Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Topkok in early Spring

 if anyone is offended by the sharing of these secrets, please leave comments and i will discontinue this entire silliness immediately...

         the ishigak darted by, mounted on a little child's snow machine...  i was sitting in the sullen gloom of the Topkok shelter cabin two Sundays ago staring out the lighted frame of the window when i saw the ishigak go by, but only for a second...  as you can see from the picture of the shelter cabin (below, left), there was little snow that day, the temperature being far too warm for ice climbing, which was what i had come for (but at least the Iditarod Trail had hung in there— silky smooth sailing on snow machine, as a matter of fact, due to the miraculous meter of snowfall in mid-April)...   i ran outside the cabin to view the ishigak, but the little man had disappeared, no sound, no trace, no lingering exhaust...

        later, leaving the hut, i walked east for two or three miles down the beach, under the exfoliating cliffs...  the First Weep was non-existent, and the Second Weep, (top, looking east, with Tapkak Head in the setting sun) which Collins and I had epicked out on the year before, was a shaky-looking thing that did not inspire confidence
           it was warm in April, the tors in the distance poked out of emergent tundra like the cover of a Yes album,  but PARANOIA overtook me like a squall whenever I walked out into the open... Topkok had become like a mental illness to me...   i mean, just look at Phil and Ryan's spring Topkok story fro last year!


why is Topkok so weird?  i think it's the quality of the wind, all circular and eddy-like and going-every-which way like the Z-waves on a cartoon TV screen... this must be due to some odd confluence of air masses...  if anybody understands the winds of Tapkak, please leave comments...  but really, the deal is, the place is a psychic node, a crackling network point for the Earth's psycho-electromagnetism....
(above)  February 2009 iteration of Topkok 2nd Weep, Ian climbing, 30 below... 
(below) the same climb two Sundays ago, April 18, 2010, with hanging bells, like a Hung Jury of Nome...  Ian was too damn chicken to solo the whole thing...
Here was a new one, not present in 2009:  it could only be the 1.5 Weep (above)...  I was scared even to touch it, with the birds singing in the air and the temps so warm...  this was a great personal failing, a complete let down of will and power, a sin, the sin of CLIMBING NOT...    nevertheless, these types of chicken-outs have a way of preserving oneself, so one can remain whole to climb the 1.5 Weep on another day, KOW, KOW...
 Normally, the First Weep  is a fun 60 foot solo on water ice (WI-1 or WI-2), but Spring had already melted it by two Sundays ago (above)...  the beta is, you climb the falls, then continue up steep willows and solo the south arete of the Ishigak, visible in the background as the lefthand skyline of the 100 ft. outcrop... there's good THWACKS on turf and hooks of frozen flake (M-1 or M-2) with at least the illusion of exposure, pretty good for all the trouble getting there, and the ocean gently tugs on your earlobes as you climb...

   this was the trip where i felt the rock of Tapkak for the first time, warm under the fingers...  always in the past the feel of the rock had only been transmitted to nervous system by the feel of the tools, the chrome molly and carbon fiber shaft,  always in the past you couldn't take your gloves off, so cold, so inhumanly unworldly ALLAPA!

   but now it was April,  the quartzite had hatched from its icy pupa...  i discovered ("discovered" only for myself, of course, all this data has been known by people for milleniums since before the whole bluff rose out of the sea for the second time, somewhere in the Pliocene) that the choss quality was highly variable...  in places, like in the picture (above), the degree of choss approached actual decent rock, almost so good that a drilled hole with a bolt in it might actually hold something, which is rare for the Seward Peninsula...  in the second zawn from the hut,  i bouldered in Scarpa Inviernos on beach boulders where the quartzite was gray and dimpled, and the cracks were true cracks and would have taken nuts marvelously...  elsewhere, the rockfall was so bad, it was like the Eiger Sanction, i huddled under that very bottom inside angle of the overhanging sea cliff where the rocks can't technically get you, scuttled along with  feet pressed right up against the cliff where the sea ice met the rock,  climbing the choice bits, lost in rock and turf and ice and thought, don't go there, they all say, don't go there, but of blogging, who can really say?

(Below) is a map of phoneme/land correspondences from the Norton Sound coast that have been propagated for some time...   I've had this map floating in my school files for a long time, but have no idea where it came from, or who made it.  Leave comments if you know.  And i do understand that climbing, and worse, spraying about a magical place, before you have actually done the research of the land stewardship is a rude and reckless act not to be condoned, but shouldn't these particular words be posted, do they not justify the desecration of the post?  


