Thursday, August 7, 2014

Regular Route on Mt. Osborn

A kigsblog rarity, straight guidebook talk, the palaver trimmed off— I slapped together a description of the regular route on Osborn, the Southeast Ridge, for some friends, and the benefit of all Kigs-bagging cats...

(above) Mt. Osborn from the east from Grand Central Valley.

Southeast Ridge, Class 4, 3000 ft. elevation gain.  This is probably the easiest way up Mt. Osborn. Should be fine without rope or spikes in high summertime, but weather conditions on the summit ridge are changeable year round. Be sure to continue to the northernmost of the rock towers on the summit ridge, the highest of the summit towers by all of ten feet.  Average hikers will take four to six hours round-trip from the base.  Descent is best made by going down the way you come up. 

East Face, WI3, M4. This offensive yellow line is a peemark on behalf of Phil Hofstetter and allapa;  we climbed this fun face in April of 2004, veering around for 8 hours to contrive a route with technical pitches of mixed and ice. On the return snow-machine ride that night, dehydrated and spent, we had never been colder in our lives.

East Ridge, AI 2. Another leg-lifting peemark on the internet.  Soloed this ridge on April 20, 2006. This ridge would most likely be a Class 3 walk-up in summer, but in alpine conditions it presents thousands of feet of cramponing up 45° wind-crust ice. Accessible via a low-angled snow couloir in the Northeast Cirque of Osborn.

(above) Approach to Southeast Ridge of Mt. Osborn.

Approach:  Park on shoulder/parking area just to the north of Grand Central Bridge on the Kougarak Road. Philosophies vary on which side of Grand Central to take for hiking up the valley, but Kigsblog strongly advocates for the north side (the right side, looking up-valley from the road).  There is a bluff running parallel to the trend of the river for most of the 8-mile hike to the base of Osborn;  in general, stay above this bluff for the first 4 miles of the hike-- some bushwhacking is virtually inevitable through this section, but by going through the proper channels it's not bad.  Start angling to the northwest where the bushes open up past Thompson Creek. When you get to the glacial moraines at the base of Osborn, you can follow the creek into the moraines, or better yet, aim for some prominent glacial erratics a couple hundred feet higher on the hillside to the right, and enter the moraines from up there. A great camp can be had on the West Fork of Grand Central in the moraines around the base of Osborn, oh King of the Kigs. Most of the hike is on BLM Land.

(above) Mt. Osborn from the west. the Mosquito Pass side, the opposite side from Grand Central. Looked at from this direction, the summit tor is located at the apex of the mountain.

       More Southeast Ridge Beta:  A definite change occurs as one transitions from the lower ridge to the summit ridge; it's as if you suddenly enter a new layer of upper atmosphere.  The summit ridge itself is studded with a long line of rock towers, so in order to make one's way along the summit ridge towards the north, it is necessary to traverse sideways across 40° - 45° slopes, skirting just underneath the rock towers as one traverses sideways. This part of the climb is Class 3 (assuming summer conditions), not difficult climbing, more like steep hiking on sand and tundra patches with the occasional handhold on rock—  a fall would be very unlikely, one would need to fling oneself down the slope, and even then you probably couldn't get rolling— but one does have the sweep of the east face under one's feet to create an exposed feeling.  A rope threaded in and out of the rock structures can create a feeling of security, but most climbers will not feel they require it.
       The rock tower (tor) that looks the highest is not the highest above sea level.  As one begins the summit ridge traverse, one soon comes to an 80 ft. tall tor that dominates over the others. One might be tempted to make the mistake I made the first time by climbing this first tor;  I rope-soloed it and did some 5.6 moves.  From the top of this spire I espied another tor a half-kilometer to the north that clearly (to the naked eye) was a little higher, but I didn't have time to continue on that day—  it had to wait until a year later, when I returned to Osborn, and this time made the hike a few hundred yards further north along the summit ridge.  The northernmost of the rock towers is the one with the highest elevation;  it is about 25 feet from base to summit and can be climbed and down-climbed by Class 4 ledges on its east side. It doesn't feel terribly exposed until the very last move onto the pointy summit;  perhaps patting your hand on the summit while your feet stand on the ledge below will have to do... Remember:  you don't get to say you've climbed Osborn unless you've gone to the very tippy-top! 

(above) Northeast Face of Osborn. 

