Monday, September 6, 2010

Return to the Oliver Perry Smith boulders

(above) Nome-Council Road, looking west.  Hike to the marble bands in the picture, walk west along the ridgeline for several miles until you reach a small, fairly paltry set of boulders—  the Oliver Perry Smith boulders.

   Bill the ferry man had gotten drunk and Johnson found himself stranded again, alone, on the far side of the Channel.  There was nothing for it but siwash once again and make the two-day trudge back to Council. He would take the back way, of course.  It wasn't the first time.

 Johnson rather enjoyed these siwashes, truth be told.  His legs covered the miles, his mind was free to roam. Johnson was always known around the diggings as a man who would rather walk miles than ride a mule.  A structural engineer by training, he had come from Europe to build bridges, but had soon run afoul of the Council City and Solomon River Railroad Company, and was reduced to a grunt, mucking his living here and there between the two town sites. 
(above)  The marble band About 55 ft... extremely can't-dependable MEGA-CHOSS.   Some fun highball boulders if you've got the stomach for rock that may crumble and clash into chalk dust any moment.

     Johnson came muck-a-lucking along the wagon way in gumboots.  He had almost got up to Big Hoorah, was just pulling into view of the encampment, when he saw old Lehnhart ahead on the hill, mucking away at something.  Suddenly, Johnson remembered:  'Lehnart— the money I owe 'im!' 
     Johnson veered off to the west immediately, intending to circumvent his creditor in the willows, but soon found himself ascending a steep draw even further to the west, and topping out on the crest of a high ridge, which he began following, somewhat mindlessly, I might add, further and further west.  Johnson ambled along, happy as can be, rifle in his hand.
(above) Looking east along the ridge.  What fine FELL WALKING there is on the Seward Peninsula!  World class....  It out-Scotlands Scotland.

   It was a detour that Johnson sometimes liked to make, especially on trips where he was alone.  It took him well out of his way for getting back to Council, but Johnson nursed a secret... a hidden passion that none of his pards would understand:  he liked the rocks.  Climbing them, that is.
      It was like ballet.  Old Perry Smith had showed him back in the Dresden days, back in their days at the Technische Hochschule, down by the river on the Elbsandstein.  The ways of crimping and torquing the body into the rock, the silent challenge of a rock tower, the strange sort of focus that fell over a man... 'or woman, for that matter,' thought Johnson, remembering Rand's girl that day long ago when they went the wrong way on the Grosser Wehlturm, missing out on placing the schwarze kamin. Oliver flunked out of school because they went climbing that day.  But Ollie never stayed flunked for long.'  
   (above) Oliver.  Rather an interesting piece of metamorphic something-or-other.  Crazy little mini-dikes that look friable but don't quite break when you finger-crank down on them.  Oliver is one of the only worthwhile boulders in the whole obscure clump of boulders.

        Old Perry Smith...  he would never have done something like mucking for gold, thought Johnson.  He would have scoffed at the gold.  He would have said something absurd like, "Sport is Panacea!" just to show how damned clever he was, and then...
raced ahead to launch up the rocks, the rocks that were at last hoving into Johnson's view.
 (above) OPS boulders looking west.  Insignificant little scuds of metamorphic:  NOT a destination bouldering area, but a favorite of the miner Johnson's.

      But when he got to the boulders, Johnson was momentarily too fatigued to climb.  His body sagged down against the big overhanging boulder he fondly called "Oliver," and a deep sigh wheezed out of him as he slumped into the soft cushion of the blueberry tundra.  He got out his biscuits, tipped out a hit of the aquavit, measured out his tobacco.  He noticed all of a sudden a little bird's nest perched on a foothold at eye level.  He tried to remember if it had been there last time he was sitting here.  The clouds looked like they had been painted against the blue.  Johnson sighed the contented sigh of a man without a care in the world.
(above) Oliver.  A fine picnic spot, with shelter from the rain.  Note gun for size.     

        The miner daydreamed.  Johnson got to thinking about Germany again.  Every Saturday they went to the rocks.   They had  not questioned the why?  They climbed, as Oliver often reminded them, for the ding an sich...
    On impulse, with spastic grace, Johnson heaved himself to his feet. The crusty miner faced the rock, and his body seemed to loosen.  Delicately, he attached each one of his four limbs to the overhanging rock.  His fingers latched on tiny sills.   Both his rubber boots cut loose from their footholds, causing his body to swing into space.  His blackened fingers darted out and caught a lichen-covered hold to the side.  .
(above)  Oliver east face.  This shot is SO posed.  This was the first time I ever remembered to bring my glasses so I could play around with the 10-second self-timer on the camera.  I'm pretty sure I sent this problem years ago when I was there with Nils Hahn, but I chickened out of doing it last Sunday.

       Johnson flailed.  No way he was getting over this overhang.  So instead he inched around the boulder, playing the quergang game Ferhmann used to play where you don't let your feet touch the ground or it's like a death fall, and see if you can make it all the way around the boulder without resting.     
    'Oliver would have sent,' thought Johnson.  It was always like that in the Tech tagen, Oliver going up over the beetling hangs, while the rest of them played the traversing game lower down, close to the ground.
(above) Uluraq.  Another experiment with the self-timer.  There is something inherently narcissistic about a self timer;  such a thing seems unsavory.  The small piece of stone in this picture is perhaps the least flaky slice in the Oliver Perry Smiths, a fractured sliver fallen off the mother rock, and shaped like an ulu.  Note the new toy helmet, the Petzl Elios III.

      Johnson played on the rocks until he noticed the sun going down over the Sawtooths and a chill drawing down on the air like a curtain, at which he forgot all about his musings and hastened back in the direction of the Roadhouse, where his friends would be waiting, Lehnart be damned... and he just might get a few ptarmigan on the way back...
(above) High ridge paralleling Nome-Council Road on the west where the road begins to climb over Skookum Pass in the Mile fifties, Fall of 2009.  Those are the forgettable Oliver Perry Smith boulders in profile on the top-  at least that is my own private little fanciful name I carry around for them in the quick of my own little mind.

         Johnson is the person who has climbed this boulder problem before you.  Maybe he is a hunter in the Neolithic, but in that case, how do you define a mountain over time?          
        When you are tempted to post on the internet and claim the FA of a climb on the Seward Peninsula, consider Johnson (who might have lived to go with Allen Carpe on Logan had he not succumbed to the flu in '18), who surely climbed it before you, though his exploits be forgotten.

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