Bold Solo Ascent of Mt. Hayes

Samuel Johnson's solo route on the southeast face of Mt. Hayes in Alaska.

Samuel Johnson's solo route on the southeast face of Mt. Hayes in Alaska.

Stymied by temperatures too cold for his planned route, as well as a sick partner, Samuel Johnson soloed the southeast face of Mt. Hayes (ca. 13,875'), the highest peak in the eastern Alaska Range.

Johnson had hoped to climb a new route farther around on the east side of the peak with Ryan Johnson, but "temps in base camp were –25°F to —35°F at night, and we knew we would be spending time at night up high, where it would be much colder," Johnson said. "We decided that we would be risking cold injury on the extremely technical line we intended to climb on the east face." When his partner fell ill, Johnson decided to go for a solo ascent on the sunnier and easier southeast face.

Johnson climbed the ca. 6,550-foot route in an 18-hour round trip from base camp on the Trident Glacier. He carried a 60-meter rope and a light rack in case he ran into trouble, but the climbing was not technically difficult (AI3 M3). The real crux came during his descent via the heavily crevassed east ridge. There were "hundreds of obvious and inobvious cracks on the way down," Johnson said. "I didn't take any crevasse falls, but was on high alert and often traversed ice on the steep side of the ridge to avoid…the many crevasses that occupy the snowier terrain." Back on the glacier, he followed the light of his partner's headlamp back to base camp.

Johnson on the summit.

Johnson on the summit. Only halfway there: The crux would be the descent.

The southeast face of Hayes was first climbed in 1988 by John Bauman and Tom Walter, who may have climbed a line farther right than Johnson in the upper portion of the face. It's possible Johnson did only the second ascent of the face, and it's also quite likely he completed the first solo ascent of Hayes, though there are many undocumented climbs in the Hayes Range.

This was Samuel Johnson's second big route on Mt. Hayes. In 2010, he and Ryan Hokanson did the first ascent of the direct west face  (6,500', AI3 R) in a 24-hour round trip from base camp. Over two different trips, he also has completed two new routes on nearby Mt. Balchen.

Meanwhile, the cold temperatures in the eastern Alaska Range this month also shut down an attempt on the unclimbed south face of Mt. Deborah (12,339'). After flying into the Hayes Range, the New England–based team of Elliot Gaddy, Bayard Russell, and Michael Wejchert never got on the route after finding themselves unable to keep warm even at advanced base camp.

Date of ascent: April 2013

Sources: Samuel Johnson, American Alpine Journal,