Thursday, August 11, 2016


climb serpentine
"The PHI waves were so palpable they seemed almost to be visible."
        The moment we reached the Serpentine Hot Springs area, PHI readings shot off the scale. We turned off our snow-machines for a moment, and just listened, despite the breeze, despite our puffy headgear.

       "Ten to the negative fifth past one!"

       "Off the scale, at least for Alaska. I've only seen PHI like that in the Southwest deserts."

       "Surreal... what could be causing it?"

       "Well, that's what we've come to find out, isn't it?"

       We ripped our machines back to life and continued through the waning March light towards the National Park Service Bunkhouse just ahead, where we planned to stay for two nights while we did research in Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. One-hundred twenty miles we had snow-machined to get there from Nome, often bumping over bare ground, the whole way with a daunting North wind pummeling our faces, a wind that had shut us down at one point in a total whiteout and sent us scurrying into an unlocked miner's shack to unpanic. 

        But any frostnip or ass-poundings we might receive that day would soon by repaired, we knew, with a long soak in mineral-rich waters at the end of the day, waters ionized by the very electo-gravimetric anomalies and frequency modulations we had come to study. *
The pluton underlying Serpentine hugely contributes to the elevated PHI levels of the region
        A significant domain contributing to Serpentine's elevated PHI levels is its history. Consciousness, according to Giulio Tononi's Integrated Information Theory (IIT), is whatever level of recursive informational complexity remains after a "thing" is subtracted from the "thing itself." **  One reason Serpentine Hot Springs registers as more than just plutonic rocks and geothermally heated groundwater is the fact that humans have been visiting this site for over a millennium. Eskimo stories, rites, rituals, and experiences relating to the place of Serpentine Hot Springs are embedded in the fabric of space/time, creating coded transforms of information that contribute to a morphogenetic field which resonates in sync with the actual place. 
        The informational complexity of these human experiences adds ever so slightly to Serpentine's degree of consciousness, to an almost negligible degree, true, but one which a PHI-Sensitive Device (PSD, or "Phi-Si'" as we like to call it in the field, pronounced like "Sci-Fi" but reversed) should be able to register. ***
offwidth in crampons
Author wedged into a squeeze chimney. Sketchy doing heel-toe jams in crampons.
      So, as I swung the door to the Bunkhouse open, not knowing who our roommates for the weekend would be, I was not surprised to find several Inupiaq-speaking friends from Nome inside. Several were more than just acquaintances— they were individuals configured into the same Karass Potential Field (KPF) as I, sucked into the same causality-attractor on the day as David and I by the wampeter known as Serpentine Hot Springs. (I hesitate to refer to Serpentine as an "entity"-- much as we long for the landscape to be alive, the PHI we surveyed that weekend was just not sufficient for that kind of categorical leap.)  
       Syncronistic encounters such as meeting our friends at the Bunkhouse, on the other hand, are a predictable outcome in a micro-region charged with elevated levels of non-entropic Mental Process. If we could match the space-time of the syncronicity with a generalized PHI bulge in our data, the encounter at the Bunkhouse might offer support to our theories of rock sentience. However, we would need harder data than this if anyone were ever going to take us seriously.
climbing serpentine
Climbing around on one of Serpentine's tors in cold, snowy conditions
     The next morning, after a great night in the tub listening to Jim's wild-west tales of U.S.A. / U.S.S.R. border shenanigans across the Bering Strait in the 1970s, David and I got ready for the most important segment of our weekend scientific survey: a visit to Serpentine's granite tors. 
        Various reports had trickled in to me of Serpentine's granite, of rock so grainy it disintegrates into ball bearings at the slightest touch. If climbers in the past had made any effort to summit Serpentine's overhanging tors, on average about sixty feet high, those climbers had kept it a secret. 
        Not only had I come to climb around for fun, but to employ the stone of the granite tors in our survey of Serpentine's consciousness via the Chi Amplification Method (CAM): our PHI-Sensitive Devices would be used to harness the electromagnetic properties of the tors, which are essentially giant quartz crystals poking out of the tundra like so many Stonehenges, to detect elevated PHI levels that we suspect flow in the immediate region of the tors. The only equipment needed would be my two Black Diamond Cobras, crampons, and helmet, which I strapped onto my machine, and roared out of camp, racking the silence of the valley with the hideous whine of our machines.
Ian climbs Serpentine
Author kitted out with sampling rig: climbing gear, neural network, electromagnetic antenna

        Stampeding murmurations of caribou parted before our machines as we bumped across the divots left in the snow by their many hooves.  I drove out to the nearest tor, dismounted, and madly began to fondle the surface grains of granite.

       "This rock doesn't seem so bad."