Foxy Peak

 (above)  There now, do you see it?  The real Fox (Kayuqtuq), hiding in the background.  Duh.  You might also notice the two route attempts on the decoy mountain standing in front of it, the foreground mountain which is pretending to be the higher one.  To think that I fell for this old trick ONCE AGAIN.  It's a standard trick of mountains everywhere, stand closer to the valley and you will appear to be taller than the mountains behind you.  The one in the back is the true high point of the region (as I've mentioned, one of the few possible "Four Thousanders" of the Kigluaik).  Now I've spent gallons of gas and layers of capillaries to climb this peak, and it wasn't even the right one!  Shall I self-flagellate over this nincompoop fiasco of wasted gasoline and hardened capillary?  Or shall I zen it out and simply state:  that's how it goes in the Kigs...

Back on the March attempt, Earp had been referring to the mountain as "Foxy," which I will do for this post, which sort of differentiates it from the true and highest Fox, which is different than when I was calling "Kayuqtuq" in an earlier post, all the better since mountains do and should have more than one name.
     (above) This is what stopped me on attempt #2 yesterday— a brazen summit pyramid of gneiss where an easy snow slope should have been.  I am no Francois Marsigny, I carried no rope, a child awaited in Nome, I was pledged to be conservative, boldness has been slowly leached from my psyche from too long a sojourn in the fleshpots of Nome...  plus, a host of sub-excuses... I retreated.  No first ascent, just another new bail.

      Both attempts employed a northern approach from the Crater Creek side. (Below) is an image looking off to the west from Foxy showing why I couldn't just traverse around left to the rounded south side.  Osborn, King of the Kigs, is the meta-sedimentary lump furthest to the right.  The intermediary lumps are the Grand Central Peaks around Gold Run Creek.  Kigluaik peaks, in general, are lumps from the south,  but Gustave Dore' nightmares from the north. 
This late April Sunday was a day of days, an all-time day, the miraculous snowfall had rendered the mountains smooth as silk, a meter thick blanket of equi-temperature aniu, you felt your boots not far from the terra firma of tundra and talus thus alleviating the avalanche fear, a light breeze kicked up lines of spindrift which caught the sunlight, convection fog from the Imruk Basin wreathed the lower peaklets in  white coiffure, chi oozed up from every pore of the mountains that day...

(below) Looking up the ridge.  Took me a long time to trust the snow, so I stuck to the crest.  It's probably only Class 3.  A few fun moves on turf with fine thwack!s.

The thing to realize here is that although the climbing was easy, everything was shrouded in fear on account of being so far from town ALONE.  Not exactly "you're gonna die" fear, rather, "you might have a humongous hassle" fear.  Maybe I'm paranoid, but the sky seems to weigh heavily when you're the only one under it.  At these moments, your machine morphs into a sentient being, and YOU LOVE YOUR SNOW MACHINE.  And I do love my Arctic Cat .570 Bearcat.  (above)  Here it is waiting like a loyal horse, with C-Togs 3, 4, and 5 in the background.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mud Mounds—part I

(below)  Same tooth, interestingly (the photo of Raina is reversed, I think.)  Her's went to the Tooth Fairy a couple of weeks ago.  Mine splintered into several pieces and fell into the snow last night at the Anvil mud mounds.   Both incidents occured within a two-week range;  this might, I think, qualify this dental coincidence as a 1.0 on the Synchronicity Scale, but that may be an exxageration.  
accident analysis:  the temperature had cooled down dramatically to about five above, so the mud had hardened since my glorious day in the Anvil mounds the previous Sunday (trespassing horribly, for which i confess and apologize)...  chisel was dull, penetration shallow...  as soon as I applied weight, left tool popped out... the apex of that cool Black Diamond adze (the triangular one that you can torque in so many different ways) slammed lower left incisor.     

synchronicity analysis:  periodic frequency of zone 2 physical injuries one every three years, on average,
to be noted that for Raina, this was no zone 2, merely the first tooth for the Fairy,
which may lower the synchronicity rating, but still, can we not call this coincidence at least a 1.0?