     Gear for the Mt. Osborn climb:  Lightweight travelers may eschew rope, crampons, axe, and helmet in "high-summertime" conditions on the Southeast Ridge.  However, some or all these items may well be necessary, depending on conditions and comfort levels.  One long ice axe makes a very nice walking stick on this climb in any conditions. The only rockfall zone is under the summit tors on the traverse of the summit ridge, but the danger is not terribly pronounced.  A forty-foot rope and a few nuts would be all that was necessary for the highest summit tor. 
(above) Northeast Face detail

       First Ascent?: No information regarding Osborn's first ascent has ever bubbled up into my random flow, but almost surely, locals and visitors alike have been climbing Osborn for the last century or more.  Its status as a mountain lies somewhere on a wide spectrum between "big serious peak" and "just a big hill," trending toward the latter in mid to late summertime when the snow has gone away.
       There are stories.  Someone snow-machined to the top, it is said, which is perfectly believable if by "top" one is referring merely to the summit ridge, but there is a tendency on the part of Nomens to disregard the rock spires that protrude from the summit ridge;  I'll wager no one has snow-machined that last Class 4 move on the tippy-top tor!

(above) East Face detail

      Can Osborn be done in a day from the road?   Roman Dial mentioned a wager he made in the nineties while working on a field crew in the Nome area: he bet he could climb Osborn in a 24-hour day round trip from Nome, on bicycle and foot. He made the prodigious trip in a day, but in a stiff Grand Central fog, climbed the wrong peak.  So he went back and repeated the wager, this time from the road only, minus the bike ride from town, and climbed the proper Mt. Osborn. He wrapped a length of purple webbing around the summit tor for pilots to see, but this purple webbing either disappeared, or it is still up there somewhere. Roman never got his fifty bucks—  this would be a good time to pay it back.

(above)  West Face detail, looking south towards the Sinuk drainage. Photo was taken while perching on the tiny, rime-coated summit on the First Winter Ascent.

      I finally got up Osborn on my third attempt, my second year in Nome. Trying to follow in Roman's footsteps, I tried to do it in a day from the road in September without any bivouac gear but I got a late start, and, of course, I am not Roman. I found myself getting to the base of the mountain after a successful ascent just as the sun was going down. This left the eight-mile hike through the jungles of Grand Central still to go. "Ah, I'll just eskimo dance right here until the sun comes up and hike out in the morning," I thought, but just then saw the redwood—  an enormous pile of cured California Redwood left over from the days of the Wild Goose Pipeline in Grand Central.  It fired up easy as could be, and I spent the night playing the game where you sleep in the fire, first burning one side of your expensive nylon clothing, then the other.  The black, night ionosphere over the Imruk Basin crackled with plasma, the lights put on a show I will never forget as I fed the fire all night. At first light, the vast swamp that is Grand Central Valley was frozen solid, but only until the sun came around the corner— I raced out of there while the footing was good, back to the GLUE of TOWN.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thirty-Fifty-Four

      This started as a nothing post about a minor peak in the vicinity of Mt. Osborn climbed by Max Vockner and I five weeks ago, but in the process of researching the article, a can of worms became opened: INDICTMENT!  It was discovered that Kigsblog is once again guilty of crimes of misappropriation. If you have arrived at this post seeking information about the GLACIERS OF THE KIGLUAIKS controversy, scroll down to the lower half of the post. 
       First, in accordance with Kigsblog's "Action Only" Posting Clause, it is necessary to report on Max's and my awesome day-climb of Pk. 3054 (Thirty-Fifty-Four) on April 6, 2014.

(left) Max on 45° ice, east face of Pk. 3054. We never really used the rope, though it hung there suggestively for a few lengths. At bottom is the pass that leads to the north heading left out of the picture.

   Max is one of these new-generation, grew-up-in Alaskans who can do anything, fly Super Cubs, fashion skis out of wood, high-ski his snow-machine, and climb ice, too— he passed the crucial "Litmus Test #1" which is, "Did you arrive in Nome packing crampons and ice ax?" Kigs-readers might remember Max from "Pk. 3147 Expedition On Trial" a year ago— he was the unclimberly influence that swayed Nate and me from our holy climbing purpose with his totally cool and laid-back ways. As a long-time, grew-up-in-California Alaskan, I have never quite lost my veneer of Lower 48 "bumbly-hood"--  what if my snow-machine should stop working, what then?--  so I was more than overjoyed to be riding with Max.
(above) Mt. Osborn and vicinity. The two glaciers are of interest due to the "misappropriation" suit currently being brought against the author of Kigsblog (by Kigsblog itself!)