      Gloves off, I crimped down on a micro-flake, set a plastic boot on an edge, and cranked a move.

       "Mark it down for the record— climbing is possible on Serpentine's rock."

       Though the temperature was below zero, the day was sunny with only a light breeze. Such an unusually fine day, it raised the spectre of Anthrogenic High Pressure Syndrome (AHPS), good weather caused by human thought, a controversial idea still only the province of Wooists and concert-goers, but shown to have an increased probability in regions of elevated PHI.  
        The tors appeared from a distance to be coated with a white frosting which I had forlornly hoped to find was a thick, well-bonded rime ice, but which turned out to be dry, cold, powder snow, useless for swinging picks into, and difficult to troll through. I would end up summiting no tors that day. 
       This did not prevent David and I, however, from completing our scientific mission: to measure the degree to which Mental Process infuses the Serpentine Hot Springs area; to calculate its degree of consciousness using Tononi's algorithms; and form hypotheses as to the causes for the elevated sentience of the micro-region.
PHI climbing
Tors at Iyat (Serpentine Hot Springs)
       We vectored our machines over to an attractive clump of granite tors protruding from what appeared to be the highest hill in the area. Here we set up our field laboratory, happy to shut down the yawping, smoke-belching iron dogs for a while. David erected his mobile neural-network antenna and wandered off to a silent corner to calibrate. I donned my helmet, crampons, and Cobras, turned on my PHI-sensitive device, calibrated, and started bouldering.
Mobile climbing laboratory at Serpentine Hot Spring granite tors
        The place was unreal. The tors were etched against the filtered arctic light as if photoshopped by a hypnagogic action. The PHI-waves were so palpable they seemed almost to be visible. Like a heat mirage that makes the road ahead go blurry, so my mind was affected by the sentience of the place. 
        As I harmonized my Phi-Si to the rock's frequency through the communicative act of climbing on it, the device began to crackle to life with that familiar buzz, not unlike static electricity, but occurring independently of the five human senses, and a quick glance at my readings showed a degree of consciousness emanating from the rock that, if not anywhere near a level that could truly be called "sentient", was at least orders of magnitude higher than the sheer fact of the matter-field making up the rock.
       But then, suddenly, I had more pressing concerns than science. So intent was I on gathering electromagnetic data, that I had not noticed myself climbing out over a 30 ft. drop. Crampon front points screeched over rounded rugosities in the porphyritic granite. For my hands there was nothing, so I mantled down around knee level onto a scoop in the granite, tools dangling, threadbare mitten palms trying to dig into the rock grains through the thin film of ice crystals.
       My Phi-Si still crackling wildly, I extended my left leg over a horizontal sill and began to worm my weight onto the leg.  I hated hearing the gore-tex fabric of my million dollar shell pants grating against the quartz and feldspar crystals in the rock. 
        Suddenly the remaining front points on my right crampon disengaged with a horrible "SCREECH!" My weight came onto the floppily cammed left leg. Was I coming off?
David synced to the weird vibe that pervades this area
       Adrenalin pumped from my endocrine causing my neural-network antenna to cascade and flare. At the same moment, the cusp of my own Personal Death Attractor (PDA) shifted, slightly, imperceptibly, but measurably closer to my present point in the space/time continuum, where my body clung desperately to loose little sand piles of snow perched on rounded ledges. 
        I felt my PSD crackling with indicators of Mental Process, like a cell phone vibrating in the middle of a sketchy climbing move, but I dared not pay any attention to the device. Every facet of my being was focussed on the weight shift onto my left leg.     
       Also simultaneous with my risky activity occurred  a Continuum Shift (CS). Every individual act I had ever perpetrated in my entire lifetime elongated an infinitesimal distance within space/time as my Death Attractor hove closer to my consciousness proximity. The boundary layer of my Infinite Possibility Matrix (IPM) shifted frames, not far enough for me to be truly worried-- I was confident I could climb my way out of the situation without dying-- but far enough, I hoped, that I could parse evidence of the shift from the data once I took it home to Nome for analysis. 
David Panepinto
David taking readings on his PSD
         I bouldered for hours, staying close to the ground because of the slippery sketch-factor. Unprotected chimneys and offwidths will be the key to summiting the granite tors at Serpentine, though with the PHI-readings we registered that weekend, climbers would do well to avoid probability shifts that might result from too aggressive a Summit Orientation Ego Indicator (SOEI). 
      David wandered the corridors between the tors, collecting photographic data, though pictures, like words, are of limited value in conveying the feel of the place. Like the place is watching you. Like the place is all inside your head, which it certainly is, by definition, because the Serpentine you experience is only a version of the Serpentine itself streamed to you by your brain.****
