Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Five Foothill Winter

“Where was his boyhood now? Where was the soul that had hung back from her destiny, to brood alone upon the shame of her wounds and in her house of squalor and subterfuge to queen it in faded cerements and in wreaths that withered at the touch? Or where was he?
The kids teased me he was my brother. He had done some ski-mountaineering around Anchorage before he came to Nome, and some bold ski descents out on rocky St. Lawrence Island, plus he knew his way around a snow-machine. I was teaching fourth and he was teaching sixth, so it was natural the two of us would team up for a series of A.D.D.-stricken adventures this previous Fall and Winter of 2015.
Five foothills of Nome: A. King Mt. B. Mt. Brynteson C. Mt. Distin D. "Rocky Mt." E. Bear Mt.
 Snow conditions did not permit penetration into the deepest Kigs until the "wet dump event" of early March saved the Iditarod from a bumpy finish and finally brought some true accumulation. What follows in this post is a recounting of our adventures up to this point in the season, adventures that took place not in the Kigluaiks, but in the foothills of the range, and a survey of the mountaineering potential that awaits there in the Birketts, Hewitts, and Deweys of the Seward Peninsula, the medium-commitment objectives that await within the Nome radius.
Kougarak Road skiing
Peak 2347 (Fox Mt.? Rocky Mt.?) on the left, and Pt. 1640 ("Rocky Mt. Bluff") on the right, near Milepost 22 on the Kougarak Road
He was doomed to get slaughtered from the start. It's an education thing. You see, if you remove the functional leadership from a cohort, the remaining student body is bound to wallow that much more. I had once been posted at his station in the "56er Pod," in the lee of our excellent charter school, and knew what it was to get utterly thrashed— thrashed by yourself, and those you serve, and your mind squeezed by unassailable paranoia as you walk your lesson plans like slack-lines across the abyss of each day. I could see that my friend, this portrait of the artist as a young man, was heading into a DOOM ATTRACTOR of significant magnitude, and parallel, in some respects, to the ones that had dogged me in my own "56er" days. 
Rocky Mt., aka Fox Mt., aka Pk. 2347: We parked near the old crane on the Kougarak Road around Mile 22. We left the 4-wheeler trail up Rocky Mt. Creek after half a mile and cut east across a steep ravine (little bushwhacking) up to the hundred-foot Bluff, which can offer decent mixed climbing if the temperatures have frozen it solid enough to avoid being a cliff of decomposing, body-mangling, head-bleeding choss.
          By September, he was beginning to show the first fringes of fray. Loose cannons roamed the hallway unsupervised and befuddled by adolescence, while this year's well-meaning administration walked confidently into the shadow of the valley of its own DOOM ATTRACTOR. No support was available. He flapped and floundered in a bog of learning disabilities and outmoded pedagogical practice perhaps ill-fitted to our clientele. His spirit was slowly evaporating. It was time to go to the mountains. "It is a way..." wrote Melville, "of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation..." So off we sketched to the first of the foothills.
Drew and Lucy on Rocky Mountain, looking west
“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wild hearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gay-clad light-clad figures, of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

Rocky Mountain (Pk. 2347), September 14, 2014

       One of the drawbacks of a foothill is that it is a foothill. Not, by definition, a mountain... On a foothill, a climber incurs great risk of a Non-Technical Climbing Foul because there is often no real climbing to be had. 
       A Non-Technical Climbing foul can be avoided at Pk. 2347 (which I will henceforth refer to as "Rocky Mountain" as I know of no other name for this hump) by means of a solo up the 100 ft. high choss cliff of Pt. 1640 ("Rocky Mountain Bluff") and which can be quite moderate and fun if the utter choss happens to be frozen together solid enough to prevent automatic death. But my partner had no crampons or axe that day, being more of a ski artist himself, so we bypassed the Bluff that day and hiked up the south ridge of Rocky Mountain, my fifth or sixth pilgrimage to the top of the hill. 
       My Non-Technical Climbing foul was later dismissed in court under the provision of the NO SKETCH PARTNER LAW, which allows a climber to NOT CLIMB if their partner is not prepared to climb. This allowed me to simply enjoy a nice day hiking up the mountain, instead of perching and preening on crampon stilts high enough above the ground to get seriously injured. It really didn't matter anyway as my climbing license was about to be revoked altogether due to my recent participation in a trip with known peak baggers.
Earp whacking turf on Rocky Mt. Bluff.  Years ago, on yet a different trip to Rocky Mountain, Joni and I skied off the wrong side of the summit in a whiteout, precipitating an epic of massive proportions that essentially went on for several days:  snow-machines, shoulder-deep snow, freezing rains, car wipeouts, knocking on people's doors in Dexter and Banner Creek, and forestalling a rescue by means of primitive internet connection. Huge fun, great times, full-scale memories...
         Rocky Mountain appears from most angles to be the highest and most massive of the Kigs foothills, not quite a Kig itself, but high enough to qualify as a Graham were it located in Scotland. My friend and I stood on its summit with the whole range hanging across the way, and the sun going down. It was that sad, frozen feeling of late Fall when the world is coming to an end, time is frozen, and you can view your entire life as if in the palm of your hand. Rose light bathed all my favorite summits in the whole entire world. In that moment, my colleague and I had finally attained freedom from our titanic Weltschmerz incurred far below in the crucibles of education. The last tendrils of TOWN GLUE snapped, our egos momentarily went to zero, and life and worries went to very, very small. In response, following Newton's Second Law, the swarming electromagnetic impulses of our energy bodies surged forward through the quantum foam like a school of darting fish, warping our time perception, creating that eternity feeling on the summit.
Allapa and good dog on summit of Rocky Mt.

