Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dorothy Falls

       Analogy for Interior Alaskan ice climbers:
Fairbanks, Alaska is to Dragonfly Falls
Nome, Alaska is to Dorothy Falls. 

       The analogy holds, though Dorothy be not half Dragonfly.  Dorothy is where climbers are generally referred when the question is asked: "Is there any ice climbing round Nome?," though what the climber finds after hiking up the wonderful Dorothy Creek is only a paltry, rounded, 20 ft. blob of blue ice, WI 2 at best.
         I had climbed there many a time in the past, but not since the inception of Kigsblog in 2009, when Nate Skains and I spontaneously decided to motor out to mile 24 Kougarak Road on Saturday a week ago.  Since Kigsblog has never posted on the topic of Dorothy Creek, here arises the opportunity to "poo poo" this "popular" ice climbing area, just as a Fairbanks hardman might poo-poo Dragonfly for being the popular destination of weekend noobs, with a parking lot full of cars and young people in shiny new Gore-Tex, when the real climbing lies hidden deeper inside the canyons labyrinths, or up in the highest mountains.

       Nate and I developed exoskeleton as we ran laps up and down.  Dorothy Falls drip-streamed blue and wet, with the temperature well below zero;  water drip-dropped copiously from the surface of the ice as we climbed, then flash-froze onto our creaking Gore-Tex suits.  Our soft, warm bodies became encased inside a hardened, jointed, translucent shell, the memory of our warm-blooded, mammalian selves sealed over by cold, insectile sensibility— with the need for stealth and constant movement to keep from freezing immobile.  I was destined to ride home in Nate's Jeep still wearing my crampons frozen onto my  feet by the exoskeleton. 

       Cleaning out cobwebs in the brain pathways that light up with ice climbing... cobwebs accumulate rapidly while you were away on the rock... Had to rediscover that weight-shift, "monkey hang" thing in the hips where you stick your tushy out into space behind you even though your brain does not wish to stick your tushy out, only then does the absurd little system of opposed spikes on your toes and hands dig in to the ice correctly...   Death-knuckling of the shafts (due to the primordial fear of being surrounded by a steep walls with no purchase or friction whatsoever) gradually began to subside, and it was relearned that you barely have to hold on to the shafts at all.  Soon, I was bored at Dorothy Falls, a good sign...  We soloed many laps, trying to get the feeling back of movement over ice, enjoying the bonus adrenalin rush that comes each time you make the Zone 2 pullover at the top.

       The real fun comes on the mixed highballing problems to the right or left of the icefall that climb over the 20 ft., circular, marble wall that forms the Falls amphitheater:  steep little ramps and corners tufted with frozen dabs of turf necessitating stemming and pull-overs that are not without mental stimulation owing to the consequences of a mistake.  One M-5 move from last Saturday stands in my memory:  frontpoints precisely stemmed out on crystals in a nicely formed corner, you lean out and sink a big fatty in an overhanging, overflowing, overgrowing blob of turf, and without hesitation at 16 ft. you lean  your full weight back on the rig and yard up. 

       Johnson was hungry that Fall.  A man just gets tired of ptarmigan, that's all.  He was stuck out at Dorothy with everything iced up, no early season snow, the days short and dark, Nome looking very far away, and no company at the cabins except for Mr. Wiggins, and wasn't he a barrel of fun?
         One good thing:  the Company had set him up with some fine gear to use that season.  He particularly enjoyed the custom creeper / snowshoe rig he had engineered from all the truck:  right now, in this cold drought of a December, he was only using the creepers.
         After breakfast one morning around Christmas, Johnson went for his walk up the Creek, walking right out on the creek ice which was blue and bulging with suppressed flow.  As usual, he continued all the way up the drainage (which, Johnson had to admit, was not seeing the kind of color they had come to expect from it in years past) until he reached the waterfall, a charmed little spot that just made a hell of a swimming hole on a hot summer day.
       Now, Johnson, as you know a student of Eckenstein, Fehrmann, and Perry-Smith from his time at the Technicum in Saxony, as you might predict had on prior occasions executed a few moves of technical rock-climbing on the limestone walls at the swimming hole.   This Fall he had fashioned sharp and wicked hooks for his hands with a clever harness system, and with the excellent creepers on his feet intended to climb the ice of Dorothy Falls itself.
      But his efforts were over in a few seconds.  Johnson found his hooks and creepers bit the soft, pliable ice almost effortlessly.  A few kicks, and he had surmounted the steep bit in the creek.  Dorothy Falls had not been worth, as they used to say, "leaving the whiskey bar."  Johnson felt a bit embarrassed about his little divertimento--  it had taken him the better part of a day to fashion the gear.  No need to tell anybody about this one....  

       Beta:  find Dorothy Creek on the map, somewhere around Mile 20 something Kougarak Road.   Cross Nome River which is braided in this area, crossing can be problematic but usually not.  Head west up Dorothy Creek drainage at a red cabin visible from road.  Falls is a mile or two up the drainage.  If summertime and bearanoid, walk up on hillside above the drainage to the left (south) and easily drop back down into drainage at Dorothy Falls amphitheatre.  If not bearanoid, enjoy walk up the creek, about anybody can do it.  If creek is frozen, definitely wear crampons, the hike is almost always interesting and really fun and never deep enough to truly drown.  When Nate and I hiked it last Saturday there sure was a ton of overflow building the creek up.  A great place for beginning ice climbers, never hurts to bring a rope and some screws.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


(above) Ayasayuk quarry face, 2012.  Scarp rendered transitory as ice, never the same year after year, never before climbed, never to be repeated in exactly this same condition.  I feel very embarrassed to have gone to such lengths blogging about what essentially amounts to a piled slag heap, but perhaps its charm lies in this very ephemerality.  No egos have been chiseled into anything that will stand the test of time, it all gets dynamited to bits tomorrow.   