Ian McRae
Selfie of author. Note the damage to the protective plating on my PHI-Sensitive Device.
        In the midst of bouldering, I suddenly realized my data was invalid. There was no need, even, to take it back to Nome for analysis. The Chi Amplification Method (CAM) I had devised relies on the essential prerequisite that the climber become ONE WITH THE ROCK. This is what makes the calculations possible. If climber (x) is one with the rock (y), then both climber and rock can be assigned a value of 1, making possible a simple mathematical equality, x=y. Consciousness levels are measured by whatever factors sway this equation into an inequality, but it is essential the climber eliminate all emanations from his or her own ego, and quiet the superfluous electromagnetic chatter that fills the cerebrum. The experiment is sound, but the tolerances and error margins associated with it are quite minuscule.
       My brain was too scattered. My mind was way too busy with silly thoughts, useless concerns, comparisons, rankings, cravings, anxiety, and also a creeping torpor that has come upon me in middle age. Usually, the act of climbing is sufficient to calm these flurries of extraneous thought, but not always. Most of the data my PHI-Sensitive Device carried turned out to be only a reflection of my own neurotic tendencies shining against the Plato's Cave wall of my narcissistic consciousness. For the CAT technique to work, the climbers mind must be totally empty during the interval the body is making moves over the stone. 
       Later, when I ran filters on the climbing data to extract the Mean Fun Index (MFI), it was found, surprisingly, despite the cold and tricky climbing conditions, to be of a very high magnitude of order. 
boulder Serpentine
Attempting to enact the CAM method
          The GLUE of the hot tub began to tug at us forcibly like a tide. Resistance was futile. We suspended our rock investigations, and departed the cold, breezy hilltops for the hot mineral waters in the enclosed tub at the Bunkhouse. 
       Water does not afford as effective an electromagnetic charge for our PHI-Sensitive devices as does rock. The entropy of molecules in a liquid precludes the temporal stability needed to access the phase variances for consciousness detection. Plus, the hot water seems, in general, to exert a dampening effect on our devices, so we did not so much view the opportunity to soak as research, but as a chance to relax. But as we pulled into camp and switched off snow-machines, another piece of data was about to fall into our laps.
       Our theory predicts an increased probability of spirit animal interface in a wilderness region with elevated PHI (genetic similarity is a medium of resonance), but it was still with shock and awe I looked into one of the sleds outside the Bunkhouse and saw three wolves laid out by a hunter from Shishmareff. Our PHI-Sensitive Devices would surely have registered a PHI spike at this space/time transect, but by the time I encountered the wolves, our devices were soaked, and possibly giving off false readings.
north side Kigluaiks
David testing for LPR from the north side of the Kigluaik Mountains on the return ride
        In the morning, after another night in the 102° F waters, in which discussed acupuncture points of the Seward Peninsula and their true Inupiaq names with our knowledgeable friends, we saddled up sleds and prepared for the 7-hour ride home to Nome. 
        The objective functioning of our PHI-Sensitive Devices seemed to be affected by the soaking they had received the day before. The whole ride that day they gave readings as if PHI levels were remaining abnormally high, a measurement we thoroughly suspected as corrupt, though there was no denying the dreamlike feeling that made the surroundings whizzing by at 70 mile per hour speeds look more beautiful than anything I had ever seen. 
         Through white shrouds of 3-dimensional gauze we flew down a perfect trail made flat by a dusting of new snow. Across the rolling hills of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, back over the Kougarak Bridge, the Kuzitrin Bridge (really the Cushman Street Bridge from Fairanks) where the view opened up and the north side of the Kigluaiks was revealed in high-resolution image. Long-wave PHI Resonance (LPR) from this highly sentient range of mountains would have registered on our Phi-Si's had they been working properly. I gave up on executive function, and just let the GLUE of TOWN slowly draw our machines in like doomed satellites in decaying orbit.
          What puzzled me was that PHI readings remained elevated for days, even once we were back in Nome, as if the phase variation of Serpentine Hot Springs had followed us home and clung to our perception like a drug trip that won't wear off. Regular objects, paper clips, the Post Office, the neighbor's dog, took on a sensory luminescence that lingered for days, long after our trip to the sacred wilderness area was over. It was paradoxical enough to fool me into thinking that the elevated PHI-levels we saw there were just figments of my own mind, a common mistake made by old-school Mind researchers. I am confident that once I get better data and the math nailed down, I will be able to account for the lingering effect of the Hot Springs. 
      After a few days dealing with humans and foibles and jobs within the GLUE of TOWN, the post-Serpentine luminescence wore off completely. Our PHI-Sensitive Devices once again showed a base reading of 1.0. Life had lost the post-Serpentine glow.

