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 only be masking 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. 
Crankloon
       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.   
Crankloon
       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

Yes
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.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Falcon Killer Buttress

Pk. 3250+ (Kirgavik Inuaqti) from the west, taken from the mouth of Tigaraha cirque. Vaughn Fester and I climbed on the turdlike buttress at center of photo. The attempted murder by the falcon occurred somewhere on the left skyline of the upper peak.
Pk. 3250+ from the southwest, at right. The summit tor had a few moves of 5.6.
Scroll down deeper in this post for the current blogstream. But first, a tale from the early, pre-Kigsblog era, written in 2nd person narrative, to relieve pressure on the narcissistic "I".

FLASHBACK: 
PROBABLE F.A. OF Kirgavik Inuaqti, August 2002. 

     This is what you came for: free soloing, "with one hand waving free," on good granite, deep in the Alaskan wild. You are palming a hand-sized arete, lay backing with your ass cantilevered into space. Beneath your ass is a sixty feet drop down to some ledges, but you also know that just on the other side of the arete just around the corner lies a sickening, thousand-foot drop into the canyon off the starboard bow. The day is hot and sunny. Your fear is gone, the rock solid, the lights green. You come to a hand traverse which leads horizontally from the arete. You are thinking about Peter Croft.
        Little do you know that you are being stalked, here in this remote, high location. A keen predator is busy laying a trap on the other side of the arete, and is about to make a premeditated and calculated attempt on your life.
       All day long, as you have labored up thousands of feet of scree and scrambling (with gear on your back), a nesting Peregrine couple has been hassling you from afar. You have long since determined that their nest is perched in the vicinity of some towers located a respectful half-mile away from the summit you are attempting, Peak 3025, which you will eventually come to call Kirgavik Inuaqti, the "Falcon Killer."
       "Falcons!" you say, as you press onward, "always so persnickety, not like the Eagles or the Ravens." Still, as a climber raised in Lower 48 climbing areas where wall closures are enforced during nesting season, you can't help but feel uneasy. Am I being an asshole? you think. It's not like they're endangered. As a matter of fact, they seem to be everywhere this season, hogging all the rocks! The female won't shut up: in the words of Sibley, "a slow, scolding rehk rehk rehk; harsh, raucous, each note rising." But you hiked on despite the constant screeching, and came to the summit tower, and put on your rock shoes, and now you are "dancing beneath the diamond sky," and there is no turning back.

      Rehk, rehk, rehk...  

      You make a mental note: if the bird decides to attack you (which you don't think likely) don't let go! But this is only a passing thought. All day the Peregrines have kept their distance, there is no reason to think either bird is close by. You mantle onto the flake which you have been hand-traversing, and reach up to clasp the edge of the arete. The flake provides a big foothold, but soon it ends, leaving you hanging solely by your arms.
       It is then your ears register a very faint click. You almost doubt you heard it over the breeze, the rushing of your own blood, your gruntings and gasps, but right around this point you have to thank the amazing capacity of the human ear to feed the brain data from the sounds it hears, for you make another mental note: this sound you just heard had all the characteristics of the sound made by keratinous tissue coming into contact with granitic gneiss approximately 3 ft. away. The faint click of a talon coming lightly to rest on a tiny ledge? But you can't quite see around the corner for a bird, and you aren't quite sure.
        You climb back down to the big foothold you just left. Chalk, chalk, dither, enjoy the view. Minutes pass. You try to visualize what the other side of this arete looks like: an enormous gulf of air lies between you and the spire of Tigaraha to the north. just a front doorstep to a Peregrine. You are glad you are climbing on the less exposed side of the mountain. Still, a fall would mangle. More minutes pass. You convince yourself you are being paranoid about the imaginary "click" you heard. You want this summit badly, so you remount the hand-traverse, and soon you are hanging by your arms again.

         wiSHEP koCHE koCHEcheche! 