           Imagination is needed to climb in Nome. Once climbing becomes the metaphor that defines existence, logic follows that any medium whatsoever becomes climbing:  the two-inch jam between the bed and cab, the main-mast ladder on the six-story Dredge #5, a steep mound of frozen tailings, or the chair upon which you sit.
         Or, a ghastly 45 degree debris-flume of frozen sand and glued-in granite chunks--  I am speaking of the Ayasayuk quarry, 15 miles east of Nome.  Yes, the cat is out of the bag, there is no adequate way for Kigsblog to obfuscate around the location any longer.  It was I trespassing upon the Cape, along with Mr. Collins, last Saturday, in the kundali-intensive freezing cold of thirty-below chill factor. 
      Can this quarry even be called a cliff?  Does this 450 ft. tall scar count as a climbing area, a place where you don't go near the steep areas of rock for fear they will fulfill their destiny prematurely by rolling down the cliff over you on their way to the seawalls of Nome, Kotzebue, and other villages?       
           Imagination is needed to climb here.  But once you have made the decision to apply your imagination to this festering junk show, a run up the Cape provides a great climbing workout in a majestic setting, so closely approximating the motions, decisions, and risks of real climbing that it can only be counted as such.

 (above) Lower tier. Forty-five degree, chalk-hard frozen mud. Is this intended as another Monty Python simulated climbing shot?  Not at all, it turns out:  you cannot tell from this photo, but if Mr. Collins were to open his hands, his feet would begin to skid downward with surprising velocity. 

           I went back with Mr. Collins to get good pictures, something lacking in the Thanksgiving Ayasayuk Post due to dead batteries that day in the now-legendary Canon ProShot, the camera that spent the entire summer lying in the tundra in Tyler's driveway but still functions;  picture-taking in these photos was hampered by extreme allapa.  Did I mention it was cold?  Great streaks of gangrene it was cold!  
       The other reason for going back for another climb of the Ayasayuk was to straighten out the original Thanksgiving line, which zig-zags a great deal due to confrontations with death beetles of  trigger-happy batholithic bullshit, combined with horizontal access roads wide enough to drive  large excavators across the face of the cliff.  Mr. Collins and I should have bypassed Cape Nome altogether that day and driven 60 miles down the Norton Sound to the cliffs and ice-flows of Topkok, a journey possible in the comfort of our heated town trucks because of unusual freeze-up conditions.  But the TOWN GLUE was thick, we were losers, and we didn't go.  We settled for a repeat of the fun route on the Cape.

(above) Lower Ice Dribble, Middle Tier.

     Tried to put in screws, but the ice was cold, and they were the dirt screws— not the sharpest screws in the shed.  The first move onto the ice solicited an inelegant mantle onto a tool that, according to the Law of the Hardest Move, might give the pitch an overall rating of WI3 though it really be WI1. In truth, the whole climb felt rather like a Class 4 scramble, except that the entire medium is so weird and shattered and improbable that the only rating one could ascribe to this climb would be to invent a Cape Nome Dirt Scale specific to 2012 and use the climb itself as the one benchmark to measure itself relative to its own group of one. 

(above and above) Upper Ice Dribble. 

      Though not strictly necessary, we wore the rope between us the whole way, feeling vaguely as if we were enrolled in some groovy, therapeutical, human bonding class.  We set up anchors and went over sequences and pretended it was real climbing, even though it was.

(above) Upper dirt pitches.

    The upper dirt pitches is where I had dreamed Jeff and I could make a big splash and push the very frontiers of low-angle dirt climbing.  But the day was simply too cold for any dicking around.  I straightened out the line a bit by stair-casing it up a little rock ramp above where the ice comes oozing out, but it warn't nothing we didn't simul-climb.  There is something pleasurable about the continuous movement of crab-walking over steep mud in ice climbing gear.  Soon we were at the rim feeling like we had climbed something, though we weren't sure what.

       What has not been mentioned is the constant, pulsating force of the natural beauty exuding from our surroundings, the white desert ocean stretching to the horizon at the ice edge, the abrupt angles created by the quarry face, the buzz of SINH TALA exuding from the exploded pores of the Earth...  I apologize for not doing more research on the industry of this fascinating site.  I have so many questions.  How do they plan the excavation?  Just what causes these frozen waterfalls?  Has the quality of gneiss changed over the years.  Who works here?  What are their terms for each little thing?  Who draws the hieroglyphics on the boulders?  And will we be arrested for climbing there, and Kigsblog used against us as evidence?  Leave comments....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ayasayuk, Fifth Iteration

(above) Raina on pointy summit of 4-story Pea Gravel mound, Ayasayuk, November 3, 2012.  

(above) Same spot 4 days later.  The ice grew surprisingly while I was in Fairbanks for those four days to say goodbye to a friend and mentor.  Though I climbed the ice visible in the picture to a discerning eye, a complete ascent of the entire cliff would require two more trips. On the sunny, gorgeous day I finished the climb, my cameral malfunctioned, so these rather gray images are from earlier trips.  The ice has continued to grow, and by Thanksgiving was blue and bulging. 