"PHI readings remained elevated for days, even once
we were back in Nome"


* This article is only a blogpost of a trip. Hard data analysis will follow when the project is completed.

 **Disclaimer: Other than having read links on the internet, I have no real idea of what I'm talking about here. I need to order some of Giulio's books and read them, also, take a refresher course in Calculus.

***When I use the word "thing", I am referring to any number of dynamic processes for which we may draw a definable boundary. Most likely, there is no such thing as a "thing" for the reason that what we call a "thing" always turns out to be an emergent feature of some dynamic process. 

**** It is extremely important to connote here that the word "brain" implies not only the brain itself, but a triad of brain, nervous system, and Human Electromagnetic Energy Field (HEEF) generated by the human body. The HEEF is an often overlooked sensory organ critical to the energy transformations studied on this trip. Any further questions may be directed to the What Is Mind? thread on Supertopo; somewhere in all the links and pontification, the answer can be found.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bouldering 2015

       For any climbing narcissist seeking to assuage their desperate need for ego recognition, Facebook provides a far more efficient spray-device than a blog. So prodigious a spray-device is Facebook, I routinely chicken out of posting on it. Of course, I could paint a noble picture of my self and claim this is because Facebook violates the ancient taboo against bragging, or that my ego structure is so Buddha I have no need of simulating my territory to the map of Facebook, or that action is all that counts in this life, but that would be a lie, only to mask the fact that I am another person ruled by fear, prevented from posting by my own introversion and social anxiety disorder. 
      So this blog it must be, a smaller, more obscure nozzle to release the great tensions of the ego. "Pee-marking" is what I call it on Kigsblog-- gaining attention online for a move of climbing you have executed. Giving in to the irresistible urge to claim credit for an act of climbing, a first ascent, or even a second first ascent. To matter, for an instant, in the eyes of others, before geological time subducts the climb you have proudly done into an eroded, toxic miasma of the future.

Nome Alaska ice climbing
Great mud mounding action this year, climbing on frozen tailings
     Always bouldering... three days a week, four, all year round. Wandering in a dream state, executing little yoga moves on loose rock. Kind of an odd behavior really... A child lost in his imagination. humming softly to himself as he imagines a great abyss under his feet. I am Walter Bonatti stemming a dihedral on the Jorasses, with the soft ground one foot away. In the summer, rock shoes, in the winter, crampons and ice tools. It takes a fervent imagination, but if you can sustain the illusion, the rewards include a reduction of stress, freedom from lower back pain, and abundant adrenalin, as suddenly the child snaps into reality to find that the ground has become much further away in reality.
Nome Alaska climbing
James on the Orange Wall (5.10a) at Engstroms Mountain
       I hereby officially claim during the 2015 bouldering season that I spread urine on every square inch of rock within a twenty mile radius of Nome. That is, executed or repeated any and all climbing moves which might within an error range of three YDS grade levels be deemed a V0 or easier, (that leaves an awful lot of harder problems left for YOU to claim) at Anvil Mt., the Windmill Boulders, the Sunset Boulders, the Penny Boulders, the awesome Penny Crags, King Mt., and Engstroms Mt., in multiple visits, in continuous circuits, by car, snow-machine, or ski.  MARK!  MARK!  Can't anyone smell this? Look what I can do!
Nome rockclimbing
James on his "first trad lead," the fun Chimney Route (5.5) at Engstroms
        No. The weather and the tides will wash away the scent of your climbing. New climbers will come and lay their pee-marks over yours. You have bolted no sport lines, you have published no guidebooks, you have left the crags the way they were. Others will post on multiple websites and lay down a golden sheen over these pitiful squirts. There will be no recognition, no ego-satisfaction. Narcissus is forced to get up from the side of the pond and just go climbing, despite the will of the Gods that he be cursed for an eternity to dote on his own profile.
climb Nome
The big bouldering news of 2015 was the long-awaited send of the Courtyard Arete (5.10b) at Windmill Rocks, a high-ball with a treacherous landing. Many was the time I fondled the creaky flakes of the last move, but backed off, as in the photo above. This year, the Courtyard was filled with an extra padding of drifted snow, ten feet thick. Sure felt good to crank off that last move!