      The GLUE of TOWN was running thick, around 8 or 9 kiloGlue, hampering our escape from Nome. An early crux came when the tire went flat on the trailer, which we solved by abandoning the concept of the trailer altogether and just making the ass-slapping ride over the bare countryside all the way from town. 
      Snow-machine conditions during the strange Spring of 2014 had been difficult to predict:  several freezing rains had created changeable crusts in the climate-changingly low snowpack. Once off the main trails into virgin territory, the machine tended to trench down alarmingly, and the willows seemed mutantly tall and thick above the anemic snow.  
       But I had a secret weapon for getting through the willows of Grand Central Valley:  my ski-tracks from the previous week. I had already tried to make it in to Osborn solo the weekend before, chickened out because of primal fear of solo snow-machine, then skied several miles ahead, carefully designing a path through the Salicacean jungle to be used as a guide for later machining. Having the tracks to follow a week later definitely infused mojo into our Pk. 3054 expedition a week later. 
(above) Looking up North Fork of Grand Central.  Pk. 3054 is above Max in this picture. We climbed the slopes visible on its right flank. The saddle to the right of Pk. 3054 is sometimes used as a pass to the north by snow-machiners, but steepness and iciness on the north side caused us to chicken out on northward passage the day we were there.

       We parked machines at the top of the pass. Crampons went on at dismount. The climb of Pk. 3054 from the pass amounted to 1400 feet of 45° hardened snow, perfect crab-walking on daggers and front points. You wouldn't want to snag your pantlegs, though; a fall would find you instantly accelerating to a high downward velocity, your ears filled with the irreversible whistle of nylon against ice. Super frisky extreme skiers might have been able to ski our climb, but for me the thing felt like a climb, not a ski. 
(above) Northeast Face Osborn, April 6, 2014. In each yearly ring of the Kigsblog tree, there must be embedded a photo of the Northeast Face. Officially, that is the Grand Central Glacier in the cirque there, not the Grand Union. The Grand Union Glacier, if there is, in fact, anything remaining of it, lies to the other side of the big wall in this picture.

      Interesting rock formations protrude from the summit ridge of Thirty Fifty-four.  Looked at from below, they promised mandatory fifth class moves on airy rock towers, in case of which is why we carried a rope and a few pitons.  But as per usual in the Kigs, the summit tower proved an easy walk-up from the south.  
      The rock on Thirty Fifty-four proved to be choss of the worse order. North of Osborn is an area of uplift where the three types of metamorphic rock in the Kigs are competing for attention, marble, schist, and gneiss, where the sedimentary bolus of Osborn has displaced the usual interfolding of schist and gneiss, creating unique "chevron" shapes of color on my "Amato-Miller Bedrock Geologic Map of the Kigulaik Mountains, 2004." I had been hoping for a chevron of good orthogneiss on Thirty-Fifty-Four, but all we found  was ghastly "coarse-grained pelitic paragneiss and schist... locally pervasively migmatized!"

(left) Looking northeast over the Kuzitrin flats.

     As for the climbing: you're dealing with a white tilted plane like a big tilted roof, down which you're looking through the V slot of your legs which is filled with dangling junk as you make the same crablike movements across the plane over and over for a very long time, and ice particles are tink, tink, tinkling slowly down the surface of the white plane making a sound somewhere between wind chimes and white noise, you're gripping your tool around the shaft just under the head, stabbing the whole pick forward into the styrofoam snow with your fists knuckle-forward so that you appear to be boxing the mountain as you stinkbug upward, copping a duck step wherever needed, yelling to your friend across the wall, "If Tyler were here he'd already be carvin' it down!"

(above) Descent from Pk. 3054

      From the top of Thirty-Fifty-Four, at last I caught a glimpse down into the fabled northern cirques of Osborn. If one has the gas, and conditions permit, it is possible for a Nomen to drive a snow-machine north on the Kougarak Road, round the Kigluaiks at their eastern tip around Mile 60, and then beeline it back to the west towards Mosquito Pass, enabling visits to the canyons north of Osborn along the way.  Alternately, one could visit the cirques by hiking over the pass from Grand Central, and then crossing some more passes.  Better yet, or perhaps not, hitch a ride on a helicopter that's going to that area anyway due to Graphite One.   
        Because I have always chickened out of making this trip, the northern cirques of Osborn have remained a mystery to me, a terra incognita of the Kigs.  Where lies terra incognita, there follows curiosity.  In April, I applied for and received a small Kigsblog Research Grant.  One of the stipulations was to find out more about the myterious NORTH SIDE of the Kigluaiks, beginning with the trip Max and I made to Pk. 3054.
 (above) I am trying not to drop my iPhone.

          The "Chevrons" north of Osborn were a deep, cold, fathomless nether-region. They were a breathing subconscious realm where dragons lay coiled.  Phil Westcott (of Slimedog Millionaire fame) had sent me some of the northside shots (seen below) he had taken with his super Dropabilly camera, and they revealed lurking giants with ice-coated, 2000 ft. north walls. But how does a road-system dirtbag penetrate all the way back in there to these cirques?
       Well, he doesn't. He starts researching it on the internet, right?


