Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fall Fell

Bouldering on the way up the south ridge of Peak 3260, "East Singtook"
Peak 3260  
     Blog-lag considerably swollen. Writing of Fall adventures from late Spring. In this post, more sacred secrets will be given away, this time the location of one of the best roadside fell runs on the Seward Peninsula: four miles of gradually ascending ridge to the summit of the East Singtook (Pk. 3260), with a surprise set of gneiss pinnacles in the middle section allowing the rare mineral of actual climbing. Also in this post: the mysteries of the Little Singtook's (Pk. 3653) North Face will be probed, as well as little turd-clumps of climbing so small and unstable they are destined not to stand into the next Millennium. 
Grand Singtook (Pk. 3870) and Little Singtook (Pk. 3653 - "Sintauyuq?") from East Singtook. This pair form a prominent landmark, which is probably why a name was bestowed upon them from days of yore.
Marianne in glue
        No doubt the GLUE of TOWN ran high that September weekend as two teachers drove west. No doubt the tack was high due to the responsibility of a new school year in session. With each unit of distance away from town, the GLUE retracted us backwards toward town an equal number of units. The extending filaments of GLUE did not start peeling off us until Nick and I had travelled twenty miles west on the Teller Road and crossed the Sinuk River. We began to forget about town, and about school, and the GLUE no longer asserted its influence upon our thoughts. We continued another ten miles west from the Sinuk and parked at Crete Creek to start our fell run up East Singtook.
A lightfoot lad raised in the Chugach
       A sentient but somnolent mist dissolved everything in and out, like a bad transporter beam. Nick could have lapped me several times, but kindly waited on the benches in the shivering wind. For me this was a mere peak bagging expedition, a statistical quest to stand on top of Pk. 3260, the "East Singtook." From the road, the ridge had always looked boring, a hike for tourists, with no climbing at all, which is why I had  skipped it all these long years, until-- the silly conceit of climbing every peak in the Kigs overtook my motivations like a disease and rendered me a mere hiker, not a climber. Now Pk. 3260 seemed desirable. But a surprise awaited in the crook of the south ridge that you can't see from the road.
Routes taken this Fall, 2017

Too cold to switch to rock shoes
      The pinnacles of Pt. 2875 suddenly popped up in the middle of the ridge! A hiker can easily side-hill around these outcrops, none of which really exceed six meters, but Nick began to navigate a little tightrope game through the pinnacles where you have to follow the exact crest of the ridge over the mini-Stegosaur's back of rock, and it was so fun to follow his heels doing all kinds of little boulder problems, both highball and low. Geologically, the rock had been granite before it was gneiss; cracks, knobs, and slabs emerged from the palimpsest of metamorphism. The ridge took us across 400 horizontal meters of cool little boulder problems, and out into the "you're going to be mangled" zone more than once. So our fell run contained this cool simulation of a real alpine rock climb. 
Fell running action
         Did I mention it was cold? Well, duh. There was to be no pleasant picnic in the sun that day. Vapors off Woolley Lagoon slapped into the Singtauyit slap after slap. The view kept pixellating into zones of grey before reloading the details between cloudbursts. A few of the most badass survivor mosquitoes tried to fly up between eddies of wind, then realized they were useless and activated their rescue beacons. Fall is the coldest season. Gloves, hats, and long johns are still buried under summer's gear, and cannot be found on a GLUE-stricken morning. Perhaps one lacks fatty tissues. The settings on one's bio-thermostat have not been recalibrated. Cold? Yes it was, alaapah.  

Evidence of uplift. In the background is the Singtook, adorned with its usual raiments of gale-force wind.
     Not only was the summit of Pk. 3260 another Marilyn notched in the silly, statistically-fabricated belt of a peak bagger, you could see lots more pointy Marilyns ripping clouds all up and down the range. Down the west ridge with airplane wing arms I followed Nick for an excellent downhill-running session. This led down to the saddle between the Grand Singtook and Little Singtook at the top of Crete Creek, the East Col, a place about which I had always been curious: would this pass go, or was it the usual Kigsian precipice to the north? Back in the two-thousand aughts, as a prelude to Nil's and my ascent of Grand Singtook's north face in 2003, I had invested significant amounts of time and energy to researching the question of this East Col, on several occasions hiking all the way around the Singtook from the west and getting terrifyingly lost in fog and furious wind. Back in the day, it took me forever to form a mental map of the confusing topography around the Singtauyit and I would wander like a dreamer in Wonderland, coming upon lost cirques full of ice and stone, with no real concept of how the hills and drainages fit together. 
Big league trundling action, looking down the north side of the Singtook South Col
    The pass looked like it would go to the north with some hideous Class 4 down-scrambling. I was happy that Nils and I had accessed the north face from several hundred feet higher and not gone down this unsavory chute. "Hello, is anyone down there?" I yelled, as if. We commenced trundling. Nick pried at enormous blocks with his runner's body like a shovel about to snap. We got on our backs and pushed with our legs, then popped upright, ran to the edge, and watched the explosions with the same sick fascination one watches crashes on youtube.