      Now there is only the next move: a patch of toe rubber oozing off the hold as the areoles of lichen crumble underfoot. A centimeter of chrome moly steel cammed into an icy crack in the schist. The blue of the ocean hoving into view as you struggle to get your foot up so you won't have to look like a noob and use your knee at the top of the crag. And now you're about to break your leg and crack your skull and lie paralyzed dying in the cold as you realize you did not bring a cell phone. It was all meaningless and pointless. The only reason to climb was to climb. There was nothing to say about it all along.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cape Nome Ice, Iteration 2015

Cape Nome ice climbing
In December light, James is climbing quarried chunks of granite held together by frozen mud
Red arrow points to Ayasayuk, Cape Nome. 
Nome ice
Third Tier ice, 2015. We climbed a dirt/ice line out of the picture to the left. James was fated to leave town, the Winter Solstice world grew mega-cold, and the GLUE OF TOWN sealed me over. I never made it back out to climb this pitch.

       Cape Nome lies about 20 miles east of Nome. Viewed from Nome on a clear day, the bluff resembles a 5-mile long sausage, with the seaward end of the sausage visibly gnawed-on. Drive out there on the Nome-Council Road and the gnaw-marks prove to be the 450 ft. high Cape Nome Quarry, a long-time source of “industrial grade armor stone and rip-rap commonly used on seawalls, causeways, and breakwaters,” and also, my secret, no-doubt-trespassing, little ice climbing area in the late Fall. 
        So loose, such a hanging mine field of rock and mud is the Cape Nome Quarry, that one would never set foot on it unless it were well frozen. The Quarry is a little microcosm unto itself, a self-contained space shaped not unlike a Greek theatre. The ice that "cryo-sucks" down the face each year is a study in randomness, for no two years are ever the same. Somehow, a central flow always develops, but the path followed by the water varies according to a complex equation involving temperature, saturation, and dynamite.
         We are used to the ephemerality of ice, but this is ephemerality of Earth. Some years the quarry face has been blasted away completely leaving no trace of the climb from the year before. There is something satisfying about doing a climb which has never existed before, and will probably not exist into the next year. This year's iteration of Cape Nome did not offer particularly high-volume ice flows, but it did offer the usual helping of climbing adventure as I managed to once again to ascend the quarry face from bottom to top, up the middle of all four tiers. 
Cape Nome ice climbing
James hiking the First Tier, Council Road below
Cape Nome ice climbing
Ayasayuk, November 2015

       I drove out there twice in late November to check it out. Some interesting pillars of ice had blossomed, but my first order of business was to complete the yearly game of ascending the quarry face from bottom to top. I started up solo, but in the middle of the third tier, the ice receded into the mud wall, leaving me looking at a hundred feet of exposed, frozen mud soloing. All I could think of was how much better this mud section would be if I could go back into town and talk James into coming back out with me to hold a psychological rope.
       So we returned in early December. Technically, it was James' first alpine climb. Too bad his first ice climb had to take such a ghastly form. Stupidly, we double-rode on the snow-machine to get out there, bumping across the tundra, getting lost in the fog, and overheating the machine as people passed us by in their nice comfortable trucks up on the road, which was still open, it turns out. 
       We accessed the magical quarry kingdom from one of the access roads that transverse the face, and then dropped down to the main Council Road to make the full, bottom-to-top ascent. The first two tiers of the face are a casual mud romp, no rope necessary. Frozen mud seems to behave exactly like ice, and crampons and axes work quite well if the saturation is right. In between the tiers, the access roads provide big, spacious ledges.
        The Third Tier is the highest of the four tiers, more than a pitch. The main ice flow could be cascading down on the right in a spot that was different than the year before. A new pillar had formed, and above that, ten-inch thick slab of ice was trying to adhere to an utter hanging shit-pile of creeping granite blocks. I fully intended to return for this ice a later date, with a rack of stubby screws and a James now schooled in the ways of ice climbing, but for now, the line was to take the path of least resistance, up a mud groove to the left with an easy piping of Grade 1 blue ice at the back of it.
       At the spring, the high point of my solo a week earlier where the ice recedes into the mud wall, I made a good belay and brought James up. It's not like the next pitch was hard. There's not a hard move on it. There is just something hideous about steep frozen mud climbing. The medium is like real ice, so you whack your tools extra hard, but you feel like some sort of slump or solifluction is going to suddenly pitch you off and down the 45° slope in a great clattering, clawlike mass of spikes and rope. I drove a few Snargs and Spectres straight into the mud. They wouldn't have held a thing.  I really don't know what James thought of the whole charade as he is always rather an inscrutable lad, but I do know I was overjoyed to have him there holding the useless belay. Hard to say whether that pitch was a Class 4 scramble up some dirt, or a real pitch deserving of an "M" rating. Probably the former....
       The Fourth Tier, only about 60 ft. high, offered more flows and steep ice, but the afternoon light was throbbing with darkness. We did an easy pitch up the middle and reached the top. Waves from the dim sea lapped against the beach hundreds of feet below. An emaciated Red Fox watched us curiously. The December sunset was only a red smudge against the gray pall in the west. The lights of Nome could already be seen, and the GLUE of TOWN began to suck us slowly and inexorably toward it.
Cape Nome
Third Tier from the Proscenium
ice climbing in Nome
Looking down Third Tier
         As we zig-zagged down the access roads in the big, deep, Arctic dusk of December, still wearing crampons because the roads were a sheet of ice, I noticed the hydraulics of the ice flow underfoot. In places, birms made by machinery had caused the ice to pool up and grow thicker. Could it be that water flowing down the access roads is the source of the ice flow at Cape Nome Quarry? I had always assumed that some type of aquifer was leaking out the scar of the blown-out bluff, but this makes little sense given the elevation of Cape Nome and the fact that water does not flow uphill. 
        Geologists do not seem to have come to a consensus regarding the Late Proterozoic meta-granite of Cape Nome. Is Cape Nome related to the meta-igneous gneiss of the Kigluaiks thirty miles to the North? Just what is this anomalous little intrusion of ancient rock doing here?Marine life seems to get bunched up in the waters off the cape. Before the dynamite and the flu epidemic of 1918, plenty of people lived on the bluff. Strange little men called isragak roam the grassy headland. It was named "Ayasayuk" by the natives, "Tolstoi" by Captain Tebenkov, "Sredul" on an 1852 Russian hydrographic chart, and finally, "Nom" by Sir William Kellet, though what the British explorer meant by writing that word on his map is anyone's guess. 
Cape Nome Quarry 2003
The glory days somewhere around 2003 when that Grade 3 ice on the right used to come in. This is almost an entirely different cliff than the one in 2016 (though odd vestiges remain). Begging forgiveness from BSNC... 

