Monday, September 14, 2015

Zero For Seven On "Peak Grand Union" (part 2)

       Back in Nome, Drew lay despondent in his crib, neutered, once again without his skis, his machine far away. I, too, suffered the Scarlet "L" burning on my forehead: I was now zero for two on my initial climbing objective, what should have been a simple matter, the casual ski of "Peak Grand Union" from the Mosquito Pass side, and now we would almost certainly have to drive back in there and spend the entire day digging out Drew's machine instead of climbing.    
          Drew enlisted the legendary Roger Thompson for our snow-machine rescue crew. I secretly packed, in addition to the tools needed for snow-machine rescue, the climbing tools needed for another ski attempt on Grand Union. 

Attempt #3:

Date: April 4, 2014

Personnel: Allapa, Drew, Roger.

Rides:  Three guys on two Arctic Cats to rescue s third stuck Polaris.

Reason for bail Stuck snow-machine time-suck screw-over factor. 

       There was no way. There was never going to be enough time for Peak Grand Union. There was too much to do to save Drew's machine.  Roger performed mechanical wizardry with pieces of a metal fork shoved into the choke, while I stamped and hatcheted out a ramp of packed snow through the willows that was darn near a quarter-mile long uphill. Finally, when all was ready, Drew stepped up for the Olympic finals, his one glorious shot at freedom. In a feat of athleticism I could never hope to match, Drew gunned his snow-machine to freedom. We toasted our success with Yukon and Jack Daniels. 
       We had a grand day. Roger was a shaman with a Google-Earthish knowledge of the Kigs and the ability to corral energy from the folds of the Earth like Castenada's Don Juan. Drew was reunited with his machine, his essence restored. But I was now "Zero for Three" on Peak Grand Union.

Justification:  The Kigsblog definition for what constitutes an "attempt"  requires nothing more than the firm commitment to climb in the mind of the climber, plus some measurable movement towards the objective. (By these terms, an attempt can be made on a mountain without ever leaving one's house.) Therefore, Attempt #3 does, in fact, constitute an "attempt" under KigsLaw.

Pictures from Attempt #3
Drew and Roger at Silver Creek Pass looking north over the Sinuk to Mosquito Pass
Attempt #4

When: April 4, 2015

Personnel: Allapa, Jeff, Leonard, David

Plan:  Establish camp on the north side of Mosquito Pass. Have fun skiing and snowboarding in the Cobblestone Valley the next day. Ian sneaks away for a ski ascent of Peak Grand Union.

Reason for bail: Blowhole!

        The four of us came roaring out of San Berdoo heading for Tehachapi, up the Snake River Valley, past Mt. Distin and across the Stewart River. As we were starting the gentle rise over Silver Creek Pass, exhaust from the Blowhole started up. 
       It soon became obvious that a single vector of prodigious wind was channeled straight down from the north through the middle of the Kigs. We all recognized the beast for what it was: a serpent of wind, probably 5 miles in diameter, writhing its way down a very specific corridor of valleys through the mountains, Mosquito Pass, Silver Creek Pass— right down our intended line of travel. Blowhole, the locals call it. The gusts were a big hammer banging on us. Driving straight into this stream would be a silly, frostnippy nightmare when calm, still air existed on either side of us. 
        "Retreat to Earp's cabin!" was the cry barely heard behind our Darth Vader masks, though nobody really knew if the legendary mountain-slayer's cabin was still available. We hung an abrupt east towards the Kougarak Road. The wind ceased completely after seven miles; you could have flicked a lighter.
       We would proceed to have "entirely too much fun" that weekend, including a deep twilight ski that same evening at Nugget Pass, a killer bivvy at the Salmon Lake cabin, and a beautiful day in sunshine at Morning Call Creek. But Attempt #4 on Peak Grand Union was once again over before it started, foiled by a Blowhole.

Videos and Pictures from Attempt #4 
(above) Video of David at Morning Call Creek
Jeff on his Split-board starting down the eastern slopes of Pk. 2712 above Morning Call Creek. This is the highest of the hills that lie east of the Kougarak Road in the Nugget Pass area.  Without crampons, we could not get to the icy summit, so skied off a high shoulder.
Leonard and David are tramping up Pk. 2712 

Attempt #5

When: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Personnel:  Allapa

Plan: Take day off school. Take advantage of the Kougarak Road being open to Mile 24 and haul Super Smooth Andy G. to the end of the road in the morning. Ride solo snow-machine over Mosquito Pass and bag Peak Grand Union.

Reason for bail: GLUE leading to late start / Technical Chicken-out.

