Alpinist 52

Before Nightfall

Posted on: November 14, 2015


Johnny Waterman on his first ascent of the Southeast Spur of Mt. Hunter (Begguya, 14,573'), Alaska. For 145 days, alone, he ferried himself and his supplies across a phantasmagoria of ice, storm and snow. In Strange and Dangerous Dreams, Geoff Powter described Waterman's deliberately slow climb: "It was the only way, he believed, to measure himself and to get the true measure of the mountain." [Photo] John Waterman Collection

In 1978 Johnny Waterman spent 145 days alone on the Southeast Spur of Mt. Hunter. That spring, bush pilot Cliff Hudson had dropped the twenty-six-year-old alpinist off on the Tokositna Glacier with 3,600 feet of rope and 800 pounds of food. Soon Waterman was a small figure in a lifeless aerie of snow, wind, sun and ice. Only five foot three, he ferried enormous loads over ridges that consisted of little more than a latticework of sugary snow, around cornices that hung over thousand-foot voids, and ice cliffs that seemed poised to collapse. As he pushed his camps up the mountain, he made a dozen round-trips on each segment, passing the same hazards again and again. When the winds picked up, he screamed.

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