(left) North face of Pk. 4500+. A recent rewriting of Kigsblog Law regarding topographic prominence has changed the listing of this peak from a sub-peak of Osborn to its own independent Marilyn. This effectively renders it the second highest peak in the Kigs, a veritable K2 of the Seward Peninsula. My geologic map reveals it to be cut from the same medi-sedimentary choss as Osborn. One can only expect we are looking at death-marble of the most appalling order.

         Illumination of Kigs topography has occured for me in a distinctly south-to-north direction. My working kinesthetic familiarity with these mountains is like a climbing skin on a ski or the arrow of time, it slides in only one direction, which is a pity because the uplift is quite a sight more spectuacular when viewed in northern mode. The last few days I have been skittling over Google Earth, U.S.G.S. maps, iPhoto, and online geology papers (a research effort aided and abetted by a grotesque skin-flapping thumb injury incurred recently at the Windmill Boulders that is taking days to heal) trying to reason out more about the Kigs unilluminated north side.


(above) Northern aspect of Kigluaiks from northeast. Left to right, the four skyline summits are: Osborn, N. Peak Osborn, Pk. 4250+, Pk. 4500+. The namesake of this post, Pk. 3054, is a squat little knob atop a triangular snowfield sitting in front of and blending in to the choss of Osborn. This photo was ripped off from an awesome panoroma at Mansoor Saghafi's zoomable panorama of Kigs.


     Research into the north side surfaced two things. First, a new obssession to explore these canyons more deeply. Second, a brouhaha in the press:  controversy over newly discovered documents revealing gross mistakes in local geography and Nomenclature quoted by Kigsblog General Editor allapa. Indictment, subpoena, trial, and retraction, with the reputation of a famous scientist at stake, and Kigsblog turned against itself like an autoimmune disorder. Deep embarrassment, as well, before the four or five people in the world that might ever have noticed, ever have cared.

(above) Pk. 4500+ and Grand Union Glacier. Photo ripped off from Hopkins in the link given below.

       So here is my mistake that caused such a flap:  I referred to the Grand Central Glacier as the Grand Union Glacier. This geographical error made its way into the Nome Nugget following the reportage on the Accident in the Sluicebox a year ago, thus propagating the misnomer to the properly outraged masses.  Not sure how I came by the mistake: Wikipedia specifically says that the Grand Union Glacier is the "only remaining active glacier in Western Alaska" so maybe I assumed it had to be the small glacier I was already intimately familiar with and knew to be an active glacier (I fell in the bergschrund once!) located in the northeastern gyre of Osborn (oh King of Kigs) at the head of Grand Central. I should have noticed that "Grand Union Creek" was marked on the map, but I didn't get around to it until this post!

(above) Area comparison of Grand Union vs. Grand Central glaciers, 2010 Google Earth.

       Reasearching this post, I stumbled upon an online publication I had never viewed before. Here is the link that opened the can of worms:
  

(above) Osborn from the west. This shot gives us another look at the peaks to the north of Osborn (left in the picture) recently declassified as independent peaks.

     The article linked above offers an overview of research and publications pertaining to glaciers on the Seward Peninsula. One truism I had already encountered, which seems to have been perpetrated by Dave Hopkins, the famous Beringia scientist, is that "three living glaciers" exist (or existed recently) in the Kigluaik Mountains, which always puzzled me: which three?  Where? I had my theories. Now, this newly-discovered link has substantiated them.