       There you have it. What value in all this verbiage? What right have I to chronicle a mere hike in the annals of a blog which is supposed to be about real climbing? 
Well, now you know the location of one of the finest roadside fell runs on the Seward Peninsula, that is something.

Singtooyit from the North. Grand Singtook in the center, Little Singtook to the right, and the East Singtook on the left barely poking up over a foreground peak. 
Granite Creek
      A splendid little fell-running community emerged out of the new school year. Nick bought a used Ford Bronco which served as an effective GLUE-cutting escape-mobile.  David joined us and we headed west on the Teller Road with GLUE filaments popping and peeling as we shed our psychological attachments on yet another freezing-ass, glorious weekend.
North Face of Little Singtook. Some of those white patches are ice. I went up partway and bouldered around.
      A movement was afoot to explore Granite Creek, around the corner to the northwest of the Singtook. For the fell runners, the fell run itself was a means to an end, but for this malnourished ice climber, the trip would be a chance to check out a new, north-facing cirque in the hope of finding Fall ice. Eighteen years in Nome has taught me not to get my hopes up, but Granite Creek seemed promising. With all my plotting and map-gazing to find north-facing cirques in the Kigs which are accessible in less than a day from the road, why had I never noticed Granite Creek before? The fell run would lead right up the drainage to the northwest face of Pk. 3260, which I have variously referred to elsewhere in this blog as the Little Singtook. Surely this cirque would yield a cornucopia of thick, blue, frozen waterfalls ripe for high-angle ice climbing.
Did I mention it was cold?
      In fact, it turned out I would be able to sink picks into ice, but there would be no satisfying "chunk," only an annoying metallic scraping and sparking as the pick penetrated through a thin shell of ice and sparked the rock beneath. There would be no runouts, no screws, no terror, no deep self-realization that comes with real ice climbing, only a few hurried moves over anemic verglas that had been disguised from below as real ice. But I could now check the box that said I had ice climbed that day. I could now return to town and tell them what a big-shot ice climber I was.  This was a few hundred feet above the tarn at the head of Granite Creek where a barely visible trickle of ice could be seen meandering its way across cliffs and talus. The ice did look as if it might grow with more autumnal freeze/thaw action, and I vowed to return the following weekend, but the GLUE was destined to rise up like a phagocyte and envelop my intention, thereby obviating it.

Penny River Crags

          The next Fall weekend featured a trip out to a nameless blob of rock near the Penny River, with David. Only an aficionado of obscure bouldering could see any value in such a desiccated turd pile of twice-morphed schist, but I managed to talk David into the proposition that obscure bouldering was a type of DaDaist art form, which appealed to his avant-garde, culturally-refined nature, and he began to discern the emperors clothes that transformed a schist-pile into a jungle gym of fun. Besides, he was eager to play with his new crampons and ice axe, and quickly learned what a solid, reliable handhold was to be found in an axe sunken in frozen turf. We put up multiple major first ascents of numerous dry-tool problems including Taiguaq (Read It), Ayauppiak (Sun Dog), Suama (Fortitude), all of them so far into the V0— range of difficulty that their identity will soon fade, and their geologic structure erode.
Location of purported caldera

The Fox Creek Caldera Hoax

          Several years back, Mr. Collins and his cross-country team were developing the mountain running course destined to be the standard unit for all Kigluaik mountain runs in the future: Fox Creek. There he discovered a caldera, up at the very head of the west fork of Fox Creek. Our next, featured, Fall fell run chronicles an expedition to investigate this improbable geological feature. On a freezing-ass windy Saturday, a mass of fell runners consisting of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and dogs, headed up Fox, and hung a left at the sentient boulders, which are really donkeys that have been turned to stone through bad luck. A short series of moraines led to the caldera.
The fell running community of Nome

         A small tarn, a kettle lake, perhaps, lay at the center of a perfectly-round, glacial cirque. Any geologist will already know that our quest was absurd, a continuation of the DaDaist ethic that drove these Fall adventures. The point was all the fell running we did. I had heard theories of another caldera in the Kigluaik, this one located in the round cirque under Mosquito Pass Peak, as if the Kigs were a burbling bed of magma drizzled like salad dressing on top of a twice-subducted gneiss dome, with all the attendant glacial processes taking place on top of it.   

I had visited the caldera two summers before, when Lucy and I climbed up the hill above it.  This picture looks straight down into it, with Lucy napping on the edge of a fairly steep cliff.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Guess That's Why They Call It Grand Central