           But soon enough, the mountain led us back down to the trail, and the trail back down to the car, and the car itself, of course, was a re-entry module specifically designed suck us back in to the GLUE of TOWN, back to the land of our fears, and self-wrought complications.

Mt. Distin (Pk. 2115), February 2, 2015

Drew micro-spiking up the south ridge of Distin

“A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips where the white fringes of her drawers were like featherings of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.
          By February, the event horizon of my friend's DOOM ATTRACTOR had expanded outwards sufficiently to where it was exerting its influence upon several different domains of his life simultaneously. Psychological lynch mobs were assembling in the networks. A Facebook page called Nome Rant had emerged, on which any one of us might be slandered at any time. His van had stopped working, and the ventilation in his dirtbag hovel was poor. A relationship was creating disequilibrium in all quarters of his life. And, of course, the fleshpots of Front Street were never far from hand...
           He had, however, purchased a powerful, Polaris snow-machine and was "lunging at the harness" to take that monster sled to the hills, even though little snow lay upon them, and the roads still virtually open. Nevertheless, on a Sunday morning, with great smoke and thunder, we pull-started our machines, and thumbed the vectors up the Snake River towards Mt. Distin, for all practical purposes like Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern in The Wild Angels.
Mount Distin: In the summer, Glacier Creek Road leads 13 miles out to Mt. Distin from Nome and is doable by a most cars most of the time. We snow-machined up the road in February, punched through a small line of willows, and parked the machines as high as we dared on the slopes of Distin. In the Fall, it is possible for both Silver Creek and Steep Creek to sport a little ice climbing, but it ain't Valdez. I've climbed at the Bluff on several occasions, and in terms of rock quality, maybe it is Valdez, which is to say, terrible. Hiking Mt. Distin on a nice day is HIGHLY recommended. 
       If the Kigluaiks are a parabola open to the south, then Mt. Distin lies at the focus of the parabola. Mathematical proof could then demonstrate a line of sight to each point on the parabola, meaning you can theoretically see the entire range from Distin. It is the quintessential Nome foothill, a pyramid looming in the foreground of the larger Kigs in the distance, so that in certain visibilities it seems to aspire to be a Kig itself. Like its cousin Rocky Mountain to the east, Distin sports a Bluff with an 80 ft. cliff that can offer decent rock and mixed climbing, provided the climber can stomach the horror produced in his or her gullet caused by perching on the unstable Death Marble. 
Nearing the summit of Distin on a brilliant February day

“She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot… The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; …and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.
         The day we climbed Distin was so tremendously cold (yes it was, allapa, freezy-breezy, brass-monkey, witch-tit, well-digger's ass cold!) that the Judge had lifted the mandatory technical climbing requirements. The only way to stay warm in these kinds of chill factors is to keep your body continuously moving, so standing in one place to belay and messing around bare-fingered with little metallic toys is not mandatory. This left us free to flatfoot up the south ridge of Distin unroped, me in crampons and my friend in Katula Microspikes. The contention might be made that the south ridge of Distin provides the steepest and most technically-demanding line up the hill, but this kind of talk only serves to pump a hike into more than it really is: a walk-up. 
         Still, it was ice, and a fall would have mangled the faller, and the cold was so intense that you wouldn't last the time it took for your partner to make it to town on the snow-machine. We lacked, of course, emergency beacons, being too stricken by chronic A.D.D. to either find or remember such an item. Considering all these factors, I am certain our adventure that day constituted more than a mere walk-up.
Looking northwest from Distin

“Heavenly God!’ cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy. 
       The SNAP of various GLUE TENDRILS was felt deep within our souls the higher we climbed on Distin. Worries and cares were rendered inelastic in the extreme cold, and ours broke off and trickled away in the already-fading light. The worldview of our universe had narrowed down to the single point of keeping blood in our capillaries, so what was the point of further narcissism?  Too cold to stop on the summit, we continued over and down to our waiting machines which faithfully started after a couple of pulls, chariots to carry us back into the GLUESTREAM of town, with all its attendant confusion.
Ready for the 17 mile ride back to Nome from Distin

