Friday, May 29, 2015

Ice Hunting on Eldorado Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windbow over Singtook

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Among The Peakbaggers

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

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

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

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

(above) Lower Southeast Ridge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUDGE: How do you plead?

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

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

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

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

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

JUDGE: Plea?

ALLAPA: Not guilty!

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

ALLAPA: What happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALLAPA: Uh... yeah. Right?

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

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

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

JUDGE: Order in the court!

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

JUDGE: Closing statements.

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

ADJUTANT: Five principles of Kigsblog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUDGE: Plea?

ALLAPA: Is climbing itself a crime?

JUDGE: Plea!

ALLAPA: Oh, alright, then, guilty.

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

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pass Creek Pass

    The panic attack drifted swiftly around the corner like an afternoon thunder shower sweeping around a buttress, like the foen enveloping the climbers in the Eiger Sanction, except it wasn't the Eiger I was clinging to, only a Class 3 nothing slope on some obscure shoulder of a mountain in the Kigs. Mind phased in to the zone of anxiety like a starship entering sub-space, ship's systems malfunctioning, red alerts blazing on all decks. The anxiety was composed of multiple constituents, two parts paranoia to every one part legitimate worry.
       But the true spark point, I was well aware, though the awareness did not help, was nothing more than the fasciculation of a tiny set of muscles in my right and left pectoral muscles, still quivering due to the released strain of having taken the backpack off. The pectoral sensation had been transmogrified by runaway mind into a possible cardiac arrest in progress.  It was only June I knew, warm and fine. Nobody would freeze in the Kigs that night, nor would there be any horrific falls on this easy hiking ground.  But still, the headlines flirted in my imagination: Seemingly Healthy Fifty-Year Old Man Found Keeled-Over On Remote Mountain Slope.

(above) Pass Creek peaklets, the original objective of this 5-day Kigsxpedition—  foiled, due to the copious amounts of snow exhibited in the photo, and genuine June avalanche conditions at the pass from which the picture was taken. Lotta snow for June, ironic for a little snow year, the cause being cool temperatures in preceding May.

      JUNE, 2014.
       The trip had started off with GLUE OF TOWN so thick that I grew hysterical and lapsed into HISSY FIT MODE right there in front of spouse and children. Gear then became disorganized, as friend Mikey pulled up in the driveway on time to whisk me up the Kougarak Road to my drop-off.  On the list of things I had forgotten was shells for the shotgun, so we stopped at Salmon Lake to ransack Earp's cabin.  I found some old paper shells. They would burn me later that evening when one would jam in the shotgun, rendering it useless, and me naked. Worst of all to the fate of my 5-day Kigsxpedition, my spectacles chose that moment to go out of phase with this dimension, and vanished, which meant there would be no reading the entire trip.
         Persistent GLUE OF TOWN tendrils stayed attached to my psyche the first two miles of the hike. I treated my condition with Yukon Jack. Soon, and with great relief, the SNAP! came— the last long GLUE tendrils stretched, stretched, and then "snap," I was free. Worries, self-negations, chain-reactions of guilt and responsibility, inadequacies, self-flagellations, the flaming shards of burning ruin I had left in my wake, the house projects left dangling, the band going on without me, the long-suffering woman, broken-down 4-wheeler, literary mediocrity— these fixtures of GLUE suddenly resolved into vapor as the magical energy of the Kigluaik Range began to penetrate my mental process.

(above) Map of Salmon Lake area showing the pass between Fox Creek and Pass Creek, plus route hiked in June. Don't know if this is the pass that put the "pass" in Pass Creek— it looked to be Class 3 or 4 on the north side, but was laden with dangerous snow.

      When the first trial shell jammed in the chamber, I cleared it by firing the shotgun. Was this a stupid maneuver? I wouldn't know, because I'm not a knowledgeable gun guy. I win the award for the lowest ratio of shots per year versus hours carried, meaning I've carried and slept with the thing for months, years, but seldom fired it. When the second shell became somehow jammed in the barrel, I grew afraid of the whole device, dismantled it, and stashed it under a rock for retrieval on the way out. I've hiked the Kigs with a gun and without— with is better, given the huge denominator of hours spent alone out there. Yes, bear encounters are rare, this is merely paranoia, there's nothing to worry about, especially in a low bear year like this one— but maybe my denominator (hours spent in the wilderness alone) is different than yours. The gun acts as a bad piece of gear on a rotten lead: you take it for the illusion of pro, it calms your head. And now, in June, no bear protection had I, no companion, nor glasses to see.
(above) North Face of Pt. 2650+ on shoulder of Pk. 3190 between Paso Robles and Fox creeks. A somewhat complex hill with several high points, another clash zone of the gneiss and schist, elsewhere referred to in this blog as "Aaka," the father. I went scrambling around on its ridges this evening in June.