North Face of Pt. 4250+ from North Ridge Osborn, looking into East Fork Grand Union Creek, Johnson's Tower at left.
       Grand Central Valley, 1910.
           Franklin Johnson, failed mining engineer, now roustabout in the Nome diggings, sat wearily down on his load of redwood planks. The trolley lay sunken in the muck of Grand Central Valley for the fifteenth time that day. Green layers of swamp buzzed and chirped all around the miner, a stout man of Scandinavian descent. Might as well take off this damn harness, thought Johnson, unbuckling a leather strap around his waist. Just like  a dog. They had tried a couple of horses to haul the lumber up the valley, then a team of dogs, but the quicksand of Grand Central had sucked the rigs down every time. In the end, the best solution was for one, stout man to wheedle the 16 ft. planks through the swampy sections, inch by inch, sometimes piece by piece, along the makeshift road the men had fashioned along a line of bluffs. Johnson had discovered if he used the planks themselves as shaft and handle of the cart, the hauling wasn't too bad.
Northeast Cirque of Osborn. Weird story about this camp... I hiked up here last July, 20 Saturdays ago. When I got up to this place at the very top of the valley, I had time to kill, so I spent a ridiculously long time choosing a tent platform. I walked around for an hour examining various patches of tundra like a choosy homebuyer. Even after I had selected a tent platform, I kept fussing around with the tent's orientation like an anal-retentive furniture arranger until I felt quite silly about myself for being so particular, when real climbers are supposed to flop down on any surface whatsoever and just sleep on it. When I finally got the tent where I wanted it, I was surprised to find one, buried, aluminum, SMC, tent peg at the exact corner of the tent. This is not a major campground we're talking about here, but seemingly empty wilderness.  The tent peg does support the general hypothesis that Grand Central has, at times in the past (as so many places in Beringia) seen a greater population than it does at present.
         Johnson wasn't so grumpy. He counted Grand Central as one of his favorite places to be in all the Sawtooths, and the sun had come out. At the head of the valley, Mt. Osborn skyed upwards in a series of stacked triangles, and snow glittered on the peaks of Thompson Creek and Gold Run. The clang of a hammer rose above the sound of the creek. Must be Osborn up on the Wild Goose rolling tube, thought Johnson.
       The sound of the hammer turned his thoughts back to their project: the Wild Goose Pipeline.  "Plunger," cursed Johnson out loud,  and spat. "Das ist bescheuert." The engineer in him did not subscribe to the notion that the pipeline would add "head" to the entirety of Nome's ditch system.  Misapplication of the Darcy-Weisbach, he thought scornfully. Not only that, but the other crew, the Campion Ditch boys, in a friendly spirit of competition, had confused the mathematics: by ingeniously contouring their open ditches up Buffalo Creek, they had achieved an apical elevation higher than that of the Wild Goose. Like all the miners in the Nome diggings, Johnson was passionate on the subject of ditches. A miner in these hills would as soon dig a ditch as open a can of beans.
       To say Johnson was a failed engineer was disingenuous. His true knowledge and expertise belied his lowly position as laborer. Johnson's only failure was his final exams at the Technische Hochschule back in Germany. Or, rather, the night before his final exams. 
       The American, Perry-Smith, had showed up in his Bugatti, with Petrus in tow. Off the three had sauntered for a night of drunken, moonlight rock climbing on the Elbsandstein. Exams had not gone well for Johnson the next day. With no pedigree to show for all his studies, Johnson boarded a steamer for North America soon thereafter.
Northeast Face Mt. Osborn (Pk. 4714) The dark slash at center of photo is the infamous Sluicebox Couloir.
        Where Gold Run comes in from the north to join Grand Central, Johnson crossed from the north side of the valley to the south side, cursing the beavers, all beavers. He and the boys had argued whether to send the road above or below the beaver ponds. What in the hounds of hell are beavers doing up here anyway? But as he grew close to Thompson Creek, pushing and pulling the 16-footers across the polished river rocks, Johnson grew solemn, and nervous. 
       There was a woman at Thompson Creek. An honest to god, living, breathing, female. Her presence filled the entire, ten-mile long, Grand Central Valley like a cloud. One of the Osborn brothers had "imported" a wife from Sweden. Against everyone's advice, Osborn had built her a tent cabin to live in for the summer in the moraines of Thompson Creek. Now she was all Johnson could think about as he grunted and sweated over his damn trolley of wood. Jimminy, I don't even know her first name, thought Johnson. He found himself rehearsing the witty things he would say to her. The last time he had passed through, she had invited him in for tea, where they had discussed Shakespeare and Goethe while her husband labored above them on the hill. She had mentioned she craved some running water at her cabin door--Maybe I'll just pick up a shovel and knock out a quick ditch line for her, thought Johnson, it wouldn't be any trouble at all.
         But when Johnson finally pulled up to the encampment, the poor woman was already besieged by admirers. Two men were seated on crates outside her cabin, a new kid, and that Irish pensioner whose name Johnson could never remember. From behind the tent flap she emerged, not the beauteous, flaxen-haired maid from Johnson's memory, but the same woman, transformed, apparently, by a week of backcountry living. Her bonnet was torn and muddy, her face swollen with mosquito bites, her dress blackened with soot. Her cheeks bulged with chaw, and she commenced to cussing up a blue streak with the two miners. 
       Something had changed. Johnson was disillusioned. The pensioner was carrying on at great length. This guy probably just hired on with Wild Goose for doctor benefits, thought Johnson, but said nothing. Instead, sat down and loaded his corn-cob.

