(above) Earp on 4th pitch of Sluicebox Couloir. Both of us had felt the sting of Osborn's northeast wall before. On another of Joni's birthdays in 2006, we had gotten halfway up the Sluicebox before a breeze sprang up on top, nearly drowning us down in the cleft with waves of spindrift. Joni had been nauseous the entire climb and able to speak only in low groans.
pictures of this wall from years earlier (below):
Upon finding the Sluicebox NOT WORTH CLIMBING IN THESE CONDITIONS, the effect was like waking out of a deep trance. "What are we doing here, Earp? How did we get here?" We stood blinking in the bright sunlight. So focused had we been on the NORDWAND, now that we were released from years of servitude in the gulag, we didn't know what to do with ourselves.
If the gold medal for valor was not to be our reward this time. I peeked in to my little black book for other nearby opportunities to conflate my sore and collapsed ego. How could I contrive some new frontier out of the mountain wilderness at my disposal?
"I know, Earp- let's make the FWA (first winter ascent) of Mt. Osborn by the regular route." As far as I knew, the mountain had not had a proper ascent to the true summit during the calendar winter. Nor has it yet, by my reckoning, as you shall see, unless you count the leveling of an ice ax to the proper altitude an ascent. Joni was plenty psyched to climb Osborn, having never ascended the crown jewel of the Kigs in any season. Such contrivances as FWAs are generally poo-pooed as proper motivation to climb by the spiritual masters of true alpine wisdom, but a confused old dad like me finds they provide a structure of sorts upon which to pin decision-making, and energy resource allocation in a fatigued market. So we motored around the corner of Osborn, parked our iron dogs in the sun, and commenced slogging up the southeast rib. Earp, breaking training from WEIO, was soon far ahead out of sight up the mountain.
(left) "Snakey Mt."(Pk. 2950+) and "Pen Tri Cwm" (Pk. 3600+) from the south fork Grand Central area. These are peaks in the very cool South Fork of Grand Central, you see them to the south as you're hiking up Oz. The pass to the right just out of the picture leads to the Windy drainage and is easy, though I've always been too chicken to MACHINE IT. The saddle to the left of Snakey leads to the Sinuk, but is probably Class 3 or 4, so it is best for those seeking passage to choose the Windy/Sinuk side of Snakey Mountain.
Years ago, Mikey and I slogged up the very ski-able backwards-S couloir on the lefthand mountain in the photo, which she later labelled as "Snakey" on a photo, which is how I have referred to it ever since. Tyler calls it the "Z-couloir. We are both in agreement that it represents the next great problem in Kigs descents— perhaps it's been hucked already. The two pitches on the summit arete were steep and icy and made me glad that Mikey and I had brought a cord. "Pen Tri Cwm" was a name bestowed upon the righthand peak by Todd et al in a Scree article, if I read it correctly, the name referring to its position at the head of three different valleys, Sinuk, Windy, and Grand Central. A cool name for this mountain, which maintains a rather managerial prominence over the entire corridor of the Sinuk when viewed from the mouth of the Sinuk river-- I wonder if there's an older name from the early fish camp days?
(above) Summit tors on Osborn (not the actual summit) taken on descent. These tors run like a fence along the top of Oz; you HAVE TO traverse all the way to the north to reach the highest one, which is only higher than the penultimate one by probably ten or fifteen feet. The Penultimate Tor, located at the southern end of the fence is the more spectacular formation; on one of my earlier attempts I mistook it for the high point and rope-soloed it, finding moves at about 5.6, but then had no more time to traverse for 25 minutes to the north to get to the one that looked highest. Roman may have soloed the Penultimate in the nineties while he was scientificaneering in Nome, but all is fog and uncertainty, it's hard to say. The North Tor is easier, Class 4, or maybe Class 5; I would say DON'T bring the rope in summer, but the thing can be useful snagging two people tied together by one when they are whizzing down the icy face in winter.
Earp had no love for the summit slopes and their bottomless chutes into wall holler; she suffered my intimacy with the summit tors, my fabricated little rules for proper conduct when claiming ascents of Osborn, the merciless icy wind, and the way I foodled around in the scree and bullet-hard ice, picking my way ever so slowly across easy ground. Many say they have climbed the Oz, some will tell of driving snow machines to the top-- but most, upon interrogation, reveal they merely reached the summit ridge, and do not deem the tors poking out the top of the mountain worthy of including in their definition of ascent.
The theme is contrivance as a motivator. Without the conventions of traditional ascent, one would be content to stop short of the summit and there would be no game to play, no reason to escape the GLUE OF TOWN in the first place, no harmony of line or palette, no winner of the Iditarod. And the rules need to be tailored to the particularities of a particular range. I therefore propose that an ascent in the Kigs only be counted if the very topmost tiny rock has been attained.
I stopped short literally one meter shy of the top of the tor. I raised my axe in the air, and it attained an altitude above sea level commensurate with the top of Osborn, 4714 feet. It was not difficulty that stopped me from the last move, though, God!, you hadda be careful there, a thing just skids right on down and doesn't stop from there. No, it was.... complexity, human complexity, I was paralyzed, transfixed, we had to get back home.
Therefore and hencefoth, Osborn awaits its FWA..