         Kigsblog has received a grant which mandates the author explore only north-side Kigs drainages, for the reason that a certain feeling of ennui has begun to creep in for southern Kigs drainages, given all  these years of road-acces hiking and snow-machines from the south. However, north side objectives present a problem for your average, penurious, Nome weekend warrior: an extra day, extra gas, extra person, an extra helicopter, just to reach those back-there places on the dark side of the range.
       The idea of the June trip to Fox Creek, then, was to pioneer a quick route from the Kougarak Road into Pass Creek, a territory which would definitely satisfy the north side requirement. Why would they name it Pass Creek? Surely there would be a pass to the north side.

(above) Pk. 3900+, (referred to elsewhere as Kayuqtuq, Pk. 4000+, Fox, Foxy, or Tog 7, due to hyperopia), June 2014. Hiking route went up Fox Creek and hung a left to reach the sunlit pass at left of picture.

       There turned out to be a pass to the north, but I CHICKENED OUT of passing it, which makes this the second consecutive kigsblog adventure thwarted by avalanche danger. It was real this time, massive slabs of saturated summer snow starting to calve off in the stress zones on the north side of the pass, the parabolic fissures all lined up like crevasses on a glacier. Might've crept down the Class 3 or 4 moat to the side, but it would've been spooky down underneath all that overhanging snow and choss. Besides, it was obvious that miles of miles of the same spooky snow awaited between the pass and the Pass Creek peaklets, my original objective. Strange, oxymoronic, slough / slab avalanches had recently run all over the long wall that forms the north side of the pass. Don't want that feeling, the sphincter unease, the nebulous boundary layer between high danger and mere paranoia, the inability to decide which it is. So I was awarded another LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY CLAUSE, and turned back once again to the south side of the Kigs, though Pass Creek pass surely hikes in dry conditions. But I wonder: who's passed this pass on snow-machine?

(left) Lucy, looking down the face of Pt. 2650.

       A miserable night, for the dog at least, was spent camped at the pass in snow, wind, rain, and fog. Miserable for me without glasses because I could not while away the time reading the books I had stashed under a boulder down the valley. In the morning, a gray sky hung over the sloughing snow slopes, while the sun could be seen shining on the mountains lower down. So I descended.
        The GLUE of Earp's cabin at Salmon Lake sucked me past the event horizon, and I hiked all the way down to the road for the night. But the next day the glory of the mountains beckoned once again, and I hiked back up bear-free Fox Creek, and spent many, many hours up there clambering around with no monkeys on my back, no pressure to solo, no adhesive residue from GLUE OF TOWN, (only the occasional psychological shitstorm provided by my heavy metal-saturated amygdala) just getting my mind blown by the midnight sun, and the absolutely weird Miocenic BUZZ of the Sawtooths.

(below) Fox Creek drainage, with Paso Robles Creek coming in from the right, and Salmon Lake in the middle.
          My anxiety storm passed as a summer storm does. It rained, flashed, and thundered, then moved on, and I spent a fun rest of the morning wandering the ridges of Pk. 3190.
           Fox Creek was visited often this summer by we human pathogens. I laid down two heavy foot tracks in June, leaving TRACE in my big Italian boots. A week or two later, Jeff Collins and Wilson Hoogendorn began training in Fox Creek and performed feats of Kigs-running (below) that may never be equaled. Human footprints grew in August: a group entered the valley to investigate the psychic properties of boulders in the area. One erratic in the upper Fox drainage proved to be of significant interest. The team discovered that indeed, the rock emitted psychic resonance, though no hard scientific evidence could be extracted to support their hypothesis, as is usually the case in these matters. Their findings only confirmed what I had already known, for I had sensed the rock on my visit, too. Further research into the Fox erratic is merited.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Peak 3250+ (SaGuiq), west ridge attempt

       Theme: people snowboarding down things I call climbs. The latest humiliating installation comes via this awesome video (below) of Miner Joe and another guy boarding the west side of Peak 3250+ near Mosquito Pass, shot from a Bering Air helicopter in 2012. From my personal viewpoint of everyday flow, I experienced this video as a synchronicity factor 1.2, a slight rise in the standard deviation of normal coincidence, as the following tale will tell.

       Eighteen Saturdays ago, ( the current rate of blog-lag), during the climate-change brief window of optimal snow conditions we experienced last April, I loaded the Bearcat, nicknamed Super Smooth Andy G., onto the trailer and slush-bogged it to the place at Mile 30 Kougarak Road where all the trucks and snow-machine trailers were parked, just before Nugget Pass where the plow hadn't gotten yet.
(above) Kougarak Road heading north to the Kigluaiit.

        The terror of driving the truck and flagellating trailer up the mud road, the horror of gunning the throttle to load  big, scary Andy G. on and off,  the loathing of this mechanically-inept, environmentalist hippy at the smoke-belching engine, followed by the hypocritical utter joy of whizzing off on Smooth Andy G. into the Kigs at incredibly high speeds, west over good Spring crust.