(and did i mention it was cold?  Lord God it was allapa!  Springtime in Alaska and it's Forty Below!  Wind blustering through at twenty to twenty five, spindrift spindrifting, Mikey and me blogganeering through sting and lash and frozen blood clumps, Left Hand of Darkness cold!  Allaparunga!  CLEM!!  CLEM!!!)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Bouldering

   (below) Cabin Rock Crags (not Cabin Rock itself) in rime.  Drive up Teller to Cabin Rock (extremely disappointing in and of itself for bouldering potential), slog up hillside over a 1000 ft. to east, walk over the crest to scruffy hillside boulders and crags up to 40 ft. high, overlooking Penny River.  Land stewardship unknown to me at this time, but please leave comments if appropriate.
    Bouldering is the interstitial glue connecting the all too infrequent occurence of significant climbs in the Kigs.  In between the failures to get out of town, the failures with partners, the #%#@*&$$ snow-machine incidents, lies the wonderful bouldering experiences.
    What may not be realized is the miraculous access here in (region to remain unnamed for now) for BOULDERING, medium to low quality, but gloriously free, so many lost ridgelines with tors of metamorphic rock poking out of the top like vertebrae.

(below)  Sunset Boulders, Beginners Wall, Tuft Route.  Head out Teller Road to berry fields before you get to Penny, you see a crooked orange crag a short hike up the hillside to the right (north) of road.  Cool little M1 or 2 on exfoliated turf tufts.  Land stewardship unknown to me at this time, but please leave comments if appropriate.

Bouldering doesn't seem to sustain everyone.  Bouldering feels at times like reading fantasy or science fiction.  You creep out there and pretend you are really climbing.  You perch on little footholds a foot off the deck and imagine that those bryophytes under your heel are really the tops of trees in Yosemite.   Then you find a little turf mattress out of the wind and take a little nap listening to the wind howling over the top of the rock....

(below) Sunset Boulders, Orange Wall, Ian experimenting with figure-4 unsuccessfully. He is worried the metamorphic schist flake will catastrophically disengage.  Many of the local  bouldering gardens have a featured orange wall.  I don't know the name of the lichen.  Please leave comments if you know the classification of this orange species of lichen.  If you feel I have broached some common law by climbing on this formation, or especially if you have ethical problems with the spraying of geographical locations on a blog, you simply must leave comments stating your reasons, so that this entire blogging enterprise may be discontinued.  Thank you....
What were bouldering a social event?
Then I'd have arms a praying
And raising in supplication
And on their lips they'd be spraying
Of all the routes they would steal
We'd all have to get out on Friday
Right when the day is done
But bouldering ain't a social event
And I'm out here all alone... 

(below) Cabin Rock Crags-  M-bouldering paradise.  Made it up there one good day so far in February.  The ice in this picture is not the glaze ice I have referred to elsewhere as the "shellac";  in this picture we have rime.  It wouldn't hold your weight, but it came pretty close.  What caused the riming?  Wind.  Did I mention it was cold?
The last thing to comment "On Bouldering" is the Four-Seasonality of bouldering around Sitnasuaq. The summer bouldering can be fine at a time;  the winter bouldering can be superb when it ain't brrr.  The winter bouldering is the best.  Crunchy little torquing puzzles, moss, moss, cam, hook, lieback flake, ADZ!  Keep your heels down when you top out.  Fox!  Fox!  Cease bouldering and check for rabies?

Rocky Mountain Bluff.  Drive out Kougarak, before you get to Dorothy you pass a large foothill (Pk. 2374) on your right (east).  Could it be "Rocky Mountain" that rises above Rocky Mountain Creek?  (Leave comments if you know.)   A hundred foot bluff (1231) is visible.  Wouldn't touch it in the summer, but in the frozen Fall it becomes pickly-stickly and mossy-chossy.  In the picture is Earp in blue puffy soloing up the crumbling hideo-choss in some Fall of the later '00s.  Land stewardship unknown to me at this time, but please leave comments if appropriate.

none of this bouldering is of the least bit of importance, it is so far below V grade it is HIKING, but there is a reason that Alex Lowe's quotation has endured:  "The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun."  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Topkok Ice

