Friday, November 27, 2009

punfaruq, M-6

mere bouldering: to climb in Nome is to boulder, on a day to day basing getting so much more movement over stone than in Fairbanks, where your heart lies— it helps to have imagination, it doesn't hurt with medication, wear a helmet because to boulder in Nome is to cope with some pretty
unnerving spring-loaded looseness staring you down the nose— you're longing to be in the heart of the Kigs again, but the glue of town has sucked you in, you've managed
escape to the Sunset Boulders but what a glorious boon that you suddenly find yourself perched on suspended moss clouds in a closing window of sunlight, cares forgotten in the
unaccustomed focus of jesus christ this is suddenly real, but now a Cobra has whacked home into that little package of water that surrounds the tubors in the soil of the turf and you know now it's going to be alright, though you're surprisingly 35 ft. off the deck and rising, sudden, all of time is sudden now as you realize your head has cleared and
Monday can be faced with equanimity, this mere bouldering has cleared out your head, and now for some lowball traverses, dangling like Stevie Haston over fat pads of snow, and now your positive clearances have come skating off the rounded holds in a great explosion, a massive 12 inch fall and your arm may be broken, the nausea of shock, you're rolling around on the frozen bare tundra suddenly suddenly realizing the chill fak is 35 below, get on your snow machine and ride, this is what you came for, punfaruq, bows low, M-6

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Crater Creek Scrambles

Above, the "Second C-Tog," the second peak on the left after you turn the corner going up the South Fork of Crater Creek. "C-Tog" is a reference to Amato and Miller's "Bedrock Geologic Map of the Kigluaik Mountains" (NMSU, 2004) and refers to the "preCambrian Thompson Creek Orthogneiss," the pluton which forms the spine of the Kigluait. Somewhere in the whitish slabby area to the right of the indistinct buttress in the center of the photo, I pretended to be Norman Clyde on a warm June evening in 2009, wandering up 5th class slabs and cracks, arriving at the summit just before impending rain. As usual, I've no way of knowing if the peak had been climbed previously.

To the right is the same C-Tog as above, C-Tog 2, but taken from further down the valley. The prow on the rightlooks to be, what?, 4 full pitches, maybe 800 ft. As with so many teeth in the 'Tooths," the south side (the back side in this photo) is much less precipitous than the wall here on the north side. So why not have climbed the prow? Lack of partners, cursed lack of partners, coupled with unwillingness to rope solo(all that rappeling and jugging over the fields of death flake, all that solitude weighing down like the sky.) Besides, Norman Clydeing it is just so much fun.

Above, we have the "First C-Tog," the first peak on the left after you turn the corner going up the South Fork of Crater Creek. It is home to another Norman Clyde route I soloed in June of 2008. Looking at this photo now, my sabotaged memory has no recollection of where the route went. I see myself vegging out on beautiful bryophyte ledges for many minutes at a time. Body remembers a 5.6 friction slab on a patch of plain, old-fashioned granite as good as Tuolumne. I remember looking down between my legs at the slabs tumbling away and the adjacent angles of air, thinking, maybe this climb actually is transcending mere bouldering. I remember doing a few moves where I imagined Norman himself might have balked. Yet, the nature of the terrain would have permitted him to scramble around with a fair amount of ease, his dignity intact.

Weighty dome of solitude sky
He breaks alone into solitary crying
He cannot remember that line from Thucydides
Curtains of rain hang from the summits
Salmon Lake is on most maps. The C-Tog Towers on the may be on Bering Straits Native Corporation land, but more likely on BLM, and it is rather rude that I'm not sure and too lazy to find out. Perhaps the heinous responsibility of internet posting, the sheer weight of the many thousands of you that are reading this AT THIS MOMENT, will drive me to find out the stewardship of the Crater Creek granite, and edit accordingly.
Crater Creek is a more straight-forward walk-in than its parallel cousin 5 miles south, Grand Central Valley. At one point a few miles in from the road, the left arm of Crater (unnamed valley?) and the right arm of Grand Central (Gold Run Creek) reach out and almost touch, separated by one slender Class 2 pass. If one were to actually visit this place, one would need to be extremely respectful of the people who have cabins on the Kougarak Road. Like, basically, I'm saying, even though I'm posting this detailed information on the worldwide web, well, like, um, don't really go here, dude, we're all going to ruin it and piss off the landowners, we will be as infections to the beautiful organism of the mountains . So, like, I really need to quit going to the Kigs and so should you.

