I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in...
(above) "Third Tog" (Pk. 3150+), Crater Creek valley. North Ridge is the righthand skyline.
1SA (1 Sunday ago)
Andy Sterns and I slogged to Crater Creek for another attempt on the North Ridge of the "Third Tog". Boy, did we get Murphied: the days we were in the mountains, it rained, and the days we were out of the mountains, the sun shone, and shines still, as the GLUE OF TOWN holds me fast like a clam-digger with one boot stuck in the mud of Turnagain with the tide coming in. M.L.D.'s-- Murphy's Law derivatives-- always difficult pills to swallow. One endures the irony-burn of all the oh what a nice day!s with as much good cheer as one can muster.
Though no SEND was obtained, we did some great pitches of sliming, despite the climb. Andy was a driving force in comparison with my natural laziness and exuded immense climbing drive every morning. Where my other Fairbanks friends poke fun at the choss topples in the Kigluaiks, Andy hallucinates routes are there. We pretended to establish a partial route on the biggest of the Togs, "Slimedog Millionaire," two pitches of ICKY super-slime over fairly nice rock at S-8 ("slime-eight") with a few "Scottish-free" moves.
(above) North side of Tog 3, Crater Creek. To see the approximate climbing line, you could click here. For an account of my rained-out solo attempt on the Tog last year (which I have foolishly reiterated this year), plus a discussion of Crater Creek hiking, you could click here. The rock is granitic gneiss.
On last week's attempt, Andy and I got about a third of the way up the ridge before severe SLIME necessitated a quick rappel back to the safety of the green slabs at the base, where Lucy the mountain dog was waiting for us, scampering on fourth class terrain.
The whole route, we learned, is probably only four pitches. On many earlier trips to the mountain, my brain had perceived the Third Tog as a soaring Temple Crag fluted with multiple Moon Goddess Aretes, and had thusly persuaded Andy to "drain his tank" of mileage and come climbing in the Kigs. What we found there was more like a highly-degraded Aeolian Butte-- but what a gorgeous middle-of-nowhere in which to be climbing!
(above) The "human mules": Rick, Daniel, and Andy, with Lucy, pausing at glacial erratic, Crater Creek. Did I mention we were cold? Yes, assuredly so, everyone is soaking wet. A breeze is blowing. Alaaparut.
For the first time ever, we experimented with usage of human mules. The idea was to exploit unwitting locals by offering them a few pittances in exchange for carrying our prodigious kit to the base of the moraines. Rick and Daniel Anderson were easily gulled into leaving for Crater Creek immediately with 50 lb. packs on their backs, despite the rain; both father and son, I assured Andy beforehand, were "monster hikers," and they certainly proved true my claim. The idea was that mules would be cheaper than a helicopter with Bering Air, though the final result was mixed; we grew emotionally attached to our mules, and felt horrible to see them suffer in the wet brush on the way in, and strange about trying to make it a hired gig... yet, did the mules seem to enjoy their burdensome task? Next year, we'll all ride the helicopter, mule-brothers, how about it? Yee-Haw!
(above) Pitch 1, "Slimedog Millionaire."
The first night was icky and cold; we awoke soggy-clothed in the morning with the tent in full-puddle. My ancient, utterly BEAT BIBLER was giving up the ghost, silly plastic pole-guide rings popping right and left, laminations delaminating, pinholes emerging like dripping stars, a ripping noise with every zip. After so many years of proud service-- stove fires in the Todd-Tex, the massively-rumbling horrors outside the yellow wall, boredom on the inside, novels, pee bottles, drifting snow, pressing my face into the wall all night, spiders, the porcupine I slept with one night-- the tent finally earned its true name on this last trip: ICKY WOODS.
The next day we retrieved the gear that Rick and Daniel had helped us to cache, under pulses of rain-shower and a sky that shifted directions like a candle at a birthday party where all the kids are blowing at once from different directions. The following day we arose from our icky beds of gelatinous slime and ascended into mist, "just to have a look at the route." Many crack systems presented themselves; we chose an attractive one and started up. Good jams, plugging cams, slimy hands, what does it matter if you got good jams? But after a few fun moves, a squeeze chimney lubricated with Preparation-H raised a chafing conundrum: "Uh, Andy, I could aid this, but it would be so much more fun if only it were dry. I just know I would enjoy shoving my body through this painful, corrugated, cheese-shredder, if only it were dry." Rain was falling. The black squeeze glistened with Preparation-H.
So we switched off our northwall brows, and whipped up a top rope, and had an absolute ball climbing in the 100% precipitation for the rest of the day. We left our gear and returned to Icky Woods. A patch of sun came out and set us to steaming. We dried our bags in the sun. Andy proclaimed our fortune had turned, the weather was now good.
(above) Andy descending Class 4 slabs. The buttress directly over his head is the proper route; we chose greener, path-of-least-resistance lines a little further to the right.
The next day, we went back up into chance of showers, "just to assess the slime-factor," but both of us knew it would probably be our one, big attempt-- we were sodden, and our calories were running out. Lucy, the Border Collie, on her first technical climbing expedition, proved perfectly cognizant of a dogs role in wall climbing; at the exact point where the 5th class commenced, she was happy to renounce her until-then constant obssession with following our every body movement, and retreat to the base like a good dog, with no blatant whimperings, nor attempts at mental manipulation at which this one-year old herding-dog excels.
(above and below) Pitch 1, "Slimedog Millionaire."
