Group Skis Alaska’s BIG THREE in 1 Trip: McKinley, Foraker, Hunter

Miles Clark |
Aaron Diamond and Jordan White on Foraker's Sultana Ridge climb. photo: Anton Sponar
Aaron Diamond and Jordan White on Foraker’s Sultana Ridge climb. photo: Anton Sponar

A group of four ski mountaineers just climbed and skied the “Big Three” of Alaska:  14,573-foot Mt. Hunter, 17,400-foot Mt. Foraker, and 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley.

They pulled off this feat in only 31 days.  They climbed and skied over 67,000-vertical feet.

The group consisted of Evan Pletcher, Anton Sponar, Jordan White, and Aaron Diamond.

Of these three peaks, Mt. Hunter is by far the most difficult.  If you summit and ski Hunter, you can consider yourself a ski mountaineer anywhere.  The team climbed 3,300-vertical feet up the Ramen Route to access the West Ridge, which they used to get to the summit.  Their climb of Hunter took 6 days and included a 24 hour summit day.  On May 10th, 2014, they reached the top and skied a gnarly descent including long pitches of 50-degrees and higher.

Left to right: Anton Sponar, Aaron Diamond, Evan and Jordan White. PHOTO: Jordan White

Left to right: Anton Sponar, Aaron Diamond, Evan Pletcher and Jordan White. photo: Jordan White

Foaker was next for the team.  The logistics on Foraker are a bitch because it’s a ways from the landing strip at the base of Hunter.  The grouped hauled copious amounts of gear to their Foraker base camp.  Foraker is legendary for heinous weather.

“We all knew ahead of time that there was a really low chance of success.  There’s just so much that could go wrong. It’s mainly the weather, but we were ready to be there for 45 days.” – Diamond told Powder Magazine

The team used the Sultana Ridge to access Foraker’s summit.  On day six of their Foraker climb, they made a 6,000-foot summit push to 17,400-feet.  They reported the Foraker descent to be the most fun of the three.

Hauling sleds up Denali from 11,000 to 14,000 in less than ideal weather. PHOTO: Anton SponarWee, hauling sleds in horrible conditions on McKinley..   PHOTO: Anton Sponar

20 days into their trip, they started for 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley.  It only took them 10 days to reach the top.  They skied down taking safe routes – generally the way they climbed up.

They spent their final day of the expedition slogging back across the Kahiltna glacier, and finally up Heartbreak Hill to the airstrip at the base of Mt. Hunter.  Once there, it was time to fall off the wagon.

“During the whole expedition, we didn’t drink anything [booze].  We ended up polishing off all our booze and sleeping out in the snow. It’s pretty ridiculous because we spent the last 30 days trying to keep our gear dry.” – Sponar told Powder Magazine

We can only imagine what a pristine utopia Talkeetna felt like once they finally landed off the mountain.  Congrats to these four on one very incredible achievement.