      I've down-graded the fall situation from "mangled for six to nine months" to "only minor enmanglement, maybe just a deep bruise," should I lose my purchase on this steeply canted mass of huge boulders frozen in place by semi-vertical frozen dirt.  This down-grade makes me feel better and able to enjoy the spectacular situation:  the slushy, still blue ocean stretching over the curve, and the dull yellow of the frozen dirt cliff against the sky.
        I am leaving the low-angle water ice and kicking a tentative foot into the upper dirt pitches for the first time.  Last week the dirt did not feel good, but the dirt feels good today, not the usual sensation of a cohesive mass ready to solifluct at the slightest weight.  It's Thanksgiving day.  Five above, no wind-- the Norton Sound is congealing with the first skins of sea ice.
     Now, up on the cliff, barely a centimeter of dirt glued onto a solid granite slab. Swings produce sparks.  But the steepness is not sufficient to create real tension;  magically, front points glue onto blops of dirt, good sticks are everywhere in pillows of dirt, the dirt will not landslide today.  Curved plane of blue ocean drops away as rapid progress is made scuttling through surreal steep slabs of falling sand, saturated and sculpted to the perfect consistency for dry tool climbing.
      The rim.  Four hundred feet above the silenced breakers. Chips have been spent in karmic lotteries in order to complete the ascent of this shattered facade, all for nothing:  this wall will never last.  This itereation, too, will be dynamited into the same type of dust which made the frozen climbing of it possible today.
    (above) Upper pitch of ice, Fifth Iteration, Ayasayuk 2012.

  The aquifer is not dead after all.  The seep will have its way. It twists and turns as they blow it this and  that.  Each iteration sees its own seep, but never in the same way twice, so dry in previous years I had the temerity to think it over and done. But pieces of earlier iterations reappear, toes of buttresses remembered from years back, ramps with a particular ice flow, certain distinctive cracks in the granite, all of it overladen with this gooey frozen mashed-potatoes dirt that just makes it the most fun continuous simulated alpine climbing on this fine Thanksgiving morning, until I am going mad trying to piece the whole puzzle together of how this cliff has progressed through such accelerated geological cycles, where it ends and begins. 
    Is there anyone else out there who has followed these iterations?  A foreman, an operator, perhaps? Is there a mastermind behind this cliff, a Daedulus of these iterations?  If so, allapa must not come forward, for he is surely trespassing, but let him salute you, he is one of your biggest fans, besides the same three ravens that always occupy the choice eyries, year after year.  These iterations I have shored against my ruins...
 (above) Lower drip, Fifth Iteration. 

       Clem was gone.  That is how this year's iteration started. 

Take a look at poor Peter
He's lying in pain
Now let's all go 
Run and see
Run and see
Run and see

    So I got off the plane in Nome at mid-day, all death-mongered out on the passing of Clem in Fairbanks, on the subject of which there can in truth be no words to sufficiently convey.  He was Kristine's father, and Raina's grandfather, and my father in law, and a father figure to many, and kigsblog has not the parameters to express the respect I feel.  So when I got back home I headed down the coast posing as a surfer thinking it was good to be alive.  
     Very surprised to find drips of live blue ice that had grown nicely since Raina and I had visited the spot a week previous.  Like a starving mouse seizing crumbs, I was soon soloing.  To be climbing water ice so close to a road:  it was as if the Seward Highway had come to the Seward Peninsula!  A pitch of WI1 was followed by a steepening dirt apron:  I wanted to boulder out onto the steeper dirt for kicks, but my mind saw dump-truck-sized loads of sand and gravel and boulders oozing out under my knees if I stepped up on the steep.  
    So I settled on path of least resistance, and soon gained a full-on road that transects the upper face.  This led to an enormous wall of dirt (sand and gravel would be a more apt term) with one, distinct dribble of water ice coming down.  This I soloed, but the pitch ended abruptly in a ridiculous dirt wall where the spring bubbles out of the face, ridiculous because who would ever want to climb such a slag heap?  With the orange in the West fading fast, I retreated.
(above) View from cliff.  
 Back in town, back stuck in the gluey GLUE CENTRAL of Nome, it nagged me that I had not rimmed out on my initial attempt at this year's Sixth Iteration of Ayasayuk.  I have a little Kigs-rule that states that the yearly ascent of the Ayasayuk quarry face must go from bottom to top with a maximum of vertical, and climb over whatever mediums may present themselves for that given year:  ice, mud, rock, or lameness. 
   I went back with Nate days later, but our workaday, late-afternoon formula for TOWN GLUE ESCAPAGE did not permit an ascent of the entire face;  once again, I had only time for the ice.  The dirt headwall to the rim remained unclimbed. 
    It nagged at me still.  Kigsblog lay constipated until a complete ascent could be made on the all-time Thanksgiving Day.  A person can write, and say they had an epiphany, and were laid bare upon the Earth, and were humbled by the great maker, and were weeping with thankfulness at the beauty and intensity of it all, but that wouldn't be anything at all the same as the actual moment it all happened.  Humility is to be found in the boulder-slathered fields of the quarry because it's all going to come down on you and crush you and bury you and be taken away in huge trucks and be forgotten.


(above) Chart from a previous post.  Simply add another slice to the bluff for the latest iteration.  As has been necessarily pointed out in earlier installations, the ordinal numbering of these Iterations is only relative from the author's point of view in space and time;  an older-timer than allapa might employ a different numbering system for the face of this ever-changing cliff. And I am glad to report the "friendly ice-making aquifer" is not dead after all.

Links to earlier posts:  Ayasayuk Iterations,   WI 3 or 4 pillar of Second Iteration,
Ayasuk 2010

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pk. 3653, "Little Singatook"

Grand Singatook (Pk. 3870) on the left, Little Singatook (Pk. 3653) on right. The Little Singatook is WEST of the big one.

      Fog was draining the snowy Kigluaik Range like mucus subsiding through sinus passages out towards the sea.  In the bright breathing sunshine left in the fog's wake,  Lucy and I were heading west on the Teller Road bound for the Grand Singtook, Peak 3870, the Mt. Washington of the Seward Peninsula, where hopefully a basting of ice garnished its walls and buttresses.  Time was crystallized that day, Sunday, 1 Saturday Ago,  there was only NOW, beauty wallowed in fields of itself, a total chi-fest echoed down the hallways of eleven-dimensional time/space.