Me, Mr. McRae, below left, and ex-principal Mr. White on the right, looking west up the southwest fork of Crater Creek, the First and Second C-Togs to the left. Can you see the wind, blessedly blowing the bugs away? Look how happy Carl looks! The burden of Nome Elementary freshly lifted from his shoulders, and replaced by my dead guy daddy's old Kelty Tioga, big blue summertime stretching ahead, the day standing still in photographs.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The "Steely Focus" Buttress, IV, 5.9

July basecamp was on these moraines. Many thanks to Bering Air for choppering us right to this spot. Around the corner to the right (south), hidden out of the picture, the barest nub of a glacier can still found-- is this one of Kaufman's 3 living glaciers in the Kigluaik?
Such a wonder to have someone out there to talk with, for once. Andy and I chatted ceaselessly. At one point, Andy remarked: "Boy, it sure takes a steely focus in your home life to keep climbing all the time." L.A.F.S. (Love At First Sight Syndrome, a resonance phenomenon) was immediately recognizable with the utterance of the phrase "steely focus" as soon as Andy spoke the words. At that precise moment, it became our nom de jour, and the inevitable name of the climb that was about to follow.

Here is Andy perching at the top of Pitch 1. Andy had spotted the line the day after our harrowing ascent of the Sulu Tor. The next morning we had hiked to a spot at the very locus of the entire cirque. We had stood on a hump and slowly whirled around, watching the walls for where to climb next. The Steely Focus Buttress had appeared to be an area of possible lesser choss among the pure choss fields.
The first pitch was indeed more igneous than metamorphic, which felt pleasant after all the terror of the preceding days. It felt a bit like Toe Jam at J-Tree for one moment. The sun heated the rock. The healing vibrations of warm granite began to repair our damaged bodies.
The routefinding presented a type of aesthetic dilemma: whether to grovel up the green bryophytic strips which overlay the more solid rock, or jam and stinkbug out on more elegant flakes which were not, in any way, not the least bit, attached to the main wall.

In the winter you sink a pick in the moss clouds, but in summer you clutch at them with starfish hands. Despite the green strips, the Steely Focus had a few nice moves in its 7 pitches. Each pitch ran consistently at 5.7 or harder (and this 5.7, of course, was rendered desperate by the choss and the crumble, felt more like 5.9.) A very cool roof, some delicate crack, classic belay ledges, very nearly but not quite a wall ambiance, lots of pro (none of it worth a DAMN but the pins!), many different route options, an extremely cool top-out at the rim, I believe it might possibly be the first route of its kind in the Kigluaik, unless you count the Chimneys of Tiresias.
Descent, on the other hand, sucked big as we tried to glissade in rock shoes. We were deep inside an amazing horrific exfoliating chasm (definition of "chasm": a fault or gully which runs continuously from the top of Suluun to the base, which might provide either ascent, descent, or egress) the 4th chasm from the left when looking from basecamp. We gave up glissading and banged in pins; they are still there but you'll never be able to reach them because there will never be as much snow during summer as there was last July of 2009 when Andy and I gamboled about there.

Here is a topo from Ian's little yellow book. Silly- but we were bored in the tent. There was definitely some 5.9 in there somewhere. There are a hundred different ways you could go. I always seem to choose the easy way. But it's death, mate, don't go.....