“He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling…

Bear Mountain (Pk. 1962), March 1 & March 8, 2015

        A component in his GLUE MATRIX and a major driver of his DOOM ATTRACTOR was his lack of skis— he had left them on the Island when he moved to Nome. Once the snow came in for Bear Mountain he lay neutralized. All he could do was wallow in the fleshpots, while the rest of Nome's small boarding and skiing community got after the excellent powder in Bear's northern bowl. 
Skiing up Mineral Creek under Bear Mountain
          The hip spot to ski and snowboard around Nome is a sweet little hill called Newton Peak, not far from town, about a mile from my driveway. There, the action-oriented and partiers alike gather at a little pullout on the Dexter Bypass that used to be the site of a rope-tow, now serviced only by your friend's snow-machine to take you to the top, unless you're willing to skin it up.  But few of these Nome skiers and boarders seem to ever make it around the corner to Newton's larger cousin on the Kougarak Road, Bear Mountain. 
Narrow gully on Mineral Creek leading to the north bowl on Bear Mt. This gully is not necessarily navigable by snow machine unless snow levels are very high.
       Rising above Banner Creek Subdivision, Bear Mountain, at 1,962 ft.,  is just 38 ft. short of a Graham, and gets you twice the skiing vertical of Newton. Though close to the road it is the biggest hill in its group, thus fully deserving inclusion in this post about significant foothills of the Nome Region. Mineral Creek Bowl on the north side of Bear is a natural powder-collection basin replete with a corniced rim and half-pipe drain exit, and I should be water boarded for putting a local secret like this on the Internet, even on a blog so obscure and ignored as Kigsblog, but the justification for doing this is to throw out a challenge to the green-dot people on Newton to get over to the blue squares on Bear. 

Tyler and Coco on the summit of Bear Mt., March 1, 2015. Note the stiff wind. Did I mention it was cold? Yes, very. This shot is all the more poignant, in retrospect. Several weeks after the shot was taken, Tyler was again skiing Bear Mt., this time down the prominent "Nose" on the west side of the hill, when his ski came off at high speed, which if you've seen this guy ski you will know was very high! A degree of enmanglement followed by self-rescue ensued. Bear Mt. has sure been a place of utmost fun with ultimate friends and utter adventure over all these years. Don't let go of that puffy coat, Tyler!
       Thanks to the new H2O Tazlinas got for a bargain at Beaver Sports in Fairbanks, my runs on Bear Mt. limit-pointed ecstasy. No more noodle city in the cruddly-cruddleton like the old days, instead a pair of enchanted swords lashed strongly to strong new Terminators, with a bewitching top-sheet design between the skis that makes them look like salmon swimming up the Tazlina when you look down as you link turns together. Not that good skis mattered on Bear this year so Utah was the powder in the bowl, you could have skied it on Snowshoe Thompsons.
Tiny dots are skiers in Mineral Creek Bowl, Bear Mt.

The weightless moment will not last
The derivative is not the function
A picture of skiing does not show skiing
Amplitude, frequency, wavelength
The tracks are not the ski itself
The skis are just the edges
The joy will not last
Over before it started
Here they come down over the lip

I slept through it sadly
Woke up at dinnertime and had morning coffee
The curtains held away the light 'til sunset
When you returned as if it were morning
Now we're off to the town for evening breakfast
The weightless moment will not last
Bear Mountain is far away
Over before it started
My skis lie far across the ocean

“Her image had passed into his soul forever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory…

Look closely and you might see Mt. Brynteson. The shovel there on the back of Smooth Andy G. proved an indispensable tool for me several times in March when I finally got to learn the truth about what a sinker that Bearcat can be.

Mt. Brynteson (Pk. 1757), March 22, 2015

        Iditarod 2015 came, and swallowed him. He seemed to vanish, into the wild fleshpots of Front Street perhaps, or maybe back to the Island to reunite with his skis, I don't know. Iditarod 2015 swallowed me as well. Debauchery from the night before cost me a day out of my hungover life.    
       GLUE MAGNITUDE was running high, but by Thursday I had extricated myself and was ready for a trip out to my old friend, Mt. Brynteson, out in the Snake River Valley hidden under thick fog. My back was sore from an Iditarod week spent digging out Super Smooth Andy G., the Arctic Cat Bearcat .570, after my initial attempt at going camping during Spring Break and penetrating to the deep water of the true Kigs had ended less than a mile after leaving my house in a bum willow-thicket crossing. So I settled once again for a mere foothill as my great Iditarod accomplishment, but once again the foothill did not disappoint, but proved more than adequate as a salve against civilization, and the befuddling mental residue of all its inconsistencies. 
The Brynteson Crags. A fine place to climb after a good ice storm
      Past the haunted Rock Creek Mine up Glacier Creek Road, around the corner a few miles, you can look up and see ribs of schist coming off the northwest ridge of Mt. Brynteson: for lack of no other term, the "Brynteson Crags." This can be an excellent place for mixed soloing and scrambling when conditions have fused the choss together by snow and ice. Much is the fun I've had on the Crags continuously bouldering over turf, rock, snow, and ice, a heightened illusion of exposure between the feet, and an award-winning view of Norton Sound to the south. Words cannot describe the fun and spiritual transcendence of the day in March I spent whacking tools into the Brynteson cliffs, eventually climbing up into sun shafts piercing the upper blue-sky world, so I won't even try.
King Mt. from down on the Kougarak Road, 2015. Tiny smudges on the left skyline are the bouldering circuit.

“He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a shady nook amid a ring of tufted sand knolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.