       How I loathe the I live in fear of it. Better to pound the snow-machine over twenty miles of bare, bumpy tundra than load the machine on a trailer and drive the distance in a comfortable truck. Now, I know it is true that a proper man loves his internal-combustion vehicle and all aspects of dealing with its power, but I alone am fearful. I was unable to get the damn snow-machine up on the trailer for the longest time. Non-working neighbors watched from windows as I took repeated runs at the ramp in my driveway and only succeeded in head-butting the whole rig forward with a great "whack!"
       Next, came the Kougarak Road in early Spring... terrifying!  
       Mud-bogging it through puddles and standing splashes of frozen mud-slush, Smooth Andy G. lashed to the trailer fishtailing wildly in the rear, both sets of wheels tire-drilling like bootcamp marines in the potholes, washboarding out of control on the dangerous ramp next to the Troll's house, I was paralyzed at the wheel, too scared to turn around, change the music, or do anything other than punch it. 
       I finally made it out to Mile 25, quite late in the afternoon. The current pulling me backwards due to the GLUE of TOWN was palpable and strong, as it had been all day, since the time I woke up at 5 a.m. so I could get in to school to create massive and extensive substitute teacher plans.
        Before I had even pulled the starter cord on Super Smooth Andy G., I had succumbed to the invisible and insidious forces from the GLUE of TOWN. Be honest, I told myself, there will be no solo attempt on Peak Grand Union today. Another Technical Chicken-Out-- probably a good thing I did, but still a chicken-out. Now it was time to turn my attention to Plan B.

Plan B:  Climb SaGuiq ("Turncorner Mountain," Peak 3250+), a closer alternative on the south side of Mosquito Pass.

Outcome of Plan B:  Bail.

Reason for Bail: Technical Chicken-Out.

       SaGuiq ("Saw-goo-ick"), meaning "turn the corner" in Qaweraq, was an old friend of mine, a big, prominent, crap-pile of schist visible from many places around the Qaweraq (Southern Seward Peninsula) area. Kristine and I spent 13 hours one summer choss-climbing up its Southwest Ridge. However, despite climbing to near the summit ridge no less than four times, I have never continued all the way to the actual summit, the very tippy top tor of the thing. Upon this obscure quest I now set my day after the "Bail before you start" of Grand Union.
       The late-April snowpack was low as can be. I followed my friends Glen and Sue's snow-machine tracks from two days before which wove between rocks and bare tundra. They had reported copious avalanches on the surrounding mountain walls at which I initially scoffed— there aren't any avalanches in the Kigs!— but now I saw Glen and Sue were right, big crown faces on exactly the southwest aspects. I was glad to be climbing the narrow, low-angle South Ridge of SaGuiq where avalanches would not be an issue.
       But when I got to the summit ridge, after a pleasant, sunny climb boot-kicking up the south ridge, I saw the summit wasn't the casual kick-up I had assumed it would be. An icy gully intruded, and tedious iced-up scree. I would need to descend several hundred feet, then climb back up.
        I could have done it. It's not like this thing is even a real mountain. It's a Kig, for pete's sake. In better conditions, you could do the whole thing up and down without taking your skis off for any part of it (with the exception of the north wall, which is really quite precipitous and huge, with beautiful schistazoid patterns). It's just that I would be getting home at 2 a.m., and then rising early the next morning like Fred Beckey dragging himself to a Monday morning corporate meeting of fourth graders.  
        I bailed. That made a Bail for Plan B to add to the Bail for Plan A. That made me "Zero for Five" on my initial objective of the Spring, the casual ski up Peak Grand Union.

Pictures from Attempt #5:

Actual summit of SaGuiq (Pk. 3250+) taken from south summit.

Looking down south ridge of Pk. 3250+
SaGuiq (Turncorner Mt.) from near the confluence of Windy and Sinuk rivers. This photo is actually from Attempt #6 four days after Attempt #5, and shows the very breath of the Blowhole serpent that stalked me throughout the Spring. Glenn and Sue's tracks from the week before head north to Mosquito Pass.
Looking west from SaGuiq. Mosquito Pass is left of center. The "Hundred Year Old Rockfall" is visible in the center on the east face of Pk. 2850+. This feature will feature prominently in the next attempt on Peak Grand Union.

Attempt #6

Date: Saturday, May 2, 2016

Personnel: Allapa, Drew

Reason for bail:  Blowhole/Technical Chicken-Out

       This time, we had it made. Enough snow, barely, with a crust down to two inches. It was May, for godssake. The deathly pall of the Kigs in winter had departed. You weren't gonna die from the cold. As long as you didn't sink your snow-machine in some type of slush-stream or water, everything was gonna be alright. Drew was pledged, completely pledged, to bag Peak Grand Union this time, fully down and organized. Weather was partly cloudy, not bad really, a minimum of breeze. We broke the GLUE of TOWN easily, not so many mittens and thermoses in May, and cruised to the end of the road in a sealed pod of comfort. Our thumbs were turned to throttles of joy as we screamed westward over Hudson Creek Pass towards the heart of the Kigs.
         As we crested the pass and began to drop into the Sinuk headwaters, we could already see the serpent six miles ahead poking its head over Mosquito Pass, taking the form that day of a giant, fat larva. The larva wasn't bothering to come any further to the south, but just lay there, occupying the entire pass with its fat body, a distinct, tentacular flow-maggot emanating from the warm Imruk Basin.
       Our facemasks would have displayed doubt could they have done so.  Drew and I both knew what it was like to pass through the membrane of a living, breathing Blowhole, to exist inside the body of the meteorological organism buffeted by its internal processes and unable to tell earth from sky.
        We daubed other excuses onto our emerging canvas of chicken-out: the overflow of the Cobblestone River that surely awaited us in total whiteout on the other side of the pass; the serious problems with Drew's war-battered machine; that certain draw on the north side of Mosquito Pass that might not be reversible once we went down it; liberal applications of "tired from teaching"; the avalanche potential that clearly still existed.     
          We edged closer to the pass. The wind freshened. We could see the metabolic pathways writhing in the membrane of the Blowhole. It was no use. Attempt #6 was going down in a Technical Chicken-out.