(above) Northwest aspect of Grand Singatook (Pk. 3870) taken from "Singtairuq" (Pk. 3653), Saturday, October 27, 2012.   In June of 2004, Nils Hahn and I climbed this side of 3870 by traversing down on to the face from a point halfway up the lefthand skyline (after drunken June bivouac on eastern slopes);  we finished in one of the Scottish gullies leading through the steep cliff band there at the top for three pitches. 

      The "Singtook" stands at the western bulwark of the Kigluaik Mountains;  it is the cleaver that cleaves the big weather systems flowing in off the Pacific.  Known to locals as "Thirty-Eight Seventy," it rates only a lump in comparison to Chugach or Alaska Range peaks, but nevertheless is a peak invested with psychic energy. 
      Imagine a family back in the day piled high into an Umiaq making what must have been a very worrying crossing from King Island to the mainland:  
          "Daddy— when is it ever going to end?"  
         "Just concentrate on the Singtook, my son, and reel that mountain in."
        Someone from King Island told me they looked for the outline of not one but two Singtook, a Big Singatook and a Small Singatook, which may explain why 3870 appears as Grand Singatook on the map, semantically implying there are other, lesser Singtut in its vicinity—  not to mention the -k ending on "Singatook," possibly indicating the amazing, inupiaq, "duple" plural ending.    
          The Singtook has a little "mini-me" of a mountain standing at its side, Peak 3653, the "Little Singtook" I once heard it called.  Having ascended the Big Singtook various times by various routes with various people in various years (tallying less than 50 percent success rate on this notorious wearer of storm hats), a climb of the Little Singtook—   Pk. 3653 on the map, the Singtairuq—  was now in order.  So that's where Lucy and I were heading in the vaporous heaven of sunshine last Saturday morning.

(above) Teller Road, dissipating fog.

(above) Lucy, 3870.

       Lucy bounded from the truck. Away we went up the gleaming southern slopes of 3870.   The big blue globe of Woolly Lagoon dropped steadily away as Lucy and I made good time over hard frozen snow.  Soon found me donning my creepers to join Lucy's claws, but then taking them off again when granite rock fields intervened, then putting them on once more for good as we sloped onto the icy, frozen upper mountain, where a summit wind sprang up to greet us.
 (above) Pk. 3653 from the plateau lying between it and 3870.

    Singtook rose up now on the right as we crossed a plateau.  The recipe of sunshine, mountains, and wilderness had once again conspired to shift the nodal point of my seven chakraed energy body to a slightly different point;  what I experienced in my mind while one-step-at-a-timing it up the mountain was akin to an altered state.  The effect was in the temporal interface:  each moment passed as if through a telescoping lens capable of zooming out to my entire life, and back to the mountain again. 

(above) Summit tors of Pk. 3653.  The tor in the lower picture was judged the higher spire.  Both were ascended by path-of-least-resistance methods with Class 4/5 moves over rimed or snow-covered granite.

(above) Lucy perched on Class 4 summit of Pk. 3653.  SiNtuq in background.  This was actually a rather narrow and exposed summit, for one brief shining moment of real climbing in a life of constant slogging.

     A gift at the summit:  the high point appeared to be at the top of some small tors, meaning the climb might yet transcend the category of mere slog.  Indeed, massive chunks of de-rimed snow were thumping down on top of us, giving the locality a rather Alaska Range feel.  Since the snow bedecking the granite was de-riming, it wasn't much good for pulling on with picks, so I was forced to weave creatively around the tors on ledges, ramps, and blocks, in good Norman Clyde style, in order to access the tippy, tippy tops of both the highest tors.  
       Lucy began to whine and fret, questioning the utility of lingering in such a silly, lifeless place, with the late-October sun sinking fast behind King Island into the molten, burbling sea.
     But once again, human eyes had detected what the dog's keen sense did not—  the gibbous Moon, way over on the opposite end of the Range, already risen over Mt. Osborn.  There would be light aplenty.  Abandon this sense of haste and hurry, though night be falling soon.

(above) Looking east from Pk. 3653 down the spine of the Kigluaiks Range, gibbous moon to the left of Mt. Osborn.

         On the descent, I saw something I will not soon forget. Lucy and I were stumbling along in the gloaming, waiting for the Moon to pop up at our backs so we could see again.  The Moon was taking its time working its way over the horizon of the Singtook.  Meanwhile, the Singtook itself had put on THE MONSTER—  the localized, massive, lenticular cloud which often hangs stuck on the upper half of the mountain or curvi-formed in the air just above.  All mountains have lenticulars, but the Singtook runs a doozy;  it is no place to be.  Many is the expedition that has battled its way up through reasonable winds to the 2500 ft. level on the Singtook, only to encounter there a living, moaning, hurricane-force WIND CLOUD which completely precludes a summit attempt.  
        The Singtook was wearing its cloud, and the Moon rose directly behind it.   White light flared off the mountain, resembling aurora more than smoke.  Beams as bright as a spotlight, then with a sheet thrown over it, then bright again, blackened in the denser patches with sunspots, spasms of light streaming, flashing out, hallucinating.  The Singtook steamed in the night, it was a giant mound of dry ice in a black light Halloween display.  An equal display still smoldered in the west, oranges and reds melting down over Russia. 
       Such beauty gets into you, stays with you for a long time.  I still can't believe what a gorgeous day last Saturday was.  It makes me sad, life can be that beautiful, even for a day.  I must endeavor to serve others well, in exchange for having been given this unbelievable gift.  And thanks to the mountain for offering itself. 