King Mountain (Pk. 1226), 2015

         So many worthy Nome foothills have been left out of the narrative: Anvil, Twin Mountain, Engstrom's,  the mysterious Pk. 2043 out by the Penny River, others... But this foothill post must conclude with a special shout-out to King Mountain, a large hump on the long ridge that runs between Snake and Nome rivers. The thing about King is that it's so accessible from town, yet the hike up from the Dexter Bypass Road always reveals King to be a bigger hill than you thought! 
       Near the top of King, one is rewarded with a classic little circuit of stepped bouldering cliffs, cracks, chimneys, highballs, slabs, jams, all on the King Mountain skyline, culminating in a big 25 foot overhang that sports an unclimbed M6/7 dry-tool problem (5.10b in shoes) and a genuine overhanging 5.9 offwidth. These rocks get directly plastered by the freezing-rain southwesters that slap in off the Bering Sea in Fall, and so receive extra-thick coats of the shellac that transforms them temporarily into fantastical ice-climbing terrain, though it should be noted that 2015 was a poor shellac-year, despite at least three major freezing-rains that came throughout the season.
“He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast…

          PEEMARK:  I hereby solemnly and egotistically declare on the World Wide Web that I made more trips than I can remember to the King Mt. Rocks in 2014 and '15, and rubbed musk on all climbing problems V0 or M4 or easier, and squirted pee on the holds high and low, (but did not yet dry-tool the Backward-Z Crack without hanging, though I have peed on all the moves successfully). MARK!!
King Mountain
Red arrow points to an awesome ridge-mounted bouldering area on King Mt.
“He climbed to the crest of the sand hill and gazed about him. Evening had fallen. A rim of the young moon cleft the pale waste of sky like the rim of a silver hoop embedded in grey sand; and the tide was flowing in fast to the land with a low whisper of her waves, islanding a few last figures in distant pools...”
           Let Kigsblog leave him here, islanded by the tide, veiled behind whiteout, with the author unsure if the literary contrivances in these blog pages have done the least bit to convey the situation as it unfolded the past season, and uncertain of where he might be now. I am sure he will return to Kigsblog soon, whenever the season moves on from the semi-penetration of foothills to the full penetration of the Kigluaik proper, whenever he gets his skis back. All I can say is I felt like I could be myself around the man, which is a rare thing, and we had a great Fall and Winter in the foothills.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ice Hunting on Eldorado Creek

34 Sundays Ago (a Kigsblog record for longest BLOG LAG interval)

"GLUE of TOWN": a resultant force that draws the climber away from the climbing objective and back towards town or base.

Eldorado Creek bluffs, October 3, 2014. Not much ice this year but the rime upon the rocks.
If the GLUE were visible, we would view it as a gelatinous substance encasing the climber as he wakes upon his very comfortable mattress. A 7 a.m. wake-up call on a September morning had been declared the night before, all the better for his intention of ice climbing out in the washes of Woolley Lagoon country today, but interference from thick GLUE, mostly residual work tiredness effect and scattered thought process syndrome, is preventing the wake-up call from getting through.
Rainbow Dash stuck in glue.
    The climber eventually makes it as far as the coffee maker and successfully sets the machine to brewing, but thick, elastic TENDRILS of GLUE affixed to his back still attach him to the comfortable mattress back in his bedroom, and the retractable nature of the GLUE TENDRILS draws him right back into bed. The climber has returned to a chrysalis state and lies suspended in a sticky, amniotic goo, supported by a little nest of ungraded papers.
Eldorado Creek headwaters. There is a wolverine watching me in this picture.

          The climber makes it as far as the laundry room. Fall's ice climbing gear lies buried under Summer's rock impedimenta, bootlaces broken last winter are remembered, pieces of axe and crampon are interspersed in a lubricating fluid of socks, and every glove that surfaces in the tubs seems to be a leftie. Great viscous globs of GLUE lie thick in the chaotic laundry room where the climber flops around like a stinkbug treadmilling in a stick pile, with sharp things spilling down on him from narrow walls on all sides, the shelves threatening to come down on him with the weight of the house, the inertia of responsibilities, the pull of sloth and leisure, the very GLUE of TOWN itself quickening as the climber hacks at it with the MACHETE of INTENT.
Eldorado Creek Gorge. I came with high hopes for some water ice suitable for an ice climb, but was disappointed.
    A transparent, slimy gel coats everything, weighing the climber down as he struggles simply to escape his own house with a bare minimum of the necessary accouterments for ice climbing, but each of the climber's actions creates an equal and opposite reaction as various TENDRILS of GLUE retract. For instance, he thought he had reached the "Say Goodbye To Spouse and Child Threshold," the door banged shut behind him, he actually got in the car, but now witness the trajectory of his body as it is drawn violently out of the car and back into the house: the climber forgot to pack his plastic ice climbing boots, and they are nowhere to be found. Another 45 minutes will be necessary as the climber digs through the debris field of gear he already displaced this morning as he dug for other items.
Woman stuck in glue.
Starting to lose it now, the climber is on the very edge of control. He is starting to succumb to rage. Why can he not BREAK GLUE? The list he is using to systematically defeat the GLUE is proliferating new issues faster than he can check them off: for example, the search for the ice boots, only a Zone 2 search, has morphed into a search for the missing plastic cuff to the left boot, a much more involved Zone 3.  Members of the household are warily eyeing their places of refuge from the cussing, mumbling monster in the mud room. The dog looks guilty. The phone rings. "Did you remember to put gas in the truck?" calls his spouse gently. The climber can practically see the mucilaginous curtains of TOWN GLUE clinging to everything in his view. With tears of frustration in his eyes, he wields the MACHETE of INTENT and hacks his way blindly towards the car.
Ice hunting out the Teller Road
     He believes he has made progress. The car engine is started. Let's see, boots, crampons, two tools, helmet, flask... anything else is superfluous and not strictly needed. Pulling out of the driveway now... Several of the thickest tendrils of GLUE begin to elongate with the car's movement, narrowing the diameter of the elastic filaments to a breaking point. 

