Ben Silvestre, Pete Graham and Will Harris returned from a six week trip to the Central Alaska Range having made the first British ascent of the Infinite Spur (Grade 6 5.9 M5 AI4) on the South Face of Sultana - Mount Foraker (originally referred to as Sultana by the local Athabascan population). The 2700 metre line is described by Supertopo as: "…one of the world's finest alpine challenges."
Pete's caption accompanying the summit photo on his Instagram account, says: "Lads on top of Mount Foraker after climbing the Infinite Spur. A long time dream for me and an incredible and intense journey through psychological commitment and physical exhaustion. Very happy to be back in Talkeetna now enjoying all the pleasures of the non-frozen world. The grass never looked quite so green!"
Thanks to Will for sending us the following report:
"We spent the first week of our trip exploring the Thunder Glacier, hoping to make first ascents on Thunder Peak and Hunter South. Unfortunately, after an abortive attempt at a steep mixed line on point 9000', dangerous snow conditions forced us to move on to other objectives. After acclimatising on Denali's West Buttress in unsettled weather we returned to base camp before making an ascent of the Infinite Spur in a five-and-a-half day round trip.
The Infinite Spur takes a direct line up the chaotic south face of Mount Sultana - Foraker, soaring 2800m from the Lacuna glacier to the South Summit 16,810 ft (5124m). First climbed by Michael Kennedy and George Lowe over eleven days in June 1977, the route has since gained test-piece status. After a flurry of repeats at the turn of the century, the route received its last ascent in 2009 at the hands of the Swiss Anthamatten brothers and Andreas Steindl.
Whilst not as technically difficult as the nearby North Buttress of Mount Hunter, its scale combined with the lack of easy descent from Mount Foraker's summit makes for a committing venture.
After spending a day approaching the base of the route we crossed the bergschrund early on the morning of May 26th, climbing steep snow and mixed slopes before belaying at the base of the crux M5 mixed pitches. With these dispatched, and the end of Pete's block, Ben took us up through the first rock band and to our first hacked bivvy ledge.
The early demise of this ledge saw us up and away before 1 a.m., straight into the second rock band. More quality ice and mixed climbing led us up and on to the ice rib, where we were passed by Colin Haley and Rob Smith, on their way to making a record-breakingly fast ascent of the route. [Colin would come back around for a mind-blowing solo of the route a few days later, describing a harrowing storm-bound descent as crossing the line into unacceptable danger.]
From here, two pitches of South Stack style choss led us through the black band and then to the top of the knife edge ridge, where we chopped an airy bivvy after 24 hours of being on the go.
After reluctantly climbing out of our two-person sleeping bag the three of us shared the lead up seemingly endless snow and ice slopes, to be confronted with bitingly strong winds on the summit ridge. Luckily the gusts abated and we reached the summit late on May 28th, bathed in golden dusk sunlight for a shared emotional moment, before beginning our descent of the Sultana Ridge.
After a night spent in a handy sheltered crevasse, and a day traversing the peaks of the Sultana, our precious weather window finally came to an end, leaving us descending Mount Crosson in typically Scottish conditions. A final three-hour bivvy spent waiting for waist-deep slush to refreeze and we were onto the Kahiltna glacier and back to base camp for a late lunch, feeling deeply sated by our intense experience.
We would like to thank BMC, MEF, Alpine Club, Austrian Alpine Club, DMM, Rab, Mountain House and
Chia Charge for their support." Related News Item 4/5/2016: British Alpinists with Sights on Alaska