Gripped - - FEATURE - Alaska Climb­ing

“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.”

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