(above) Glaciers or recent glaciations in the Kigluaik Mountains.
1. Grand Central Glacier. I'll hazard an unscientific guess that this is the highest-volume glacier in the Kigs. The marble hulk of Osborn creates a weather microcosm in the Northeast Cirque that keeps it alive. A great mystery is: why wasn't this glacier classified as such in the article? Hopkins, according to the wording of the article, decommissions both the Grand Central and Grand Union glaciers based on the aerial surveys of 1949 and 1950, but then proceeds to rediscover them for himself in 1973.  
2.  Grand Union Glacier. Hopkins referenced this glacier as the "westernmost" active glacier in North America. I'm guessing the glacier's name comes from the creek's name, which probably gets its name because lower down, near its confluence with the Kuzitrin in the Imruk Basin lands, several creeks all come together at one nodal point into a "grand union." Only a  conjecture...
3. Probable location of "Phalarope Glacier" referenced in USGS article. I haven't poked my nose all the way up in this cirque to know if the glacier is still there.
4. "Thrush Glacier" referenced in USGS article. This was one of my guesses for the "three glaciers of the Kigluaiks." Andy Sterns and I did three routes here in 2009. The encircling granite walls of Suluun form a huge weather hippodrome that feeds the tiny glacier tucked in the back.
4.  (the other "4", the righthand one— oops!) Mosquito Pass Glacier? There is an odd, round declivity in the moraines at the base of the North Face of "Crater Lake Peak" where Jeff Collins and I climbed a couloir in the dead of Winter one year. I used to think it might be a glacial remnant, but just this evening, Ken Shapiro, Nome's UPS guy and a hardcore snow-machine explorer of the Kigs in his own right, told me this declivity is a "caldera." Hmm...  
5. Thompson Creek Glacier? If there's not a glacier there now, one must have passed through within the last half-Millenium. You can practically smell its recent passage steaming off the Holocenic moraines that spill out into Grand Central.
6. Tigaraha Glacier? Would more properly be referred to as the Sinuk Glacier if it were still there.  Having climbed many times up and down the icy slopes directly under the north face of Tigaraha (remember: Tigaraha is mismarked on USGS maps), I would venture that there's not enough permanent ice left on this one to even qualify as a remnant. But the steam is still rising from its ablation.
7. Crater Creek Glacier? Is that a glacial stub nestled in the cirque under the unfinished North Face of Kayuqtuq at the head of Crater Creek's South Fork? I don't know, I am not among the scientific glacierati... but I've slept on a few glaciers in my time.
8. Probable location of Smith Creek East Fork Glacier.  Henshaw and Parker referenced a living glacier in this cirque in 1913, but Hopkins stated it had dried up by the time of his 1973 field work. 

Or maybe, the next glaciologist to come along (and I would venture the Kigs are due for a glaciological check-up) will come to the conclusion that there are no remaining glaciers in the Kigluaik Mountains!

(left) Yet another look at Osborn, Northeast Face view, snapped in 2010 from a ledge on Kayuqtuq

OUTCOME OF KIGS-COURT TRIAL:  A counter-suit was filed against Hopkins, et al... on behalf of Kigsblog-allapa, also against Kigsblog-allapa, Judge Kigsblog-allapa presiding.  Namely, a claim was made that incomplete documentation of glaciers in the Kigluaiks and misleading conclusions made by Hopkins, et al... contributed to the misappropriations by said Kigsblog-allapa.  Settled out of court with no shame or guilt;  allapa is hereby relegated the civic responsibility of continuing to explore the hidden subconscious of the North Side, using no unfair advantage of technology that would trash the country. 
(above) Proposed graphite mining operation on North Side Kigluaik Mountains. Helicopters are in the air at the time of this writing. 

Link to Save Graphite Bay Facebook page.

       Blank space on the map, neurons with no dendrites, unilluminated canyons, a dark region of the KigsBrain visited only in forgotten dreams, animal migration-corridor nerve pathway haunted by people and spirits, unvisited cortical regions populated by two-thousand foot nordwands,  a chunk of TOTAL wilderness away from everything, precious, precious, TOTAL wilderness, an invaluable load of a very rare thing that should evaluate at the highest price we can possibly give it, untouched nature--  these are some of the things the Kigs North Side means to me, but it means a whole lot more to many other people. Since it has always been the full intention of Kigsblog to point attention to the theory of sentience for rock and earth, then it should be added that the fate of the Kigs North Side also means a lot to the mountains and the rivers and the estuaries, could they be represented.
(above) "Dragontooths, aka "Oro Grande Tors," from the northeast. Not sure about the origins of the name "Dragontooths."

      The author has made one bonafide trip to the Kigs North Side. In the summer of 2012, Andy Sterns and I spent two weeks in the Dragontooths, referred to elsewhere in this blog as the "Oro Grande Tors." A long fence of orthogneiss tors runs along the top of a ridge to the south of Oro Grande Creek. This ridge is what put the teeth in the Sawtooths, it dominates the view of the Kigs from the northwest.
       Each day Andy and I would schlep our rock gear up the three-thousand foot approach to bag another tor. Each day, as we mantled on to a new summit, we were rewarded with a stupendous view to the north out over the Imruk Basin--  the very lands sitting plum dab in the middle of Graphite One's target red rectangle in the image above.
(above) Dragontooths, "Nauloq Tor," third pitch of Caballero Blanco, II, 5.9. A pathogenic cell creeping its way into an otherwise healthy tissue.

