Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ayasayuk '13: Sixth Iteration

At the risk of citation, here is the full disclosure of Ayasayuk 2013, with sincere apologies for the trespass, and this Kigsblogpost.

(above and below) View from the middle of Qubliaq, an unfinished and transitory drool of ice squirting from the middle of a 50° frozen mudwall festooned with gneiss chunks. Due to weak mind, I chickened and downclimbed at the cusp between mere enmanglement and probable fatality.
         Ice climbing is a changing medium, we know this. Unlike rock, the ice you climb today is not the same ice you climb tomorrow. But what if a piece of rock were as ephemeral?
       Every summer, another slice of the Bluff at Ayasayuk is blasted away by dynamite, trucked 15 miles to the Port of Nome, and distributed to village seawalls around the Seward Peninsula. What's left behind each Fall is a fresh, new, and ever-lengthening cliff overlooking the Norton Sound. Some weird aquifer must be zig-zagging around inside the rock, seeping out the face in random places, creating thin ice flows never two years the same.
       This year's Ayasayuk iteration logs as the second most interesting in fourteen years-- no Grade III pillars like in 2004, but the huge 180 ft. Third Tier from last year is still intact, with frozen trickles squirting out in new and varied places. Despite driving the ice road out to the quarry a total of seven times in November and December, the annual game of climbing from the bottom to the top went unfulfilled; I chickened out in the middle of the Third Tier, at the cusp between mere enmanglement and visualized certain death. The ice started growing in late November, peaked around mid-December, and then got destroyed in the rains of January.
(above) Ayayasuk quarry, December 2013. Can you spot the water ice? It's not easy.

       Who works at this place? What are your special names for each feature, terms known only to yourselves? Is it the job of certain individuals to scramble around on the steep stuff? Are you out there?  I can see the exasperated expression on the contractor's face. I am your biggest fan. I salute your work. The quarry hath becometh an ecosystem, a microcosm unto itself, a little kingdom of frozen mud, ice, and stone. What amounts to a scar is beautiful. I would not dare blog of it, and hath not in the past; however, it seemeth unlikely that great hordes of nano-puff recreationalists will soon be flocking to this particular sketchscape. The very mud itself oozes instability, death attractors, enmanglement clouds. Whoever driveth the Excavator on such a precipice must surely be a badass.

(above)  Bouldering around at Winter Solstice

       The measure of a village was, did it have a kasgi? John R. Bockstoce's The Archaeology of Cape Nome, Alaska says that the village of Ayasayuk lay tucked west of the Bluff, and Setuk and Mupterukshuk tucked to the east. Norton Sound can be thought of as a bathtub ringed with six or seven old beach lines. Present-day Nome sits on the third beach. The second beach is about a hundred feet offshore, where every nice day in summer we see a row of floating gold dredges; the beach miners are fifteen feet below on the sea floor hoovering up the gold, just as they did on the famous third beach in the Bonanza of 1899. Villages followed the beachlines as the millenia went by. You build your next village further inland (or out, as the case may be) in the row of driftwood from the beach line that went before, as the water in the bathtub rises and falls.

(above) Found among a pack-rat elementary school teacher's possessions.

 (above) Pirated from the interesting Bockstoce book.

    One gets an image of an entire northern Norton Sound shoreline populated by whole chains of kasgi as of the early 1800's.  So where did these populations go?  Today, the ghost villages are indiscernible from the driftwood, at least to an unobservant, non-archaeologist climber hurrying along to perform narcissistic deeds on the scar where the headland used to be. One need not look further back than 1918 to see where all the people went. Rubbed out. No wonder this shoreline is, at times, haunted with ishigait.  One of these little beings went flying by the cabin at Topkok on a tiny snow-machine, but when I went outside to inspect the tracks, I found no trace in the freshly fallen snow. 

(above) Third Tier from the mezzanine, looking east.

       Kigsblog has descended into gray depths of middle-aged anxiety, inflexibility, and loss of will. Most climbing trips these days end in chicken-out, each post must rationalize a failure. This year's iteration of Ayasayuk  is no different—  the complete bottom-to-top ascent, which is a little game this climber plays and usually quite achievable, got away from me this year, despite six or seven trips down the Zambonied road to the quarry, 15 miles east of Nome.

          I succumbed to Technical Chicken-Out.  On the Third Tier, I was unwilling to commit to soloing the second 45° mud pitch, a section of remaining wall that did go the previous year. The grade had grown subtly steeper following another summer of excavation above, and the saturation / penetrability factor conspired to make the mud-climbing feel more sketchy. I employed whole complexes of further excuses to get out of actually climbing the thing, including the whole notion that climbing such sloping choss was really just a farce, but had entirely too much fun clambering around anyway with my poor beat-up Cobras and dull Charlet-Mosers by the sea, the shining sea.
 (above) Third Tier ice flow at its peak, mid-December, 2014        

      So I hatched a plan for a type of long hanging top-rope wherein I would take the road to the top of the Third Tier and rappel down. Chickened that one, too... the Ayasayuk quarry face is just too damn sketchoid a place. I visualized the rope pulling volkswagons of gneiss and crushing both me and Sim, a mysterious character who began coming along on these December adventures. Winter Solstice was upon us, and none of these trips were an exception to the rule that the ice climber must run out of light when climbing out on the Council Road. Had a lot of fun highballing around on the Third Tier this year, but never did link it up with the Fourth.   
(above) Fourth Tier ice looking west

A MAJOR ICE CLIMBING DISCOVERY came when Sim and I boot-skated our way up the icy access roads to the Fourth Tier on top. What we found there was the Beginner's Ice-climbing wall, which was appropriate for Sim because it was. This was where we spent our cold days through the late Fall, teetering on short points, trying to allow the experience of climbing ice to become relaxing so that we would not tax our poor, feeble arm muscles by holding on much too hard. The nice thing about the Fourth Tier, it was just a darn nice balcony at which to hang, views of Setuk and Mupterukshuk to the east, and the possibility of Pinnipeds and Cetacians in the gathering sea ice below.
(above) Sim at the 30-foot Beginner Wall.