       But what is this? His child racing out the door at the last minute: "Could you please give me and my friends a ride to the Mini-Convention Center for a pancake feed?" She is so precious. WHANG! goes the GLUE. Tendrils of GLUE retract his movement backwards like a cartoon character stepping in reverse. 
Fall morning on the Teller Road, crisp, timeless
       Finally, he is out on the Teller Road, him and his dog and his truck. He is afoot with his vision, a successful hunter of ice with his eye on the horizon. GLUE TENDRILS have been snapping and popping behind him as his troubles and cares begin to fade into insignificance. But not all the tendrils. Several are still firmly attached to his back, the sub-tendrils twining into the very fibers of his central nervous system: work tiredness effect,  residual tension from fight with spouse phenomenon, fear of being alone in the Kigs syndrome, dull ice tool psyche dampening effect... Never underestimate the RETRACTIBILITY of the GLUE of TOWN. One glance at the dashboard reminds him that he has forgotten to get gas. The GLUE of TOWN once again reverses his motion 180 degrees, the tendril reaches its tether like a bungee and begins to suck him back into town.
Mary Ann steps in glue during her dance number on Gilligan's Island  

   Hours later, the climber reaches the Woolley Lagoon turnoff on the Teller Road. The Grand Singtook (Pk. 3870) rises directly to the north of the road and disappears into clouds. This is Bering Straits and King Island country, so the climber considers carefully where to park; even something as intangible as land stewardships adds minutely to GLUE index. He drives another mile west to the spot where he will park the truck and begin hiking over the west shoulder of the Singtook to access upper Eldorado Creek, a place he has had luck in finding early-season ice. Something about the way the water pools up on the tundra dips here seems to promote the build-up of ice in September and October. 
     Now he has only the GLUE of CAR to contend with, a force which is hardly less significant than GLUE of TOWN. Nevertheless, it is so pleasant to sit in the little bubble of his truck cab, sipping coffee and listening to the Velvet Underground as a stiff breeze comes in off the Bering Sea and gently buffets the truck. He spasms his boots on, dons his pack, and exits the vehicle, holding tightly to the car door in the wind. The climber begins hiking, but the GLUE of the TRUCK sucks him back into the cab immediately— he has forgotten his phone, which has the camera.
Lucy ready to lead the way to Eldorado
      After a half mile of hiking up the mountain, the tundra world takes him in. He if finally reaching ESCAPE VELOCITY. His eyes fill with the flowing patterns of pre-contact Beringia, his ears fill with wind. Could we hook him up to an EKG at this moment, we would see his brain patterns shifting. Could we read his mind, we would experience time perception changing. He is become more like willows now. Thoughts, responsibilities, pleasures, comforts, ego, ambitions, deadlines, nagging details, all these constituents of the GLUE, which, it must be noted, are entirely of his own creation, are swirling round the drain, about to be flushed.

       And then it comes: the SNAP!  The SNAP! is the moment when the primary GLUE TENDRILS elongate to their breaking point and break off. Aaah!...

      The climber crouches on the tundra, naked, still coated with dabs of the gel, but freed of attachments to town. It is time to enter the folds of the hillside, and be forgotten... 
Map showing various past adventures on and around the Singtook.
A. Little Singtook (Pk. 3653)
B. Grand Singtook (Pk. 3870)
C. Eldorado Creek Bluffs
The blue line shows where I went ice hunting on this post.

Windbow over Singtook

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Among The Peakbaggers

Summit Tor of Mt. Osborn
(above) Summit Tor of Mt. Osborn, August 2014.

    I began this post with the intention of placing the 2014 Mt. Osborn Peakbagging Expedition under indictment for Crimes of Anthropocentrism perpetrated in the Kigluaik Range last August.  I neglected to take under account the fact that I had participated in said crimes myself, setting myself up for counter-indictment, an opportunity which the defense team immediately seized upon. Now, of course, once again, the result is Kigsblog involved in legal action against itself. Once again, allapah's climbing license stands in danger of forfeiture should the charges go against me. If the court decides my status must be changed to that of "peak bagger," then, of course, I must forfeit my status as"real climber," and my climbers license be rescinded.

Here is a more rational and succinct account of the trip than mine: Greg's Trip Report on Mt. Osborn from his own awesome website
Grand Central Basecamp
(above) Grand Central Basecamp, August 2015. My dog kept snarling up the bear fence. 

   Mitja, my wall partner from Yosemite days, used to spit the word "peak bagger" if anybody suggested doing a climb easier than 5.7— "What are we, peak baggers?" In the pages of Climbing In North America by Chris Jones, we read how Alaska first-ascensionist Vin Hoeman got teased by his peers for bypassing aesthetic climbs in favor of topographically prominent protuberances. We, on the other hand, belonged on a different page of the book, the "young turks in search of a backcountry wall." We narcissized ourselves modern deconstructionists undoing the epistemological errors of our forebears. We were Conquistadors of the Pointless, not Conquistadores of Points. In truth, we were clueless California snobs who hadn't yet left the Valley, a place with many walls but few summits, only a giant rim.
Lower Southeast Ridge

(above) Lower Southeast Ridge.

