Have continued to languish in the River of Forgetfulness: warm, golden, syruppy, midnight-sun BOULDERING sessions around Nome, the high Kigs but a distant memory. Post school-year lapse is to blame; every year it takes me at a week to recover from the end days of school. I am too exhausted in the first days of vacation to do anything other than slump. Any grade-school teacher will understand.
How could an expedition to the remote hills be mounted at such a time? This is a time for merriment, music, parties, and the crucial, often underestimated, human-bonding. That the weather has been fine through these days of peace and love has only exacerbated my guilt at failing to extricate from the glue of town. But the BOULDERING, nightly BOULDERING... that is what gets a climber through.
(below) Old picture of Mylon Schield on a (granitic) gneiss boulder at the Sinuk headwaters. This is BLM land, so you can actually sort of talk about it without fear of impending ethical thunder clap. From Nome, getting to the gneiss (ohjustcallitgranite) generally requires a day of hiking.
Came to Nome 10 years ago expecting the end of climbing. After all, western Alaska is flat, like Bethel. Oh well, we'll make a lot of money and go to Denali in the summer and get out of Nome as soon as possible. But then, from the plane, as we flew low coming into town, we immediately noticed lots of little dark smudges on the tundra down there.
Turns out that each of these smudges houses a little rock garden. Life in Nome is like this: you just espy the tip of an outcrop from a conveniently-placed road, hike over to the outcrop, and more often than not, the view from the road had been concealing a little extra 15 feet of rock. Am I just hard up, and out of touch? Or is there not nice bouldering in these little Nome klettergartens? And they are endless, BTW, thousands of them poke up across the wastes of Beringia, you could grab a pair of axes and just boulder your way back across the land bridge...(above) The featured Raptor this Spring at Sunset Rocks is a family of Gyrfalcons. Look closely at the photo above and you can see Mom directly above the nest, which is perched on a little nose sticking out. Mom is concerned about a menacing little simian scurrying around the base of the rock.
The calendar on my wall translates this month as "Time of Year When You Encounter Lots of Critters At the Boulders." Rock Gardens are natural gathering points. Every time you approach the rocks, the chance of an encounter hangs potent in the air. What will IT be, in just a moment, when I crest this rock, waiting on the other side, its peaceful grazing suddenly disturbed?
In the later years of my life, living here in Nome, I have morphed into a type of person that my California environmentalist Hippy upbringing demands I revile: I have become a wildlife harrasser. I don't mean to be... Some of these guys just get so, well, territorial. Take the old Musk-Ox bull up at the Windmills the other day. He startled my colleague Andrew so badly that the tiny human dropped his backpack and ran; then, the beast refused to relinquish the pack back to Andrew's care, but instead sat there snorting and stomping his hooves over it, for all the world an old Cassius Clay befuddled from the years of head-butting and quite out of it... an old man being an asshole just for the sake of being an asshole.
I don't mean to harrass. But I've encountered too many of these old fellows. Obviously, Musk Ox are extremely intelligent, especially in the social domain. Look in their eyes and it's like, mammal-to-mammal here!— this isn't harrassment. I am lobbying for my right to occupy part of this rock, that is all. I understand that this guy is working with a different set of criteria, but really, we can work it out, there is no reason we cannot share this rock.
Am I anthropomorphizing? Am I attributing this ungulate human tendencies he does not possess? Or am I legitimately negotiating a niche out here in the wilderness like any other animal? They get so officious, sometimes it's hard not to mount 5.7 rock directly over their heads and laud it over them a bit like a chattering monkey safe in his tree. But I sing them songs too, for balance. (Musk Ox do NOT appreciate the lycan high registers of the human voice, but seem to tolerate low growls on the order of Tom Waits.) These very behaviors, though questionable, led to the return of Andrew's pack.
The alacrity with which Musk Ox (relatives of sheep and goats) adapt to these negotiations leads me to believe that they do not feel particularly harassed. After a while, they forget all about you, and then THERE YOU ARE bouldering amidst herds of Musk Ox thinking, too bad the bouldering mentality does not more readily encourage the bringing of a camera...
But they would be horrified in California. I would be villified and cited. How hath the redneck taken root? Who placed MAN at the center of things? But, in the deeper programming, the Californian inside me retains some unassailable primacy. My rule is, always give the critters their required space. Respect nests. And if you even remotely suspect you might truly be creating a negative impact, then you must perform the difficult but sometimes necessary act of NOT CLIMBING.
(above) Chris Miller crimping the Bore Hole traverse at the Windmills. The rock is some crazy half-baked schist. Often looks like death-by-crushing and probably very well is. Nome climbers should follow the "3 points of attachment" rule.
(below) Looking up orange wall (every crag must have an orange wall) at Angstroms Rocks. This is an 80 feet chunk of meta-sedimentary marble next to the Kougarak Road, way fun to climb, but friable as chalk! The featured Raptor is Golden Eagles; their nest is visible directly to the right of Mikey Lean, who is battling the nice 5.10a Angstroms Orange on a crisp Fall day. Photo by Phil.
Out at Angstroms the other night... sated on the Lotus fruit of limestone climbing... CHI oozing liberally up through the pores of the hillside, the air alive with buzzing and chirping and whirring of wings... plenty of scare and dare, breath or death, trust or dust, the ground was 30 feet down and I didn't even care, mantels and pockets and it was all there... Flexibility and strength were soaking up into my limbs like water returning to the sponge. Winter was so long and cold. It's all an abstraction now, a 30 second commercial in the mind. Now, back to our main feature, big blue summertime and warm rock under the hands...
When all at once— LARGE MAMMAL IN THE CORNER OF MY EYE! Fight or flight! Flee! Hide! screams Brain. So I did hide, up on the limestone. I don't care what they say, bears can't do 5.8 or higher... So I'm out of breath, heart pounding, freaking out in a totally unnecessary fashion, and the whole time my brain was processing the visual data from what I had seen... very poor visual data, I have to add, my old eyes have gone very bad. The animal had been a good quarter mile away. So my brain is sort of Photoshopping the image, and lo and behold, the latent image emerged not of BEAR, but of WOLF. The audio kicked in, and I realized I had been listening to the wolf howling for several minutes without realizing it. So, back to the limestone (marble) for a long, sweet night of bouldering.
(below, bottom) BSNC lands.
At every indent I am bumping my head against the problem, the problem of posting descriptions of sacred places on the internet, of all places. I have manufactured various rationalizations and justifications for the act, but the act still has an unsettling feel to it, the fear permeates each keystroke.
Worse yet, the problem of seeming to encourage climbing rocks on shareholders' lands. It's sort of embarrassing to be a climber these days; we are the final scourge of the west, the scavengers who pick the remains from whatever the cowboys, explorers, and businessmen failed to ravish. Never spray. It is petrifying to be doing so. But I'm not out there shooting anything....
Banner Creek Bouldering Getaway
the lovers were loving at the love-in
the music drifted down to the willows by the river
the rock it was solid and undercut—
oh, leave it all and get off to the war
we lay sprawled on the grass, the sun glinted off riffles,
her voice was a tickle just this side of a dream...
one more try and we'll have unlocked this sequence—
now, off to the war, enough of this peace
the nap hung heavy on our eyelids, the breeze blew away the bugs,
i had convinced myself we were where we ought to be...
but when we awoke, the ground was too close—
so, it's off to the war, before we get used to this
no more capering with our seats next to the ground
off to the glittering kingdoms, to be in peril in the air
away from this babbling brook of Forgetfulness—
now, off to the mountains, to the war...