      Hollow sound, familiar sound, booming sound, propagating doppler dominoes remembrance-of-epics-past sound—  THE BEGINNER WALL IS COMING  DOWN!  Oh, and here's the horrible thing:  I, I, I, am belaying, well off to the side, safely sequestered from the multi-ton fall of Pompeii which is about to thunder down— it is not I who will be crushed but Sim, who has been flailing around on top-rope and whose bodyweight is probably causing the collapse, who will be located directly under the impact. Another partner done gone! As if the fate of the escapade were predestined to converge upon my worst fear! At least Andy Sterns had already signed his contract with the devil at the time of our accident;  Sim, he is innocent, a Zen dude from the Rec. Center wall who thought he might try ice climbing.
        It is over. Sim is fine. The small frozen pond at the base of our wall settled as Sim rained down chunks of ice upon it. Sim's name is Simon.   
(above) From Ayasayuk looking east, Lucy, and Sim. Did I mention it was cold? Uh, yes, yes it was cold.

         The spell of the quarry had begun to come over Sim, I could tell. On our January trip, the one where we discovered the ice gone, dessicated by rain, the quarry face in ruins, the walls dripping rocks so badly you couldn't stand anywhere near the base, we encountered a lone, rather diminutive Oomingmak hanging out at the rim of the Fourth Tier. We walked right past the little guy, and he kept popping up at odd angles amongst the Minecraft maze of the quarry. Was he injured, or was he hanging out in shame after some lost butt? Later that day, at the base of the Second Tier, looking in vain for a climbing line through the dripping rocks, Sim suddenly said, "Woah, heads up!" Perceptually speaking, the micro-second with which I accelerated to a run caused the incident to be registered in my memory of it as having begun to run before Sim said anything. The "Polar Vortex" held the midwestern U.S. in its grip in January, 2014, but up in Nome, Alaska, the frozen mud was melting and the quarry was a daft place to be. 
(above) Looking down the Third Tier, December 2012.  A godawful dripping choss ramp of stone and mud, a frightful place to hang, but an interesting world unto itself that grows on you after a while.

       The machines, frozen Excavators and Loaders, lonely sentinels gazing out to sea from their regal platforms on Ayasayuk.   Non-entropic pattern in an exploded waste of choss. Each one with a personality. Each haunted by an operator who is probably in Hawaii, or maybe reading this blogpost. "My name is Caterpillar, King of Kings:  Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

       The lone and level Norton Sound stretches far away...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mt. Brynteson Southwest Ridge

     Mt. Brynteson, more hill than mountain, behind the Rock Creek Mine, down the seven-million wilderness-destroying Boondoggle Road, wafting through layers of fog, last Sunday afternoon.  Cool place, maybe, for a hard-up junky searching for an icy crumb.  The real fun not to be had up on the hillside in the couloirs and quartzite ribs, but down below, searching between the mountain and the road, in the mining ruins, for smidges of ice among the folds and tailings that have been worked over for a hundred years of Nome's mining history. 
(above) MineCraft Falls.  A weird scene inside the gold mine, a bubble of reality embedded in deep fog, a pod of hallucination, somewhere east of Glacier Creek Road, west of Nome River.
(above) The mighty Minecraft, perhaps the height of two men.  Nevertheless, in the act of mantling onto ice tool many inches off the deck, that "yur gonna die" feeling, when the whole mass felt as if peeling away from the sheeting right down on top of me, leaving mangled bones sticking out like the kind you see on youtube. DO NOT DAMAGE PROPERTY LAW maintained with no punctures in the rubber, fortunately, thanks to high volume of beautiful ice.

     Southwest aspect of Brynteson steep as a Cairngorm facing into those big sou'westers coming in off the Bering Sea:  plenty good place to hunt for rime or verglas in the late Fall, if one can get up the 7 Million Porkway that late in the season inside one's nice, warm, planet-killing car.  
     Where Lindblom Creek intersects the road, up to the southwest ridge of Brynteson, classic fell walking with hugely-satisfying side-excursions onto crumbling quartzite smegma-piles carpeted with frozen tundra, old rock crampons on and off big clunky expedition boots. Hero poses off old-kind Black Diamond Cobras sunk well and deep in dirt.  Continuous movement in and around gullies, snowfields, and even the occasional actual cliff.

(above) Naively conjecturing quartzite, southwest flanks of Brynteson cliff detail.  Possibly climbable without fear of total squishage, not much more attractive than it appears.