      Then came many years later to the Kigs, a range of winding ridges protruding with bumps and tors, enough like Scotland that I think Scotland's nomenclature of  Munroes, Corbetts, and Grahams would work nicely here. At first I chose climbs with a pure heart, and picked whatever looked nice and fun to climb, whatever felt attractive.
       However, after years of Kigs-bagging, a new phase began to set in. A positive feedback loop between ego-bloat and Kigs-baggery had been created, so that after a certain critical mass of ascents in the Kigs had taken place, my mind could conceive of a future state of task-completion in which I had bagged each and every peak in this somewhat circumscribed range.  Climb selection then shifted to a set of artificially-created values rather than earth-based co-attraction. My mean climbing ability came down another grade as more and more I chose to stalk off after distant bumps like a watered-down Vin Hoeman. It didn't help that no other climbers seemed interested in the Kigs; this only inflamed Ego with the prospect of total, imagined OWNAGE.

Midway up Southeast Ridge
(above) The Balustrades, midway up Southeast Ridge. "Highly resistant, coarse-grained pelitic paragneiss and schist present in layers varying in thickness from 10-100 meters containing quartz, plagioclase, biotite, sillimanite, feldspar, garnet, and graphite. Locally pervasively migmatized." From the sacred Miller/Amato map of 2004.

     If one sets out to climb all the peaks in a range: what, then, constitutes a peak?  For many summer seasons I sat on sunny shoulders in the Kigs, for hours and hours simply gazing outward, letting the eye play along the geological clash zones of pluton and schist. My mind began to play mathematical games with the mountains, drawing triangles between summits and cols, classifying and reclassifying the parameters of what constitutes a peak.  Pk. 4500+ was an example of this last Spring.
      This is how I eventually came to reify the natural flowing processes of the Kigs into a static set of mathematical values. The frog of my technical climbing ability boiled slowly away into mere hiking skills. I evolved into a peak-bagging Colin Fletcherite along the same lines as my frame-pack wearing, Sierra Club cup toting parents, the very entities we had been rebelling against.

Upper half of Osborn Southeast Ridge
(above) Upper half of Osborn Southeast Rib. Some nice granite in this picture. Had a beatific soloing session here during the afternoon on the way down the mountain in gathering thunder shower. The Tor at left is about 110 ft. on good rock, unclimbed. Can you find the mountain dog in picture?

      All this anti-peak baggage, lodged deep in my subconscious!  Greg, one of the peak baggers under indictment for Crimes of Anthropocentrism in this post, warns against this very type of anti-peakbaggerism on his website, "Indeed, most peak baggers come in for a lot of abuse from serious mountaineers... we are not really that bad. If you meet a peak bagger, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste."

      So when Dave called in the Spring to give the news that he and some friends would be coming in August to climb Mt. Osborn, I was psyched. Dave was with a group of experts in the field of prominence, a body of knowledge which was the very thing in which I had been mathematically dabbling. Their expedition seemed like a message from the KigsGods. This was a chance for allapa to learn. Little did I realize at the time that I would eventually come under indictment, and my climbers license be put in Jeopardy yet again.
Looking across at the Northeast Ridge of Osborn
(above) Looking across at the Northeast Ridge of Osborn from the Southeast Rib. Mikey and I got benighted on this ridge in  early Spring of 2004. I came back later and soloed it in alpine conditions (45° AI-1) on April 20, hence the name "4-20 Arete." Kuzitrin country stretching away in the background.

JUDGE: Adjutant, please read the charges against Mr. Allapa.

ADJUTANT: Allapa is accused of Crimes of Anthropocentrism in the Kigluaik Mountains. specifically, the statutes surrounding "Reification of Natural Process."

JUDGE: How do you plead?

ALLAPA: Uh, could I get a definition of "reification"? I mean, I used to know it, but I always have to look it up.

JUDGE: Adjutant, read the definition of "reify" please.

ADJUTANT: To "reify" is to mistake map for territory. The error of treating as a concrete thing something which is not concrete, but merely an idea.

JUDGE:  In this case, the natural flow of processes in the mountains has been rendered into a series of static points, which is the point that qualified this point as reification. The climber is no longer climbing the territory, but is climbing the map instead, which violates the prime directive of CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN. Which, Mr. Allapa, brings us back to your Climbers License. How do you plead?

ALLAPA: This is preposterous! All I did was go climbing!

JUDGE: Plea?

ALLAPA: Not guilty!

JUDGE: Mr. Allapa... the time has come to explain yourself. Tell everyone here at KigsCourt, all these agencies gathered round you that arise manifestly from the neuron activity in your own brain: what happened?

ALLAPA: What happened?

JUDGE: Yes. What happened... How did you get yourself into this legal mess?
Cluster at the summit of Osborn
(above) Cluster at the summit of Osborn, August 2015. Later, back in town, I posed Dave the question: "Would you have still hunted down the highest of the many summit pinnacles of Osborn had I not been there to squawk about doing it, or would you, like many Nome locals, have considered the summit ridge of Osborn good enough to call the summit?"
      "Oh, there's no question," Dave replied. "We would have tracked down the true summit."

