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.