Matty Scholes climbing in New Zealand
Lately local Blue Mountains climber, and husband to Mountain Equipment staff member Meri, Matt Scholes has been doing us proud in Alaska. Part of the New Zealand Alpine Team, he has been joined by some of NZ's best young mountaineers with the objective being the rarely repeated Slovak Direct. The Slovak Direct has a demanding reputation for its consistent technical climbing and definitely does not see the crouds of the West Butress. A 2700m line with difficulties up to VI (Alaska grade) WI6 M6+ A2, it has attracted the likes of Mark Twight and Andy Houseman.
After hauling their sleds up through a couple of camps they acclimatised at 14k'Camp, then climbed to the summit via the West Rib Cut Off in reasonably mild temps of -15C. After a quick rest day Matt and Steven Fortune (of New Zealand) then attacked the Cassin Ridge (Grade V, 5.6 WI4) for more acclimatising. With a weather window closing the two pushed hard on the nearly 4000 vertical metres to gain the summit in 19 hours, and returning to base in a round trip of 27 hours. An awesome feat considering a usual party would take 3-5 days. The summit of Denali had only previously been reached once via the Cassin Ridge this season, taking five days.
The West Rib and Cassin Ridge
Back on the glacier, feeling fit but unable to begin the Slovak because of weather, the pair were joined by Daniel Joll (founder of the NZ Ice climbing festival) in an ascent of the triangular face to bide time until the weather cleared. After completing the route, the three traversed unroped back to the ridge when disaster struck. Steve stepped on a pillow of snow which caused a larger mass to give way. Sliding down the face and unable to self arrest because of the icy conditions, he finally managed to get purchase with his axe and come to rest just before a major cliffline. Matt and Dan down-climbed to find Steven okay but sporting some nicely messed up ankles. The pair managed to rappel Steven down the face, where they borrowed a sled from the rangers to give him a ride back to base. Here they happened across an orthopedic surgeon who informed Steven that he had broken one of his ankles, then proceeded to reset it on-site. The team had to wait another few days for the weather to clear but today are on their flight out, unfortunately without an ascent of Slovak direct, but with two very fast ascents of some very notable routes, a near miss, and a successful rescue. We (especially Meri) are happy to see them on their way home safe.
Matty at Heathcliff Blue Mountains
To read a full account of their tales, click here