Earlier this month, Alex Honnold pulled off one of the most audacious free-solo climbs ever, up the nearly 3,000-foot vertical face of Yosemite’s El Capitan. So how does the planet’s greatest climber follow it up? Not a problem. Honnold has reunited with two climbing partners, filmmaker and climber Renan Ozturk and alpinist Freddie Wilkinson, to take a second crack at a formidable route, called the Wine Bottle Tower, up the East Face of Alaska’s Mount Dickey. Men’s Journal is tagging along to see if they can pull it off, and we’ll have regular updates as the team makes their way up the mountain, which rises 5,000 feet from the base of Ruth Glacier.
MOUNT DICKEY, ALASKA, 6/20/2017 – As is typical for expeditions in the mountains, it’s been a few days of waiting for optimum conditions for Honnold, Ozturk, and Wilkinson. The team, plus Ozturk’s wife, Taylor Freesolo Rees, and his film/production guy, Rudy, flew in to Ruth Glacier on June 14 and immediately took off on skis to find a spot for their base camp. This spring has been warm, without much snow, so the glacier conditions are difficult for walking: It’s easy to punch through the thin snow layer to the melting ice underneath, which is cumbersome but not especially dangerous. Of course, as with any glacier, there are crevasses — and those can be deadly. Up until yesterday, the climbers worked to find a safe route to the base of Wine Bottle that avoids crevasses.
When they caught a clear view of the face, they saw black streaks of water on the face, likely from rain and melting snow. Alex can’t lead those pitches without aid until it dries. So now they wait for the route to come into condition. Yesterday, to get acclimated with everything and to keep from going crazy, the three left in the morning on a practice climb on the opposite side of Ruth Gorge, a mountain called The Stump. It turns out this “practice climb” was also a first ascent of a new route.
Today will probably be a rest day for the three climbers as they wait for a good weather window and good route conditions. It will be make or break over the next few days. Even with Ozturk and Wilkinson there, Honnold isn’t built to wait indefinitely in the alpine conditions of Alaska, where suffering in the cold is one of the main challenges. The group did not bring a portaledge, so if they go for it, they’ll likely go ground to summit in a single push, which would take an estimated 36 hours. There is always the possibility of spending a night or two on the route if they can find ledges wide enough to bivouac. But that’s a crapshoot and always a bit dicey — not to mention uncomfortable. The short of it: It’s shaping up to be an epic push in typical Honnold fashion — if the alpine environment cooperates.
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