(above) Snow-machine mountaineering journey to Peak 3250+, April 19, 2014. Kougarak Road was open to that point.

           Snow-machine crept a thin strip between the Windy Lakes and the foot of the mountain, didn't want to go out in the middle of the lake on that big piece of metal, too much thought of the temperature weirdness that winter— Nome had been a Zambonied ice rink, its snow-plows sleeping, a winter with two or three different times of rain. I imagined parabolic thaw fields lurking in the ice cover of Windy Lakes, and hugged the shore, up against the many rocks showing through.

(above) "Never get out of the boat!" Looking northeast up the Sinuk headwaters, April 22, 2014. This was a trip to the same peak several days later, again unsuccessful when Super Smooth Andy G. could no longer cross the Sinuk, which was breaking up for miles in both directions.

    Parked Super Smooth at the foot of west ridge of Peak 3250+. This mountain is an old friend, a lump of quartzose schists jammed up against the neighboring gneiss of Tigaraha to the north, not quite sentient, but with enough presence to be referred to as an entity. The best camping spot in the Kigs, the "hundred-year old rock slide" sits at the base of Peak 3250+ to the west. On a long summer day in 2002, Kristine and I climbed the southwest ridge, a horrible, festering Class 4 choss mound. I went back on snow-machine to bag the next ridge to the left  (west ridge) on a school Sunday years ago, but was defeated by a large NAP that swept over me in the warm afternoon sun. But I had come back for another try, and the temperatures were too cool this time for napping.

(above) Saguiq from the south. Southwest ridge is left skyline.

       After many trips, a mountain begins to require a name. Other things require names as well: clumps of willow, glacial erratics, indistinct bluffs, tundra dips, morainal confluences, pee spots, hills— all those features hitherto without a name that now do require a name, just so you can use them as milestones to get through long torturous hikes into the Kigs under a 60 lb. climbing pack. But a mountain, especially, requires a name.
       Hiking in to Mosquito Pass from the Kougarak Road, the hiker crosses Buffalo Creek, then Hudson Pass, then Sinuk, and Northstar Creeks. Reaching Peak 3250+ in the Windy Creek drainage means the hiker has "turned the corner" on the hike and finally arrived. Thus, I have always thought of Peak 3250+ as "Turncorner Mountain," which, under the "First Languages Fairness Compensation Act" must necessarily be translated into Inupiaq, a translation which in this case has been taken care of by my new contacts in the Qaweraq dialect department at the school in which I work. The result is the word "SaGuiq" (sah-ghoo-ik) to refer to Peak 3250+, which means (kind of, sort of, maybe) "turn the corner" in Qaweraq, the dialect of the southern Seward Peninsula. The capital G designates an Inupiaq "dotted g,"  the consonant pronounced with a glottal growl. Henceforth, I will refer to Peak 3250+ as SaGuiq, even though the governing body which has made this appointment is nothing more than large and random agencies of neurons in my scattered head.
(above) SaGuiq from west, west ridge on left and southwest ridge on right. In between, the face boarded in the video.

         This post chronicles a climb far from rad. In summer, the west ridge of SaGuiq is probably Class 3, and as we saw in the video, is perfectly skiable in the spring. 
      Nevertheless, I bailed.  The issue this time was not a NAP descending from nowhere, but moderate avalanche conditions up near the top. It was the wind-loading problem: snow piles up in the deposition zone on the lee side of a ridgecrest. The slope had already whumpfed twice under me on the way up;  now the snowpack dynamics were changing once more within the little narrow band of weather tucked under the very top of the mountain. 
       My route traversed over to some rocks, but I began to visualize how the pad of snow supporting me would disintegrate under my weight;  my crampons would snag, my tib-fibs snap, my body tumble in a slither of snow.  MOJO power-leaked from my energy body.  Suddenly, the alternative of going down seemed perfectly acceptable
(above) Looking south across the southwest ridge from the west ridge of SaGuiq, April 19, 2014.

