dramafilled story of the time he was avalanched and mistaken for dead on Mount Foraker’s (5,303 m) Infinite Spur.
What he would go on to share would be one of climbing’s weirdest tales, one that shows the darker side of climbing – when things don’t go as planned and when teams fight among themselves. His tale was not a glory story, nor a speed-climbing tale as with Colin Haley’s 12:29 solo of the same route in 2016, but a drawn-out eleven-day epic that left him and his partner wanting to pummel each other. He told me an old-school climbing epic that each climber who was involved, when later reached, would tell differently.
The slideshow starts with images of himself, at the time a college student, and partner, Australian Gren Hinton, training for the Infinite Spur by soloing ice and doing hard mixed routes throughout Montana, Wyoming and Alberta. After a winter of climbing together, in May 2000, the two jumped into Deal’s green Dodge Dakota and drove for 52 hours from their homes in Bozeman to the Alaska Range.
After two weeks of warming up in the Alaska Range, which included an attempt on Mount Hunter’s Kennedy-Lowe route, Deal came down with a head cold. In response, Deal says, Hinton was restless at base camp, and soloed the Infinite Spur’s descent route – a 3,000-metre climb – over five days. The solo climb can be seen as a testament to Hinton’s independence and confidence, traits that may have made teamwork harder on the Spur. Hinton describes himself as, “a proud solo climber, who doesn’t like sharing any of the hard pitches or the workload.”
A week after returning to base camp after Hinton’s solo, he and Deal packed fourteen days’ worth of food to make the coveted third ascent of Infinite Spur, a Grade VI 5.9 M5 AI4 route put up by George Lowe and Michael Kennedy in 1977. The guidebook,
describes the route as “Alaska’s ultimate test-piece and one of the world’s finest alpine challenges.”
Hinton remembers the story differently, saying he was oblivious as to how many ascents the route had seen. “The reality is, I did no historical research of the route, saw no photo,” he says. “We didn’t even know it was the third ascent.”
Skiing toward the mountain, they passed alpine-climbing legends Barry Blanchard and Carl Tobin, then in their ’40s, who also had their eyes on the route. When Deal and Hinton shared their goal to the climb the Spur, Blanchard and Tobin quickly packed their bags and chased the other two to the route. “They wanted it bad,” Deal explains over the projector fan.
But the way Blanchard and Tobin explain it, the sight of Deal and Hinton skiing through their camp was simply strange and they didn’t see the climb as competition.
“Hinton remembers the story differently.”