Andy Houseman and Nick Bullock have just made the first British ascent (and sixth overall ascent) of the huge Slovak Direct route on the South Face of Denali, Alaska.
The climb – nearly 3,000m of steep rock, snow and ice – is “one of those rights of passage routes,” explained Nick.
The route took them just over 84 hours in some very challenging weather conditions. The duo took two days to approach the route (down the Wickwire Ramp then up and over the Cassin Ridge and finally down to the East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier) only to find the lower part running with water.
They spent a day below the face before embarking on the route early the next morning in colder conditions. The first day on the route, they soloed up the access couloirs before a long traverse out into the face and a few steep ice pitches which lead up to the hanging glacier and their bivi in the Bergschrund.
The second day was more challenging including goullettes, technical ice falls and mixed climbing on perfect granite. The main feature of the route, a huge iced corner, gave amazing 90+ degree ice climbing and led to a steep dry-tooling pitch.
The weather conditions had deteriorated throughout the day, enforcing an unplanned bivi where the route joins the classic Cassin Ridge. A brief lull in the storm allowed the pair to continue up the Cassin Ridge, making very slow progress in the deep powder which was sometimes up to their waist.
Ferocious winds halted their dream of summiting that day and forced them into an unplanned and serious 16 hour bivi at 18,500ft until the storm abated the following afternoon. Andy and Nick then took advantage of the weather window to reach the summit at 16.30 under clear skies.
Afterwards, Andy Houseman explained: “Number one mountain route and experience ever! Fully committed, the climbing just kept getting better and harder in a wild situation, epic and fun! We didn’t better any style or speed of some of the previous ascents but, like them, we had our own amazing adventure on a very special route”.
Whilst Nick reckoned that: “It’s like the Colton-MacIntyre on steroids, topped by the Kufner Ridge times two and crossing the highest summit in North America. It’s one of the most committing and memorable routes I’ve ever climbed.
“Although I have climbed extensively in the Himalaya, the feeling of being ‘out there’ has almost never been so strong as on this climb. “