(above) Map of climbing routes around Pk. 3870, Teller Road.
A. Pk. 3653, "Singtairuq"
B. Pk. 3870, Grand Singatook
C. "Eldorado Creek Buttress"

     The red line indicates my route up Pk. 3653 last Saturday.  Along the way you pass near a bluff, "Eldorado Creek Buttress," which sometimes sports a two or three pitch ice climb.  I stumbled upon this bluff lost in a whiteout one time;  since visited with a number of partners over the years, finding a paltry variety of ice conditions. It ain't Valdez— but it does provide relatively quick access from the road to a north-facing cirque in the Kigs near the 2000 ft. level, where ice can sometimes be found during Fall time of year.
      The yellow line indicates the "Solar Sidewalk," the regular route up 3870, which passes by a high lake for swimming in the summer, and which makes a CLASSIC car-to-summit-and-back ski in the late Spring.
      The green line shows approximately where Nils and I climbed the North Face of the Singtook (III, WI2) in June, 2004.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Return to the Thompson Creek Headwall

(above) Schistocity, Tumit Creek, October 2012.  A major new route extending upward for ones of tens of feet. Climbing practice on such a staircase of teetering turds is analagous to the hydro-fracking of the climbing world, dredging up routes from fractured shales that had always been overlooked because far far better climbing lay somewhere else on crags more steep and sound, and then injecting the route with the fracking fluid of imagination to render the climbing a viable practice

   Bivvied Salmon Lake late Fall three Saturdays ago in vaporous moonlight, peace at last, the GLUE of TOWN defeated again, breeze through space emptying the mind between the ears.     
   Rose early Sunday morning, mostly cloudy, the points of the Kigs embedded in 3000 ft. ceiling.  Drove (dog lashed to bed of truck) back towards town a bit past Grand Central bridge up the hill to good old Nugget Pass, parked car.  Started uphill west hiking in plastic boots on twenty centimeters of firm snow up a ridge paralleling Grand Central towards a little summit, Pt. 2339, that sits on the rim of steep, north-facing slopes at the head of Thompson Creek.

(above) Undisclosed location showing sacred Amato/Miller et al Geologic Map, a virtual treasure scroll leading to littered troves of worthless choss scattered like hardened dung.  The pink patches of "orthogneiss" provide the choicest choss.   Notice the resemblance of the Kigluaik Range to the giant amoeba in "The Immunity Syndrome." (below)

   Fog and wind inside head same as fog and wind outside head.  
(above) Looking north from Pt. 2470, Tumit Creek.  Osborn dominates this frame but has been erased by the fogginess of memory.

   The idea was to hike to a point above this purported "Headwall," drop a couple hundred feet down its north face, and then have fun climbing back up on the very same gneiss which serves on the sacred Amato/Miller map as a geological indicator for all the gneiss in the Kigluaik Range:  the pre-Cambrian Thompson Creek OrthoGneiss.
     Halfway through the hike, the weather began closing down.  Time for the old solo mountaineer to wait it out in the lee of a crag and lose all sense of time and space in swirling white-out.  
         But what is this, emerging through mist?  Holy schist!  It's the crags of Tumit Creek  (which drains off north into Grand Central, intersecting the old Grey Goose Pipeline on the way down, source of that fine California redwood that makes such a fine, hot fire on a cold Autumn night).  
    Tools came out of pack and were soon scraping hideously at loose choss frozen into place already by September frosts occuring at the 2,000 ft. level.  Hooks thunked neatly into frozen mud; front points balanced on sills.  Dendritic snowflakes blew like microscopic tumbleweeds across the holds.  The schist was not that bad.
(above)Thompson Creek Headwall last April.  (mr.congerphoto) The grandiosity of the name belies the relative paltriness of this turdcake.

      How much time went by bouldering in fog?  Then, an indeterminate brightening in the mist above gave the godlike illusion of fortune changing.  Lucy the little mountain dog and I packed up again, de-cramponed,  and continued on up the hill, somewhat hang-dog in posture due to Seasonal Affective Disorder having already set in with this season of dying light, but psyched to have licked up any slight crumble of climbing like we had Tumit Creek.
(above) Rimestone, Pt. 2339

     But when we arrived on top, the weather began to blow like holy hell.  Here was the 3000 ft. ceiling.  At the same moment, the ground suddenly dropped away.  Here was the north-facing cirque of Thompson Creek sloping massively down, looking like real mountains as promised.  On went crampons. Started down slope with a casual, facing-out kind of attitude, soon squelched by an Eiger-like feeling developing around me as I slowly progressed lower.
    Was surprised to see a yellow warning light showing on the dash board of the Mind;  in the summer this slope would be a Class 3 treadmill of unsavory, but basically casual, scree escalators.  However, here in October, with only 20 centimeters of snow to glue things down, the fact was inescapable that the slightest mistake would initiate a high-speed, skidding, rock-studded glissade of potentially bone-splintering proportions.  

(above) Looking east. Squalls play follow the leader up the valley.  Start to climb, starts to rime, turn around, sun shines down.

 Technical Chicken Out:  you could have kept climbing, but prudence paid the better part of valor, and you decide to fold your hand. 
    Sapped of strength by the battery cables that had attached my brain to the brains of others in the preceding weeks, and with the sharp snow-flakes slicing my corneas like knives, there was nothing black and white,no green lights, only gray, inside and out. 

(above)  Cliffs at the head of Thompson Creek.  TylerRhodesPhoto from last May, 2012.  The high point where the sun is shining is actually Pk. 3207, mismarked on the map as Tigaraha.

    "Get down therefore," spake Menlove Edwards.  Or, in this case, "Get back up therefore," up to the rim, where Lucy peered out over the edge. Instantly, the inexorable force which is named the GLUE of TOWN clicked on: the dog and I were propelled rapidly down the slope, towards the car, emails, phones, mood swings, elections, back to the madness of the whole human race.

