Denali Slovak Direct climbed in Alaska by Bru Busom, Marc Toralles
Spanish mountaineers Bru Busom and Marc Toralles report about their June 2019 repeat, despite difficult conditions, of the Slovak Direct, the famous and difficult route up the South Face of Denali (6194m) in Alaska established from 13 - 23 May 1984 by Blažej Adam, Tono Križo and František Korl.
"We are in Talkeetna, devastated, waiting for our luggage .. We've been waiting for four days now; if it does not arrive by tomorrow we are leaving …"
This is how our expedition began.
But the duffle arrived, and with it all the motivation we needed. We knew we had possibilities so it didn’t matter how small the window of good weather was, we would make the most of it.
Our goal was to climb the Slovak Direct on the south face of Denali. We began acclimatization and in a week we made it to the summit via the Orient Express. We felt strong and motivated, and we firmly believed in our possibilities.
Two days of bad weather helped us rest and prepare the logistics for the climb up the south face. Three-day forecasts are unreliable so we had to flip a coin… and it came up heads.
The next day, at dawn, we left; backpacks and food for 5 days. The approach via the Seattle Ramp was complex due to the recent snowfall that had completely covered the cracks.
We had to open the route throughout the day, which made us arrive at the base of the wall more fatigued than we expected. One last weather check confirmed the arrival of strong winds over 40 miles by the third day. We accepted the challenge. It took us 9 hours to climb to the first snowdrift. We found the route offered little ice and 20cm of fresh snow, which resulted in a very laborious climb difficult to protect.
Arriving at the bivouac, it began to snow, accumulating 15cm of fresh snow. Luckily, we found shelter in a crevasse that protected us from the continuous snow slides that fell throughout the night.
On the second day we faced the most complex part of the route. We waded through waist deep snow and endured the constant sluffs, pitch after pitch. Even so, it was one of the best climbing days of our lives. We found sections of snow, mixed and ice that moved us for their beauty and challenge. The day ended in one of the most breathtaking bivouacs we have ever done.
The third day started with the key- pitch of our ascent. Carrying little equipment made free climbing for the leader too exposed, which forced us to climb demanding sections without much protection. The second could free the pitch confirming the grade M8.
The following pitches were of great quality and demanded some very technical and cool-headed climbing, which added to the recent snow and large sluffs, were the most tense moments of the climb. As we exited the mixed sections, it started snowing again. Faced with the impossibility of a retreat, we continued to climb enduring the strong snow slides until the last wall, where due to bad visibility and not finding the route, we opened a variant of exposed M6. At the end of the day we reached the snow ramps with the Cassin Ridge where we untied and found a good bivouac.
The freezing temperatures and the altitude, added to the wet sleeping bags, promised a very hard night. In the morning we got up with the sun. We had 1000m of easy terrain ahead to the summit. The fatigue and the large amount of accumulated snow made the day harder than expected. At 7 pm we reached the summit exhausted, but happy to have achieved this great challenge. Only the 1,800 m of known descent separated us from the dreamed spaghetti, bacon and cheese.
Bru Busom and Marc Toralles
Slovak Direct - Denali South Face
First ascent: 13 - 23 May 1984 by Blažej Adam, Tono Križo and František Korl
Grade: 2700m, WI 6+, M8