Plan B:  Visit the "Hundred Year Old Rockfall" at Windy Creek.

       I don't officially know the age of the rockfall across Windy Creek. "Hundred Year Old Rockfall" is just what I've taken to calling it. After I told Drew it was "My favorite place in the Kigs," we decided to visit the rockfall after our Technical Chicken-Out of Peak Grand Union had been decided.
       A bouldering paradise, of sorts... the rockfall must have dammed up the valley, until Windy Creek finally found its way through. Resting on top of the whole mass are cabin-sized boulders of compact schist, which rise above soft, velvety pads of tundra next to a babbling brook. Peaks surround: Mt. Osborn, Pen Tri Cwm, Tigaraha, KirgaviNuatqi, SaGuiq, Mosquito Pass Peak. A crime has been committed by my saying all this here.
       A little ski run with a rail run through the boulders. A nap in the sunshine. A change into the Scarpas for a little bouldering. And then it was time to submit our sorry way to the TOWN GLUE attractor once again. A beautiful day, an all-time day, a day fixed in the sunshine of memory—  but I still hadn't bagged Peak Grand Union.

Pictures from Attempt #6:
H2O Tazlinas, "Hundred Year Rockfall," Tigaraha, and KirgaviNuatGi
Mosquito Pass, and the "distinct, tentacular flow-maggot" that caused us to incur a Technical Chicken-Out
Drew in the Hundred Year Old Rockfall
Attempt #7

Date: Saturday, May 9, 2015

Personnel: Allapa

Reason for bail: The snow was completely gone.

        Super Smooth Andy G., the super smooth Bearcat .570, still awaited faithfully up at Mile 28. All I had to do was drive up there in the truck, and I would soon be skimming effortlessly over Spring snow to a final triumph on Peak Grand Union. As I drove along, I calculated the hours it would take for the rest of the day to cross Mosquito Pass  and reach the Western Cwm, ski up the Cwm, skin up Peak Grand Union and ski down, then machine back to the car. I estimated I would be out til the wee hours.
       But when I got to Mile 28, the snow was gone. It was summer. I was as full of it as your average Facebook poster. I was Zero for Seven on Peak Grand Union.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Zero For Seven On "Peak Grand Union" (part 1)

ski Mt. Osborn
Osborn group from the west. Red Arrow points to Peak 4500+ ("Peak Grand Union"). This photo exhibited a trace of Syncronicity Factor the morning that Bering Air pilot Kevin Ahl posted it on Facebook. That same morning I happened to be heading out on a long snow-machine drive from Nome to the valley near the center of the photo, what I call the "Western Cwm" of Osborn.  Note the narrow, willow-choked venturi at the bottom of the Cwm, site of snow-machine epics to follow.
Peak Grand Union
Osborn group from the northeast Left to Right: Mt. Osborn, North Peak, Pk. 4250+, Pk. 4500+.
Pk. 4500+ ("Peak Grand Union") from northeast. Is it not a Marilyn?
      The snow accumulation in March meant that deeper penetration into the Kigs was possible. My personal "Beckey's Black Book" offered Peak 4500+, which by my calculations ranks as the second highest summit in the Kigs, and looked like a fun and easy ski from the west, a good snow-machine mountaineering objective for a freezing-ass day. 

       But I never did manage to get up the thing. And what a series of seriously fun blunders it was that kept me all Spring from achieving my first little objective! What follows is my Fail Analysis for the unfinished project.

        Some readers may recall the KigsCourt decision which placed me under mandate to focus exclusively on "North Side Kigs" adventures (having somewhat exhausted south side adventures.) Because Nome is located to the south of the Kigluaik Range, it is easy for a Nome-based climber to forget that the Kigs are a range more spectacular when viewed from the north. Only problem is, it generally takes an extra day of resources to get over to the north side from Nome, whether that means an extra day of hiking, extra gas container, or extra helicopter.

      Conditions were prime in Spring 2015 for simply snow-machining to the north side, a trip that takes for me two hours, but much faster if you're Johhny Bahnke or some bad ass like that. Nevertheless, on a cold Winter day, without a lot of bivvy gear on the goddamn tiny snow-machine rack, I get always that deep water feeling on the north side of the Kigs. These are the Golden Years before the road goes in for the giant graphite mine that's coming. You're a long way from Nome.
Map of Osborn group. I propose the name "Peak Grand Union" for Pk. 4500+, as it stands at the head of the East Fork Grand Union valley.