Friday, February 12, 2016

East Fork Solomon Crags

Click on this because maybe it looked like something?  You were mistaken. As the helmetless Mr. Panepinto demonstrates, the East Fork Solomon Crags amounts to nothing more than a mossy turdpile. You succumbed to "Tale of Topographic Oceans Syndrome." 

Tales of Topographic Oceans Syndrome (TOTOS): the tendency of a low-quality rock outcrop to gain in value due to its isolation from other rock outcrops.
Birmham, Lands End, Treen, Avebury, Stonehenge... the album cover for the Vedic concept album "Tales of Topographic Oceans."
     Is this a type of "Prominence" criteria for boulders and crags, similar to the one developed for big mountains? If it were, the crags at East Fork of Solomon River would score well because of the way they stand so starkly alone on the tundra landscape, the irony being that if you hike a few hundred feet up the hill and get right up close to these crap rocks, they turn out to be composed of the utter, utmost, shittily-schistleton choss that the Seward Peninsula can dish up.
James underneath, and dangling from, trigger-happy tons of schist. Arctic Crankloon, 5.4d.
       2015 saw two, good old-fashioned exploratory trips to the East Fork Solomon crags, easily visible from the Teller Road all my years, but never visited. After a long period of climbing at the same old crags around Nome over and over again, it sure felt nice to experience the familiar pattern of sensations that come with first visit to a new clump of rocks:  the uncertainty of where to park (in the case of East Fork Solomon, a gravel pullout right down by the river), followed by the hike up to what hopefully will be a cornucopia of climbing, as the rocks gradually unfold upon approaching them and open up like russian dolls to become more than what they appeared from the road. 
       Or, as in the case of the East Fork Solomon crags, less than what they appeared. TOTOS ("Tales of Topographic Oceans Syndrome") had created a mirage.  These mystery crags had appeared like something off a Roger Dean-inspired album cover of an eighties progressive rock band, but the reality up close was a bad glue job of fragmented schist chunks and turf. 
A living, breathing chimney amidst the schist
       First trip with David, we took no ropes. The month was June, Solstice time, the air heavy with flowers, the warm wind making us lazy. The only stone we found worth returning for was the Crankloon, the largest clump of E-Coli-shaped fecal matter among several dollops of fecal matter scattered on the ridge, metamorphic, the whole pile. The Crankloon boulder sported a 23-foot south wall with an actual crack (that precious commodity of schist climbing) that I could almost solo, but chickened, so decided to come back some other time with a rope. 
       Second trip with James, we carted a sack full of paraphernalia up the short hill to the crag. On the way up, James probably imagined we had penetrated to a fantasy climbing area from his wildest arctic dreams, where surreal spires rose improbably from green hills by a twinkling sea.  A fantasy area is what the East Fork Solomon Crags appears to be, at first. But James had succumbed once again to "Tales of Topographic Oceans Syndrome," and only raw choss awaited him. 
       The climb was so short and rotten, I felt rather foolish having driven all the way from town for it, and as the ropes and cams and pins poured out of our rucksacks, enough gear to do a small wall, I felt more foolish still.
      Just to lead the crack, I chickened. So we top-roped, and played around, and James added variations up to 5.4d on the schist that seemed to dripping down at a geological rate like a slow fungus.   
       Let us assign x number of negative points to East Fork Solomon Crags for scabrous choss factor. Fair enough. But one descriptor left out of far in this assessment is beauty— the sad, ridiculous beauty of the spot, the stark, lone, level tundra thrown into relief by tors sticking up invitingly on the horizon, the blue lens of ocean on the other horizon, and moat beauteous of all, the invisible SINH TALA energy of the earth streaming up through the crust so copiously you can hear the white-noise sound of it if the wind is down. So, let us assign y number of positive points for the beauty of the East Fork Solomon Crags.
       Here's the thing:  x <  y   This is the very enzyme action of T.O.T.O. Syndrome itself, turning a crap crag into gold through the rendering process of beauty.  Were the East Fork Solomon Crags located in California they would be nothing, figuratively and literally. As distinct rock entities, they would not garner enough perception from climbers to carry any psychic weight. California has such an abundance of rock, the Solomon Crankloon would not stand out as worthy of notice in any way. In California, they'd probably just bulldoze a piece of schist like the Crankloon out of the way...
        But here on the coast of the Norton Sound, tucked into the subsistence, gold, and reindeer country between Council and Nome, the East Fork Solomon Crags are a gold medal finalist of a Beringian rock garden. James is probably telling his friends about the killer bouldering he did at the fantasy climbing area in Alaska. I am spraying to my friends about my 5.5b "proj", confident they are paying no attention to what I am saying.  The abundant flows of SINH TALA earth energy in the region, combined with an absence of psychic interference from any appreciable human population in the surrounding area, plus the harmonizing influence of massive beauty, amplify the psychic power of the stone arrangement into a sum that is greater than its choss.