(above) The hike to Pt. 2993, top of Thompson Creek (Class II). Perhaps the most direct access to the pre-Cambrian Thompson Creek Orthogneiss.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

On Flight

(left) Russell, Andy, and Robinson, Oro Grande Expedition, July 2012, 18SA.   Andy wide-grinning because he just skipped over three days of brutal backpacking.  Russell is probably wishing he could stay in the Oro Grande with us. 

Riverboat of Charon ride
Take me to the other side
Across the river of air
In the eye of the dragonfly.

     There is only ONE way to get into the Kigs in summer;  take the helicopter with Bering Air.  Period, case closed, end of discussion.  Slog Ratio:  zero.   If such a statement seems like a violation of the hippy, "Anti-Internal Combustion" code, consider that Bering Air is a family-run business and the Rowes are just, well, incredibly cool.  Ben and Russell exude the competence that nervous climbers look for in a ferryman.  Even more, they manage to maintain this bird-of-prey coolness without dwelling in that remote ethosphere, out of reach of us land-dwellers, where seems to be the plane of so many bad-ass aviators.  Local.  Not like a corporation...  We flew right over Russell's yurt on the way to Mosquito Pass.  It is always good luck when your pilot is pointing at mountains and discussing things he's done in the range as you are flying in.  
(above)  Suluun, the Dorsal Fin. (Picture from chief Kigsblog geologist Amato.)  In 2009, Ben Rowe landed Andy Sterns and me in the moraines of this mysterious chunk of gneiss, located deep in the heart of the range behind Glacial Lake.  There might, I am not sure, be a stub of still-living glacier tucked in the back pocket of this cirque.

    It is 2007.  I walk in for an attempt on Suluun by myself, the back way, via Glacial Lake by way of the Teller Road.  I think I'm being really cagey and clever because I have talked Bering Air into ferrying a sack of climbing hardware into the famous helicopter-supported, Salmon-counting camp at the outlet to Glacial Lake, for free.  But my plan has backfired because it requires me to hike the entire 5-mile length of the V-shaped Glacial Lake to retrieve the gear, and back to my camp at the head of the lake in a day, and the Lake is proving to be the most torturous, bushwacky, bearanoid, gnat-infested soakfest I have ever carried two ropes and wall gear through in the Kigs.
     So I am finally pulling in to the Salmon-counting camp, after hours of beaver-thrash and willow yarding.  The camp is getting no nearer very fast, but that's the way it's been.  The gnats, endemic to Glacial Lake I suspect, are impervious to DEET and like to get stuck in a beard.  I've already been out in the wild for three days, the first night getting repeatedly awakened by a senile musk-ox outside my tent at the animal crossroads where I stupidly camped, so that as I pull up to the camp, I look crazed—  more than usual.  The young woman working at the camp looks wary as I retrieve my weary sack of heavy gear from the kitchen tent and prepare to commence slogging rapidly away from that place, to flee all human contact and hie to the misery of Glacial Lake.  And that is moment when....
            We hear it...   whop, whop, whop....   like an angel of heaven, it is the ferryman himself, Russell Rowe, dropping from the sky, coming to switch out personnel at the camp.  He touches down out in the swamp.  Before the rotors have stopped turning, I am bounding across the tussocks.  I'm pretty sure I know him from town...
        "Hi Russell!  I'll give you my second-born child if you'll just give my a ride back to the other end of the lake."
       Now, I am NOT expecting him to say yes.  Back when I worked for the Park Service, before you could even ride the helicopter you had to take nine or ten classes and pass three or four tests.  A helicopter is not just a snow-machine, it can't just pick up hitch-hikers, it's a very serious and formidable piece of technology.
       "Other end of the lake?  I suppose we can probably do that..."
         I look down and see my entire morning's hike reversing before my eyes in three minutes:  there's that rainforest of alders, there's the raised hummock where I tried to have lunch in the flies, there's where I fell in...
        Russell seems reluctant to leave Glacial Lake this time, too.  With a sigh, he mounts his trusted whirligig and is gone.  Surreal... like a transporter beam.  Then silence. 

Boatman, boatman
Fly real low
There's nothing down there 
But the ice and snow

Fly through the air
Don't have a care
Town is so small
Don't care at all...

Take me there
World behind
River boat of Charon
To the other side...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Oro Grande Tors

(above) Peemarking system for Oro Grande peaks.  We climbed at Tors 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 12. Following is a recap of one of my most successful rockclimbing trips ever to the Kigluaiks, with Andy Sterns from Fairbanks, July 7—15, 2012.  Russell Rowe flew us in with Bering Air in one of their beautiful red Robinson helicopters—  my praise for this classy local outfit is so boundless, it will require its own post. We hiked out over Mosquito Pass in 2 1/2 days. 
Tor 1:  Pk. 3595, (high point of ridge) climbed on day 1, Mathes Crest (III, 5.9)
Tor 2:  "West Scruffy Tor," East Arete (II, 5.4), climbed on day 5
Tor 3:  "East Scruffy Tor," West Arete (II, 5.7), climbed on day 5
Tor 4:  Stanage Tor Area,  Stanage (II, 5.7) and Eddie Munster Tor (I, 5.7), climbed on day 4
Tor 5:  Pk. 3350+, the "NaulogTor," Caballo Blanco (II, 5.9)***, climbed on day 2
Tor 12:  Pk. 3275(?), West Arete, (II, 5.2), climbed on day 6  
DISCLAIMER for map and images:  These maps suck. The whole thing is silly, a Narcissus Loop against a pool of mountains.  This data is the result of errors and disorientation. Andy and I made up almost all the names of peaks and tors for our own convenience during the trip, and I have kept to those blurts for this article. The pictures were taken with paper cameras.  They are offered here only for the sake of PEE-MARKING.  For Kigsgeeks only.

