Posted on: June 16, 2011
The Cartwright Connection (Alaskan Grade 6: 5.8 A2 AI6 M6, 2000m), first climbed in May 2011 by Matt Helliker and Jon Bracey in tribute to their friend Jules Cartwright. [Photo] Bracey-Helliker
On May 13 British mountaineers Jon Bracey and Matt Helliker set out to do a route that had been the dream of their friend Jules Cartwright. Cartwright, an experienced mountaineer responsible for many first ascents, died in 2004 while guiding Piz Badille. Before his death Cartwright had already established one route, The Knowledge (Alaska Grade 6: ED4 5.7 A2++ AI6, 6000') on Hunter and had envisioned the line that Bracey and Helliker climbed and then named in his honor; the Cartwright Connection (Alaskan Grade 6: 5.8 A2 AI6 M6, 2000m).
Inspired by Cartwright and the appeal of the Moonflower Buttress as "one of the steepest and most beautiful mixed buttresses in the world" the two mountain guides desired to attempt a new route on Hunter.
Four days of navigating through complex, steep terrain, overhanging snow mushrooms, vertical ice, lose rock and the semi-collapse of their portaledge on a 60 degree ice slope left them exhausted. According to Helliker, "Day two and day three gave us the hardest climbing, many hard pitches but all very different; those 48 hours of climbing stand out in my mind." Day four led them to the Vision pitch on the Moonflower buttress, by this time they were nearing the end of their food supply.
A storm set in on day five, forcing them to spend the majority of the day on their portaledge, knowing that if the storm didn't let up, they would have to turn back. Helliker describes the optimism and determination it took for the two of them to push to the top, "We took every pitch as it came, we always said to each other that everything would take as long at it took, climbing a pitch, building a belay, putting the ledge up, etc. and not to stress about time! This was the key and helped make the situation not as stressful as it could have been. Besides, Jon and myself are pretty determined people and it would have taken a lot for us to go down!"
The two climbers seized the opportunity to continue to the top during a lull in the storm. They stashed some gear at this last camp in order to travel more quickly and made the thirteen pitch push for the summit. During these final pitches Helliker hoped the weather would hold; "my mind was pretty empty apart from getting to the top. We had given so much to get so close and it would have been totally gutting to have to turn back because of the weather." After the 500 meters of snow, cold and wind they reached the top of the buttress, agreeing that it had been the longest, hardest climb of their lives; from here they began the thirty-eight rappel descent.
Helliker and Bracey were greeted with congratulations and much needed mini Snickers bars on the way back to base camp, where they arrived after spending the final thirty-six hours of the climb without sleep or food. "It took a lifetime of experience between us to get up it." Jon and Matt work as IFMGA guides based out of Chamonix, France.Sources: Matt Helliker, TheBMC,co.uk, Moonflowerexpedition.blogspot.com, Timesonline.co.uk