Anton Sponar Skis The Big 3 – Part 2/3 – Mt. Foraker

The next two days were spent recuperating and planning for Foraker.  We got a forecast that looked promising to go for an alpine style push.  If everything went well we figured it would take 4 days to get to the summit of Foraker.  We packed our bags with 6 days worth of food and fuel and headed off for the next adventure.  Climbing Mt. Foraker is by no means a strait forward climb.  The first step is to climb up and over a sub peak called Crosson.  This is a 6,000 ft climb that lasts two days.  From the top of Crosson the Sultana Ridge leads you to the summit of Foraker, another 2 days away.  The ridge starts flat, but narrow and takes you to Mt. Foraker proper where it broadens and begins to climb steeply to the summit.

Mount Foraker
Mount Foraker

We left base camp at 5 am with 80 pound packs.  Skiing across the Kahiltna to the base of Crosson went quickly and we felt confident in our ability to make it to the summit within our 4 day weather window.  Moving up the lower sections of Crosson went just as smooth.  This section is not glaciated so we were gratefully able to ditch the ropes.  We got to our camp at 10,000 feet feeling pretty good about ourselves.  We crammed into the 4 man tent that really only fits three and fell fast asleep.  The next day things got much harder from the outset.  Right above our camp was a section of steep black ice that slowed us from our previous days pace.  Once past that obstacle we found ourselves back on glaciated terrain, and back on ropes, probing the snow for crevasses.  To add to the troubles of the day the wind began to howl and seemed to get stronger with every step up.  After an eternity we reached to top of Crosson and made our way down the other side towards the Sultana Ridge in search of a sheltered area to set up camp.  We crammed into the tent and cooked in the vestibule to stay out of the wind before passing out.

Climbing lower Sultana Ridge on Foraker.  Third day on mountain.
Climbing lower Sultana Ridge on Foraker. Third day on mountain.

Mt. Foraker and the Sultana ridge acts like a border of the Alaska Range to our left and east while climbing lays the Kahiltna Glacier and the meat of the range, while to our west and right lay the foothills and plains some 10,000 feet down.  Since there is nothing to the west storms move in and the first thing they do is fight to make it over the ridge.  This makes it one of the most dangerous places to find yourself during a storm in the range.  This was on our minds as we looked to our right and saw the clouds building.  In the days since we left the forecast had changed to be more unsettled.  The Sultana Ridge winds around with small climbs and descents, with broad crevassed areas and knife edge sections.  We made it most of the way to the base of Foraker when the clouds finally pulled their way up over us on the ridge.  Visability was zero, so it was a good time to make camp.   Luckily we had just passed a very sheltered spot, so we backtracked and set our tent up and proceeded with the nightly rituals.  

We awoke to clear skis the next day, but the wind was blowing again.  We decided to give the summit a go.  After an hour along the lower ridge we began up the Sultana proper and found ourselves batteling the wind.  The wind whipped the snow up stinging our frozen faces.  The skis on our packs acted like sails.  We gave it our all, but at 14,000 feet we had to turn around.  We dejectedly made our way back to camp with hope to try again in the morning.

Crossing crevasses on the Upper Sultana on summit day.
Crossing crevasses on the Upper Sultana on summit day.

This was not to be.  The morning brought wind and a new storm.  We spent the day occupying ourselves with anything we could find in our tent.  The weather was too harsh outside to do much more than piss and run back to the tent.  Moral was low.  After pushing so hard on Hunter and then on Foraker up to this point it seemed as though our dream would end here.  The weather the next day looked to be the same and we had food to only last us for 2 more days before having to head down.  We could only wait and see what the morning brought.

Foraker Summit
Foraker Summit

The morning brought sun, and no wind, but frigid temps.  We waited until the sun hit the tent before we dared to try and start moving.  With all our layers on we began to move once again for the summit.  The day was perfect, but cold.  We slowly moved upwards into the thinner air of 14, 15, 16 k.  Once we hit 17,000 ft we were moving at a snails pace.  Those last couple hundred feet would drag on forever, but finally we made it to the top.  As on Hunter our celebration was muted.  There was still so much to do.  But now we got to ski.  And this was one of the most beautiful lines imaginable on a perfect day.  We pointed our skis down the Sultana with all of the Alaska Range below our feet.  

Anton skiing the upper Sultana
Anton skiing the upper Sultana

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