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August 8 2003 at 9:00 PM
Steve Gruhn  (no login)

Response to July Eclipse


The traverse started with four people and finished with three. Vin Hoeman, Dave Johnston, Cliff Els, and my frequent climbing partner, Tom Choate started the trip by driving to Wonder Lake. Hoeman and Johnston climbed the North Peak first, then returned to Choate and Els who were experiencing complications with altitude. Then all four climbed to the south summit, as planned, to view the eclipse from the top. Choate and Els returned to camp and Hoeman and Johnston slept out on the summit. They had hoped to be the first to sleep out on the summit, but a Japanese team beat them to it by a few weeks. I think Hoeman and Johnston were the 34th and 35th people ever to summit McKinley. Choate and Els were the 36th and 37th.

On the descent Els was medivaced out because he was still suffering from altitude sickness.

The remaining three people made the first ascent of the West Peak of Mount Hunter and the first traverse of Mount Hunter. While hiking out, Johnston fell in a crevasse that was filled with water and suffered from hypothermia as a result. The hike out took longer than expected and they ran out of food several days before reaching the Petersville Road.

From the Petersville Road, they hitchhiked to Trapper Creek and flagged a boat down on the Susitna River, got a ride to Talkeetna, and took the train back to Anchorage.

The elevation gain of the entire trip was something like 25,000 feet and the horizontal distance was something like 80 miles.

Johnston later became the hero of -148, the tale of the first winter ascent of Mount McKinley. Hoeman died in an avalanche on Dhaulagiri six years later. Els never climbed again.

I was fortunate to be among his party when Choate summitted McKinley again this May at the age of 68. And he has now been bitten by the highpointing bug. He's completed most of the west.

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