    My first attempt on the hillock of Brynteson with Isis and Jo-Jo, those good dogs, back when they were still alive, with Isis in skijor setup so she wouldn't go chasing the first hoof to come along.  Six miles over crust from the Bypass Road.  Denied the summit by a prodigious herd of Oomingmak (Musk Ox) who would not under any circumstances relinquish the rounded summit so that myself and my dogs might stand upon it for a moment.  Fog and furious wind that day.  Hallucinated voices.
      Several ascents since then, including the one in this post, and this one: Avalanche on Mt. Brynteson.  Fast way to the summit up Lindblom Creek / Southwest Ridge, like last Sunday. Trails everywhere.   
(above) Raina, Kristine, and Isis, BITD.  Isis, legendary KigsDog, gone on two separate occasions for four and half days each time in the central Kigluait Mountains during late-summer, necessitating many trips down the Kougarak Road on school nights searching in the willows of the Sinuk until pitch black, Isis skewered on a willow by her dog pack, her intestines slowly eaten out by foxes.  Also, a barfing ride in Paul Mallory's homebuilt Super Cub searching for dog from banked plane.  Dog found both times at the Mile 29 gravel pit, fat and happy, looking quite satisfied with herself.

(above) Trespassing?  Bering Straits Native Corporation?  Don't know...  just oblivious white dude with pocketful of Powerbars not bothering to read regulations, or even history of a place, full of himself and nothing more than movement over tundra, rock, ice and snow.  Also, haunted by memory of a time before the road into the Snake River Valley, no worry of trespassing.  So, now a feeling of privilege rationalized by righteous indignation giving the right to claw and scratch over this piece of land.

   The Brynteson couloirs.  Moments of climbing, the minimum one could ask. Look down beneath triangle of legs, a pair of frontpoints embedded in steep frozen turf, nothing but mist behind.  Whack!  Mantle. Thud!  Scuttle.  In denial of protruding youtube bones suddenly realizing. Effervescence of adrenalin.   Enough to keep the rat alive, barely.  Another crumb of climbing in Beringia.

(above) Lucy in the Fell a Sunday ago.

     Franklin L. Johnson, gold miner, Nome stampeder, native of Vastra Gotaland, late of Wisconsin, hiking out back of Bergstrom's Gulch in the Fall time somewhere in the Nome diggings, 1911.  New creepers on his boots forged in Minnesota.  Forced to sit down to take the creepers on and off, a time-consuming process picking at the leather straps.  
   "Mt. Brynteson, eh?  Well, I knew the man misself, 'n I don' see why they'd name a mountain after 'im."  Old scrap over a boundary, a shot dog, Swede things nobody else understood. "And Lindblom, for all dat!" screamed to the creek below. 
     Idea.  See if the creepers will work on that steep sod there. Whack!  Thud!  "Goldsteigen!"  Just like his one guided climb in the Alps, frozen mud.  Thoughts of the day on the Grossglockner with Fehrmann.  Johnson's oily gloves clapped on knobs of rock, creepers holding well in solid patches of frozen sod.  Patch of sunlight appearing across the watching valley on Twin Mountain.  
     "Damn!"  Busted spike, bent metal.  So much for the new creepers...     
  (above) All the fun hunting for the ice among the folds. View from the pathogenic car, Glacier Creek Road, Sunday, November 3, 2013.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Peak 3650+ and Peak 3320, Eastern Kigluait

          SUMMARY:  a short account, mostly peemark, of two "three-thousanders" in the Eastern Kigs this year:  Peak 3320, a lumpen mass of quartzite located at the easternmost corner of the gigantic frown shaped by the entire Kigluaik Range as a whole—  so call the peak "Iqiq," meaning "Corner of the Mouth"— done earlier this year during Iditarod week 2013.  Then, two weekends ago this Fall, Peak 3650+ in the same general area, the high point of an interesting series of ridges above Big Creek Creek forming the northern rim of Crater Creek—  call it "Aqalgiqpaq Peak" (Big Grouse) as the high point lies between these two drainages (and because I hold to a curious little rule that names should be inupiaq in Qaweraq country)
(because inupiaq is the language the land speaks)
(these are just my own personal little pet names, but I think each one fits the character of the eponymous mountain).
            Mere peak baggery reported here, only a trifle of "fell walking," definitely not the North Face of North Twin .  I am becometh a peak bagger, a hobbyist, a silly birdwatcher.  FYI, both peaks make great day hikes from the Kougarak Road.  There is a niggly little rule of Kig that says you have to keep going until you've reached the very most apical point of a mountain, whether it be a fine tor or a bump on the ridge, so be sure to keep going until you are the highest thing around.
(above) Looking west from summit of Pk. 3650+.  Crater Creek runs southwest toward Mt. Osborn on horizon   The best rock route in the Kigs is visible on the Third Tog  near the cener of the photo.  Kayuqtuq, or Peak 3850+, otherwise known as Tog 7, looms just to the left of Osborn.  I once had a theory that Kayuqtuq was the second highest peak in the Kigs, but this myth was debunked.  In this picture, you can barely make out the tip of Peak 3922, a Grand Central hill, poking out over the top of Kayuqtuq.   Kayuqtuq has been down-sized accordingly, though the contour lines be vague.
(above)  Peemark map of peaks in the Eastern Kigluaiks. All the places I have lightly scented with my spray, in order to make a small statement to gratify my ego.

(above) Peak 3320 ("Iqiq," "Corner of the mouth"), left peaklet in the back, taken from Peak 3650+,  looking east toward the Bendeleebens.  Peak 3320 is the easternmost three-thousander of the range.  During Iditarod, of course, it was swathed in hard-shell marshmallow sauce, but I carried no camera that day, so this Fall picture several months later will have to suffice.  This pictured is showing a big chunk of quartzite, (according to the Amato/Miller Geological Map.)