We decided to damn the aesthetics and just clutch up whatever route would get us through the slime-fields the easiest. A Class 4 approach pitch on wet grass led to some rock. I placed an El Cap's worth of gear in about 40 ft., then did a cool little move across a dihedral and belayed. The pictures show Andy following the cool little move across the dihedral.
The dark clouds were engorging, the rain ceiling was coming down fast. Something happened to me for a moment; the old tiger came out. An arrogant Benowitzian impatience took hold; I sunk all ten fingernails into vertical dirt and spider-clawed up the next 5.7 hanging tundra pitch, without putting in ten-thousand pieces or wailing like an expectant father. Just as quickly, the tiger subsided back into loserdom and I felt fearful again. Why the almost angry burst? It was obvious to me that we would never complete this climb that day, we were soaked, we had no puffy coats, the wind was conjuring hypothermia, and the climbing was slime, only slime. I felt like returning to Icky Woods immediately and reading about hypothermic Bolsheviks in my book, "The People's Act of Love," by James Meeks. YET, I knew that Andy, bless his heart, was down there at the belay, perfectly excited to forge upwards into the increasing rain of our decreasing interval, to do one more pitch, just for the "fun" of it.
(above) The upper pitches of Third Tog, North Ridge.
I came to a large, ledgy area with a slime-fall coming down from above. The rain was like a foam, everywhere, over everything. The upper part of the route looked very doable. Murphy! It actually looked like fun, exposed climbing. This was the point where my woeful misjudgment of the climb became apparent. Hitherto I had held this climb of the Tog as a Jorasses-like north wall where hapless alpinists could potentially end up as frozen barnacles plastered to the headwall by cake-frosting, grimly visible from the green floor of the valley, forever out of reach. Now I view it is a fun climb on decent choss that one could do in a few hours. Must get back in there to solo it; or you!
(above) Rappelling off Slimedog Millionaire in the rain. Pitch 1 went where the rope is.
(below) Andy Sterns in the wet. Slime factor 7. Retreat. As always, Andy is radiating positive vibrations, even though he appears in this shot to be glowering.
Down at Icky Woods, Andy tuned a weather report on KNOM. "There is a 100% chance of rain today, 100% tonight, 100% tomorrow." Powerbar wrappers mucilaginously clung to the tent walls, which shook and spattered with wind and rain. Lucy curled stoically outside in a nest of mud, too young to ever have known the precedent of coming inside Icky Woods. We discussed our options. We had brought our gear down from the wall. The GLUE OF TOWN was oozing in through the cracks in our steely focus. We discussed relationships and what assholes we were.
In the end, it was decided that a full return to town was way too hideous a prospect: responsibilities and commitments would be waiting there to spring like hidden predators. We settled on the idea of hiking out to Earp's cabin the following morning with half the gear; we would hike a "Togathon" the following day, in and out of Crater Creek, sixteen miles, to retrieve the rest of the gear.
Here is what my friend Diana Haecker wrote in the Nome Nugget, week of August 18, about the day that Andy and I chose to flee Icky Woods and the mountains:
The unusually heavy downpour of rain last week made Thursday, August 11,
the wettest day in almost seven years with a precipitation of 1.21 inches, reports
the National Weather Service. This is in line with the trend of this wet summer
of 2011, which already saw July being the seventh all-time wettest month in
Nome's 105 years of weather data record keeping.
Crater Creek had physically increased in length. We suffered. Allapa. We reached the 4-wheeler. The plan was for Lucy to run alongside the 4-wheeler for several miles; "I'll just perch up there on top of those bags," her eyes seemed to say, so we let her on. The Clampetts motored down the Kougarak Road towards the dry cabin.
(above) Salmon Lake
Earp's cabin had never felt so good. I'll never forget the smile of the dog, who had been sleeping out in the drink for days. But like an invisible gas, the GLUE OF TOWN seeped into the room. A phenomenon known as "Relationship Force" was exerting a strong current on Andy, as he had not seen his partner all summer. That meant we were hosed; I myself am tragically predisposed to succumb to the GLUE. It became a foregone conclusion: the next day, our party of three piled onto Prolly, the 4-wheeler, and motored back to the fleshpots of Nome.
(above) Tog 3 in Winter.
The "Togs" is my pet name for the metamorphic-granite structures that one encounters in the south fork of Crater Creek. These cliffs are not visible from the Kougarak Road, but unfold spectacularly when one turns the corner on the obviously-glaciated valley about six miles up. The name derives from a color-coded designation in the explanation of my geological map of the Kigs, "Bedrock Geologic Map of the Kigluaik Mountains...," by Amato and Miller. The good climbing rock in the Kigs shows up as pink on this map, and the explanation reads: "pre-Cambrian Thompson Creek OrthGneiss," from which "C-TOG" was derived, which Andy and shortened this trip to simply TOG.
I identify 7 separate Togs in the valley. This is a cusp area where the pluton is in contact with the schist; Crater Glacier must have come through during the last glaciation and sliced off the very edge of this plutonic uplift, leaving little fingernail clippings of granitic gneiss lying upright on the southeast wall of the valley. There's plenty of rock up there. The 7th Tog (Pk. 3950+?) is one of the highest peaks in the region; got to get out of this naming business, really, the true EarthSea names of things are locked inside the land. The Third is the largest of the Togs; the summit is pleasantly attainable on the Class 2 south side; try bouldering your way to the top on the northwest side via discontinuous I-can-imagine-it's-granite slabs interspersed with great fat-pad balconies made of hanging tundra.
(below) Crater Creek area. This is an old, rather sloppy map. Regarding the approach to the Togs, the verdict is in: it's easier to hike on the riverbed on the way in (but more bearonoid).