Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Twin Mountain, Sunday, January 17

despite the one cool climb, the Brynteson trip the weekend before was a big failure—  my original intention had been to reach a climbing destination directly across the Snake Valley at Twin Mountain, but chickened out of crossing the river willows on snow-machine— the Brynteson chutes and aretes i narrated were a consolation prize, my fourth time up there, they are fun cliffs in winter mon, drive all the way to north side of hill before dismounting and ascending.

(right) N. Twin Mountain cliffs at sunset,
Snake River Valley, showing big chunks of avalanche set off by Graham on January 17

We started up the snow-covered turf ramp left of center, left of the orange-lichen wall-  there was an awkward move around a willow lump-  Chris and I rappelled from a snow-filled alcove above-  it was chill factor 55 below, and we didn't have our act together-  Chris's ATC burned a frozen brand into his belly....

(normally i would consider it a degredation to spew such spray, such shameless i-Beta, but the Snake River Valley is already well degraded IMHO, so what does it matter?)

next weekend on the 17th of January, i returned with a secret weapon:  an actual, human, climbing partner, the indefatigable Chris Miller, primed and ready, mounted on top of a big yellow Ski-Doo, with his poor feet jammed into Phil Hofstetter's too-small snappy red Koflach climbing boots.  off we roared, me on the new smooth-riding .570 Bearcat.

the cold:  the fabulous cold.  did i mention yet it was cold?  well, it was.  it was cold.   allapa.  allaparunga.  Clem, Clem!  i am cold.  these boots, they don't work!   the wind was blowing 20 over the ridgetops, with an ambient well below zero, twenty, twenty-five below that day, with the wind at twenty mph, Art Davidson baby.  much too cold for technical climbing with ropes, but we were choosing to do it anyway.

Twin Mountain cliffs came up fast this time when Chris gunned the hog across Snake River, with a minimum of willow-shredding. foolishly, we had not donned harnesses before the ride and froze our fingers doing so.  as i started up the icy snow slope towards the cliff, last week's avalanche was far from my mind, when

i should have been expecting it.  the slope cracked neatly and ran exactly a centimeter and stopped.  it was nothing, slope angle wasn't maybe over 31°,  but i was gasping anyway, having a very heart attack, stricken, white, panic-attacking;  Chris,  saw Ian acting weird further up the slope and thought nothing of it, dude's always acting that way-  

but that click, that mechanical click, all the heinous snow slopes all those years we've crouched on with our ears to the surface waiting for that very clicking sound, all the friends we've lost, Tom, Johnny, Alex, Randy, Nemo, how is anyone supposed to know?  the accrued resonance of fear built up over years in Alaska had me cursing and sputtering most vilely

(left)  quartzite is metamorphosed sandstone:  this kind in Snake River is pure choss.  but in winter, it meshes with its bryophytic symbiotes, freezes solid, and you get good Cobra thunks, just like real ice!  the living climbing wall...

as we were getting into lead-climbing mode on the quartzite cliff, lo and behold, along came Earp on a borrowed snow-machine! and now here she was coming up the slope!  now, here is an individual who can fully appreciate irrational fear of a snow slope!, for i had seen Joni's picture of the big one she had ridden at Turnagain Pass—  

sure enough, when she reached a point, right where the slope gradient kicks back to exactly 35°—


she had my same reaction, stricken, white, gasping.

(right)  choss-  i came back the following weekend by myself and soloed a bunch of stuff-  i gave each route i did a very serious name, and various ratings in several different languages, but i forgot it all...

as i'm banging in pins like fury on ground where on another day i have soloed, lo and behold, from down below came a roaring over the wind:   Jeff and Graham a-straddle their dreadful SkiDoos, stalking our cliff.  they were off their machines and up to the cliff in seconds.  i tried to hear what they were saying but i was hanging onto the tips of willows and snow-kneeing over a rather troublesome little drop-off (with some good protection from a Bugaboo, i might add)

i was too far away to hear the click , but i heard the 


Graham, the tiger, had sunk his claws into a fairly huge 38° raft and set if off, maybe 30' x 90' x 16".   large blocks of snow slipped and slithered down the slope before coming to rest in a hissing pile-up of fragments.  i couldn't see from my perch, but apparently Earp had to do the RFYL!

one by one, we bugged out.  Chris and I made it out last and epicked in the darkness on our machines.   we emerged from the whole ordeal NOT unscathed... we ended the day sitting in hot baths discussing our frostbite over the phone.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Avalanche on Mt. Brynteson

there it is, you can see a horizontal, white line left of center low on the mountain but above the willows- that's the crown face left by the avalanche two Sundays ago on January 10-  I was on my way down from a very fun very cold solo on the cliffs above, when I cavalierly began plunge-stepping down the convex face of a mid-mountain cornice created in a lee-slope deposition zone...

it was maybe 300' x 60' x 16" with me on top of the slab treadmilling the whole raft underneath me (fortunately i had been facing inwards with cobras drawn)-  the trigger made such a a gentle, audible, beautiful, gradual, resonating


noise, like a long row of playing cards going down underneath the floor-  i instinctively pedalled upwards as the horizontal fracture shot propagated before my very eyes and i now found myself climbing on a moving plane of snow-   i don't know how far i slid along with the mass trying to mantle onto the top of its crown-- when it came to rest after a short amount of slding, i was lucky to be perched on an unbroken plate of snow- probably a good thing i kept climbing up through the downward motion-  the ensuing rush was well worth the consternation of those few seconds-  mark, this avalanche ranked next to nothing by Chugach or Alaska Range standards, but still, this occasion marks my first true avalanche experience on the Sewie Peninsula, and was certainly sufficient to increase the heartbeat a bit...

the event over-shadowed the other highlight of the day, an enjoyable highball / solo type thing, a fun fun job of climbing on the quartzite arete visible in the rear of the photo- call the line i did M-3 with a picturesque top-out onto the north summit of Brynteson, done in extraordinarily cold conditions, sub-zero with stiff winds out of the north- moss sticks, stemming, overhangs, cams, surprisingly good climbing for a big blop of CHOSS....

here's John Brynteson, one of the 3 Lucky Swedes