US alpinist Colin Haley has made the first solo ascent of the North Buttress of Mt Hunter - also known as Begguya (4442m) - in Alaska, completing the round trip from Base Camp to Base Camp in 17 hours 13 minutes. Colin previously attempted a solo of the face in 2012, before succumbing to exhaustion and retreating from a point under 100m below the summit.
Going back to Begguya was likened by Colin to returning to his one-day Torre Traverse goal in Patagonia, which he attempted in 2015 alongside Alex Honnold. The pair were forced to retreat two pitches from the summit due to adverse weather, but returned in 2016 to complete the traverse. (UKC interview)
Choosing a 'line of least resistance' - a combination of some new terrain, sections of Deprivation (ED4), and parts of the Bjornberg-Ireland routes - Colin suspects that his timings between key points on the line are speed records for the North Buttress: schrund-to-cornice-bivy: 5:18; schrund-to-summit: 7:47; schrund-to-schrund: 15:22; BC-to-BC: 17:13.
Colin climbed the entire route free-solo and with minimal equipment, including an 80m static 6mm cord for abseiling and just four litres of water. For the 40+ estimated abseils on the descent, he had previously set up some anchors on a reconnaissance ascent and also made use of some pre-existing stations left in place by other groups.
We sent Colin a few questions to find out more about returning to unfinished business on Begguya...
You first attempted to solo Begguya North Buttress in May 2012, retreating just 80-100m below the summit from exhaustion. How did it feel to have to turn back after so much effort?
Needless to say it was a bit bittersweet to turn around having come so close to the top, but it's not like I was heartbroken or anything. I've been alpine climbing long enough to know that having to bail is simply part of the game!
Why was this year the time to return? Was it circumstance/conditions/training etc?
Mostly just life circumstances. I spent the late winter and early spring in Chamonix, and going someplace like Nepal would have required leaving Chamonix earlier, but I was having a lot of fun there!
Why did you choose the line you took?
The line I took, a combination of sections of pre-existing routes and some terrain I pioneered, is simply what I deduced to be the easiest possible route up the North Buttress. I feel burnt out on rope soloing, and enjoy free-soloing vastly more, so I wanted to take a line I was confident I could free-solo in its entirety.
In your Facebook post you mention the speed records being less significant for you than your personal feelings about your climb. In what ways were you more satisfied by your attempt this time round?
It simply was obvious to me when comparing my 2012 attempt and my successful ascent just now that I have improved a lot as a climber and alpinist during the past five years, and I just find that personal progression to be quite satisfying and exciting.
You spent a lot of time in the European Alps recently. What did you get done? What do you enjoy about climbing over here?
I wouldn't really say that I "got anything done." The only climb I did that can be considered even somewhat hard was the Petit Dru via the American Direct (in mixed conditions) with a couple of friends. When I come to Chamonix, or elsewhere in the Alps, I don't come with any real ambitions. The Alps are much more awesome mountains than what is available in the contiguous US, but still they aren't really serious mountains at all in comparison to Alaska or the Himalaya, or even Patagonia. While there is lots of badass stuff you can do in the Alps in the realm of hard free-climbing, or speed ascents, there is nothing to do in the alps that is really significant in modern alpinism, in my opinion. However, the Alps, and particularly Chamonix, are simply the best place to get tons of days in on real mountains. I come to Chamonix mostly to train and have a ton of fun, and it is absolutely perfect for that!
How does it compare to climbing in North America?
In British Columbia the alpine climbing, the skiing, and the rock climbing are all just as good as what is available in Europe...the only problem is those things are often separated by 10-hour drives! I think that self-driving cars will make North America a better place to be for people who are into all three of those activities! ;)
What's next for you? Have you got any summer plans?
I've got about three weeks to hang around Seattle, doing some training and catching up on life, then I'm headed to the Karakorum later this summer for some high-altitude ski mountaineering. After that my partner and I are travelling to Japan for all of August and September, and I've never been before, so I'm pretty excited!