Once more, the secret location of Suluun, which, I believe, is on BLM land, under a outdoor recreational designation, i am sure...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On the history of climbing on the Seward Peninsula

when it began to rain, the prospector took shelter under an overhang of rock... seldom see lightning in these parts, not like in Fairbanks, he thought, chewing on a chunk of tobacco and venison... the year was 1912, and the prospector, a middle aged man named Johnson from the timber forests of Washington, was on his way from Nome to Council, hiking along the ridge you see here...
by and by, as he sat dry and contented under the rock while the squall ran its course, he noticed a little bird's nest just above his head nestled on a tiny ledge, and above that, a little 12 foot high wall wrinkled with little horizontal dikes of schist...
now, Johnson was more than a logging camp son turned prospector- he had studied for a time in Dresden, a student in classics, and had climbed with Perry Smith and Fehrmann on the Elbsandstein... and so it was that when he found himself squatting underneath this odd leaning schist boulder up on a barren ridge somewhere in the Bendeleben Mountains on the Seward Peninsula, he did what any climber would naturally do... he pinched the first hold and began to crank the move...
the rock was surprisingly compact, better than the Elbe thought Johnson... he edged his big duckboots on a wrinkle with the inside of the toe, leaned back, and stepped up... what a pleasure, but uh-oh, the top holds were wet... Johnson clawed at wet lichen and stepped over...
he climbed other outcrops then, and arrived late in Council and had to siwash... the foreman threatened to let him go, but when Johnson tried to explain, he fumbled for words...

Many years later, in 2003, Nils Hahn and I swept along this ridge, devouring any boulder problem under V1 that we could find... highballs, lowballs, and cool 15 ft. overhangs... we parked the car on the Council road several miles past Solomon and headed up towards marble bluffs which are prominent from the road, hundreds of feet up on a bluff to the west of the road... turn the corner on the marble and you come to a pleasant series of schist outcrops on the ridge in the picture..... don't know who owns the land... we never took the rope out of our pack, instead preferring the freedom of the Seward Peninsula boulderer...

i claimed all the boulder problems as first ascents for myself... i gave them each a clever name reflecting the workings of my own psyche... i gave each one a YDS rating...

but what of Johnson? but what of Johnson.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sinuk River Alexander Supertramp Bluffs

I renounce the dominion of your daily hassle

Our tangles of accountability...

With this threshold we become ourselves, Lazarus

Time to range out through the topples of marble and schist (we five)

Beat out the kinks in the springs of our hearts

Pick berries as they are melting in the cold rain

And smash them as we fall

I returned to the Alexander Supertramp Bluffs. This time I was accompanied by human mothers, just as fearsome as sows with cubs, IMO. We reached the bluffs. The males went climbing for rocks while the females picked blueberries, just a bit sparse this year.

An overhang presented itself in the Greenschist Gardens. So Scottish was the weather, we were loathe to don our rock shoes, and so cranked it in our hiking boots.

A second metamorphic event, heat and pressure of some kind during the Cretaceous, (as if these dog-dooey clumps of crust had been dumped back into the oven for a moment) (I have been told, by more than one unnamed geologist staggering in Front Street bars) (Geology is a mural) may account for how sketchy a problem like this can feel... This is Mr Collins attempting SrikSrik. We are praying he shall not be crushed...

Cold clam lichen and slime, with the usual conundrum: whether to spend some of your "nine lives factor" and dangle your two hundred pounds out on the lip of the non-adhered multi-ton, cantilevered thing, or not. The fulcrum of the paradox becomes: is the boulder problem worth nine lives? I felt this one was. Some surprise jams at the lip made the pullover casual . Srik-Srik, 5.8 .

We proceeded around the corner to the marble bluffs. A buffet of rain streamed in from the Norton Sound and soon we were ensconced in Fall drizzle. We bouldered up the cliff in the photo, but only the super easy slabs on the right, for rain renders the marble friable, not to mention our fingers freezing. Back some day again, maybe for the mixed and turf midwinter...