WhenMarch 15, 2015

PersonnelAllapa, Max, Drew, and a fourth guy whose name I've forgotten, but I remember he was a cheechako from a flatland state, and had a big snow machine, and this was his first trip to any mountains, and the big GRIN OF WONDERMENT on his face for the entire duration of the trip was a delight to behold.

Reasons for bail:  I chose the wrong cwm. ("Cwm," pronounced "koom," is Welsh for "cirque," and seems to have the right feel of a word for Mt. Osborn's western cirques.) The cwm we went up that first Saturday might well be called the "Southwest Cwm," but we needed to have machined further to the north and gone up the big "Western Cwm"  of Osborn to have accessed the target, Pk. 4500+. Funny thing is, I was convinced we were in the right valley for most of the day as we skied up. I pontificated knowingly to my friends about all the features.

Beta: To get to the entrance of the Western Cwm of Mt. Osborn, you have to head north all the way over Mosquito Pass down to the Cobblestone flats at the Oro Grande, practically to sea level. The cwms of Osborn present themselves as little gateways into the mountain on your right. You gotta be careful which gateway you pick. 
      Some heroic side-hilling on their snow-machines got Drew and the Cheechako into the Southwest Cwm above the willows. Max and I skied the mile and a half up the valley, and experienced far more bliss than the other two. The cirque is a mind-blower of marble with peaks in its own right, though you wouldn't be able to get over to the Big Oz very easily from here. We skied around on good snow, but achieved no exploits of any value other than what might be shared on a forgotten blog page. 

Ominous Foreshadowings: Drew exhibited a fanatical determination to milk his machine through the willows and get it up into that beautiful valley. 

Repercussions: The Southwest Cwm was so beautiful, the fun we had so tremendous, that the Judge let us off once we swore to return the following weekend.

Pictures From Attempt #1:  
Max silhouetted in a bird of light in Osborn's Southwest Cwm. I majestically pointed to the West Face of Pk. 3802 there in the center of the picture, and mistakenly pronounced it to be Mt. Osborn, and knowingly explained all its features that I knew so well. though something did feel a bit off.
Looking northwest from the "Southwest Cwm." 
Looking west to the upper Cobblestone: Suluun is partially visible in the background above Max's head.
Pk. 3802 and human pathogens invading the Southwest Cwm of Mt. Osborn


When: March 29, 2015

Personnel:  Allapa, Drew

Reasons for Bail:

a. GLUE. Huge entanglements of Attention Deficit Disorder caused us to arrive at the mountain too late in the afternoon.

       At the beginning of the 14-hour snow-machine mountaineering epic, as we tried to escape Nome, the GLUE drew us back repeatedly: hangovers, gas, befuddlement, mittens, baubles, boots, iPhone jack, playlists, iTunes, skin glue, shovel/paddle, face-mask, sock-bottle, sock-bottle, key, goggle, trip plan, sunscreen, through hooded eyes he regards the noonday sun.

b. "Started Up The Slope Too Soon Instead Of Walking Further Up The Valley" Syndrome. 

       The result of my route-finding error was climbing to the top of a pretty cool knob, Pt. 3800+, instead of the intended target, Pk. 4500+. It would have taken two extra hours to correct for this error, which would have led to "Frostbiting Your Frostbite" syndrome and arriving back at Nome in the middle of the morning. Did I mention it was cold? 

ComplicationsAbandoned machine in the Western Cwm of Osborn. 

       Drew is like Fitzcarraldo when it comes to getting a snow-machine past an obstacle.  When we reached the Cobblestone River after two hours of wind-plagued riding from Nome, we still needed to get 5 more miles up Mt. Osborn's Western Cwm, a narrow, glacier-formed valley guarded at the bottom by a willow-choked venturi, then opening out above into a great marble amphitheater  I took one look at the venturi and decided NOT to snow-machine up it, but instead donned my skis for the hike through the willow patches. Drew, however, grew obsessed with the snow-machine challenge of getting his Polaris up into that Cwm.
        Skiing up the north side of the creek was peaceful and enjoyable, while Drew could be seen waging violent battle across the way in the willows of the south side. Five times his machine got stuck, and five times he freed it. Mutters and curses floated over the breeze, then the triumphant roar of his machine as he spurted out of the vegetation in a great spurt of power, free again. 
         S.O.B. if he didn't get that thing up the valley. We met in the bowls up above, rejoicing at beauty off the scale. But afternoon shadows were beginning to elongate in the Western Cwm. 
        The pivotal moment:  "Drew, are you going to be able to get your machine back out of here?" Do we ski up the mountain now, or do we start down the valley now and fight the snow-machine battle with the hours we have left?"
        Doubt crossed Drew's face. His expression resembled an ape's trying to make sense of human speech. "It will be O.K.," he finally formulated. "Let's ski up the mountain." 
        Later, in the evening light, after we had drenched ourselves in perspiration skiing up the wrong side of the mountain, it was not O.K.:  despite Herculean efforts, Drew could not reverse his tracks out of the Cwm. His snow-machine augured into a final, deep drift, and lay silent. Darkness like ominous cellos swelled in the background.
       "Abandon ship, and double-ride all the way back to Nome, or there's gonna be frostbite."  
       So we flopped gumby-like through a bottomless meter of sugar snow down to where Smooth Andy G. waited. The Arctic Cat .570 started first pull. We stashed excess gear, knowing we would return, and commenced double-riding through overflow, up tricky draws, through the surreal filigree of the blow-hole at Mosquito Pass, both of us moving as one, cranking 5.10 off the handlebars of Super Smooth Andy G. to avoid tipping, and arriving in Nome on a soon-to-be Monday school morning.   

