Revelations: Revealing the Angel

Story By Graham Zimmerman

Southwest of Denali, deep in the nederlands of the Alaska Range rises a valley of giant granite walls. They are known as the Revelations and have a reputation for beautiful hard climbing and terrible weather. In June of 2013 Scott Bennett and myself visited these mountains in search of new rock routes on beautiful peaks.

We arrived in Talkeetna just as a legendary high pressure spell was coming to a sharp close. The clouds were closed in and we spent five days waiting in town until we were able to fly into the range. Luckily for us, many successful teams were flying out after sending the west buttress of Denali and we had a constant stream of friends both old and new arriving in town. It also gave us plenty of time to dial in our logistics.

Flying out, photo by Scott Bennett
Flying out, photo by Scott Bennett

Due to it being the later part of the season we were not able to land a fixed wing airplane on the Revelations Glacier, forcing us to hire the Talkeetna Air Taxi’s R44 Helicopter to insert us into the range. Unfortunately the payload of the R44 is far lower than that of their airplanes, so instead of the usual heavy load of food and kit we had to pare it down to the absolute bare minimum. Our gear was the lightest we could imagine affording, our food was only the most calorie-dense.

Getting to the Revelations involves bumping over the crest of the Alaska Range. When we approached it was clear on the East side of the mountains, but as we neared our intended pass the storm clouds loomed and the rain began. While our pilot Will was quiet and focused, we sat with eyes wide as rain started to pelt the front of the cockpit. The tiny machine rocked as the wind picked up over the pass. Ominous dark faces and sprawling dry glacier surrounded us.

Long minutes later we were safely over the pass and we dropped into the Revelations proper, huge walls sprung up around us and we reveled at the hidden gems that were now surrounding us. The glacier below was bare ice with huge boulders cast about. We landed on the flattest spot we could find and unloaded our kit.

As Will flew away we were left with the silence of the walls surrounding us and the clouds blowing about their tops. It would be easy to say that Scott and I are old hands at being in big mountains but just like the joy found in the first listen to a wonderful new song, we were enchanted and extremely psyched about being in the Revelations.

Within a few days we were comfortable with the daily cycle of rain and clouds in the afternoon and with confidence that we were not under threat from a large weather system we launched on the East Buttress of the Angel. It is a big route and a gem of the range.

Graham climbing gorgeous granite on the E Buttress of the Angel (photo by Scott Bennett)
Graham climbing gorgeous granite on the E Buttress of the Angel (photo by Scott Bennett)

The climbing started easy and we moved quickly up granite slabs and corners. As we gained elevation the wall got steadily steeper and we quickly found ourselves climbing vertical corners and faces generally split by gorgeous cracks. Where there were no cracks, we found holds and unlocked thought provoking sequences. The climbing was fun and we moved well up the terrain. As the afternoon wore on we reached the top of the wall and found ourselves on the ridge line.

Seemingly as soon as we started to consider looking for a place to bivy, an excellent spot appeared and we were quickly able to clear a great little spot perched over the precipice. As the afternoon clouds started to build we set up our tent and crawled in for some food and a sleep.

scott in bivy
scott in bivy

The night passed with rain but we slept with confidence in the forecast.

Morning dawned in fog, we repacked and headed upwards. As we started, it cleared, revealing a beautiful day of blue skies, low winds and amazing views.

The ridge crest offered beautiful easy mixed climbing. A tower near its end daunted us all morning but turned out to have a beautiful low angle wide crack splitting it’s side offering enjoyable climbing high on the mountain. A final short ice step led to the summit snow field and an easy walk to the top.

Graham Seconding on the Ridgline above the East Buttress (Photo by Scott Bennett)
Graham seconding on the ridge line above the East Buttress (Photo by Scott Bennett)

We looked out upon miles of beautiful mountains with untold amounts of unclimbed lines. The wind was mild and the sun was warm. Thus far it had been a nearly perfect climb.

On the Top! Summit of the Angel
On the Top! Summit of the Angel

Our plan had been to descend the South Ridge, but one glance down its barren steep crest made us look the other way. To the North we knew of one hanging serac surrounded by steep walls. We pinned off in that direction.

Eight hours later we were on the ground with significantly less gear, soaked clothing and nearly a dozen core shots. While we had managed to stay out from under the hanger, we had quite an adventure getting down. What we had seen as a clean face from the ground had turned out to be a big horror show of crappy ice, loose rock and running water.

There was one last ice fall to reach the central glacier and base camp, and while we wanted this to be trivial it was not, with multiple punches into crevasses and raps off of seracs. When we finally reached our tent at 2am, we were exhausted and soaked.

As we curled up, the weather rolled in just as hard as we slept.

We had planned to climb more in the range, we were surrounded by beautiful enticing objectives, but the weather gods had other plans and we experienced some of the stormy conditions for which the Revelations are known. For a week we sat in the tent, it was a blur of podcasts, naps and nibbling our ever dwindling rations.

When the weather finally cleared for a few hours, enough to get out, we jumped at the chance. Our flights back to the lower 48 were imminent and the forecast promised more heavy storms for the next 10 days. The helicopter came in and we got out.

Looking back on our trip it was certainly a success, but the sheer number of objectives in the range has left me wanting more. This season I plan to return to the range and see if I can’t gather a few more experiences from the Revelations. I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Huge thanks to The New Zealand Alpine Club, The Mugs Stump Award, Outdoor Research, MSR, Rab, Boreal, Julbo, Petzl, Camp, Second Ascent and Nude Food for their support on this trip.

Also huge thanks to Talkeetna Air Taxis for providing us with a solution for getting into the range this late in the season.