Stand on hills of long forgotten yesterdays
Pass amongst your memories told returning ways
As certain as we walk today
Press over moments leaving you
Out in the city running free
Days pass as seconds turn the key
The strength of the moment lies with you
Out tender outward lights of you
Shine over mountains make the view
The strength of you seeing lies with you

Lucy at Solomon

        Franklin Johnson, engineer, stampeder, grunt, late of the Alaskan goldfields at Nome and Council, former graduate of the Dresden Polytechnikum, and contemporary of Perry Smith and Fehrmann on the sandstone climbs of the Elba River banks, tried to spit, but his mouth was too dry. 
       Dry. One plaintive thought in Johnson's mind.  There'll be water at East Fork. Then: Sure gotta hate sledging a load in the summertime. But there was nothing else for it. He had to get this axle over to Big Hurrah, and pronto, too, and there sure as hell wasn't no diggety train gonna haul the thing over. So man haul it was. 
       At the East Fork of the Solomon River he drank his fill, then had a little snooze in the sun, though the breeze dropped at the end and the bugs woke him up. A little venison, and then... 
       Johnson noticed the rock outcrop a short ways up the hill.  His known eccentricity of climbing the rocks held no witness this time, other than a family of bears and two foxes.  Johnson ambled up to the hill for some klettern on what he hoped would be some good stone. 
      But when he got up to the rocks, Johnson took one look and, without even bothering to mount a hold, spat on them, successfully this time. The rock was of a kind that Fehrmann would have blurted, "Scheiss!" Johnson had an appointment with a 100 lb. sledge down and seven more miles of muddy road. He made a mental note of the crags and started down the hill.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Moon Mountains

The Past is entombed in the Present! The world is its own enduring monument; and that which is true of its physical, is likewise true of its mental career. The discoveries of Psychometry will enable us to explore the history of man, as those of geology enable us to explore the history of the earth. There are mental fossils for psychologists as well as mineral fossils for the geologists; and I believe that hereafter the psychologist and the geologist will go hand in hand — the one portraying the earth, its animals and its vegetation, while the other portrays the human beings who have roamed over its surface in the shadows, and the darkness of primeval barbarism! Aye, the mental telescope is now discovered which may pierce the depths of the past and bring us in full view of the grand and tragic passages of ancient history.    —Joseph Rodes Buchanan, 1893