      PEAK 3320 ("Iqiq"):   The WEIGHT!  Felt it immediately upon arrival at Earp's cabin at Salmon Lake.  The WEIGHT is different than the GLUE.  Whereas the GLUE is a steady pull back towards town, the WEIGHT is a kind of dread bearing down on the shoulders— dread over being alone in the naked north in Winter on a single snow-machine, out where the population is zero for many square miles in all directions.    
      The whooping and barking of the Iditarod over the tiny radio at Earp's cabin only accentuated the WEIGHT.  Deep silence drilled into my sub-awareness.  My "technical chicken out of Iditarod 2013" occurred right then and there in the no-heat cabin.  Disguising cowardice and lack of will as something approaching good, common sense, I decided I'd better not attempt anything too ambitious that trip. 
       After a late start the next morning,  fired up Super Smooth Andy G. and motored north up the road up to where it turns on the corner on the easternmost Kigs.  Scanning the hillside constantly for a way up that wouldn't result in Super Smooth! wrapped to the axles in willows.  Finally breached the horizontal willow band at full throttle up Homestake Creek, and proceeded up the slopes of Peak 3320 as high as the .570 Bearcat dared without tipping. 
       Donned crampons right at the machine, and began slog.  Fine day, not too alaapa.  First the snow was soft, then it was tundra, then it was hard.  As you could see from the picture above, nothing was too very steep.  The Bendeleeben Range hung on the horizon sixty miles to the north, calling to me across the deep waters like a frozen, blue Bali Ha'i.  I was hoping for a jagged summit tor encased in ice;  alas the summit was rounded. However, the ubiquitous north-side drop-off was in evidence.  Almost surely this mountain had been climbed before;  the scent of geologist was all over the rocks.  
       Admired view a long time, flat-footed it down the mountain.  Orange and yellow light played out over the deep blue bowl of the Imruk Basin.  When I reached Andy G., he started and we followed our own tracks back down to the road, back to Earp's cabin at Salmon Lake for another cold and lonely night listening to the Iditarod on the radio, and another day of climbing tomorrow.
(above) Peak 2600+, the sweet little peak visited the second day of my Iditarod. This picture is taken looking south from Grand Central;  I hiked up it from the other side.  The other side abuts Fox Creek and makes a nice shortish hike from Salmon Lake.  No crampons necessary.  This was one of several "climbs" that got me in trouble in KigsCourt:  because I didn't use my Iditarod vacation to climb something more challenging, the Judge says I was establishing a pattern of "Technical Chicken-Outs" and threatened to revoke my climbing license.
(above)  Big Creek Bluffs, with the limestone/marble/deathchoss band transversing the hillside.  A decent workout can be had bouldering along the bottom of this band, marveling at the varying metamorphic geology as you traverse along.  A paucity of anchors, a shortage of vertical, and an overabundance of deathchoss make top-roping here a dubious proposition.
(above) Earp top-roping the deathchoss at Big Creek.

      PEAK 3650+ ("Aqalgiqpaq"):  No WEIGHT!  No GLUE!  Arrived at Salmon Lake late Saturday night, with the stars and aurora reflecting on the dark water.  Any high expectations I might have had for myself had already been beaten down by a summer of Lethian forgetfulness and demotivation.  Calm, peace, resignation, the susuration of Cranes.  Got up early Sunday morning and motored down to Grouse Creek, not far north of the Crater Creek bridge.  Lucy bounded out of truck bed, and up we went.      
      Now, Peak 3650+ is a peak I had attempted multiple times before.  There was the ominous incident one late Fall near the "Lactation Boulder" (an awesome erratic of quartzite lying on the tundra folds between Grouse Creek and Crater Creek) when we got separated after having a picnic right next to the front porch of an aklaq lair, probably one in which the aklaq was inside sleeping!  There were several defeats by big powerful NAPS that swept out of nowhere and overtook my mind in the hot Fall sunshine.  More than once, maybe,  got lost in FOG.
       But there were only green lights this time, and crimson hillsides with fruit abounding.  Lucy and I scampered up thousands of feet of Class I and II talus slopes anchored in place by tundra patches, until we leveled out on the mystical and convoluted ridgetops above Big Creek, where we lay in the sun for huge swaths of time scoping through cupped hands out west across the ENTIRE range, from the Singtuq at the western end, to this peak at the eastern end where we perched.
       Prototypical summit of the Kigs, pathetically rounded on its southeast flank, frighteningly vertiginous on its northeast, with the prettiest little rail of rock running along the topmost ridge, about as high as a picket fence, so that the hiker hikes along the ridge neatly and anti-septically separated from the dangers of the abyss, yet dares out of boredom to make little dare-devil climbing moves on top of the rail, thus getting small, occasional whiffs of exposure to stay awake.  This summit, too, must have been visited before, though I wonder if others have been as meticulous in tracking down the true high point of the massif, vis-a-vis the Kigluaik "apical point" law, as I was required to be.  Going by human inner-ear transit, which can be pretty darn accurate, I determined the high point was an unsurveyed mound of quartzite halfway between Point 3325 and Point 3509.  This peak enjoys a certain prominence, which might account for the surplus of triangulation points on the old USGS topos, but a prominence which is only evident as you stand on the mountain itself;  the thing comes off as a heap of ridges when viewed from afar.          
(above)  "Grouse Creek Pass," a low divide between Grouse Creek and Crater Creek, not far from the Kougarak Road.  This may be the best way to access upper Crater Creek.  This picture is looking west from Grouse Creek.  The background peak notched in the pass is  Peak 3300+, a peak I call "Warren Peak," hiked up several springs ago in deep fog via the low-angle left skyline.
          If MENTAL PROCESS pervades matter and energy for all regions of space/time, then mountains also are pervaded by MENTAL PROCESS.  Mountains think.  The reason this seems preposterous, is that mountains, being made of relatively stable abiotic minerals, (at least, you hope they're stable!)  are not particularly entropic.  Mental process only manifests at detectable levels where a certain level of entropy is present, such as a neural network with nerve impulses whizzing down nerve pathways, or a planet with all kinds of things going on inside its atmosphere.  So MENTAL PROCESS is a zero-intensity wave that passes right through the mountain without making much difference.
        What I mean by "mountains think" is that the potential for MENTAL PROCESS exists at any spatial point within the mountain, except that, let's face it, there's not much probability it will manifest anywhere in the dead zone of stone.  But perhaps there is an "as yet unexplained" phenomenon that generates MIND within the stone due to the mountain being a component of a larger entity, the Earth, which can be said to be thinking, especially if it's busy little consumer-resource systems are included.  I know, I just know, these mountains have some type of awareness, it's just different than animal awareness, so we can't access it.  And because it is a weak force as it manifests within the systems, it resists empirical proof and eludes scientific observation. You will think I am out there talking to myself...
(above) Video of Lucy sending Copper Creek Falls, 2 Saturdays ago.  Class 4/5.
(above)  Lucy peacocking on top of the Anvil at Anvil Mountain on a Fall weeknight.  The Anvil is not to be underestimated as a rock climb, though many a kid has soloed it.  A case could be made for the Anvil being fifth class by any route.  So when I climbed to the top and called Lucy,  I figured I was only tormenting her, a primate mocking a quadraped.  I was surprised to find the quadraped soon standing next to me on the summit, but I was dismayed too, for it meant I would have to carry her somehow while I soloed down.  But no, she down-climbed just fine. She found a little dog ramp of her own.

