It's been 33 years since Japan's Tsuyoshi Ueki completed the first ski descent of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley. It's been 22 years since Frenchman Pierre Beghin skied the first line on McKinley's 17,400-foot neighbor Mount Foraker. Considering the advanced age of those two feats, you might assume that McKinley's other neighbor, the comparatively pint-sized 14,573-foot Mount Hunter, had been dispatched long ago. In fact, finding a skiable line off the glacier-strewn summit had proven to be so difficult that not a single attempt had been made until 2002.
"It had been talked about for years, says ski mountaineer Andrew McLean, who along with Americans John Whedon, Lorne Glick, and Armond DeBuque, finally etched the first top-to-bottom lines on Mount Hunter last May. "But even people who'd flown around it in a helicopter had said skiing it was probably impossible.
After a friend pointed Glick to a couloir off the West Ridge with a potentially skiable line, he and Whedon snuck away to Alaska in May of 2002. Unstable snow turned the trip into a beta-gathering operation, but what they saw only whetted their appetites. "The line was so perfect that we decided to file it away and come back the next year, says Glick, who spent the next nine months trying to keep his mouth shut.
Their patience was more than rewarded. On May 14, after three stormy days had deposited 18 inches of snow, the four skiers woke up to clear skies at their advance base camp just above 8,000 feet. Departing at 9 p.m., they bootpacked the couloir and then skinned up the West Ridge (McLean on alpine touring gear, the rest on telemark skis), climbing a total of 6,534 feet to the summit in 12 hours. From there it was powder turns all the way down to the crux—the 3,000-foot, 45-degree couloir. As a layer of fog rolled in, the four picked and side-slipped their way down, jumping a couple crevasses, and finally made it safely back to camp by early afternoon.
Glick says things went so well on Hunter, he's thinking about another Alaskan project for next year. Where? "Afraid I can't tell you, he laughs.