ALLAPA: Well, they had climbed some mountains alright. That was apparent right away. The first night in Grand Central, people were telling war stories over dinner. I don't remember the details: the usual stuff where mountains are involved, you know, dead guys frozen in place on Kiliminjaro, raving blind lunatics out of their minds from High Altitude Cerebral Edema on Orizaba, the snowstorm that nearly killed us all on Mt. Blanc, that sort of thing... So I interjected:  "Well, my partner Andy broke all his tib-fibs on this very mountain we're sitting under, and I had to drag him in pain for 8 hours and then he was in coma for 10 days."  This little tidbit elicited a tiny pause in the conversation...  Until the next person chimed in with the next story: "Yeah, the same thing happened to a friend of mine on Mount So-And-So... " Right about then I thought to myself: yes, these guys have climbed a few mountains alright.
       Had I taken the time before the trip last summer to look at Greg' website,, and seen everybody's prodigious peak lists, I would have better understood the hardcore edge to this crew. Dave, Greg, Edward and crew have visited a staggering number of high points. I mean, just go check the site out yourself. For some reason, reading these lists brings the taste of truck stop coffee in my mouth.

Class 4 climbing on the summit rocks
(above) Class 4 climbing on the summit rocks. Here we see Edward Earl, a Dougal Haston-like figure of the peak bagging world, speeding up the final steps to the summit of Osborn. 

JUDGE: Very nice, Mr. Allapa. Now, get to the part about the climb.

ALLAPA: Yes, the climb... uh, it's not much of a climb, really, not by Chugachian standards. Three thousand feet of hiking, with a few shenanigans in the summit rocks. I tried to be nice and write everybody up a route description on this blog, but I got a few things wrong. In winter it's a real horse of a different color! Johnny Soderstrom almost froze his testacles off on the summit ridge in January.
       Anyways, everyone scampered right up, everyone except Carol, my new friend from Wasilla, who had the good sense not to get too caught up in the summit thing and power-lounged in the fine weather at basecamp. The rock outcrops on the way up the Southeast Rib sport some very gneiss granite in places, so I stopped to boulder like I always do. This was maybe my ninth or tenth time on the Southeast Ridge (with five or six summits included) but never with such a large party.   
       We all got kinda bunched up at the top in those hideous summit pinnacles. My dog, Lucy, soloed up the Class 4 choss moves just fine, but then she got stubborn and didn't care to do the last 15 feet despite my commands from the exposed summit, so now we gotta go back some time with a rope and dog harness.

 D.A.: So you did take part in this climb of Mt. Osborn on August 10, 2014, and was the sole purpose of this ascent to reach the hight point of the Seward Peninsula?

ALLAPA: Uh... yeah. Right?

D.A.: No more questions for now, your Honor.
Highest choss on the Seward Peninsula

Rappel from the summit rocks
(above) Rappel from the summit rocks.  The difficulty of this choss step is not the peril of falling, but the likelihood of getting crushed.

D.A.: Your honor, and various mental agencies of the jury, I would like to present Documentary Evidence A. This blogpost will prove that allapa was already applying the metrics of prominence even before the peak baggers visited. He specifically mentions Peak 4500+, a neighbor of Osborn's, as "getting its own Marilyn."

JUDGE: Order in the court!

(above) Western Cwm of Osborn. This mysterious valley leads 4 miles down from the mountain to the Mosquito Pass corridor.

JUDGE: Closing statements.

D.A.: Adjutant, please read LIST B: "Five principles of Kigsblog."

ADJUTANT: Five principles of Kigsblog

1. Kigsblog subscribes to the hypothesis that geological formations, such as mountains, are imbued with the property of MENTAL PROCESS (to a non-negligible degree.) 

2. Kigsblog has decreed that human needs must never be valued higher than the needs of the entire eco-system. 

3.  Kigsblog supports the notion that the mountain must always be given the advantage over the climber.

 4. Choosing a climb under the influence of EGO is against the law. 

5. Climbing a technical route must take preeminence over the necessity of reaching a high-point.

D.A.: Thank you. Ladies and Gentlemen, violation of any of these principles comes under the heading Crimes of Anthropocentrism. It is plain to see that Mr. Allapa has committed multiple violations of the these principles, in the present example of "KigsCourt vs. 2014 Mt. Osborn Peakbagging Expedition," and elsewhere in his writing throughout this blog. One look at his recent record of non-technical climbs should be enough to tell anyone that Mr. Allapa has degenerated from real climber into hiker. Not that there's anything illegal with hiking— but this former climber DOES NOT, by any judgment, deserve to bear the status of "real climber" on his license. You must, therefore, choose REVOCATION.

(left and above) Upper pitches of the Sluicebox Couloir. After reaching the summit of Osborn via the Southeast Ridge, I had time to run down the Northeast Ridge to the top of the Sluicebox Couloir, which is an incomplete route coming up from the Northeast Cirque that I have epiced on several times with various partners. 
       I had visited this horrifying drop-off on previous occasions, trying to scope out the last two, pitches of the Sluicebox which are hidden from view, but always in Winter, when the cornice was too bulging to see over the edge. Now, in summer, I could climb down and peer over: the exit pitches of the Sluicebox produced a sinking feeling behind my rectum. What I had thought would be a hidden, low-angle fissure exiting out the top of the Sluicebox did not exist. There appears to be nothing at the top of the Sluicebox but a sack-shrinking marble wall 300 ft. high with few weaknesses, and no flow source to feed an ice climb except for the small snow patch visible in the picture. 
        The good news is, right then and there, I was CURED of the Sluicebox Couloir! ABSOLVED from all the suffering it had caused myself and others! Save the damn thing for a future generation of Nome badass alpinists, my own Sluicebox quest is over. With a lighter heart, I traversed back to the sunny side of the mountain, and lost myself for hours in dreamlike rock climbing on solid granite.

