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After a year with few exciting new ascents, the world’s leading alpinists are heading into the mountains again to find unclimbed lines. While the Covid situation in the Himalaya and the Karakoram is threatening to derail the 8,000er climbing season, expeditions in the Alaska Range seem to be doing well. There have been several exciting expeditions that came up short—Clint Helander and August Franzen got shut down while forging a new route up Beguyya (Mt. Hunter), as did the trio of Andres Marin, Jackson Marvell, and Matt Cornell on their objectives.
But the powerhouse couple of German climber Ines Papert and Slovenian climber Luka Lindič established a fantastic new line on the West Face of Mt. Huntington. The pyramid of Mt. Huntington is iconic, and the pair’s new route Heart of Stone (M7, 50-90°, 1050 meters), established on April 26 and 27, looks spectacular.
We caught up with Papert and Lindič to hear about their new route—find more details below the break!
Q&A with Ines Papert and Luka Lindič
So what were your initial plans for Alaska?
Luka: We got to Alaska on I think the 8th of April. This trip we are doing now is part of a bigger idea we have—we would like to do a pan-Americana roadtrip, going from Alaska to Patagonia with an RV and doing alpine climbs on the way. We wanted to start last year already, but obviously because of Covid it was impossible. So we came this year with the same idea. Since the Canadian border is still closed, we’ll just do Alaska this year and do the rest of it another time. We’re here until June.
We’re kind of doing what makes sense on this trip, going where the weather looks good, and to places we would like to see and explore. So now we’re looking to go into the Hayes Range. But we’re really loose and open when it comes to planning things: if we meet with people and someone says there’s something nice in a certain place, or we see a cool photo—we might decide to go there. So it’s developing along the way. We’re just going with the flow and seeing what makes sense. It’s different than what we normally do, but we really like it because there’s more freedom too.
How did you end up deciding to try Huntington?
Luka: First we were in the Revelations where we got totally shut down. It was super, super cold. It’s unusual for it to be this cold for this long. And then in a matter of 24 hours it got super warm, so everything started falling apart. After attempting one new line on an unnamed peak, we bailed and came out.
It was hard to decide where to go next.
We decided to fly into the Alaska Range with Paul Roderick [of Talkeeta Air Taxi] and check on the way to see what looked in condition. In the Ruth gorge there was no ice, everything was melting and falling apart. We landed on the Tokositna glacier, because at least the classic routes on Huntington looked like they still had ice. First we went for the Colton-Leach because it looked like it was in good condition. We had no major knowledge of anything, so we just wanted to get to know the wall and see how it was. And it worked out super good, the conditions were super good on the route.
On the descent we spotted this other line. Took a rest of two days and then went again on the wall. We didn’t know if it had been climbed already or not, but we decided to go for it.
What was the climbing like on this new route? Conditions? Difficulty?
Luka: We started same as for the West Face Couloir. You have this initial snow apron. Instead of turning right into the couloir, we turned left onto this really steep well. When we were descending from the Colton-Leach we thought it looked really good. Since it was so warm, we brought rock shoes with us in case we could rock climb some of it.
But when we went up, it turned out that all the cracks were filled with ice.
Ines: We probably could have started earlier, but we started late for the hopes of climbing the rock in the sun. I think it was one of the last days you could climb the route with the sun that we had.
Luka: Definitely a really really warm window. On the summit of Huntington we were sitting there without gloves and just having a lunch break. Really super warm window.
Ines: During the first day we were actually climbing quite a long tim because we couldn’t find anywhere good to bivy. It was quite steep so we kept going and going. We found a bivy at 3:00 in the morning. Thankfully it wasn’t super cold, hardly any wind.
We Started the second day at 9:00 or 10:00 am the next day. We made it back to the summit for the second time in a week, and descended via the West Face Couloir again.
The steep section of the route was all mixed climbing; we put the tools and gloves away for some parts, but were still in our our boots. The steep snow at the very end of the ramp got really horrible so I was glad Luka had that lead—he’s really good in deep snow. It was tricky to protect at some points, but we had Friends and nuts, and a few pitons, and six ice screws of course. When we stretched the pitches, we climbed until the gear ran out sometimes, and just had running belays. But we probably did around 20 new pitches.
You talked with some classic Alaskan climbers to check to see if anything had been done there before right? That’s not something all climbers do, but I bet they appreciated it.
Luka: Yes we talked to Mark Westman and Jack Tackle.
Ines: We told Jack Tackle first and he said he wasn’t 100% sure if it was a new route, but he said to double check with Mark, who knows every ascent in the area. And Mark also confirmed it was a new ascent.
What’s the story behind the route’s name, Heart of Stone?
At the place where we started the new route, where we turned left after the snow apron, there’s a big heart feature in the rock. Already we were thinking, If we succeed, well, we should call it that.