(above) Hold your life out at arm's length, beauty suspended in clear drop of time.  Kristine, Raina, and Lucy, picking September blueberries above Copper Creek.  And there's the peak Lucy and I were blessed to climb the following day, "Aqalgiqpq," hanging on the horizon left of Salmon Lake.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Peak 3147 Expedition On Trial

 (above)   The smoking gun. The date is April 6, 2013, 21 Saturdays Ago.  The photo clearly shows Max, Riley, Kevin, ad Nate hanging out and enjoying themselves in a sheltered spot under Mt.Osborn.  Allapa admits to taking the picture.  Nate and Allapa had already stated their  day's objective to be a climb of a technical nature further down the Grand Central Valley.  So why aren't they getting after it? 

  What follows is an analyis of a case that was rendered in Kigs-Court 20 Saturdays Ago in March of 2013, Kigsblog vs. Nate and Ian, in response to a claimed "Technical Chicken Out"on the North Face of Crater Lake Mountain by said defendants.  Because of the long stretch of Post Traumatic Fog Disorder brought on by seriously horrendous incidents since that time, Kigsblog has not been able to report on this monumental ruling until now.  The influence of the case upon the subsequent GNAR in the Sluicebox Couloir makes this analysis all the more ironic. 
        The purpose of filing suit against myself back in the Spring was to jack my climbing frame of mind into an "Alaska Range state of awareness" in preparation for summer climbs on McKinley and Deborah.  Even a cursory reading of Kigsblog through the last several years will reveal the extent to which my mental preparedness for the Alaska Range had deteriorated.  The complacency evidenced by one lame post after another documenting a moment's clinging to a lump of frozen tundra close to Nome, the endless references to the dreaded GLUE of TOWN (a relentless inertial force composed not only of comfort, lack of motivation, and disorganization, but all the good things of life in town as well, the world of family and community and fun), as well as the atrophy of climbing skills due to forever approaching climbs rather than climbing them—  all these tendencies had to be cut away with the machete.  So my intention was to use the authority of the blogosphere to call bullshit on myself with a trial.
        Here then, is an account of the events leading to the trial, and a partial transcript outlining key precedents.  I thought for a while afterwards the ruling had done its job and motivated Allapa to achieve a higher level of alpine climbing, but as so often happens, the legislation held unforeseen consequences, including horrendous ENMANGLEMENT of beloved partners, and excessive COMA-HAGGERY for the entire tribe.

(above)  Looking northwest up Grand Central Valley.  Nate and I were appointed to climb a new line on Pk. 3147, on the 45° gneiss-ribbed face that defines the right side of the peak.  But we started having, to invoke Buchanan, "entirely too much fun" with Max, Riley, and Kevin, our Sno-Go-ciates.  So Nate and I ended up NOT CLIMBING.  Failure?  Success?  It was up to KigsCourt to decide.  