       I now see that Andy and I were like cancer cells, functioning like a pre-cancer in this lobe of land. First, the climbers come creepy-crawly up the last bits of Earth that remain untouched by human hand. Then, industry and helicopters will soon follow, to suck out natural resources and transport them somewhere else so somebody can make money somewhere else. 
      It seemed so innocent, climbing those beautiful towers on a sunny day in the middle of bloody nowhere. How were we to know we were a portent of cancer? 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

White Alice Rocks

I would like to write about a scrap of metamorphic rock. A low-lying table of schist placed a few hundred yards northeast of the White Alice towers (of Cold War DEW line fame), it barely suggests a bouldering area. A mere nook, a slight shelter out of the wind is all most climbers would give it. Placed alongside, say, the Sherwin Grade on the Sierra's east side, this rock would attract zero notice; it probably wouldn't even rate as a picnic rock. It might be something you might randomly sit on, but that would be it.
But starkly placed on the east shoulder of Anvil Mountain within easy reach of Nome, the rock transforms into a destination bouldering Zen-garden, an ever-shifting funhouse of iced-up planes of textured rock. In previous winters, the White Alice Rocks were sealed over under the snow-- in other words, nonexistent. In summer, these rocks offer little more than worthless crumbles. But last winter, the shockingly low-snow year of 2014, the seal of snow pulled back like a bubble bursting revealing a tiny ingrown wonderland of climbing joy, a sweet little mixed-bouldering area, freshly decanted and never-before dry-tooled, only a 5-minute drive from town, a short hike up Bear Creek on a northwest tack from the little skier parking lot at Newton Peak, the end of the road spot in wintertime on the Dexter Bypass Road.
(above) Lucy in wind with White Alice towers in background, on one of our many visits to the White Alice Rocks this previous winter. The towers were tropospheric scatter antennae for microwave radio waves. Many a thrill-seeking Nomen made the hideous, toxic, carcinogenic climb up the sixty foot towers via a curved internal scaffolding made of I-beam girders. A 

Ground cornices of drifted snow form troughs at the very base of the rocks, wavy, perfect luge runs on which Lucy banks her turns at full speed for the sheer joy of it, while I boulder just above on overhanging rock, laying back on the tools which are hooked on schist, with the curve of the snow in the trough matching the curve of my back, the snow bank making a natural, ergonomic spotting device.
Between pump-outs in the blowing spindrift, huddle between the rocks, lost and forgotten above the town. Stare at the surface of the rock. Graupels of snow collect on the catchment systems of lichen clinging to the wall. Rime crystals of ice stand up on the rock like columns. High-frequency whistling noises issue from a hole in the rock eight feet to your left. Bored and getting cold now, simply reach up above your head, hook a tool, and resume the workout again with a one-arm pull-up. Off you go.
  Who could not say this is real climbing? For God's sake, you're fifteen feet off the deck chicken-winging with tool and arm between dirt and flake, while the other arm is sparking away with the chisel of the pick against featureless stone, your shortened front-points feel like they might all of a sudden explosively scrape off the holds, with each second you are trying to stand on the points with heels lowered and vector of gravity unchanging, they get closer to their blowing-out point. Though the rock be but a smudge upon the hillside and you have greatly used your imagination to contrive the climb, it must surely be real climbing. 
Information conveyed in the skeins of snow filagreed across the hardpack like a neural network. The tiny bump on the shoulder of Anvil Mt. welcomes you back, glad to see you again, politely asks you how your time was in town, and what brings you back, a little bouldering perhaps?  You have completely enlivened the winter for this slight conclivity of rocks and tundra. What otherwise would have been highly inanimate has been rendered more animate by your bouldering visitations.
(above) A decent dry-tool circuit may be successfully devised at White Alice.  