Looking west up Thompson Creek from the terminal moraines of the extinct Thompson Creek Glacier. A plethora of planks and ancient cabin frames is my evidence that this spot was inhabited during Wild Goose Pipeline days.  
       Guess that's why they call it Grand Central, mused Franklin Johnson. Mighty crowded for the middle of nowhere. Diffidently, Johnson departed the scene at Thompson Creek, taking only his coat, and leaving his rifle. He also left the Irish pensioner to continue his palaver in that accent Johnson could never well understand, for though Johnson was a Swede, his first language was German. 
       One item of conversation, however, had filtered through Johnson's attention: the Irish claimed to have "prospected" up the North Fork of Grand Central the week before, and passed over Mt. Osborn to the Cobblestone River, just up the valley. 
       Johnson had launched vigorous inquiry;  "D' right fork, you're sure? To d' right o' Osborn? On der gletcher? Chu made it to d' Cobblestone?"    
       "Aye, the right fork it was,"the pensioner had assured him.
         Now, Johnson, on prior occasion had poked around the North Fork himself: he knew there was nothing around that bend but huge, unscalable, limestone walls. No way that little Irish dude had scaled Mt. Osborn from the north. Not even Fehrmann would venture up onto those verscheissene walls.  Nevertheless, Johnson had resolved right then and there to hike up to the glacier that very afternoon, to check out this pensioner's claim of a crossing. 
In the process of making this map, I learned so much. Here have I spent several weeks struggling to write this work of historical fiction, and also made many wrong turns in the deep brush, just to prove my theory of a turn-of-the-century carriage road up Grand Central, and the whole time the thing was already marked on the old USGS map. I  just never noticed it before. The red line (above) shows the dashed line on the old map, which must have represented the road, as near as I can tell. It seems to follow the braided creek bed for much of the way, which might explain why it's so damned intermittent these days. They must have often used the bluff that parallels the river on the northeast side because there is a road up there, too, shown by the purple line above, which represents my hiking route last July, 2017.  Point A (surveyed on the map as Pt. 747, the spot in the photo above) shows the flat place next to the river in the Thompson Creek moraines where Johnson shows his narcissistic tendencies. Point B shows a spot where I once found evidence of rectangular stone walls and stone structures; it is the origin of the smoke plume where Johnson turns his back on society. Here also have I argued for the existence of a Grand Central Glacier;  I believe it, too, is depicted on the USGS map above, if one zooms in close enough.  
        He continued north up Grand Central. Up valley the road became easier, after it crosses the braided channels of the creek and reaches the moraines of Thompson Creek that spill in to the main valley from the side. He made swift time for a mile or two before reaching the confluence of moraines at the fork in the valley, near the foot of Mt. Osborn.
       Johnson could see a plume of smoke coming from an encampment up in the West Fork, a mile out of his way. He knew that yet another Osborn had been appointed as foreman and seen fit to move in there up the West Fork, at the very head of the whole ditch line, with yet another imported wife from Sweden. They had made tidy little homes down on the riverbed, with stone walls and chimneys of rock, a nice little domestic scene.  
       But after the crowds at Thompson Creek, Johnson had soured on domesticity.  If he had been honest with himself, he would have admitted he was bitter that Mt. Osborn had been named after Osborn instead of after, well, himself. They didn't even climb to the highest tor, thought Johnson. Nobody but he had made the distinction of continuing along the summit ridge to find the actual high point of the mountain, and his daring ascent of the highest, crumbling tor had gone unnoticed and unheralded.
The road up Grand Central is easier to follow on Google Earth than in real life. Above is a Google Earth showing the confluence of Thompson Creek with Grand Central River. Johnson is waiting outside Osborn's wife's cabin at Pt. 747 (Point A from the map above) near the top center of the frame. If one looks closely enough, one begins to see old roads leading everywhere. Such is the case when one is down on the ground as well, and delirious from hours of strenuous hiking with a heavy pack: roads, everywhere, in front of me, that line of willows, just up ahead... Was I hallucinating all these roads in Grand Central?
       Johnson was reflecting with satisfaction on how the breeze had abated the bugs, when he was struck by a chance remembrance: was this the week that teacher fellow from Nome (What was his name?... ah, Frank, another Frank, like me... wait, that's not my real name... ) was bringing a group of school kids up to climb the mountain? Johnson had said he would meet them in Grand Central. Maybe the teacher and his gang were over there in the West Fork of Grand Central right now, less than a mile away, having a merry time and singing songs around a blazing bonfire full of Wild Goose lumber. Johnson imagined he heard the trill of young voices carried on the breeze. 
       The thought of social interaction waiting so close at hand filled Johnson with a mixture of longing and dread. In his mind, Grand Central had forked in two: one fork led to human company, the other to solitude. The choice confronted the miner like an elemental question. But what did Johnson know of introspection? How could he have known it was his own sense of diminished self-worth that drove him to choose the fork with no people in it? 
A photograph by Franklin Karrer taken somewhere near the summit of Mt. Osborn, looking southeast over Crater Lake and the Wild Goose Pipeline, sometime between 1910 and 1914. Who knows, maybe Karrer or one of his students ferreted out which of the summit pinnacles is the highest and snapped this photograph from its narrow top, but I doubt it. Thanks to Laura Samuelson at the old Carrie MacLean Museum for forking this one over to me.
    Johnson stopped at a pair of glacial erratics which stood alone on the tundra, a favorite spot of his in which to practice rock climbing. He called the boulders "Sow and Cub" because he invariably mistook them for bears from far away, causing his heartbeat to rapidly accelerate when traveling without a gun, as he was now. 
       Johnson took off his gumboots and climbed barefoot, because that's what Perry Smith would have done, though barefoot had been more suitable for the soft sandstone of the Elba than this sharp,  jagged stein of the Sawtooths. Soon, Johnson was lost in a reverie, moving up and down and sideways over the face of the free-standing boulder. The game was to eliminate holds by placing them out of bounds, thereby creating the most tenuous sequence of moves possible over the tiniest of holds. 
       It was an odd game, one that Johnson would never have come by in his lifetime had he not met the influential Fehrmann back at the Technicum.  Not one of Johnson's compatriots in Alaska understood. They considered Johnson's rock climbing to be just another antic of another eccentric miner. Petrus called it art, thought Johnson. Maybe someday, someone will come here that understands.
Erratics high in Grand Central North Fork, looking northeast. Find Lucy.
        Years before, Johnson had visited the Brenta in the Italian Dolomites. He thought maybe the limestone walls of Osborn's Northeast Cirque were just as big. Osborn's wall hid itself from the rest of Grand Central and only revealed itself after one travelled the full two miles around the curve of the North Fork. 
       Johnson soon arrived at the glacier. He looked up. Two-thousand feet of appalling cliffs frowned down. Loose stone coated the ledges. Horizontal bands of limestone (Johnson had always argued it should be called marble, a metamorphic rock) crossed the entire cliff, showing slabs that would require plentiful amounts of Level 0 climbing.  No way. No way the Irish pensioner had passed over the northern shoulder of Mt. Osborn. Dude must have been mixed up.
Looking southwest across Northeast Face Osborn. Franklin Johnson never did succeed in climbing Johnson's Tower.
           Johnson couldn't let it rest. These walls were his domain, his and the eagles. He had to know where that pensioner had gone, had to sniff his tracks and pee on them himself. Johnson knew that if he crossed the crest of Osborn's north ridge too far to the right he would end up in the Grand Union drainage, and the pensioner had clearly stated he passed over to the Cobblestone River drainage.  The night was perfectly fine, with nary a breeze, and if the midnight sun did not blaze, it certainly shone. So Johnson continued up, angling across easy slopes toward a prominent limestone tower. Maybe if I climb it they'll name it Johnson's Tower, thought Johnson, but he doubted it, then grew ashamed. Only someone who had participated in the obscure cult of tower climbing in Saxony could possible appreciate the value of climbing a tower, well below the main summit in altitude and off to the side, simply for the sake of climbing the tower. 
Looking down at glacial remnant in Grand Union Creek East Fork. It was still a living glacier in Johnson's time, a fact he later reported to his inquisitive friend, Henshaw, the surveyor.

