As humans, do we climb mountains to conquer them or as an artistic expression?
Mike Gardner would say the latter.
“Overtime I have come to think of alpine climbs as works of art, an inspired line drawn up uncharted and often hostile terrain, the first ascent being a radical human expression of those who had the vision to make the improbable become possible,” he wrote after returning from an expedition to Alaska last winter.
He and Sam Hennessey had just climbed the Infinite Spur, a never-ending arête that traces an eloquent line up the southern aspect of Sultana (Mount Foraker).
George Lowe and Michael Kennedy made the first ascent of the route in 1977 over an eleven day push, redefining what was possible in the realm of alpine climbing. When Gardner and Hennessey climbed it, forty two years later, they pushed the boundaries of possibility even further—they climbed the Infinite Spur in ski boots, carrying skis, in 48 hours.
“Subsequent ascents,” Gardner wrote, “add their own style and elaborate upon that expression in their unique way.”
This spring Gardner and Hennessey had new projects employing their ski-alpinism tactics, climbing in ski boots and carrying light-weight skis.
In early May the duo completed their vision of climbing non-stop from the plane drop in the West Fork of the Ruth glacier to the top of the 7,000-foot Isis Face in 18 hours, via a new route they called Anubis (AK 6, AI5, M6, 2,100 meters), then traversed to the Kahiltna Basecamp.
Taking advantage of a weather window, they climbed the North Buttress of Mount Hunter, via the Bibler-Klewin route, only three days after the previous route.
“Being intentional with my training—focusing on body mechanics and coordination—was instrumental in my Alaskan climbing season this year,” Gardner says. “I built a super solid aerobic foundation throughout winter, which allowed me to go back to back on lengthy pushes in the mountains, with only three days of rest between them.”
He adds, “I felt that my safety margins also increased and my level of mental capacity heightened because of my increased fitness gained through the winter of training.”
Once again, after some rest and recovery in town, Gardner is back in the mountains to guide on Denali.
- 4th ascent of the Father and Son’s Wall via a new route, Denali (Alaska Grade V, Scottish Grade VI, 2,200 meters), over 73 hrs
- 2nd ascent of Light Traveler, South Face of Denali (VI, M7, WI 6, 3,000 meters) over 36 hours from camp at 7,800 ft to summit
- New route on Peak of No Return, South Buttress of Denali (M5 AI4)
- Ascent of Infinite Spur on Mt. Foreaker, while wearing ski boots and carrying skis in order to ski back down the Sultana Ridge, all done in a 48-hour single-push from Denali basecamp
- Spent 5 seasons competitive freeskiing with several podium finishes
- Skiing and climbing expeditions on every continent
- Guided 12 Denali climbs
- Guide 6 Vinson Massif climbs
- Over 150 ascents of the Grand Teton