Let this be the official Pee Mark:  MARK!  I hereby lift my leg upon the White Alice Rocks by categorically stating that if it's an obvious problem of M6 difficulty or less at this area, I probably climbed it during the Winter of 2014.  I climbed 56 boulder problems in 14 trips to the rocks, and named each one with a super-groovy title translated into Inupiaq, and attached specific ratings in a variety of global rating systems to each problem, and indexed all the problems in a color-coded grid system which I have submitted to Kigsblog for publication. And here we see the true, hidden intent of the blog: to relieve the swollen bladder of Ego by spraying on the Internet.
Three or four "high-ballsey" problems surface from the flotsam of Winter memory:  a verglassed slab ending in a wide mitten jam, an iced-up offwidth with a pick-to-adze Gaston at the crux, an exposed arete with a slammer moss-cloud jug at the top. These are problems that leave you feeling clean and giddy. You feel  like an astronaut using tiny holds and bodily movements to manipulate the movement of the weightless Earth through space. Earth is the motorcycle and the climber the rider. Hammer and swing.  And all so close to town. 
And which is the LEE POINT on the dial this time at White Alice today? You will always find a calm spot out of the wind, some specific radian in the lee, but you might have to walk the circumference of the rock cluster to find it. If the wind is out of the southwest, your spot will be to the northeast, and so on. Sit with your back pressed tightly to the rock, the wind whistling past the overhang above your head. The calm spot will not be at the base of the boulders, but up high near the top on some grassy ledge just under the crest. Here only will your lighter light and your fingers thaw.  Take some time and jettison these silly concerns of town you have carried all the way up here.
With the simple thwack! of a moss cloud, Head clears. The pick of your Terror snaps down, the vector of force translates through elbow to wrist to shaft to pick, the final vector precisely aligned on the exact angle of a crimping forefinger that impales the pick deep into the frozen rhizoids of the sod clump. You are saved! This glorious life-giving moss stick has delivered you in an instant from splintered bones. A second ago you were highly stressed, hanging off loose holds way far off the deck. Your mind was vaulting into that rarified calm space which dwells beyond the boundary layer of panic. Now, you are fine, your future assured, your children will be orphans no longer.  Just the sound of your axe thunking into the turf and the feel of the pick piercing the dirt has caused your hips to imperceptibly lower, your shoulders to relax, your anxiety to clear, as if chrome molly and carbon fiber contained neurons.   
The stone thinks, it must be aware, I know it. Not the degree of thought humans enjoy, of course, not nearly so far on the spectrum of mental process, but if the potentiality for Mind manifests at the boundary layer of the leptons and quarks, then the potentiality for mind is present in the atoms of the White Alice rocks. Climbing, being an ancient shamanic practice which harmonizes the nonentropic electromagnetic patterns of the climber with the non-entropic electromagnetic patterns of the rocks, (both rocks and neural networks falling under the category of nonentropy) elevates the rocks to an even higher level on the spectrum of mental process. Climber and White Alice Rocks form a system that is mental, in which it is discovered that the stone, also, possesses rudimentary awareness.
(above) North from Anvil Mountain, January 2014


Frog cavorting on eye of piton,
Vulture glowering far from the village,
Looking out over the valley
Never stops making me happy.
Twilight has stopped the world.
Rock world, Rock man.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The light has gone out.
We now must feel feel our way down...
(above) Town, looking south from Anvil Mountain, January 2014.

White Alice Rock was for me the hotspot of the (not so) long winter season. I was drawn there again and again, in all moods and weather. A place of meditation, rest, varied  climbing, and wind. Chimneys, hooking, torques, shafts, glove hands, and at least two versions of verglas that came and went in January and February, not the 3-centimeter shellac of seasons past, but enough ice for a little more spice in a life otherwise filled with repetitive motions in the rumor-mongering universities far below. But what might not be understood is how such a low-lying turd of a rock could produce such variegated climbing? But anything is possible in a world of imagination.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Iditarod 2014


(above) Drew assessing slope at Sampson Creek, looking northwest, through tilted iPhone.

        Like children at the beach running to the wave, Drew, Chelsea and I rode snow-machines tipsily towards the historic finish of Iditarod XLII at three in the morning. Drew wore Adidas with gym socks on his feet, and his colleague Chelsea rode two-up (whatever that means) on the back of a rather dimunitive Yamaha Bravo, through the same arctic -blizzard that had, a few hours earlier, taken four-time champion Jeff King out of the race. For all we knew, Aliy Zirkle and Dallas Seavey were around the next corner battling for first place, and we were the three slushes about to get tangled up in the historic finish.
      "This is blowing it! Let's turn around now before it's too late!"
       Surreal wind, pixellating long-term memory, the trip back wreathed in the fuzzy gauze of ground blizzard, the children running back from the wave without wetting their feet. Back at the Bering Sea Bar & Grill, we were amazed at how soon musher Dallas Seavey appeared behind us.  We must have narrowly avoided a faux pas.  Everyone was zonked out at 5 in the morning, Dallas Seavey most of all. Aliy Zirkle, with her beautiful second-place finish, wins the KigsMusher of the Year Award..


(left) My shadow is pointing east toward Sampson Creek.