Friday, August 21, 2009


I now step / into the wild
      Five miles west of the Sinuk River bridge, the Teller Road reaches the top of a steep grade where it crests the first set of bluffs west of the Sinuk River.  A mile to the north of the road at this point, a white bus is starkly visible against open tundra. There is just something about an abandoned bus in the wilderness. A wilderness bus is like Lazarus's spaceship in the original Star Trek-- one expects one's own deranged alter-ego to appear in a burst of trombones from out of the time portal. 
     This particular bus marks the beginning of a well-known four-wheeler trail that follows bluffs and swamps for 11 miles all the way to Glacial Lake.  After about 2 or 3 miles north down the trail (walking from the Teller Road) you reach a set of  marble scarps facing southeast over the Sinuk like dormer windows, a line of orange, pink, and green cliffs that appear to bear some adequate 90 ft. lines in a few places.  Andy and I had reached this place in July, suffering and hallucinating in the 19th hour of epic staggering through soaking rain south on the four-wheeler trail from the inner brushes of Glacial Lake down the four-wheeler trail (soon to be picked up at 2 in the morning on the lonely Teller Road by an eastbound Kutuk.)  
    On Sunday, I returned to this place, alone for want of a partner. A beautiful plateau presented itself from out of July's memory, with a squat, clump of not-s0-bad greenschist boulders leading over to the dormer window marble scarps (the name-assigning lobe of the brain already referring to them as the Supertramp buttresses in honor of the bus.)  I bouldered a bit on the schist for a while,  rubbed my skin cells all over the rock, and urinated under a .10b overhang in a great, single patch of urine onto the tundra.  I proceeded along to the marble cliffs and was excited to find them unusually copious.  I put my shotgun down on a promontory and scampered along the cliffs heading northeast.
    Alas, the bouldering was never to be that day.  As I was shoeing up, a family of 4 aklat(ch) hoved into view, a mother and 3 juveniles, a veritable herd.  Despite previsualizations all morning not to do so, I freaked out, and began to claw my way raggedly downwind along the face of the cliffs, making a few panicked forays up onto class 5 slabs in search of a certain ledge where a human could go but an aklaq couldn't.  A pitiful display of fear witnessed only by a blog, of all things....  As I turned the corner of one of the splendid marble buttresses, three more large animals popped up directly in front of me, 20 ft. away:   a family of Golden Eagles!  My heartbeat shot up even further!   They were extremely well-mannered, as Eagles usually are, and didn't even flinch as I soloed obnoxiously above their nest, dribbling flecks of Cretaceous marble down.  As well were the aklat:  I continued to hide in my cliffs, poking my head up now and then, pretending to be a frightenened mouse and climbing around on rock that feels more like limestone, but when the mother aklaq reached the greenschist boulders and smelled the pee, run get out of here she yelled to the children, and they took off tearing through the willows in the opposite direction. I was left feeling vaguely let down, even persecuted.  Were humans really so foul?

Friday, August 7, 2009

First Ascent of the Sulu Tor

   Picture of:  Summit tower on Dorsal Fin-shaped granitic cluster pictured in previous post,     Southeast Arete, 2 pitches, 5.9, climbed by Andy Sterns and me last July, 2009.  If you look really hard at this picture you can see Andy getting on rappel at the belay station. 
   A syncronicity perhaps over the 1.0 limit occurred shortly after this picture was taken. There was this death flake on the first pitch, you see, somewhere between a refrigerator and a piano, the kind of thing where you're pulling down 5.10 moves to avoid the 5.6 jug holds staring
you in the face. I used a zoom thingy to make a picture of it:  

It looks like nothing here, but the leaning flake in center frame was cantilevered, barely glued, bulging with menace, ready to annihilate Andy at the slightest wrong touch. Is this what an IED feels like? Potential entropic energy is higher when one is climbing around such a horrid piece of death choss;  where there is increased potential entropy, there is increased potential for mental process, which manifests in such phenomena as syncronicity, presentiments, and horrifying near misses