       It was the first Saturday in April.  Nate had hooked up with three other clubbers riding on two machines and it felt great to be clutching it up with Max's boarding crew on a Saturday in Spring.  No one in the party had ever visited the hidden Northeast Cirque of Osborn, and I was intent on checking the ice conditions there in the Sluicebox for the upcoming epic with Andy, so I showed everybody the secret keyhole in the moraines which leads to a long, recently-ablated gully curving around the mountain to the Grand Union Glacier.  Storms swirl out of here on sunny days, the marble walls rime up like Ben Nevis, perpetual shadow hangs over the wall.  On the day we visited, the Cirque was strangely foggy, like a gauze, warm and still.  We might have stayed there for a ski, but everybody felt the underlying menace of the place, so we left.
(left) Stiff winds blowing in the main Grand Central  Valley as we made our egress. The Northeast Cirque, behind us around the corner where we hung out for a time was quiet.  This was completely the reverse of normal.      

    Can a decision to hang out and have fun with friends justify a no-shame bail?  That is the question at stake here.  Nate and I sprayed forth about how we would do a mixed climb on Crater Lake Peak in Grand Central, and made great show of packing our bags with the latest fads in ironmongery and cordage, then instead of climbing, hung out all day with the totally cool people we were snow-machining with, pictured above on the Grand Union Glacier, and had a lot of fun in the warm foggy paradise of snow, and made new friends.  Is this a justified bail, or should the label of "poser" be imprinted on my brand for too many repetitions of this spray and bail pattern.  Kigsblog vs. Nate and Ian was supposed to be the landmark case that settled the question once and for all.

Adjutant:  We are gathered here on Monday to review the weekend of climbing, as per standard procedure;  according to the measure of climbing, have we been true to the spirit of climbing, which is to:  1. do rad stuff 2. Worship the Earth  3. Achieve a homeostatic Ego/Id balance.
Judge:  As regarding the climb of last weekend, April the sixth, your attempt on the northeast face of Peak Thirty-One, Forty-Seven, how do you plead?"

Allapa:  I would like to plead a Technical Chicken Out, your Honor.

Judge:  As opposed to a mere Chicken Out, you mean.

Allapa:  Yes, your honor.

Judge:  (chuckles)  I see...

D.A.:  Your Honor, I object.  There is no such code for a Technical Chicken Out.

Judge:  Sustained.  Mr. Allapa, I hate to quote Yoda in KigsCourt, but 'Do, or do not, there is no try.'  You follow my meaning?

Allapa:  Yes, your Honor, it's just that the B.B.Y.E.S. (acronym for 'Bail Before You Even Start') was forced upon us by the circumstances that day.

Judge:  The circumstance of being with friends?  Or the circumstance of being too late to get up the route before nightfall?
Allapa:  Both.  Uh, don't those two follow consequentially upon each other?

Judge:   Adjutant, please read us the Kigsblogic definition of a TECHNICAL CHICKEN-OUT.

Adjutant:  A Technical Chicken Out is a decision to retreat made for valid reasons, but where the objective could have been reached with a greater level of commitment.

Judge:  As you know, Mr. Allapa, in a court of law, any bail, big or small, justified or not, constitutes a Chicken Out.  The T.C.O. clause was merely an appendum designed to mitigate the deleterious effects of excessive SELF-NEGATION after backing off an otherwise aesthetic boulder problem due to the key holds being loose rat traps.

Allapa:  Your Honor, that is exactly what I am seeking for myself.  Relief from self-negation.

D.A.:   May I remind you of the Qaaqtut matter in 2006?  Kigsblog vs. Allapa?  When he backed off a big vicious 5.6!  Rather an attractive bouldering line, as I recall.  Need I remind your Honor of the ruling in that case:  too many bails in a row may result forfeiture of climber status.

Allapa:  But the exact number of Bails was never stipulated!

Judge:  Overruled.  Allapa is correct, and out of order.

D.A.:  He can't even remember the last time he didn't bail!

Judge:  Order!  Now,  look, when you backed off the boulder problem—  uh, what was it called again?

Allapa:  Qaaqtuq.  It means, "It bursts off."

Judge:  Kack Took, right.  When you backed off Kack Took, there was no question it was fully justified.  You were going to get squished, your body mashed into the multi-ton flake of rock like the heel of God stepping in fresh turd, your friends writing enconiums on various internet sites, your beautiful boulder problem lying on top of you.  This, however, is a different situation.  A pattern is developing in which you are justifying your own lack of climber will-power with these silly rationalizations.
(above)  Another view of Pk. 3147.  I took a picture of this beautiful peak and just had to SLAP a vulgar red line of ascent upon its flanks.  The line shows approximately where Laurent Dick, Kevin Bop and I did a semi-technical face route in 2005.  This whole cursed trial comes from Nate and me making a simple decision not to climb this face again.

Allapa:  Your Honor, on behalf of myself and Nate, we invoke the NO SKETCH PARTNER LAW to justify our bail, thereby postponing forfeiture of our climbing license for said period of time required to fulfill promise of total mental commitment on the Sluicebox Couloir in weeks to come.

Judge:  Adjutant, please read the Kigsblogical definition for the "No Sketch Partner Law."

Adjutant:  The NO SKETCH PARTNER LAW states that the scope of your climbing ambitions must conform to the mean climbing ambitions of the group you are with.

Allapa:  I would like to take this chance to point out that this is a LAW.  Thou shalt not be an asshole is how one would say it in the mountains.

Judge:  Order!  Are there any further questions for the defendant?

D.A.:  Yes, your Honor.  (turns to Allapa)  Please tell the court once again your reasons for the Bail Before You Started on Peak Thirty-One Forty-Seven on April 6, 2013.