       It bursts around the corner, wings spread, talons rampant, three feet away from your face, just as your ears had informed you. Your arms are pinioned by the hand-traverse. Good thing you told yourself not to let go! For here is a secret: birds, with their hollow bones, do not relish contact sport, and you doubt it will engage. But what sheer, premeditated artistry of the surprise attack, for all intensive purposes like a child jumping out and yelling, "Boo!" It must have been waiting all the time you were convincing yourself it wasn't there.
       With the birds in the air, the way to the summit is open. You finally have an honest, free-solo first ascent. This is what you came for. Your mind is filled now only with reversing the moves to get down. Somehow, you know the Peregrines won't be any more trouble, having already played their card... and the name of that card was murder.
Falcon Killer Buttress Off-width, 5.6
Vaughn thrutching a bit
More thrutching at Falcon Killer Buttress
Looking east towards Tigaraha. West Tig is the little hooked tor.
RETURN TO CURRENT BLOGSTREAM, June/July 2015
 (Kigsblog is now running an all-time high bloglag: 23SA, or "23 Saturdays Ago")

       Palm trees swayed off Front Street, Nome. Warm air blew in off the ocean. Live music wafted on the breeze, just enough to keep the bugs away. Children swam at the beach night and day. I hiked in to Peak Thirty-eight Fifty, as chronicled in the the previous post.  
        Vaughn arrived on the plane from Fairbanks, and in so doing joined the scant ranks of Fairbanks climbers who have bought a ticket for the Kigluait. But his arrival was the straw that caused the long bout of paradise weather to expire. Normal summer weather returned, frigid, wet. It would be "move or get cold" conditions for most of our weeklong into Mosquito Pass for an attempt on Tigaraha's south face.
In the moraines of Tigaraha
           The rock of the Kigluaik Mountains just seems to exude fear and paranoia out its very pores. Or is it me? No, it can't just be me, there really is something sketchy going on here.
       Do another move. The physical moves of climbing on Kigluaik granite can be quite aesthetic, really, but maybe that whole flake there will suddenly just explode off of the cliff as if spring-loaded.

          The big corner on the south wall of Tigaraha is out. The weather is not settled. Clouds of scud hurl along at three different levels going three different directions above our heads. So we head for the nearest low-lying buttress to grab some climbing before the rain starts again. "Falcon Killer" peak looms obtusely over our heads, as if base-jumpable. Cliffs, festooned with boulder-pudding dripping down on us.
       We don the climbing accouterments and I take off leading. Soon am busting 5.7 moves on unknown ground above a copious hodgepodge of cams, pins, nuts, and slings, but it is impossible for me to feel like a badass because I am so continuously and constantly petrified of this rock environment around me. 

       Cam, cam, equalize, nut, equalize. Three equalized pieces equals one point of protection.  Pin. "Bong! Bong! Bong!" goes the pin in rising, reassuring succession, but now the entire flake is making barely-audible sounds of strain from the outward pressure of the pin. Do another move. Pin. Equalize nuts. Try to ignore the alarm bells: "Bidot! Bidot!"  Choss! My god! It's all going to suddenly and spontaneously exfoliate apart!

       The mist is lowering, the rain manifesting. This route is heading nowhere into scabrous choss fields. So why are we spending all these objective-danger chips on it? Shouldn't we save them for a more worthy opportunity? 
       Or is it just my imagination? Is it even true we are spending objective-danger chips at the rate I think we are? Perhaps my chicken-shit mind is in thrall to irrational thoughts. I am becometh a dithering, mumbling, frightened old climber... 

       Ledge. Belay. Vaughn. My brother. Another pitch leads upward from our stance. Looks to be more of the same: fun-looking 5.7 flakes rendered tedious and nerve-wracking by the sheer engineering endeavor of equalizing all those sketchoid pieces of protection. Rappel. No, are you sure? Yes, rappel. I am sure. I want to be on solid ground again.