        Retreating due to avalanche danger creates a Schrodinger's cat of a paradox: if you had continued up the slope it would have avalanched, but since you didn't, it was never going to.  And you never get to find out the answer until the cat climbs up the slope, which if it doesn't, you never do. All in all, a situation designed to torment a self-negationist such as me. As I rode back towards the road on Super Smooth Andy G., my mind was busy performing obstreperous rationalizations. 
        I made the decision to invoke the LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY CLAUSE (a rule of the mental game which basically states that the climber cannot be punished or battered by self-judgment in the case of ambiguous bails) and tried to convince myself that the slab conditions on the climb I was bailing from had fallen in the "fifty-fifty" category— it might've gone, it might've not— but my claim seemed false. My attorneys tried to throw together a defense based on me being solo—  "...if I had a partner I would have scampered right up it, you can't take any chances when you're solo in the Kigs..."— until it was pointed out the nullity of this argument in the precedent of allapa vs. Swan Slab Jamcrack (1981), given that the climb itself is exactly the same whether you are solo or with a partner. Most damningly for my case, Intuition was prepared to testify that the slope on Saguiq was fine. Eventually, a straight CHICKEN-OUT was handed to me. I took it home and logged it on the shelf with all the other CHICKEN-OUTS. 
(above) On the right, Kirgavik Inuatqi (Killer Falcon Peak), Pk 3000+, between SaGuiq and Tigaraha. Had a fine day on good rock in the summer of 2002 soloing those little, (60-80 ft.) dark, gneiss tors in the picture. A falcon tried to murder me near the summit, hence, my little pet name for the thing. Osborn in the distance...

         Retribution for a chicken out.  Back in school the following week, I was visiting a colleague in the second grade pod.
       "Dude," he called from his teacher desk. "You know where this is?" He flipped his laptop around and showed me the same youtube that started this post.
       I was flabbergasted... the Kigs!  On youtube!  We recognized miner Joe and the Bering Air helicopter pilot. But I couldn't identify the mountain. So we played the video several more times. My face grew closer to the computer screen. Planes of snow spun around in circles, cliff patterns riffled through like shadows, familiar landmarks swooped by, and I grew nauseous with motion sickness. Finally, the fragments in the Kigs-o-scope coalesced into a specific place. I recognized the place. 
       The scarlet "L" began to burn like fire across my forehead. These yahoos were boarding down the same mountain I had bailed off the previous weekend! 
(above) Peak 3250+ at far left edge of photo, looking southwest. This gives us an idea of the peak in relation to its friends. Moving right one sees the dark mass of Tigaraha, with its 800 ft. north wall.

"It doesn’t matter how much effort it takes. The consequences of an accident are so huge, I think, in retrospect, and it's easy to see things in retrospect, what should we have done?  We should have had visibility. and should have waited, but it would have been a hard one to sell to us at the time...

"Avalanche danger is always high, and sometimes it’s really, really high, but that’s the attitude of walking on thin ice and really being highly aware all the time of the hazard so that you’re doing this right. All of a sudden you stop and say, hey wait a minute, is this going to be OK? Can I pick a better route, or can I get on belay and get out on the slope and dig a hole in it and see if I can reveal some layers and assess some stability, but really taking that avalanche hazard very seriously

"I don’t hold anything against the mountains. I’d say that i’m hugely more… PARTICULAR about the things that I climb, and I’m just very PICKY.  I just won’t get on anything anymore…. in college, I was, we all were, just a little bit more ready to jump on everything..."

Thanks to Colby for the quotations, and the esteemed Dr. Krupa for listening. 

(above) Tom Walter, my great mentor from the eighties, sucked down by wind-loading. He would stubai his way up anything.

       After I trundled out Tom in Kigscourt, I was acquitted, lock, stock, and barrel. There was not a pin to be dropped after Colby's testimony. I was handed the LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY CLAUSE that I had originally requested. I was even given a pass on self-humiliation over the snow-boarding video; it was remembered that around the time those boys were skiing SaGuiq in 2012, Tyler and I were over by PiNarut (Pk. 3367) (ping-a-root) throwing glory turns in tight couloirs. Sometimes the snow is O.K. And besides, these are all absurd turns of mind and deserve to be ignored. The truth remains that when traveling solo on snow-machine and climbing mountains in the Kigluaik, you want to avoid any kind of screw-up. /k/ /k/ /k/

(above) One of our Kigsblog photography staff, none too enthused with the skiing conditions at Nugget Pass around the time of this adventure, April 2014.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Regular Route on Mt. Osborn

I wrote this route description for a group of visiting climbers last summer. See Among the Peakbaggers to see how their ascent turned out, and for pictures that show the Regular Route on Mt. Osborn.

(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 north along the summit ridge to the highest of the rock towers, 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 too bad. A hundred-year old road built by miners follows this route; I would strongly recommend following this road as closely as possibly, though it is completely overgrown in sections.  
      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.  
         To locate the highest rock tower: continue north along the summit ridge (you will will be on easy ground on the east side of the ridgecrest) until you have reached the northernmost tower on the ridge. Then count four spires back to the south: you should be in the vicinity of Osborn's high point. The highest spire is higher than the penultimate spire by only 10 feet or so. Climb 15 feet of very loose Class 4 rock to a ledge in the notch; then climb about 25 feet of loose Class 4 up the west side of the summit tower.  Remember:  you don't get to say you've climbed Osborn unless you've gone to the very tippy-top! 
(above) A shot of Osborn's summit tor taken from a neighboring ledge, looking northwest.
(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.