       He soon reached the ridge crest. The view to the north sprang open like a Jack-in-theBox.  Johnson saw another little pocket glacier down below. Johnson's intention was to climb southward along the crest toward Johnson's Tower, and then along toward Osborn's summit, but Johnson quickly saw it was a no-go. The climbing was too steep, too continuous. A stone tossed off the cliff to the north did not hit bottom for many seconds. Fehrmann might have soloed along this ridge, but not Johnson. No feasible way presented itself that would allow passage to the north shoulder of Osborn. The Irish Pensioner had been spouting palaver. 

       Unless... unless the dude went up the low-angle gully beneath Johnson's Tower, thought Johnson. The gully didn't look too bad from down below. The sun had reached a point in the sky where it was just rolling along the western horizon from sawtooth to sawtooth, gunsight to gunsight, casting the entire mountain range in oranges and red. Johnson decided to drop back down to the glacier and investigate the gully.
Looking up the couloir investigated by Johnson
        It was conceivable, Johnson figured, some goober might climb up that gully, though the top exit appeared to be Level II in difficulty, maybe even Level I. Johnson himself couldn't imagine a time he would ever venture up into the rockfall trap of that gully... middle of Winter maybe, when the stones were frozen in place. Johnson shivered to think of this place in winter. Alaapa. 
           He was tired, Johnson realized. His plan had been to finish the night with a hike back to the depot, all the way out to the road where his gear was cached, but this was too far, it was never going to pay. He briefly considered going to the encampment in the West Fork, but he did not wish to inflict his unworthy presence upon the god-fearing crowd there. He'd have to siwash  at Thompson Creek. Hopefully he could find a stray smudge pot lying around the camp to keep the blamed bugs away.
Osborn's brooding northeast wall
        "Oh, aye, did I say to the right of the top?" spoke the Irish pensioner the next morning.  "Aye, no, I meant the left side."
        "Ja, ja, dat is wot I thought," replied Johnson. "I mean, dot is what makes sense." The southern shoulder of Osborn wouldn't be too hard to cross. Johnson felt a bit silly now for hiking all the way up the North Fork just to check out a claim he had already known was bogus.
        He had slept well. The moraine had been swept all night by a breeze that blew the mosquitoes away, along with Johnson's personal demons from the day before. The smell of beans and bacon filled the air.  He did not resent his coworker his erratum, and even when Johnson received an order from the Foreman to return with the trolley to the depot to pick up another load of planks for the day, he was cheerful, though the weather looked to be rain again soon.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Highly Resistant Boulders of the Hundred Year Old Rockfall