Interesting Meteorological Phenomena: the "Blowhole"

      Losers in the end, we did however show a touch of bad-assedness on the way in. Channeled wind running through Mosquito Pass created a Blowhole of considerable hose-factor, a pulsating artery of wind about 5 miles wide, outside of which the air could be perfectly calm, as it was for us all day after we conquered our fears and pushed through the maelstrom on our machines to reach the calm on the other side, after moments of tremendous doubt getting pummeled in total whiteout and gusts strong enough to knock us off our mounts. 
           Little did we know, the Blowhole that day, which was channeling in an odd, climate-changed manner as it vectored through the valleys towards the east, would be the first of many blowholes to stand in our way that blowhole Spring, as I would continue to pursue the initial climbing objective on my list, the ski ascent of Pk. 4500+.

Pictures from Attempt #2:
Peak Grand Union
Looking northeast to Pk. 4500+ ("Peak Grand Union") taken from Pt. 3800+,  my high point.
Drew is already trapped in the Western Cwm of Osborn, but he hasn't admitted it to himself yet.
Skinning up Pt. 3800+.

Looking west from Pt. 3800+ toward the Oro Grande ridge. 
Looking south across the Western Cwm from Pt. 3800+

Looking north down the West Fork of Grand Union Creek
West Face Mt. Osborn. About eight weeks after this photo, Phil Hofstetter and a hardcore band of packrafters came from Grand Central valley on the other side and scrambled over the broad notch to the left of Osborn's summit in this photo. They descended "sketchy" summer snowslopes somewhere in the photo on their way down the Western Cwm and a traverse of the Kigs.    

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Five Foothill Winter

“Where was his boyhood now? Where was the soul that had hung back from her destiny, to brood alone upon the shame of her wounds and in her house of squalor and subterfuge to queen it in faded cerements and in wreaths that withered at the touch? Or where was he?
The kids teased me he was my brother. He had done some ski-mountaineering around Anchorage before he came to Nome, and some bold ski descents out on rocky St. Lawrence Island, plus he knew his way around a snow-machine. I was teaching fourth and he was teaching sixth, so it was natural the two of us would team up for a series of A.D.D.-stricken adventures this previous Fall and Winter of 2015.
Five foothills of Nome: A. King Mt. B. Mt. Brynteson C. Mt. Distin D. "Rocky Mt." E. Bear Mt.
 Snow conditions did not permit penetration into the deepest Kigs until the "wet dump event" of early March saved the Iditarod from a bumpy finish and finally brought some true accumulation. What follows in this post is a recounting of our adventures up to this point in the season, adventures that took place not in the Kigluaiks, but in the foothills of the range, and a survey of the mountaineering potential that awaits there in the Birketts, Hewitts, and Deweys of the Seward Peninsula, the medium-commitment objectives that await within the Nome radius.
Kougarak Road skiing
Peak 2347 (Fox Mt.? Rocky Mt.?) on the left, and Pt. 1640 ("Rocky Mt. Bluff") on the right, near Milepost 22 on the Kougarak Road
He was doomed to get slaughtered from the start. It's an education thing. You see, if you remove the functional leadership from a cohort, the remaining student body is bound to wallow that much more. I had once been posted at his station in the "56er Pod," in the lee of our excellent charter school, and knew what it was to get utterly thrashed— thrashed by yourself, and those you serve, and your mind squeezed by unassailable paranoia as you walk your lesson plans like slack-lines across the abyss of each day. I could see that my friend, this portrait of the artist as a young man, was heading into a DOOM ATTRACTOR of significant magnitude, and parallel, in some respects, to the ones that had dogged me in my own "56er" days. 
Rocky Mt., aka Fox Mt., aka Pk. 2347: We parked near the old crane on the Kougarak Road around Mile 22. We left the 4-wheeler trail up Rocky Mt. Creek after half a mile and cut east across a steep ravine (little bushwhacking) up to the hundred-foot Bluff, which can offer decent mixed climbing if the temperatures have frozen it solid enough to avoid being a cliff of decomposing, body-mangling, head-bleeding choss.
          By September, he was beginning to show the first fringes of fray. Loose cannons roamed the hallway unsupervised and befuddled by adolescence, while this year's well-meaning administration walked confidently into the shadow of the valley of its own DOOM ATTRACTOR. No support was available. He flapped and floundered in a bog of learning disabilities and outmoded pedagogical practice perhaps ill-fitted to our clientele. His spirit was slowly evaporating. It was time to go to the mountains. "It is a way..." wrote Melville, "of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation..." So off we sketched to the first of the foothills.
Drew and Lucy on Rocky Mountain, looking west
“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wild hearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gay-clad light-clad figures, of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