     Awash in joy, but we didn't know it at the time.  Huge drafts of EARTH ENERGY rose from the Imruk Basin and broke like a wave-cloud over the nearest ridge to the south, which happened to be the sawtoothed ridge upon which Andy Sterns and I were topping out out on the highest tooth, marked as Pk. 3595 on the map, on the first day of a weeklong trip to the Oro Grande drainage, Saturday, July 7, 4SA.  We did not detect this ENERGY with our senses;  we were not aware of the ENERGY at the time.  Any analysis of this ENERGY would necessarily require more time, effort, and intelligence than we had then— or now, for that matter.   The only fact I have relating to this EARTH ENERGY is that Andy and I did indeed extract several lifetimes of  joy from our climbing trip to the Oro Grande in July, 5SA, leading me to believe that the mental and physical health benefits we enjoyed for weeks after the trip must have been due, in part, to the increased doses of EARTH ENERGY we received each day we made the brutal 3000 ft. approach up to the ridgecrest to bag another tor.
(above) NauloqTor, Caballo Blanco, pitch 3.  Tor 5, day 2.  The Nauloq, named for the presumptuous way this white shaft of granite thrusts above brown gneiss buttresses, was the nicest specimen captured in our bag of tors.  The third pitch provided an honest-to-god Yosemite 5.9 pitch (as opposed to the usual Kigs 5.9 rating which is really only 5.7 bumped up for choss factor), complete with some nice offwidth at the top. (below)

NauloqTor (Pk. 3350+).  Caballo Blanco follows a crack system towards the righthand edge for two pitches.

(below) A view of the quality first pitch of Caballo Blanco.

  What, exactly, is EARTH ENERGY, one asks, eyes rolling...  But there is a rule that Kigsblog must stick to the climbing.  I had advertised the Oro Grande trip to Andy, who would be required to pay the hefty air miles to get to Nome from Fairbanks, as "a ridge studded with one-pitch tors," but the pleasantly-surprising reality turned out to be that the Oro Grande tors are more like "two to five-pitch" tors, on some very nice pre-Cambrian Orthogneiss that, I am told by expert Geospewers from UAF, might just as well be referred to as "granite".  From the north, this ridge really puts the sawtooths in "Sawtooths";  the Oro Grande tors bear an uncanny resemblance to the tooth pattern on a conventional bowsaw.  While it might seem silly to go to such great lengths of trouble--  planes, helicopters, huge approaches, mounds of gear, over-application of bug dope to skin, all the things required for Kigsaneering-- to climb a few individual teeth barely rising up from a bow-saw, it is also true that each tor presented its own unique climbing challenge, and each tor felt plenty committing as we perched and waggled from tenuous eyries, high above the Seward Peninsula, with the spooky Imruk breathing into our souls like a sleeping dragon.

(left) Andy commencing the "High Exposure" traverse on pitch 3 of Stanage Tor, an inspired 5.6 lead that spiraled around the exposed summit of the tower over rounded, hideo-chossic holds.

(below) Stanage Tor, pitch 1.  

(above) Stanage from west.  There's a fantastic-looking pitch of steep, thin crack around the corner on the south face.  We doubted our ability to free-climb it in acceptable style, and so walked around the corner to climb three fine, shortish pitches on the 200 ft. turd pictured above.  
(above) Stanage from east.  Stanage is the dark pillar lowest in line, so nicknamed because its brown gneiss reminded us of its eponymous sandstone crag in Britain (a place neither Andy or I have ever climbed.)

   The organizing force of NONENTROPIC MENTAL PROCESS was busily at work permeating the very molecules of the mafic minerals on which we climbed.  The land was thinking, and our neuro and physio networks were engaged in a dialogue with the thinking patterns of the land itself.   Living material is far more liable to difference (change) than non-living material; nevertheless, non-living material such as  the cliffs of Pk. 3595 Tor is still subject to NONENTROPIC MENTAL PROCESS, however slightly from our frame of temporal reference, and our neural networks, (speaking for Andy I'm sure!) transformed by the shamanic practice of rigorous climbing in a wilderness setting, were vibrating in resonance with the electromagnetic backdrop of the solid matter in the our localized space/time region. 
(left) Ian enjoying the fundalicius 5.7 pitch 2 of "Mathes Crest" (III, 5.9) on "3595 Tor," the highest elevation on the Oro Grande ridge, and our first day's objective.  We managed to get a satisfying 6-pitch climb out of a series of continuous buttresses, essentially the south face and east arete of Pk. 3595.

(above) First two pitches of "Mathes Crest" climb chewed-up books towards  right.

(above) Manky 5.9 overhang on first pitch of "Mathes Crest."  On our first day of climbing I wanted to impress Andy, who had been commendably assuming the lead all through the allapa, freezing-ass days of Winter when the medium was ice and dry tools;  now that we were back on Californian terrain,  pure joy freed me from the chains of doubt and I mantled  onto a dessicated chickenhead.

(below) Looking down on the rest of pitch 1 at Andy following.

(above) Ian topping out on east summit tor of Pk. 3595, pitch 3.  What followed was a pitch of easy, fun, hand traversing and horizontal arete hiking that in our wildest dreams reminded us of the Mathes Crest at Tuolumne.

(above)  Author leading pitch 5.  We were rewarded with this bonus 5.8 wall of stellar overhangs rising out of grassy ledges that led to the true summit of Pk. 3595.  At the high point we found an Army Corps of Engineers "VABM" marker embedded in the summit rock, plus an ancient sledge hammer;  turns out there was a sneaky Class 3 / 4 scrambling route up the north side of the tor!
(right) Pk. 3595 is the peak on the left as viewed from the west on an attempt in April, 2011;  I retreated due to a purple leg, Yukon Jack, and the No Sketch Partner Law.  Not all of these sawtooths are very toothy on their northern sides:  this is a complete reversal of the normal Kigluaik configuration where the north side is the cliffy side and the south side the gentle slope.  Up until the moment Andy and I mantled onto the summit, I was unsure if we had chosen the same peak as the one in this picture.