Leonard and I made it into Windy Creek in July, 14 Saturdays ago. It was one of those trips you go on anyway even though you know the entire trip will be cold, wet, and miserable. Leonard tried to sleep in a Megamid and got eaten by mosquitoes. We stayed one night and then bailed, soaked. On the way out I asked if Leonard could shoot me posing on the "Highly Resistant Boulder," one of many at the Hundred Year Old Rock Fall.
       I am prepared to disclose the location of the best bouldering spot in all the Kigs. It's on BLM land, so what is there to lose? But what impulse would drive me to such gross indiscretion? Feathers of toilet paper will soon be clinging to human feces all over this fragile environment, all because of a blogpost that was written too clearly, with directions too precise. Perhaps it is because there is nothing else to write about. The trip last July really was as gray as this washed-out image off my not-dead iPhone 4S depicts. What else do I have to offer than the location of the best spot in the Kigs.
     It's the "Hundred Year Old Rockfall" across Windy Creek. This is only what I call it, though it has to be older than one hundred years. The area is clearly visible on the original USGS map from 1915, just past the turn-off to Mosquito Pass, three miles north of Northstar Creek. There. It is done.
      Many years ago, a huge swath of "highly resistant coarse-grained politic paragneiss and schist" spilled off the west sidewall of the canyon. Windy Creek eventually cut through the obstruction, and carpets of tundra populated the tumbled boulders. Little waterfalls thread their way through some excellent and varied bouldering terraces. You could have the Pocatello Pump there, but you'd have to helicopter in a few smellies. And I will be prosecuted in Kigscourt for this post.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Oro Grande Cirque Ski

BLOG-LAG:  16 Saturdays ago....

GLUE is the force preventing you from getting to outdoor recreation.
       Significant penetration into the Kigluaik Mountains occurred the second weekend of April. Or, should I say, significant infection, for what are outdoor recreationalists but pathogens invading the otherwise healthy outdoor environment?

David skinning up, Oro Grande Valley, looking northwest.
Click here for climbing trip report from 2012
        David and I prepared to go winter camping at Mosquito Pass. We would snow-machine over the pass on a Friday night and camp on the Cobblestone flats, then skin up on Saturday into the five-mile long Western Cwm of Mt. Osborn and make a ski descent of Peak 4500+, "Peak Grand Union," a close neighbor of Osborn, and the second highest peak in the Kigs.

Looking northeast from
Oro Grande Valley.

       Early last Spring season, I was hit by an injury that every alpinist dreads: I became involved in a play in town. "Good In The Country" it was called, an operetta composed of local songwriters' songs. Playing joyous music with friends, having TOTAL fun, has proved to be a substantial constituent of the GLUE of TOWN. The trip with Dave would be my last chance to get some serious training in preparation for my upcoming trip to the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter in June, before the GLUE of the PLAY would set up like epoxy around my boots, binding them firmly to Nome itself.

Not the line we skied.

      This attempt with Dave on Peak 4500+ constituted no less than my eighth attempt upon the north-side Kig. All other attempts had ended in failure and wild shenanigans, failure due to laziness, WORK GLUE, route finding error, and snow-machine hubris, well documented in the following posts:
Zero For Seven on Peak Grand Union Part 1
Zero For Seven on Peak Grand Union Part 2

The line we did ski, but it got too icy.
       We never had a chance. Zero For Eight on Peak Grand Union, Part 3. Friday evening rolled around and the GLUE had gelled onto the surface of everything and stuck there in opaque clumps that greatly slowed the process of leaving town as planned. Sleds, lashings, linkages, caps, shelves, walls, boxes, phones, mittens-- everything had clumps of this weird, jiggling, GLUE-like substance clinging to it.
       "Hey, I'm not ready. Let's just go early tomorrow morning."

More north-facing topography in our
side valley off the Oro Grande.

      By the time we arrived Saturday at our camp on the Cobblestone, it was 2 p.m. Too late to slog all the way up the Western Cwm to access our objective, Peak Grand Union. The weather report called for low-pressure to start barreling in the following afternoon on Sunday, so the jig was, once again, up.  Now that the GLUE had won, my switch was flipped, my plot was shot, leaving David and me free to simply wander randomly in the mountains without an agenda. Accordingly, with the remaining daylight we set out on our Sno-Gos, for all intensive purposes the Che Guevara and Alberto Granada of the outdoor recreationalist world, looking for something to do in that most holy and beautiful of ranges, the Kigluait.