   But this syncronicity portended no such horribility. It was simply this:  when we pulled the ropes after the last rappel, the cords miraculously made it back to the ground- all except for the very tail end of one, which by chance neatly half-hitched itself around, you guessed it— the death flake!  We yarded on it from a safe perch, and down the locus of potentiality came, trundling with frightening BOOMs into the vast boulder chute of Second Chasm Gully.  The thing shall not trouble the second ascent, in the unlikely event there ever comes one, but what does it matter?  Even bigger death flakes wait higher on the second pitch, several stacked, rickety refrigerators not attached to the wall at all, and you actually have to step out on the top one and just trust them.                                                  

I feel ghastly about this. I have used Photo Shop to trace a
 bloody red line on summit tower. I have forced myself across some sort of line I never thought I would cross. This is a mountain, a real piece of stone somewhere, and I am replicating facsimiles of it on the internet as if it were pornography. Only a deeply reaching insecurity could cause such propagation of recognition-seeking. 

Out of the choss of the Sulu Tor emerged some really good granite climbing, with decent pro all the way up, although due to the law of the Kigs that states it always takes 3 equalized pieces to equal one real point of protection you need 3 times as much pro as if the thing were in the Sierras.  The thing is probably about 230 ft. high. You could get away with one rope, but would have to pull some shenanigans. Fear, trembling, made mehappy we had two full-length ropes.

The photo to the right, taken from the Dorsal Fin's east summit (a class 4 pinnacle, climbed on an earlier attempt) shows another view of Sulu, the alpha tower of this formation, Suluun's alpha tower.  Lurking in the background to the right rises the West Summit, a scant 10 feet lower than the foreground tower.  Hard to tell in this photo, but the two towers are connected by a somewhat horrific granite knife-edge that Andy and I dared not cross when we reached the top of the West Summit on a different attempt days earlier. So we came back and ascended it from this side.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Naming Mountains

Here's a remote, unnamed peak on the Glacial Lake / upper Cobblestone River divide that you want to climb. You carry an 80 lb. sack of climbing gear from the Kougarak Road for two brutal days across tussock and swamp, only to CHICKEN OUT at the base of the intimidating summit tor.
You do this again a year later from the other side (the one shown in this photo, the western, Glacial Lake side) and you can't even reach the summit tor, the mountain is so convoluted and riven with chasms, you CHICKEN OUT of the 8 pitches of soloing up and down over death choss that it would take just to get over to the summit tor.
At the end of the summer you do the 80 lb. pack thing again from the Kougarak Road, unaware you are compressing a disk in your lumbar region. You get 35 feet up the summit tor before CHICKENING OUT. The excuse is rain, but really it is the weight of so much solitude bearing down like someone is watching you. It was the age before the SPOT device, before that advancing technological boundary layer found its way into your pack...

Picture of:
The "Sulu Tor," third bail, Aug, 2008.
Equalized pins, self belay anchor are
visible. The gnawing solitude had me
standing in aiders on what would later
prove to be easy 5.8 . This is a close-up look
at the tower discernible as the
high point of the peak pictured above.

So, you've slid down its intestines, you've almost broken your leg a thousand time within its recesses, you've been dreaming of it and spraying all over Nome for a couple of years now about it, you have rendered yourself quite at the mountain's mercy, it has forced you to grow and overcome your own utter CHICKENSHITTEDNESS and you have festooned it with ironmongery- (you have even come back now with your partner Andy from Fairbanks, the weight of Kigs solitude suddenly lifted like a cover, and you actually summit the Sulu Tor, two satisfying pitches of 5.8 orthogneiss death choss in a fine setting.)
Picture of: Andy executing a Bridwell, Long and Westbay with the fore-
shortened Sulu Tor visible over his right shoulder, the day after we climbed it in July '09. We forgot to bring cameras on the ascent itself, assuring a successful climb.