Rocky Mountain (Pk. 2347), September 14, 2014

       One of the drawbacks of a foothill is that it is a foothill. Not, by definition, a mountain... On a foothill, a climber incurs great risk of a Non-Technical Climbing Foul because there is often no real climbing to be had. 
       A Non-Technical Climbing foul can be avoided at Pk. 2347 (which I will henceforth refer to as "Rocky Mountain" as I know of no other name for this hump) by means of a solo up the 100 ft. high choss cliff of Pt. 1640 ("Rocky Mountain Bluff") and which can be quite moderate and fun if the utter choss happens to be frozen together solid enough to prevent automatic death. But my partner had no crampons or axe that day, being more of a ski artist himself, so we bypassed the Bluff that day and hiked up the south ridge of Rocky Mountain, my fifth or sixth pilgrimage to the top of the hill. 
       My Non-Technical Climbing foul was later dismissed in court under the provision of the NO SKETCH PARTNER LAW, which allows a climber to NOT CLIMB if their partner is not prepared to climb. This allowed me to simply enjoy a nice day hiking up the mountain, instead of perching and preening on crampon stilts high enough above the ground to get seriously injured. It really didn't matter anyway as my climbing license was about to be revoked altogether due to my recent participation in a trip with known peak baggers.
Earp whacking turf on Rocky Mt. Bluff.  Years ago, on yet a different trip to Rocky Mountain, Joni and I skied off the wrong side of the summit in a whiteout, precipitating an epic of massive proportions that essentially went on for several days:  snow-machines, shoulder-deep snow, freezing rains, car wipeouts, knocking on people's doors in Dexter and Banner Creek, and forestalling a rescue by means of primitive internet connection. Huge fun, great times, full-scale memories...
         Rocky Mountain appears from most angles to be the highest and most massive of the Kigs foothills, not quite a Kig itself, but high enough to qualify as a Graham were it located in Scotland. My friend and I stood on its summit with the whole range hanging across the way, and the sun going down. It was that sad, frozen feeling of late Fall when the world is coming to an end, time is frozen, and you can view your entire life as if in the palm of your hand. Rose light bathed all my favorite summits in the whole entire world. In that moment, my colleague and I had finally attained freedom from our titanic Weltschmerz incurred far below in the crucibles of education. The last tendrils of TOWN GLUE snapped, our egos momentarily went to zero, and life and worries went to very, very small. In response, following Newton's Second Law, the swarming electromagnetic impulses of our energy bodies surged forward through the quantum foam like a school of darting fish, warping our time perception, creating that eternity feeling on the summit.
Allapa and good dog on summit of Rocky Mt.

           But soon enough, the mountain led us back down to the trail, and the trail back down to the car, and the car itself, of course, was a re-entry module specifically designed suck us back in to the GLUE of TOWN, back to the land of our fears, and self-wrought complications.

Mt. Distin (Pk. 2115), February 2, 2015

Drew micro-spiking up the south ridge of Distin

“A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips where the white fringes of her drawers were like featherings of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.
          By February, the event horizon of my friend's DOOM ATTRACTOR had expanded outwards sufficiently to where it was exerting its influence upon several different domains of his life simultaneously. Psychological lynch mobs were assembling in the networks. A Facebook page called Nome Rant had emerged, on which any one of us might be slandered at any time. His van had stopped working, and the ventilation in his dirtbag hovel was poor. A relationship was creating disequilibrium in all quarters of his life. And, of course, the fleshpots of Front Street were never far from hand...
           He had, however, purchased a powerful, Polaris snow-machine and was "lunging at the harness" to take that monster sled to the hills, even though little snow lay upon them, and the roads still virtually open. Nevertheless, on a Sunday morning, with great smoke and thunder, we pull-started our machines, and thumbed the vectors up the Snake River towards Mt. Distin, for all practical purposes like Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern in The Wild Angels.
Mount Distin: In the summer, Glacier Creek Road leads 13 miles out to Mt. Distin from Nome and is doable by a most cars most of the time. We snow-machined up the road in February, punched through a small line of willows, and parked the machines as high as we dared on the slopes of Distin. In the Fall, it is possible for both Silver Creek and Steep Creek to sport a little ice climbing, but it ain't Valdez. I've climbed at the Bluff on several occasions, and in terms of rock quality, maybe it is Valdez, which is to say, terrible. Hiking Mt. Distin on a nice day is HIGHLY recommended. 
       If the Kigluaiks are a parabola open to the south, then Mt. Distin lies at the focus of the parabola. Mathematical proof could then demonstrate a line of sight to each point on the parabola, meaning you can theoretically see the entire range from Distin. It is the quintessential Nome foothill, a pyramid looming in the foreground of the larger Kigs in the distance, so that in certain visibilities it seems to aspire to be a Kig itself. Like its cousin Rocky Mountain to the east, Distin sports a Bluff with an 80 ft. cliff that can offer decent rock and mixed climbing, provided the climber can stomach the horror produced in his or her gullet caused by perching on the unstable Death Marble. 
Nearing the summit of Distin on a brilliant February day

