Denali, South Face first ski descent and fast Cassin Ridge ascent
Swedish skier Andreas Fransson has carried out the first ski descent of the South Face of Denali (6197m), while British alpinists Jonathan Griffith and Will Sim have sped up the Cassin ridge in 14 hours 40 minutes.
North America's highest mountain - Denali - has been the centre of attention recently with a number of impressive ascents and descents, including what some describe as the most audacious extreme ski of recent times, the descent of the huge south face by Swedish skier Andreas Fransson.
The Chamonx-based skier acclimatised by ascending and skiing the Orient Express couloir twice and then climbed to the summit with partner Kastengren before dropping down the south face alone. According to a report published on outerlocal, the first 5000ft were dispatched in circa half an hour, but then the descent became complicated and Fransson was forced to traverse using crampons and ice axe, then make four abseils. As temperatures rose rocks started falling, so the Swede sheltered in the couloir for 6 hours before making a desperate break at 11pm, down climbing, abseiling and skiing wherever possible. After crossing the bergrschrund he waited for the light of dawn, then resumed skiing at 5.00am to negotiate the crevassed glacier. Fransson described his descent as follows "Half of what I down climbed at the end would have been possible to ski during the day, in better conditions, but I wasn’t really thinking of that." He then continued "It’s going to be hard for anyone to do it much better—you could probably ski 300 or 400 meters more than I did. Out of 4000 meters, I skied 3000 or so, so it’s still OK."
After his descent of the South Face, Fransson teamed up with Kastengren once again and the pair climbed the classic Cassin ridge in a highly reputable 33 hour round trip (which included a 9 hour bivy), while two days later Fransson skied the Messner Couloir, another 45°, 5,000-foot couloir high on Denali's west face.
While Fransson and Kastengren were engaged on the Cassin ridge they were overtaken by the British alpinists Jonathan Griffith and Will Sim, who on their second trip to Alaska blasted this iconic route in a mere 14 hours and 40 minutes. Making best use of the track, the duo climbed throughout the night up this "awesome line" and never stopped to eat as their stove failed to function properly due to the cold. On his blog Griffith stated: "The Cassin was the highlight of our time out there without a doubt and we were glad to be able to do it in a single push style. Heading into the base of one of the world’s biggest faces and onto one of America’s most famous climbs was a little daunting with just a day pack to say the least but we managed to top out in 14 hours and 40 minutes."
Griffith provides more background information about the speed ascent: "However we benefited from a track up to the first rock band from two Swedish friends before we overtook them and we topped out on the Kahiltna Horn (20,000ft), not the summit of Denali proper (20,320ft). The 15 hour Mugs Stump record from 1991 was also done to the Kahiltna Horn and with a track in the whole way but from the pure ethics side Colin Haley and Bjørn-Eivind Årtun did the Cassin last year to the summit and with no track in 17 hours so they hold the real record. In todays’ climbing world it’s actually more daunting doing something like this and opening yourself up to a barrage of criticism than actually doing the climb itself so those are the simple facts. In any case Colin Haley and Nil Nielson are up on Denali now set on smashing the Cassin record so by now it’s probably a done thing!"
CASSIN RIDGE, DENALI
First ascended from 6 - 19 July 1961 by the Italian Ragni di Lecco members Luigino Airoldi, Gigi Alippi, Jack Canali, Riccardo Cassin, Romano Perego and Annibale Zucchi, the elegant and challenging line is one of the most famous and sought-after alpine routes in the world. After the ascent Cassin was congratulated via telegram by the President of the United States of America, John Kennedy. The route is graded Alaska Grade 5, 65°, 5.8 AI4, 9,000 feet and usually takes anywhere between 3 - 7 days.