Moon over Western Cwm,
looking east from Oro Grande Valley,
April 2017

         West up the Oro Grande Valley, we threaded willows in the gullet, then introduced our noise pollution into the upper valley, trying to gun our throttles over sastrugi and rocks. A fine-looking ski area came into view on the left, a north facing cirque spilling forth fresh terminal moraines, so we parked machines, disengaged boards, and from our parkas produced skins with still-warm glue which we affixed to the base of our skis and started up, me on my Tazlinas and Dave on his legendary Split-Board, until the parabola of the slope grew too steep for skinning, and the soft snow to boilerplate on the upper mountain, making our skins prone to dreadful, explosive blow-outs that sent us sliding backward down the hill, whereupon we chopped out ledges into the slope to serve as a base of operations for de-skinning and assembling our rigs for the downhill run. For some time a distinct sun/shadow line had been stalking us, and now overtook us, but as we swooped downward we passed back from the shadow into the sunlight, leaving two harmonized sine waves tracking across the zones.
A. The cirque where we went boarding  B. Camp on the Cobblestone Flats  C. Peak Grand Union

Bonus Pic from April 2017: Emily getting into the spirit of Beringian
bouldering. There was no ice at Dorothy Falls, so we clung to
thawing choss in order to get a workout.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven

Author posing on precipice, main summit of 3367 behind.

        If the Kigs are indeed mountains, then "Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven" is one of the range's great peaks.

       First of all, that number— 3367— while not a prime, the prime factorization includes 3, 7, and 37. My sense is that this figure had to be a close estimate by any of several U.S.G.S. surveyors from the earlier part of the century with a predilection for interesting numbers, probably bored with assigning 4-digit elevations to various Beringian prominences. The theory of bored surveyors might explain why the elevations alone in the Kigs are often sufficiently euphonious to stand alone as names. 

       With this theory in mind, I regret suggesting the Inupiaq name "Pingaroot" for Pk. 3367. At the time I came up with this name (or,  rather, when the mountain whispered its true name to me, which might loosely translate into English as "Three Gables") I was caught up in the Kigsblogian "Reverse the Trend" Movement, an effort to reverse the historical trend of assigning place names of European derivation to geographical features of Alaska. My regret comes from the conviction that the name "Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven" is a hard one to beat.
       Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven really sticks up from many places in the range, undoubtedly why the U.S. Army Map Service chose to install a survey station mark on the summit in 1949.  From the Cobblestone Valley to the north, attractive rock routes await a first ascent on granitic gneiss. The gullies that drop to the south, along the moderately steep mountain wall that extends from Pk. 3367 to Pk. 3213, are excellent for skiing, and highly approachable by snow-machine. Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven is a peak that a mountaineer might return to again and again.
         Three trips to 3367 I have made, the last two times accompanied by badass downhill skiers, both of whom I deprived the summit of 3367 by misdirecting them to the wrong gable of the mountain's three gables, repeating the same misdirection twice in separate years. This Spring it was Wilson, about to graduate from High School and leave for the greater ranges (to whom I facetiously said on the summit, gesturing to the entire Kigluaik Range, "All this is your's...") Back in the spring of 2011, the victim of my poor directional sense was Tyler, whose fine photographs of the trip I have finally, only now, been able to pilfer off Facebook, and which feature prominently on this post, without his permission. (Thank you, Tyler Rhodes) The moral of the story is that it's rather hard to distinguish which peak is actually 3367 from the bottom of the nameless valley to the south, so FOLLOW THE MAP closely.
Central Kigs from Teller Road:
A. Pk. 3367  B. Mt. Osborn  C. Mosquito Pass Peak
D.   Pen Tri Cwm  E. Tigaraha  F.   SaGuiq

Pk. 3367 from the north

Location of PK. 3367, Pingaroot, Three Gables Mountain
Iditarod week, March 2004. 
       FOLLOW THE MAP was all I had my first time to Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven. A thick, fat, hungover FOG obscured the morning. Alone, I drove for three hours through 100-yard visibility into the Kigs, in terrible fear of the zero visibility, and of my first ever snow-machine, a Polaris .340 that would eventually earn the name "Crusteo" which I had purchased from Morgan's Sales and Service just the year before. This was to be the snow-machine trip where I passed from beginner to intermediate, but first I had to get there. 
       Every single one of the 35 miles into the peak was permeated with a strong, palpable sense of DREAD, of wanting to turn around. The claustrophobia of fog creates madness, a dream of incubi pushing on your chest, a prison sentence, an anxiety attack that won't cease. Every single half-mile I stopped the machine, fished map and compass out of parka pocket, and carefully correlated the base of hills and mountains where they disappeared into the clouds with their counterparts on the map. Just a little further. Squiggles on the map were tiny injections of reality into a vast fog bank of unreality. In this way I tremulously made my way up the Snake River, across the Stewart, and through Silver Creek Pass.
         Arriving after several hours at a main river recognizable as the Sinuk, I so wanted to turn back, even though the Sinuk meant I was close to Peak 3367, my destination. If my calculations were correct, I had reached the Kigs"deep water", past the point of return where self-rescue becomes a hassle involving an all-night ski, frostbite, aircraft, and panicked friends in Nome, and this in the turn-of-the-millennium days before we all carried panic buttons with us. Wilderness is a sense as much as anything, and getting to the Sinuk always feels like traveling past the continental shelf where the water all of a sudden gets colder as it gets deeper, or like the abyss hoving into view beneath your feet while climbing, a sense of: Shit Just Got Real.
Tyler's calendar shot, author with Soul Powders on board, hiking up Pk. 3367