“She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot… The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; …and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.
         The day we climbed Distin was so tremendously cold (yes it was, allapa, freezy-breezy, brass-monkey, witch-tit, well-digger's ass cold!) that the Judge had lifted the mandatory technical climbing requirements. The only way to stay warm in these kinds of chill factors is to keep your body continuously moving, so standing in one place to belay and messing around bare-fingered with little metallic toys is not mandatory. This left us free to flatfoot up the south ridge of Distin unroped, me in crampons and my friend in Katula Microspikes. The contention might be made that the south ridge of Distin provides the steepest and most technically-demanding line up the hill, but this kind of talk only serves to pump a hike into more than it really is: a walk-up. 
         Still, it was ice, and a fall would have mangled the faller, and the cold was so intense that you wouldn't last the time it took for your partner to make it to town on the snow-machine. We lacked, of course, emergency beacons, being too stricken by chronic A.D.D. to either find or remember such an item. Considering all these factors, I am certain our adventure that day constituted more than a mere walk-up.
Looking northwest from Distin

“Heavenly God!’ cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy. 
       The SNAP of various GLUE TENDRILS was felt deep within our souls the higher we climbed on Distin. Worries and cares were rendered inelastic in the extreme cold, and ours broke off and trickled away in the already-fading light. The worldview of our universe had narrowed down to the single point of keeping blood in our capillaries, so what was the point of further narcissism?  Too cold to stop on the summit, we continued over and down to our waiting machines which faithfully started after a couple of pulls, chariots to carry us back into the GLUESTREAM of town, with all its attendant confusion.
Ready for the 17 mile ride back to Nome from Distin

“He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling…

Bear Mountain (Pk. 1962), March 1 & March 8, 2015

        A component in his GLUE MATRIX and a major driver of his DOOM ATTRACTOR was his lack of skis— he had left them on the Island when he moved to Nome. Once the snow came in for Bear Mountain he lay neutralized. All he could do was wallow in the fleshpots, while the rest of Nome's small boarding and skiing community got after the excellent powder in Bear's northern bowl. 
Skiing up Mineral Creek under Bear Mountain
          The hip spot to ski and snowboard around Nome is a sweet little hill called Newton Peak, not far from town, about a mile from my driveway. There, the action-oriented and partiers alike gather at a little pullout on the Dexter Bypass that used to be the site of a rope-tow, now serviced only by your friend's snow-machine to take you to the top, unless you're willing to skin it up.  But few of these Nome skiers and boarders seem to ever make it around the corner to Newton's larger cousin on the Kougarak Road, Bear Mountain. 
Narrow gully on Mineral Creek leading to the north bowl on Bear Mt. This gully is not necessarily navigable by snow machine unless snow levels are very high.
       Rising above Banner Creek Subdivision, Bear Mountain, at 1,962 ft.,  is just 38 ft. short of a Graham, and gets you twice the skiing vertical of Newton. Though close to the road it is the biggest hill in its group, thus fully deserving inclusion in this post about significant foothills of the Nome Region. Mineral Creek Bowl on the north side of Bear is a natural powder-collection basin replete with a corniced rim and half-pipe drain exit, and I should be water boarded for putting a local secret like this on the Internet, even on a blog so obscure and ignored as Kigsblog, but the justification for doing this is to throw out a challenge to the green-dot people on Newton to get over to the blue squares on Bear. 

Tyler and Coco on the summit of Bear Mt., March 1, 2015. Note the stiff wind. Did I mention it was cold? Yes, very. This shot is all the more poignant, in retrospect. Several weeks after the shot was taken, Tyler was again skiing Bear Mt., this time down the prominent "Nose" on the west side of the hill, when his ski came off at high speed, which if you've seen this guy ski you will know was very high! A degree of enmanglement followed by self-rescue ensued. Bear Mt. has sure been a place of utmost fun with ultimate friends and utter adventure over all these years. Don't let go of that puffy coat, Tyler!
       Thanks to the new H2O Tazlinas got for a bargain at Beaver Sports in Fairbanks, my runs on Bear Mt. limit-pointed ecstasy. No more noodle city in the cruddly-cruddleton like the old days, instead a pair of enchanted swords lashed strongly to strong new Terminators, with a bewitching top-sheet design between the skis that makes them look like salmon swimming up the Tazlina when you look down as you link turns together. Not that good skis mattered on Bear this year so Utah was the powder in the bowl, you could have skied it on Snowshoe Thompsons.
Tiny dots are skiers in Mineral Creek Bowl, Bear Mt.