JUDGE: You are accused of Crimes of Anthropocentrism in the Kigs. How do you plead?

ALLAPA: Your honor, it seems to me than any act of climbing, any type of climbing at all, is a crime of anthropocentrism.

JUDGE: Plea?

ALLAPA: Is climbing itself a crime?

JUDGE: Plea!

ALLAPA: Oh, alright, then, guilty.

JUDGE: Climbing license revoked! From this day on, Mr. Allapa, you will no longer be counted a real climber. You are a peak bagger now. this court is adjourned.
Courtesy of Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum
 (above) Franklin Karrer's photograph taken from the summit ridge of Osborn, sometime between 1910 and 1914. Compare this photograph to Lower Southeast Ridge, above, and you will see proof that Karrer took this photograph from somewhere high on Osborn.  Crater Lake is visible at bottom left. You can see the Wild Goose Pipeline: not the thick, Y-shaped lines, those are the south fork of Grand Central, but just above the stem of the Y.
       Is this documentation of the first ascent of Osborn? I think not. Read below to find out why. Photo courtesy of Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.  

     After our climb of Osborn, we hung in Grand Central one more night. Wandering the tundra around camp, we saw ample evidence that a sizable population of miners once lived there at the base of Mt. Osborn. These would have been miners working on the "Wild Goose Pipeline," a pipeline made of redwood visible on the south wall of Grand Central Valley intended to bring water to the hydraulic mining operations all around Nome. We found ancient stone campsites, huge piles of cured redwood lying about everywhere, and a road that looked exactly the width of an old carriage road.  
       So the next day when the time came to slog the bushy 7 miles out of Grand Central, we played a game where we tried to follow the hundred-year old carriage road through the intermittent willow thickets. I knew about this road from previous slog-whacks, but had always assumed it to be an intermittent four-wheeler trail. Closer inspection reinforced the hypothesis that this had once been a carriage road, where the big wooden wheels of the carriage (no doubt carrying stacks of redwood) would have fit right into a slotted track. The placement of the various turns and twists through the muskeg were well thought out, and the thought is tempting to take a machete to the sections of hundred-year old overgrowth and reestablish this road into Grand Central. (But that would be a crime of anthropocentrism!)
       Dave, Greg, Edward, Crystal, Jill, and Carol departed Nome.  Mt. Osborn was just another high point Dave had sandwiched between his previous climb of Mount Angayukaqsraq (the high point of Kobuk Valley National Park northeast of Kotzebue, and a bushwhacking sufferfest) and an upcoming attempt on Bashful (gnarly Chugach peak, the high point of the Anchorage Borough.) Our Luau celebration on the beach at Nome was thwarted by horrendous biting beetles that immigrated on a freight ship that summer. I learned plenty from this crew, things that I am now applying in the Kigs. I think this indictment, and subsequent revocation of my climbing license, marks a turning point in my Kigsaneering career, and I am grateful for the role that Dave and crew played in this evolution... even though I had to bust them for Crimes of Anthropocentrism.
      After the crew left, I went down and talked with Laura Samuelson at the Carrie McLain Museum on Front Street. Laura was kind enough to help determine that yes, there had been a road going up Grand Central Valley, probably built in the first decade of the Nome Gold Rush, over a hundred years ago. The "Wild Goose Company" contracted out for different kinds of jobs during this period, the Pipeline in Grand Central being one of them. Whereas most of the mining ditches in the Nome area are open on top like the letter U, the one in Grand Central was a fully enclosed tube like the letter O, leading me to believe that the Grand Central segment of the hydraulic ditches acted as a kind of plunger at the very top of the whole system; this is why the engineers curled it around to the very slopes of Mt. Osborn, to get every elevation advantage they could muster.
       Laura and I then moved on to one of my favorite questions: who made the first ascent of Mt. Osborn? We poked around a little with the names and discovered that there were several Osborns working in the Nome diggings in those early days of the gold boom. I got the feeling that the Osborns were a family of strapping brothers, one of whom probably hiked up the mountain that now bears their name. With all the workers that obviously camped at the base of the mountain, the idea of hiking to the top would have occurred to more than a few of them. I would guess it was a popular recreation for the workers at this field camp to hike up Mt. Osborn. But how many of them bothered to seek out that one highest summit pinnacle?
         Laura then had me flip through a collection of excellent black and white photographs taken by a teacher named Franklin Karrer around Nome between 1910 and 1914. I saw cool, school field trip photos of High School students visiting areas around Nome that could just have easily been contemporary school field trip photos. But then my eye was arrested by one photograph-- I instantly recognized it as having been taken from the top of Osborn. Laura graciously sent me the photo so I could verify that Karrer had been at the top of Osborn. I strongly doubt that Karrer's ascent was the first. People must have been hiking up Osborn all the time. But his must surely be the first documented ascent. Many questions remain. Just who was this Karrer, and how many peaks might he have bagged in the Kigs?
We shall leave