        Drew, flown in for Iditarod from nearby waterlocked summits of Beringia and already fully embedded in the GLUE OF NOME, was hot to ski something. The bowls out back of Engstrom's Mountain seemed within range of a stretching GLUE-TENDRIL of town, and seemed also as if they might contain the UNPACKED we so desperately craved, so we calculated an escape vector from the Iditarod and roared off on our dreadful Hogs over bare, icy trails to a Monday appointment at Sampson Creek, near Mile 18 of the Kougarak Road, just past the most death-trappy spot on the whole 65-mile long road, an elevated gravel ramp way off the deck, guarded by an inquisitive troll that lives on a knoll in a mansion above the Nome River, and comes out to greet you should you slow your vehicle down.
       No Jackson Hole to be found at Sampson Creek. We did hydro-frack a few turns between ice patches in the upper bowls, and had entirely too much fun in the half-pipe of the creek, but the run wasn't even as good as the runs at Drew's home area on Sivuqaq. I had let Drew down, as well as under-represented Nome's skiing potential to a visiting dignitary. So, right then and there, an Iditarod ski-salvage trip was planned to Tom's Cabin, an idyllic bowl in the next valley to the west.  But first, it was back into the GLUE-STREAM sucking us back toward the fleshpots of town, and the flagrant Iditarod shenanigans awaiting us there.

(left) Drew's tracks at Sampson Creek. Due to low snow deepening the parabolic curve, it's been a fine year for half-pipes.

       Drew and I were to be joined on our skiing expedition to Tom's Cabin by the dog team of Janet Balice, winner of the GETTING OUT THE MOST AWARD for three seasons running now, plus Janet's daughter and new mushing partner, Chisana.  In lead dog position, the redoubtable DIBELS, one of Nome's top ten lead dogs of all time. Riding with me on the Bearcat, Lucy, the Tschingel of the Kigs, shmooshed up between the cowling and my body, learning to throw her weight out on the turns.
(above) Tom's, March 13, 2014. Dibels, Janet, Chisana, Lucy, Drew.

      Surely the enchanted bowl of Tom's would have snow.  Yes it did!  Snow that makes a sifting sound like that of silk, a distinct blanket, Utah powder, Hatcher Pass, sweet cherry pow pow, a foot deep. The souwesters off the Bering Sea slam into Monument Ridge and gently sift the powder grains into the big lee of the bowl, especially down a northeast-facing draw of which Drew and I found ourselves swishing and swashing for great moments of giddiness that didn't last long enough, this isn't the Nevada side of Heavenly here, folks. But redeemed, redeemed we were, and Nome skiing was redeemed as well, and our skis were sated, at least for the nonce, as we swooped down into the maw of Monument Creek, and made the short up to the cabin, to have some tea, and another run.
(above) Dogs at Tom's cabin

       We executed difficult climbing moves inside the cabin to avoid getting burned by the stove as we writhed about in the LED darkness trying to locate items, at least half the party hampered by possible diagnoses of A.D.D., but nevertheless drinking deeply of life and slush beers, and all departing friends.
(above) Kigsblog staff photographer Raina McRae skiing in Dry Creek, Nome, Alaska, Iditarod 2014, staff Mountaineering Dog Lucy in tow. In the background, bare frames from World War II barracks.

     In the midst of the Iditarod fun torrents, these totally cool Olympic dudes from Nananordic showed up like Pied Pipers with a boatload of skis and boots for children, and led the little Nomens out into the lashing wind for some inspired ski lessons. My students got to miss class the week before Iditarod. I joked with them that our visitors would be "Super-Olympians" on account of Lars, the director, actually being in the Olympics twice, but a few days later, I would get to see the moniker was actually true.

     It was the last Sunday of Iditarod-week before the dread return to work. Drew had already returned to the island. I had not yet recovered from the  shock-absorber workout at Tom's Cabin, when I got the call from Tyler:  Bear Mountain was on! The whole gang would be coming, Tyler, Keith, Jeff, but also Lars Flora, afore-mentioned Johnny Appleseed of rural Alaskan skiing. I boasted of Drew's and my powderific runs at Tom's on Friday and Saturday, but by the time we got up the mountain Sunday, Mr. Wind had returned and was moving the snow across the slopes in dunes, big traveling dollops of powder snow that exposed bare patches of ice between them, so that you might have enough snow for  one and a half tele turns before you came clattering out onto bare ice fighting for your edges. March winds made everything frostbitey as we took off skins. Tyler and Lars disappeared into the clouds while the rest of us prepared to thrash our way down the difficult conditions.

    Minutes later, I watched Lars descend out of the clouds:  he was riding telemarks! He would dig in on the snow dollops, and then leap onto the ice patches, and back into the snow dollops, without any interruption of movement, from one island of traction to the next. On Monday, I told my students:  "Yeah, that guy Lars can ski!"  At that moment, he was putting the skis on the plane for Gambell, where he was scheduled to meet up with the students of...  Drew!

   

(above) Kigsblog Chief Editor Allapa on the lower part of Bear Mountain earlier this Spring.

This post is the putrefactant which has caused such a blockage in the intestines of Kigsblog. Hopefully, now that the infectious mass has been purged through publication, Kigsblog may flow more freely once again in order to report the other momentous adventures of this rather odd Winter season. 

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...