So you've referred to this peak thousands of times now in conversation with other Nomens, backcountry Nomens, friends, partners: "Peak 3750+on the divide between Glacial Lake and Cobblestone River drainage," or "next to the 29 on the inch-to-a-mile USGS maps," or "Ever hear about a wall up by Glacial Lake that has a 25 second echo?" When you finally get there again, and you are crouching in the wet miserable tent at basecamp with Andy, the two of you employ only the simplest of terms between you to indicate the mountain above: "the peak," the "summit tor," the "project," the wall. You talk often with Andy of the need for a name for what you are climbing, the name for the climb. The words between the two of you eventually create a one-on-one correspondence between the mountain and those circuits in your's and Andy's brains that are thinking about the mountain. But the both of you are still lacking one certain word, one sequenced pattern of phonemes and symbols, that would easily and efficiently summon for each one of you the neural networks to form images of the mountain.

You cannot ever hear your partner, this is an axiom, a fact.

It can therefore also be logically concluded, that

This is Andy on the Sitamen Pinnacles section of the W. Ridge of a mountain that has no known linguistic antacedent; next he will turn around and through a sequence of obscene motions do a little mini-rappel down that choss gendarme...

A name is needed. A name is needed for the mountain. But you cannot justify this statement. There is no proof stating that a name is truly needed. You know only that you keep on finding yourself in situations where a term for this piece of the Earth's topography is required for quick and efficient communication.
There is more.... this mountain seems to have a personality. Sun, wind, rain, snow, sleet, cataclysmic collapse, avalanche, winter, summer, glacier, nothing, ROCK! All these transforms and entrained processes are happening on this mountain, though it be entropic, it be also prone to sudden surges of entropy. The mountains seems to be satisfying five of Gregory Bateson's Six Criteria of Mental Process. You're not hallucinating. After 20 hours on the go, you felt its presence. Dangling deep in its innards from one flexing Bugaboo, water oozing from your rock shoes, you heard the mountain speak its own name. Though there is no english equivalent, you vowed you would return to civilization and tell all those who care this name.

But when you get to town, you are prevented from uttering the name. Your ego is not sufficiently enlarged, your chakras are blocked, and the chi you gained among the granite runouts quickly bleeds away among the butting of the horns, the fanning of the tails. The paltriness of your achievements is revealed. Who are you to name a mountain?
Besides, you have now forgotten what the mountain said. You must go back....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Windy Creek

Looking northwards up Windy Creek:  left to right, the real Tigaraha, Falcon Murder Peak, and Turncorner Mountain, plus the ancient rockfall in the left foreground, one of the best bouldering and camping spots in the Kigs.  Kristine and I climbed the Class 4 ridge on Turncorner in a 13-hour epic one summer.

On Spray

   I am searching for a reason to justify this. There is absolutely no reason to assume that such sprayings are anything other than pure ego-driven narcissism. Blockage of the chakras has brought on an ego/super ego imbalance which Reason falsely assumes can be alleviated by seeking recognition from the herd.
    Does a mountain think? Does a mountain have awareness?  Every time you spray about a mountain you are layering on the units of logical typing and slightly increasing the mental process, or sentience IYW of that mountain, that soaring piece of stone and ice.  Stone, being a highly nonentropic substance itself, is not easily penetrated by the nonentropy of your sprayings, but the influence of the spray attractor over the mountain attractor accumulates over time, and too much spraying about climbing can affect the outcome of climb itself. Books, legends, blogs, braggadoccio, they can all influence the attractor that is layering onto the mountain and your climbing of it. This is why the hunter does not brag. This is why it is foolish to be doing this, this blogging of mountains, but one does not wish to be an old fogey got out of the new road cause you couldn't lend your hand.

   Sir Apple showed me a New Yorker cartoon.  Two dogs hanging out.  One says: "I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking."