Uyuraq, North Ridge; Exploration | By Zach Clanton
This expedition had its beginnings in 2013, while I completed a 21-day snowboarding and climbing trip in the Tordrillo Mountains. During an initial recon flight and subsequent ground travel in this range, I became increasingly aware of its alpine rock climbing potential as we walked past beautiful orange granite. It was incredible to me that these glaciated and craggy peaks, world renowned for heli-skiing, were relatively unexplored for rock climbing. I told myself I’d return for a closer look in summer. It wasn’t until June 2015 that I got the chance to do another recon flight; this time I had an eagle eye for accessing these big rock walls. Flying low and slow, we circled and soared around numerous pinnacles, close enough to the rock to feel like we were climbing. In doing so, we scoped an incredible amount of terrain, however, rapid snowmelt alongside crevasse-riddled landing zones and approaches discouraged us. We continued our flight, looking for a less glaciated area. Our search brought us into the neighboring Hidden Mountains, and what we found was absolutely stunning. Initially, we spotted a set of gorgeous granite pyramids—that upon further investigation proved to be unnamed, unclimbed, and completely unexplored.
The Hidden Mountains are small group of peaks located between the Tordrillo Mountains and the Revelations. They have only seen a handful of expeditions, mostly unsuccessful, and it was very apparent why: The rugged and remote nature of these peaks seems to rapel any sort of serious effort. Fred Beckey once lined up a trip here that cost a fortune in flying logistics alone. This year, with summer temperatures a month advanced, a ski plane-accessed base camp-style expedition was out of the question. We had to find somewhere free of snow and these mystery peaks were perfect for the occasion. After weeks of logistical nightmares, I finally figured out what it would take to approach these peaks. We launched our expedition from Nikiski, flying 70 miles across the Cook Inlet and into the mountains. Our pilot Doug Brewer and I took off in a Super Cub, using that as a recon/shuttle aircraft, while my partners James Gustafson and Tim Plotke followed behind in a Beaver floatplane. With high winds and water in all directions near the shore of Chakachamna Lake, we struggled to find an LZ appropriate for both the floatplane and Super Cub, so Doug and I continued toward our objective, seeing how close we could land. After extensive searching and multiple bear sightings, the closest we could get was 12 miles from our destination. The terrain we had to travel looked like serious bush-bashing along Another River but we were very committed at this point.
From Chakachamna Lake, Doug shuttled in James, Tim, and the rest of our gear. It took us five days to travel those 12 miles. Incessant mosquitos and alders blocked our path, and a machete was required to cut our way through the denser areas. Some days I would throw down my pack at the end of an exhausting 14-hour day and see that we had only gone 1.8 miles. Some bears were indifferent to our passing but others showed signs of curiosity and aggressiveness. On one occasion our only option was to spray buckshot from our twelve-gauge to deter them. Eventually, we made it into the rocky cirque that we had begun calling Talliktok (native word for Hidden). We made ourselves at home by pitching our Mega-mid on a flat rock. In the weeks that followed, we made the first ascent of Uyuraq (meaning Brother) via it’s north ridge (4 pitches, 5.7) and made multiple attempts at a direct line up the west face of Talliktok, climbing corner systems up to 5.10, which all ended in dangerously loose rock and very questionable belays. On “halfway” weather days—when we weren’t tent-bound from the constant downpours—we had the chance to explore the extensive bouldering potential in the cirque. On our hike out, we were able to check out another untouched climbing venue we dubbed the Bear Slabs. After twenty-four days, we arrived back in civilization for glorious burgers and beers after the wildest adventure of our lives! The peak we’ve called Talliktok is still out there lurking in the clouds of the Hidden Mountains awaiting its first ascent. Who will be up for it?