       We get off the rappels. Run laps on the off-width with the top-rope. Down-climb the pitch I led because there are no rappel anchors at the top. Feel a single droplet of rain on my forehead, thereby vindicating our chicken-out. All because I felt scared, all because the choss exuded danger. Then, ironically, we proceed to solo up and down the climb we just did, then up the buttress on exposed ramps littered with shattered bearing balls, with little Lucy, the Border Collie, waiting it out on fourth class ledges while the humans fifth-class on. Ridiculous, how a rope seems to generate danger, and then soloing takes it away.
(above) Cold and slimy bouldering in the moraines of the Sinuk headwaters
        A fine, mental adventure is found in a good bank of Fog! You're lost in there for days, like a temporal rift. Life is passing you by in the sun somewhere while you go round in circles in the fog. We are not men that can easily walk a straight line, let me tell you. 
       During the arduous hike to the car from Mosquito Pass, a long, dense tentacle of WHITESPACE reached out from the sea, probed up the Sinuk Valley, and absorbed the region of space surrounding our bodies. Like that scene in the Matrix where Neo finds himself within the Construct: white, empty, pixellated nothingness. If I hadn't done the hike fifty times, hadn't memorized individual bushes, hadn't assigned each knob or bluff or thicket a fantasy name to relieve the many hours of tedious slogging, we wouldn't have made it out of there. Nor would Vaughn and I have walked the torturous, three extra miles when I got us lost, until we ran into the great Sinuk River, and found ourselves again.
The Quyana-skatzi Boulder in the"Hundred-Year Old Rockfall," the finest bouldering garden in all the Kigluaiks, in oozy, clammy, perspirant conditions, July, 2015.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Peak Thirty-Eight Fifty, Canyon Creek


Looking northeast from Valpa Pass. Pk. 3850 is the high point on the skyline near the left edge of photo. 
Pt. 2975, "Ray Creek Peak", on the shoulder of Pk. 3850+
          Through the umbilicus of Valpa Pass, into the maw of Canyon Creek went Mind riding.  Words shed their outlines in hot breezy sunshine until their meanings had vaporized and rendered translucent. The broad mile-wide canyon stretched northwest from the mountains opening out in the direction of the sea, the villages of Brevig and Teller, and the entire sweep of the Land Bridge coming across from Siberia, with massive energy bursts of CHI streaming from the northwest polar regions getting caught up in the mountainous catchment funnel of Canyon Creek where I hiked, entering the massive proscenium of the sunny canyon floor like a duchess entering a promenade, mind trains flowing behind me born aloft on great streams of mental wind.
Map of Pk. 3850+ expedition route, June 17 - 20. This route offered the most direct approach to  the Pk. 3850+, but the pass between Blume and Valpa creeks is rather high. Feather River and Johnstone Creeks also offer hiking passes into Canyon Creek from the Teller Road. All three of these passes are Class III on the north side. 
      A lovely little falls and schist pool poured out the bottom of Valpa Creek. Hadrosaurs grazed to the side in the willows on the floor of Canyon Creek as I began the crossing to the other side of the canyon. Trailing long trains of royal befuddlement, I began the promenade across the canyon, while every eye in that fifty square miles of mountain wilderness watched my every move, though I  saw none of their life forms moving now, save the relentless, peripatetic  fury of my own good dog, who had chased away the Hadrosaurs. Warm June breezes blew the bugs away, a man could have been naked in the summer in Alaska. Turrets of limestone and granite lined the ridge tops. Great power, though, as I've said, words are useless, and it's just a ceaselessly barking dog to be blogging about the wordless.
Looking south up Valpa Creek from Canyon Creek. 
Looking east up Canyon Creek to the beauteous Pk. 3300 (link).
        Suddenly, from the other side of a small hill, came the frenzied barking of my good dog. There was a certain tone to her barking, something urgent, something dire, something impending. She was coming back my way, barking, barking in full panic. I fully expected the little dog to come around the corner at any moment pursued by a herd of vicious Troodon, little chicken-sized, pack-hunting carnivores from the Maastrichtian Age.
           Like Jed Clampett, like Terminator, like Elmer Fudd, or Steven Segal in Valdez,  I rammed the action on the 12-gauge, and flicked the safety gadget thingy quickly to red, and FIRED that big cannon until the walls of Canyon Creek were resounding with thunder and my body was shaking with the hippy terror of it all, and then realized I had left the piece of protective duct tape over the damn barrel of the gun and was lucky I hadn't blown myself to pieces.
         Lucy came around the corner, sheepishly: she had gotten temporarily lost in the wilderness and had been yelling for Daddy. Guess I might have been a little on edge, totally SOLO in the deep psychological water of Canyon Creek, with all those.
Looking up Ray Creek
       Holy mountain, form of forms, sacred Thirty-eight Fifty, this is why I have come, to kneel at your feet and die before your beauty, then ascend to the tippy-top of your tippy top. You peek up and over the foreground tops of the western Kiggy Kigs, hiding in the back there, trying to blend in to the lower mountains as if you were part of them, but all the while that one strip of deeper blue on the top layer is actually you, oh Ray Creek Mountain, oh unnamed massif, looking over the tops of the other, lesser mountains, oh most high and almighty peak of all the Canyon Creek peaks, Peak 3850+, cousin to the great Singtook 3870. For a moment of intimacy have I toiled far from the civilizations of the Teller Road, over the high saddle from Blume to Valpa, and across the sun-filled breezes of Canyon Creek, to tick you off my ego list, and soak up CHI from your rock pores.
Looking southwest at Pk. 3870, the "Grand Singtook", from the summit of Pk. 3850+. Thirty-Eight Seventy and Thirty-Eight Fifty are big siblings at the west end of the Kigs.
Looking north from Pk. 3850+