The weightless moment will not last
The derivative is not the function
A picture of skiing does not show skiing
Amplitude, frequency, wavelength
The tracks are not the ski itself
The skis are just the edges
The joy will not last
Over before it started
Here they come down over the lip

I slept through it sadly
Woke up at dinnertime and had morning coffee
The curtains held away the light 'til sunset
When you returned as if it were morning
Now we're off to the town for evening breakfast
The weightless moment will not last
Bear Mountain is far away
Over before it started
My skis lie far across the ocean

“Her image had passed into his soul forever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory…

Look closely and you might see Mt. Brynteson. The shovel there on the back of Smooth Andy G. proved an indispensable tool for me several times in March when I finally got to learn the truth about what a sinker that Bearcat can be.

Mt. Brynteson (Pk. 1757), March 22, 2015

        Iditarod 2015 came, and swallowed him. He seemed to vanish, into the wild fleshpots of Front Street perhaps, or maybe back to the Island to reunite with his skis, I don't know. Iditarod 2015 swallowed me as well. Debauchery from the night before cost me a day out of my hungover life.    
       GLUE MAGNITUDE was running high, but by Thursday I had extricated myself and was ready for a trip out to my old friend, Mt. Brynteson, out in the Snake River Valley hidden under thick fog. My back was sore from an Iditarod week spent digging out Super Smooth Andy G., the Arctic Cat Bearcat .570, after my initial attempt at going camping during Spring Break and penetrating to the deep water of the true Kigs had ended less than a mile after leaving my house in a bum willow-thicket crossing. So I settled once again for a mere foothill as my great Iditarod accomplishment, but once again the foothill did not disappoint, but proved more than adequate as a salve against civilization, and the befuddling mental residue of all its inconsistencies. 
The Brynteson Crags. A fine place to climb after a good ice storm
      Past the haunted Rock Creek Mine up Glacier Creek Road, around the corner a few miles, you can look up and see ribs of schist coming off the northwest ridge of Mt. Brynteson: for lack of no other term, the "Brynteson Crags." This can be an excellent place for mixed soloing and scrambling when conditions have fused the choss together by snow and ice. Much is the fun I've had on the Crags continuously bouldering over turf, rock, snow, and ice, a heightened illusion of exposure between the feet, and an award-winning view of Norton Sound to the south. Words cannot describe the fun and spiritual transcendence of the day in March I spent whacking tools into the Brynteson cliffs, eventually climbing up into sun shafts piercing the upper blue-sky world, so I won't even try.
King Mt. from down on the Kougarak Road, 2015. Tiny smudges on the left skyline are the bouldering circuit.

“He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a shady nook amid a ring of tufted sand knolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.

King Mountain (Pk. 1226), 2015

         So many worthy Nome foothills have been left out of the narrative: Anvil, Twin Mountain, Engstrom's,  the mysterious Pk. 2043 out by the Penny River, others... But this foothill post must conclude with a special shout-out to King Mountain, a large hump on the long ridge that runs between Snake and Nome rivers. The thing about King is that it's so accessible from town, yet the hike up from the Dexter Bypass Road always reveals King to be a bigger hill than you thought! 
       Near the top of King, one is rewarded with a classic little circuit of stepped bouldering cliffs, cracks, chimneys, highballs, slabs, jams, all on the King Mountain skyline, culminating in a big 25 foot overhang that sports an unclimbed M6/7 dry-tool problem (5.10b in shoes) and a genuine overhanging 5.9 offwidth. These rocks get directly plastered by the freezing-rain southwesters that slap in off the Bering Sea in Fall, and so receive extra-thick coats of the shellac that transforms them temporarily into fantastical ice-climbing terrain, though it should be noted that 2015 was a poor shellac-year, despite at least three major freezing-rains that came throughout the season.
“He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast…

          PEEMARK:  I hereby solemnly and egotistically declare on the World Wide Web that I made more trips than I can remember to the King Mt. Rocks in 2014 and '15, and rubbed musk on all climbing problems V0 or M4 or easier, and squirted pee on the holds high and low, (but did not yet dry-tool the Backward-Z Crack without hanging, though I have peed on all the moves successfully). MARK!!
King Mountain
Red arrow points to an awesome ridge-mounted bouldering area on King Mt.
“He climbed to the crest of the sand hill and gazed about him. Evening had fallen. A rim of the young moon cleft the pale waste of sky like the rim of a silver hoop embedded in grey sand; and the tide was flowing in fast to the land with a low whisper of her waves, islanding a few last figures in distant pools...”
           Let Kigsblog leave him here, islanded by the tide, veiled behind whiteout, with the author unsure if the literary contrivances in these blog pages have done the least bit to convey the situation as it unfolded the past season, and uncertain of where he might be now. I am sure he will return to Kigsblog soon, whenever the season moves on from the semi-penetration of foothills to the full penetration of the Kigluaik proper, whenever he gets his skis back. All I can say is I felt like I could be myself around the man, which is a rare thing, and we had a great Fall and Winter in the foothills.