Allapa:  As I stated previously, I didn't want to sketch on the nice people we were with.  I mean, it was no big deal at the time, we got a late start, we decided not to climb, we hung out and did this sort of snow-boarding water-skiing thing on the Kougarak Road.  So what, right?

D.A.:  So what, yes, unless you care about the status of your climbing license...  This bail on Peak Thirty-One Forty-Seven fits into a long-term pattern of bailing:  GLUE of TOWN leads to NO SKETCH PARTNER leads to NOT CLIMBING.  It's all very fine and beautiful, but the natural consequence according to Kigslaw should be forfeiture of climbing license.

 Allapa:  Objection, your Honor. This consequence is not written into the stipulation, nor is the precise amount of bails specified.

Judge:  Sustained.

 (left)  Allapa detained at the start of a skiing trip by the GLUE of TOWN.  The GLUE is an elemental force that sucks like a rip-tide at the ankles of the climber as he or she is trying to gain escape velocity from the place in which they have been situated.  Little, last-minute tasks are a common constituent of the GLUE.  Like a cartoon character who has stepped in glue, the attachments of town form elastic tendrils attached to the climber's feet which retract the climber's forward mountain,, causing the climber to come springing back into town after only a few miles, usually to retrieve the crampons he or she forgot, or to log out their computers.

Adjutant:  In the matter of KigsCourt vs. Nate and Ian, the bail from Peak Thirty-One Forty-Seven on April 6, the honorable judge will now decide.

Judge:  Mr. Allapa, let me ask you a question.

Allapa:  Yes, your Honor.

Judge:  Did you have fun?

Allapa:  Fun?

Judge:  It's a simple question.  Did you have fun?

Allapa:  Yes.  Yes, we did have fun, your Honor, me, Nate, and the other clubbers,  a whole lot of fun.  Mountains floated in three-dimensional white ether, and I was so grateful to be out there NOT ALONE, not alone in that unsettling, lonesome, Kigsian way when the GLUE of TOWN pushes on your heart like G-Forces swirling towards a drain, makes you miss all your friends and hold your entire life out at arm's length so that you feel

Judge: Yes, uh, so noted, had a bit of coffee, did we?  Yes.  Clerk, let it be noted that Mr. McRae had fun in the mountains on the day of his bail from Peak Thirty-One, Forty-Seven.

Now, Mr. McRae, you have overlooked the obvious.  The ALEX LOWE CLAUSE forces me to throw out this whole case.  Adjutant, please read the Alex Lowe Clause for the court.

Adjutant:  The best climber is the one having the most fun.

Judge:  Since you had fun, you are the best climber in the world, even though you did no climbing whatsoever.  No self-negation is merited, no revocation of climbing license warranted, and your bail is nullified.  Any coding would be irrelevant to your future climbing.  Case dismissed!

audience: (murmuring)

Judge:  Order!  Order in KigsCourt! One more thing!

Mr. Allapa, I would be remiss in not pointing out your obvious legal escape from sanctions via the Alex Lowe Clause.  But I would also be remiss in not dispensing you a piece of stern advice.  

After thirty years of alpinism, you know the score well enough by now:  if the climb is worth it, you spend the chips.  If you decide to spend the chips, you don't waste them on doubt, hesitation, and self-questioning.  Don't waste your chips on a load of drivel like this kigsblog post.  Simply climb.  Or do not climb.  Classifying your bails on a hierarchy is a giant ladder of shit.  You have some grave meditation to do, young man!  Empty your mind.  Focus on the mountain.  And organize your junk in town.  Now, I recommend you go home and read Extreme Alpinism and The Rock Warrior Way.  

(left)  Andy Sterns last week dry-tooling in eighty-degree temperatures on the artificial wall at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.  FAQ:  "How's Andy?"  A:  "Check him out!"    

     The judge was actually waving his prodigious index finger at me as he spoke.  Make no mistake, I was greatly chastised.  I left the court room with my tail between my legs.  I vowed right then and there I would pack my sack for the Sluicebox, and if the time came I would send with no hesitation, no attachments.
       And that is essentially what happened.  During weeks to come, Andy and I talked on the phone twice daily, him in Fairbanks, me in Nome, and it was all business and obssession with the weather.  When things did finally line up, and we found ourselves starting up the route on Friday, April 19, green lights stretched ahead.  There was no thought of a bail, no hesitation.   Thoughts of the controversy surrounding the long pattern of Technical Chicken-Outs was far from my mind.  If the judge was wagging his finer, I wasn't thinking about it.
          The Sluicebox was only supposed to be a training climb for my return to the greater ranges.  I was getting back that "Alaska Range feeling."  You know, the one where the mountain is rumbling, and avalanching, and shooting stones, and giving out suddenly beneath your feet, and you're coming out of denial about the danger fast, and you know it will lead to great wisdom later on, but for now you're scared to ever-loving death.
         "You have to sort of write yourself off before one of these jobs," said Doug Scott.  Well, thanks in part to the trial of Peak 3147,  I had actually been able to achieve that sort of focus and detachment.  I was able to return to the glorious stupidity of youth and go for it.  But to what end?  My partner is MANGLED and I'm back where I started, taking forever to get on rappel because I don't in my heart believe the anchors will hold, turning back on a trip after a day because I can't handle the solitude, spending weeks embedded in the GLUE of TOWN with all its charms, and staring upward as if hunted from above.  Nothing to do, but start climbing again from scratch.  Let's hope there's not another trial.