East summit of Pk. 3850+, one of the humps on the "three-humped camel." The usual Kigluaik fearsome drop-off to the north, gentle slopes to the south. 
         White man, when presented with a mountain wall, will often ascend to the apex or highest altitude, where the wind itself might just as easily have slipped around to either side of the mountain, and so ascended I. Nice few thousand feet up easy Class 2 on the surface of bosom-like slope to the left of the cleavage of Ray Creek, rimmed by the granite tors of sub-Peak 2975, glimpses of some of the finest-looking rock in the range to judge by looking at it, though I lamely never walked over there, but at least the mystery was finally solved: Peak 2970 is the smallish chunk of granite visible  from various points of the range, about which various theories of mine over the years had now finally pinpointed it, here, right below me, high on the shoulder of Pk. 3850+.
A look into mysterious Fall Creek
Tors above Fall Creek, looking north
      Pk. 3850, a three-humped camel hoisted onto a broad-backed summit plateau jacked up higher than any other summit in the Western Kigs save its own analogue a short distance to the southwest, the celebrated Singtook, Pk. 3870. Tremendous view from the summit of Pk. 3850, north out over the sitting-duck graphite piles waiting to be exploited by outside agents from Canada, to the Imruq Basin and the Continental Divide beyond, and how fortunate that various self-judgmental juries of mental agencies had gathered together in kigsblog to place a "Mandatory North Side Mandate" on me which had required me to walk for three days straight, the preceding ten hours of hiking in one huge swath of effort for which I now stood, committed, in the middle of, at the top of the climb, the middle of the trip, with this stop-time view, on one of the most hot and sunny June days of all time.
Looking east along the spine of the Kigs from Pk. 3850+
Another look at Pt. 2975 at the head of Ray Creek
      Hours of incessant, ceaseless hiking wore on into the light of the night as dog and I reversed the hike to return to the forgotten yellow tent waiting back in the alternative universe from which we had originated on the south side of the range, my camp just below the high crest of Valpa Pass back in Blume Creek,  the huge uphill slog over Valpa still awaiting, though mental construction fields were destabilizing, and Sarah Hanson-Hofstetter's new tune was mercilessly lodged in my hippocampus resisting all attempts at the Blind Faith override for when a tune gets too stuck in my head after many hours of suffer-slogging.
This obelisk at the summit of Pk. 3850+ was knocked over when I found it, but had obviously been put there by someone, so I re-erected it. Thought I smelled the scent of Amato on it.
Selfie of me and Lucy on the summit of Pk. 3850+, June 18, 2015
lord almighty god the crankloon generals in my head marching to bippety-bobbety bass lines burning with nausea born of digesting muscle tissue, "Are you hungry?" over and over Sarah make it stop it's been so many hours hiking across the mountains, across the canyon, up the mountain, in this weird velvety buzz field of solstice midnight blue light, back across the canyon, back across the mountains, hippocampus para-temporal lobe feedback loop throbbing with endless tune-loop not even Sea of Joy can displace, folds in the tundra hillside like cerebral tissue where dog waited for long rests
Camp at the very top of Blume Creek, looking south to the Norton Sound. The strategy of camping on the south side of the crest, and then hiking for a big, giant, long day without a big pack to get to a north side objective, proved to be a viable one for a long June day.
 Sad to leave the reverso world of the North Side Kigs. Even now my awareness, firmly stuck in the city and the GLUE OF TOWN, longs to be back in the electro-magnetic wash of Canyon Creek, the purplish fuzz of the cool-down hour at June Solstice time when the mist drops and the roar of water hushes, my paleo-wolf and I scanning the landscape for Troodon.