       Many years ago, at a big camp full of wildland fire-fighters on the Kuskokwim River, a woman from Delta Junction, the same one who had been harassing me the whole silly fire (it had gone out) since her own crew had booted her out for lascivious behavior, handed me her big knife to cut away some plastic.
       Not a flash in the brain. Not a film cut to a stabbing. Only a very strong suggestion, the moment I grasped her handle in my hand. I've been in a few knife fights, the knife seemed to say, even killed a man. It was the knife talking, I tell you, the knife itself!
       As I looked up, I saw the dirt-streaked, brown-haired, "eff-ho" firefighter watching me. Her over jetting teeth broke apart into a sharp, evil grin, her expression revealing more mischief and knowing than I had ever witnessed before in my youthful life, and she nodded her head very slowly and wickedly, as her eyes flicked deliberately and distinctly back to the knife. She knew that I had sensed the story in the knife. The psychometry was real.
       A similar psychometry happened to me at the big tor near the Moon Mountains this previous August, more of a geo-pyschometry, in this case. It was the rock itself told me this story.  I stood at the eastern base of the alpha tor of the the group under a vacated eagle's nest, on a mat of tundra that crackled underfoot with the bones of slaughtered beasts.    
       My brain, as usual, was crackling with scattered and random impulses. Some of these impulses belonged to larger agglomerations of various complicated neural processes, vis a vis, the construction and projection of my reality based on my senses and memory. One of these thought projections seemed to stand out, almost in the way of a sensation, a luminescence, a bright phosphene. The details I supply in the following account are totally imaginary.

 "Tell him we meet in three days."
       "Where shall we meet?"       
       “We shall meet at the group of rocks where we met before,  the time the sounds of the cranes"

       “At the rock that is folded like a skin that has been packed badly?”
       "Yes, at the rock that is folded like a skin that has been packed badly."
        "In three days?"
       "In three days."

       "But when Ayaluq arrived three days later, he found Paniq-Paniq sleeping in the sun, reclined against the Rock That Is Folded Like A Skin Packed Badly  Instead of waking Paniq-Paniq to discuss the current state of the known extent of the world in the gray area between the North-of-the-Kigs people and the South-of-the-Kigs people, as the two men had planned, Ayaluq chose instead to sneak up on Paniq-Paniq from the other side of the  Rock That Is Folded Like A Skin Packed Badly and "accidentally"crush him to death from above with a cave-in of loose boulders. 

        Paniq-Paniq had been having a dream. In the dream, he heard echoes of men's voices against the Rock That Is Folded Like A Skin Packed Badly. Squinting into bright light, he saw men with ropes that were colored brightly, and wondrous snap-links that worked so efficiently Paniq-Paniq knew he must be dreaming. What the hell were they doing, anyway? But then something moved, something moving in the landscape, sudden movement, and then nothing.

     "Ayaluq often felt his evil deed brought him bad luck as the years went by. Once he had been the alpha hunter, a man of authority and respect. But age had brought injuries, and a general malaise, and nobody had ever liked him much anyway since he was a bully and psychopath. They found him one day, out in the wind by the Rock That Is Folded Like A Skin Packed Badly."

        David Panepinto and I were the voices in the dying man's dream. Our goal, in late August of 2015, had been to reach the Mountains of the Moon, but our hike fell a few miles short— "Can't Climb Because Of Too Much Climbing Gear" syndrome slowed us down. To justify the heavy climbing junk that had already prevented us from reaching the actual Moon Mountains, we unfurled the ropes at a group of rocks I had tor-bagged  with Jeff Collins a few years before, the "Cranestocks," for lack of their true, Wolley Lagoon name. It was there, at the Cranestocks, the geo-psychometry took place.
       The Cranestock choss felt so dire at every step, I cowered on easy moves. The summit of the highest tor, "Poorly Packed Skin Rock," was a balanced block so fragile I dared not go near the only quality cracks on the formation.  I led up the 5.3 north side and we top-roped 5.7 stuff on the south side.  Only a desperate fiend would ever consider hiking so far over tussocks and swamp to climb on such paltry, chossified, meta-sedimentary feces. David, on his first roped climb, coped with the madness calmly, as he also had the day before when we smacked bang into his first Grizzlies, a mother and two cubs, on the hike in. 

       After two days, we tried to leave the region. As if an alien were manipulating our minds with a psychic anesthetic, FOG pumped into our view, replacing the world pixel by pixel with WHITESPACE in a short order of time.  Once again, as in  the previous post from July, I found myself somehow "within" no-thing, except this time David and I chased the Heffalump four times as far, hours through the night, until our bodies tired, and our dreams of Nome turned to white also as we bivvied between wet folds of tent that had to be peeled apart like adhesive strips. I had tried to steer the ship on the compass heading we had set before the fog virus depixellated our display, except that the damn coast runs northwest by southeast in that region of the peninsula instead of east by west like I am used to, and I ran us miles too far to the east, confidently declaring Livingstone Creek to be Feather River, when really I had no idea until the chill of morning would cause the roof to drop, revealing the sad fact we were within a quarter mile of the road during the entire epic.