(above) Sluicebox couloir.  X marks where the rogue rock hit.  • marks rappel points.   One interesting thing this summer was Andy and I got to hang out and compare memory traces on the Accident in the Sluicebox.  Still only meta-data is available to us, but my theory of a single rock coming from above that augured in to the 45° snow right next to Andy's stance, followed by an avalanche several seconds later, was corroborated by him.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Petit Tig

(above) Petit Tig (Pt. 3000+) would be the leftmost peak in the picture.  Then, East Tig, Grand Tig, West Tig, and the Fab Four Tors..  

         THE GLUE OF TOWN seemed fraught with potential complications, but thanks to Nate's machete, escape velocity was seamlessly achieved.  Soon, Nate, Lucy the dog, and I, were piling out of the truck at the good old gravel pit at Mile 29 Kougarak Road, ready for the long slog into Tigaraha in nice hot weather to grab the plumb, six pitch dihedral on the sunny south face of the Grand Tig.
(above) Tigaraha is maybe/probably/sort of located at the "3" on the map, though not labeled so on USGS.  The blue approach is better for an ascent of Tigaraha, but slightly longer;  Nate and I in 2013 employed the red approach, hoping to cross over the divide between Sinuk and Windy at a fourth/fifth class pass just to the south of the East Tig tower—  Thwarted! we were, by lingering summer icefields on the north side of the pass.

          A tight schedule it was, with Nate having to board a Soyuz capsule within 48 hours, so that the pyscho-gravitational influence of the GLUE OF TOWN never entirely abated throughout the trip.  Nevertheless, it was fine to be in the Kigs in the summer with the creeks a-gurgling, and the Plovers a-ploving, with ropes in the sack, and Nate fresh from a season of Leaning Tower and Prow aid solos in the Valley.  
      But, as we slog-o-matically slogged up the upper Sinuk (oh holy Ganges of the Kigluaik), I looked over at Nate, and got this horror-flick image of mangled body, crushed by random Volkswagon of choss, with me the frightened partner-child once again pressing the G-Spot Device that never quite reaches climax.  I had sworn off partners, but here I was in the hanging fields of deathly choss once again, with partner...

      (left) Mylon on the Erratic, 2004.

          Erratic Camp at  Sinuk headwaters is a place where nature has dripped green tundra-whiz over piles of morainal boulders to create a babbling garden of mini-waterfalls and rock-rimmed sleeping pads.  Nate and I settled in for the night, bodies pounded from the unacceptable slog-ratios of the day, minds lulled by the mountain music of water and midnight-sun birds all around.  In the morning, we shouldered torture-loads of climbing gear and began scrambling up thousands of feet of steep ledges above camp to the west.
(above) East TigPass.  Allapa descends in a westward direction from a point at roping up place for East Arete of East Tig, traversing over towards the shadowed dihedral in the background which was Nate's and my original target.  This is a photo by Mikey Lean in 2002. In the conditions pictured here, the East TigPass is easy Class 3 or 4 over to the Grand Tig, but six Saturdays ago, Nate and I were repulsed! by lingering summer icefields which hogged the picture.  Getting to the climb would have necessitated swinging across a choss-loaded WI1 gully on rappel with a hyperactive Border Collie in my sack, then traversing ice slopes with Nate in sneakers, and chopping steps with our carpentry hammers.
(above) Lucy under Singatook.

              It was Tuesday, June 18:  record temperatures that day all over the state. We sat on the crest, our objective slipping away, utterly stupified in the heat.   Finally, bobble-headed, we got up and headed back down the way we came.  The outline of things had grown blurry.  It was too hot for speech.
         We came to a wall that seemed to promise a pitch of climbing.  I tried to lead, but almost instantly got that "Kigs feeling":  the very rock itself is about to exfoliate, no amount of pro is going to save you from cratering or ralstoning, so I rationalized, Nate must be in terrific shape after Yosemite, let's see him try.
          Nate started to lead, but instantly got that Kigs feeling himself:  what had looked like 5.6 from below was indeed 5.6, but the rock so poor that once upon it, your mind notches the difficulty up to 5.9X!   He eventually threaded his way around some patches of solid rock to belay at the base of the summit boulder.  The top of the wall, formed a mighty chariot thrusting out over a 400 foot abyss to the north;  the very tip-top summit block forms a little toilet seat, with the crack cantilevered over tummy-tingling space.  I vaguely remember soloing this airy pinnacle on a bygone hot summer's day, but since I cannot remember the details, the FAULTY MEMORY CLAUSE dictates that Nate and I made the true and established first ascent on June 19, 2013, or at least a second or third first ascent, or at the very least, first concrete ascent that mind can remember.
(above) le Tig petit.  400 ft.  A few moves of fourth/fifth class are required to surmount the apical pinnacle on the back side.  The fourth class hike up the left skyline is highly recommended for those hikers who like to combine bouldering and scrambling in wild high country— and the rock is not that bad.

(above) The amazing Andy Sterns climbing hard at SRC last week. 

Heard you were dead
This is all a dream
Woke up this morning
Rock above, rock above!

Tried to take it all back
All the things we said
But rock was all around
Look out below, look out below!

The people in the village
The darkness lowering down
I'm gonna stay right here
All the night, all the night.

Boatman gonna be here soon
Dripping honey from a syringe spoon
Take us away from the stone and ice
Cause Lord I am so cold, I am so cold...

And when they load me in that chariot
When they fly me over the peaks
I'll say hello to the mountain morning
And know that I'll return, that I'll return.