       Tyler Rhodes took this aerial photo (below) a few weeks ago during Iditarod (March 2010).   It's a section of sea cliffs on the Norton Sound coast about 60 miles east of Nome down the Iditarod Trail, called Topkok.  The mass of ice in the photo I call the "Second Weep."  I was supposed to go there last Sunday but woke up too hungover and sleep-deprived to make the journey.  So what follows is a summation of 3 climbing trips to this spiritually-charged region that occurred the previous winter (2009), during which I managed to climb the WI 3 mass of ice in the photo.  These trips were not without adventure.  I don't know whether this was a first ascent or not;  if you have climbed the ice in this photo, could you please leave a comment?  
       There is a huge need to be vague here.  These are sacred lands.  I am just an obnoxious climber/blogger driven by my own post-European ego to report about the climbing I did there.  I don't pretend to be blogging about Topkok for any other reason than to prop up my own faltering sense of self worth and insecurity-driven need for recognition.  The roots of this place go deep into the Earth, and it is an obvious ethical transgression to be speaking of it, much less posting pictures of it on the Internet.  I am sorry to be succumbing to this ridiculous need to TALK about climbing Topkok.  One should just climb Topkok and shut up about it.....


       Allapa on the Second Weep (above and below).  We're looking at one pitch of WI 3 here, fat and casual, except that the ice was exceptionally dinner-platey due to the fabulously cold temperatures.  This ice lies about 4 miles from the Topkok Shelter Cabin.  We walked, though if the sea ice is solidly accreted, one could drive.  Along the way we soloed a lesser falls, the "First Weep," which lies about two miles from the cabin.
       Did I mention it was cold?  Yes, I'm sure I did already, butOMG, you have no idea, really.  Look at the puffiness of my coat in these photos.  Below zero.  Way, way below zero.  It is fatally, horrendously, unimaginably cold in this photo, Antarctica, zero Kelvin, deep space nine,  allapa, allapa, move or freeze, lordy, sure is cold, what more is there to say? 
       Trip number one was in January.  Collins and I made an initial reconnaissance of the cliffs and soloed the First Weep (of which I have no pictures;  it ain't much, WI 1), and walked far enough east down the beach to discover the Second Weep, for which we had no time.  One interesting thing was this amazing coating of verglas on the beach boulders:  about 8 inches of wonderful marine ice that made for really fun bouldering (below).  When we got back to the machines, Collins' Ski-Doo wouldn't start and we had a total and complete epic;  as he pulled his cord hundreds of times, I watched Jeff's spirit gradually get sucked away into his machine like a drunk's spirit getting sucked into any emptying whiskey bottle.  If the Topkok cabin had not been there, we might not have made it, that's how cold it was.   Yessir, sure was cold, yep.... 

       The second trip (February?) we climbed the main business, the Second Weep.  This was absolutely the coldest of the 3 trips, the kind of cold that can kill you fast, 25 below at least with a stiff breeze.  Collins belayed in his puffy coat and had to eskimo dance vigorously to keep from dying.  I put in screw anchors at the top and yo-yoed back down on my 120 meter Sterling Duetto so Jeff could follow the pitch.  On this, his first real ice climb, he was clinging to the last steep part and overgripping his tools, when I heard:

       "I'm going to pass out now..."

       "NO!  You can't pass out now!  Get your weight onto this rope NOW!"

       You see, if he passed out before weighting the rope, I wasn't going to be able to lower him due to friction in the system, and if he was going to pass out up at the top of the pitch, I wasn't going to be able to get up there and rescue him before we were both become popsicles.  It was cold, you see, allapa, deadly cold, I'm not kidding.  We managed to get Jeff lowered off the climb and pull the ropes and get out of there, leaving the two screws at the top.  All in all, Jeff hung super tough for this baptism by fire and ice;  there are kinder ways to be introduced to ice climbing than a 14 hour Topkok trip.
       The third trip I did to Topkok was solo.  I spent the day bouldering around.  I saw numerous turf climbing lines waiting to be ascended.  If Topkok were the Seward Highway instead of the Seward Peninsula it would have lots of killer turf lines, but it's not, thankfully.  The rock presents a real hodgepodge of geologies, quartzite seeming to be the predominant blend, mega-choss, of course, like every other piece of rock on the Peninsula.  Miles upon miles of sea cliffs stretch away down the coast, haunted by Ishigaitch, the little people, though I have never seen one.  Topkok is just a spooky place.  The shelter cabin is another of those terrestrial acupuncture nodes, a surreal portal into other dimensions like the wardrobe in the Narnia books.  
   Before making the ride to Topkok from Nome, you have to learn about the "Blow Hole," which is this crazy wind funnel between Topkok Head and Solomon.  The Blow Hole is why the shelter cabin is there in the first place.   If the weather report says "high winds between Nome and Golovin," you have good reason to fear.