"She's just waiting for the summertime when the weather's fine.
She could hitch a ride out of town and so far away 
From that low down, good for nothing, mistake-making fool
With excuses like 'Baby, that was a long time ago,'
But that's just a euphemism 
If you want the truth he was out of control,
But a short time's a long time 
When your mind just won't let go..."
       Is this how Kristine felt? The new mother remained behind in our house on Fourth Avenue with our brand new, two month-old daughter, Raina. My mind was further fogged by the disequilibrium of the new father, a mental residues from confusion and miscommunication. 
       The only machete that allowed me to chop through the GLUE that day was Jack Johnson's new album, On and On, playing strong on the mental soundtrack in my head in those days before headphones. Just when the FOG seemed too dense to continue, little trickles of Hawaiian sunshine would trickle through Just a little further. For weeks, Jack had been most effective in rocking colicky baby Raina to sleep in my arms while simultaneously keeping me the exhausted dad awake and standing upright, and now Jack was powering me as I paddled out the back to my appointment with 3367. 
But somehow I know it won't be the same
Somehow I know it will never be the same 
Looking northwest from 3367. The granite mass of
Suluun is visible on skyline

         I arrived at a hilly place I calculated to be the root of the beanstalk where it disappeared into cloud. It was Peak 3367, but I was not certain.  
       But surely today cannot really be a climbing day! The FOG pressed down, a terminal illness, an inescapable responsibility, a bad romance. Behind the fog, the spatial yawn of remote wilderness. Driving a snow-machine is quite a different thing than shutting the thing off for hours and hours, leaving the complicated hunk of metal to frost up while you climb into bad weather wearing increasingly soggy underwear. Today's trip is just a snow-machining exercise, right? Time to turn around and head back for the Wet Buns contest in Nome
          But then, a sign from the heavens... Through the muffle of FOG blanket, I heard the clear sound of an airplane several hundred feet above. Think about all the times when you're sitting in the plane and the mountains look like islands in a sea of vapor.
          Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven is easy from the south. I don't think crampons were even needed. And sure enough, precisely at the 2900 foot level, I mantled right out of the fog onto the cloud ceiling. I paused for a moment, mid-mantle— my legs remained submersed in gauzy cloud, but my torso had broken through into the sun. The caterpillar sheds its skin.
       Only the highest of the Kigs three-thousanders formed islands in the sky, from the main island of Mt. Osborn a short way across, all the way over to the Singtook at the western tip of the archipelago. I wanted to walk across the FOG and inhabit each and every island. 
         But you get no photographs... The climb took place before the invention of photography. All you get is this confusing description of the internal and external landscape as experienced by one guy's subjective consciousness.
Couloir between Pt. 3050+ and Pt. 3200+ 

 Pt. 3050+ couloir
April 2011
     The first time to Pk. 3367, FOG, dampening my sensibilities, had forced me to concentrate, to overcome the A.D.D. that usually runs rampant in my brain, and so conversely provided me with a more accurate map of the outside world than I would have had otherwise. Justification for medication?
      But the second time, when I went back to 3367 with Tyler Rhodes seven years later for a ski descent, the day was bright, the visibility excellent. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, I assumed the mental map I carried in my head matched reality, and started up the wrong place.  We ended up atop Pt. 3050+, the penultimate gable of "Three Gables Mountain", the next bump to the west of the main summit. Tyler craved ski more than summit, so on we clapped them, and swooped down. 
       Even more rad was the couloir we skied later that afternoon on Pt. 2550+, a peaklet a couple of miles to the west of 3367.  We easily machined to the col at the very top of the valley (a valley for which some type of name would be handy, leave comments if you know) where it dumps over into the Glacial Lake cirque. Little hope exists that a snow-machiner might continue down the other side without ending up tangled wreckage and body parts strewn over rocks. 
       We parked machines at the col and skinned up some peaks to the south. On that day I was riding Tyler's "Soul Powders," his rather chattery tele skis he had abandoned long ago for the European rig. I was proud, for once, to keep up with Tyler for a whole run. Normally, I would have had to don crampons and down climb what he skied.
Looking west from west summit of 3367.  This picture was taken
in 2011 by Tyler, but shows the peak that Wilson  and I skied off of  recently in 2017.
April 2017
       Six years after the route-finding error with Tyler, having failed to register the event as a learning opportunity, I sent young Wilson up the same wrong part of the mountain, denying him the main summit of 3367 as Tyler before. Like Tyler, however, Wilson seemed less concerned with which was the highest bump on the ridge than which was the best line of huck.  The Nome-grown, incipient badass carved down a face through steep little channels formed between many sharp rocks, while I hobbled down from the top on boot ski, old and brittle. We met up with Leonard and Lupe at the bottom and all zoomed up the valley for more fun and boarding in the High Kigs, before commencing the long ride home via Silver Creek Pass and Snake River Valley.
Mr. McRae's class skiing with the Ski Ku, April 2017.
      Many of the images used in this post were pirated off Tyler's Facebook. Thank you Tyler, let's go back. Here at Kigsblog, an image is considered nothing more than "blog seed," necessary only for the orthogenesis of text, and never a means to its own end. So it is an honor to have excellent photos from someone who knows what they are doing.