   It was pooling out in the Imruk Basin, slowly pooling... Thought is influenced by gravitation (postholing in the spring crust has proved) and the consciousness patterns came sinking gradually sinking down like electromagnetic sediment into the vast bowl of brackish  water... Now it was billowing back upwards in great auroral blooms, the breeze freshened over the spires...  and NOW the impulse wave came washing over the tiny figures lashed to the prow of the summit rocks.  One of the figures is dangling, trying to retract a pair of cams;  the other is sitting befuddled with a rope locked tight in his hand, hopelessly trying to figure out the mystery of double-rope technique.  Nothing special appears to be happening.  The weather shines hot and sunny.  Alles ist im Ordnung. The tiny climbers go about their business.
      But this moment is a very pivot of their lives in time/space...  in that moment, lives are exchanged, some die, others pop in...  the contour lines of the climbers' personal power, the fabric of their ongoing creation, suddenly bunch upwards in the shape of a mountain to accommodate the immensity of this moment distorting the causal fabric of their lives, as they stem painfully inside corners between the Volkswagon glue-ins, rolling dice with the people they've left behind.
(left) Andy on summit slab pitch of East ScruffTor, an immaculate 5.2 pitch— for one moment, as golden and casual as Lembert Dome.

(right) Andy crunching symbiote on our second climb of the fourth day, the "East ScruffyTor" via its "West Arete" (two pitches, a bit of 5.7).  Visible in the background is the sunlit base of our first route of the day, the "West ScruffyTor," via its "East Arete" (two pitches, 5.4).  Both of the twin Scruffies were treated as hobnail boot, summit baggy, Sierra Club-style climbs, and offered occasional spasms of good climbing in between inclined fields of vegetated choss, with beauty off the scale.

       Mornings come stiff as a board, then more flexible with breakfast.  By the time we reach the nude sunbathing slabs at the highest water-bottle fill, we can already see just across the way to the mini-Emporer Face of Mt. Osborne, sedimentary King of the Kigs, Pk. 4704.  Maybe it is one of the days we had gear stashed at the top, or maybe we are toting the rack, rope and water all the way up.  The only thing that gets me up that immense approach each day is ONE-FOOT-IN-FRONT-OF-THE-OTHER TECHNIQUE—  the simple technique of just not looking any further ahead than the next step.  Like Dave Johnston wrote of Foraker's Sultana Ridge, "I'm just a slope jumar."
    The reward was always worth it, a nice little tower or two of granite sporting some real Grade A pitches on stone so fine in most places you could sell pieces of it as healing trinkets on Telegraph.  Cams snapped neatly into cracks so falsely-secure you only had to back up and equalize once.  On top of tiny pinnacles we found only the puzzle of the descent, often something we didn't think about until too late, then the strangely macabre game of building the most cheapskate anchor possible.  Stagger back into camp 17 hours later, hallucinating, repeat cycle, awash in joy, bathing in CHI.

(above)  The pitch that got away.  Rain was coming soon and we knew we should stop and climb this nice section of rock in the picture for the fun of it, but we opted instead for summit glory, and scrambled further upwards for the impending West Arete of Pk. 3275, which we figured from the look of the thing from our camp to the south was a committing arcing, 3-pitch knifedge up a Roman helmet of granite.  The reality was another Sierra Club R.C.S. outing, a ridge with a pretty mellow north side, a long line of ladies holding up their dresses.  I could smell previous ascents of this rather prominent summit;  there looked to be nice hiking terrain leading up to the peak from Windy Cove down on the busy marketplace of the Imruk Basin.  A fine outing, but we shoulda climbed this picture. 

(above) An enjoyable section of climbing on the West Arete of Pk. 3275 (II, 5.2).  I must admit to virtually making up this peak elevation due to inadequate map skills;  I think everybody does this in the Kigs, there's a kind of poetry to the two-digit numbers.  Thirty-two, Seventy-five.  Thirty-three, Sixty-seven.  Thirty-eight, seventy.  Two-Six, Two-Six...   

(above) Transitioning to the green, West Arete of Pk. 3275.  This is called a Monty Python shot:  Andy appears to be simulating  climbing on flat ground.  You get this problem a lot in the Kigs with climbing shots taken from the belay.  In fact, Andy's feet are still perched at the top of a steep slab and the grass is slick with rain.  Andy is happy for the rope at that position, though we are just about to shed the rope for a dash to the top before the deluge.

    The pluton at the heart of the Kigs, the swelling gneiss dome itself, the 35 mile slab of meta-igneous rock the gold miners simply called bedrock— insect climbers scuttle on the protruding bone ends sticking from the tops of the 3,000 ft. ridges.
    The minerals that compose this pluton, the molecules in the minerals, the constituents of the nuclei in the molecules, quarks, leptons, tie the missing pieces together with string dimensions inaccessible to the human brain alone, throw in nonentropic, periodic patterns of organization within this quantum soup... 
      You get the whole blob of the Kigs acting like a huge magnet, a lodestone slightly distorting the electromagnetic backdrop of this region of time / space / matter, displacing the normal even flow of time/space ever so slightly.  The mountain interfacing with the quantum foam....
      The electromagnetic energy bodies extending from the creepy-crawly insect climbers (auras) flutter momentarily like haloes in faerie wind.  Andy is saying something but his words are lost on the echoing walls.  My hands are too painful and scabbed to notice the acquisition of CHI in the synaptic spaces where my being interfaces with the quantum foam, my brain is too dulled with fatigue to notice the revitalization of my life force.  Left my Klif bar at the bottom.

(above and right) Scenes from day 4 on Eddie Munster Tor.

     My neuro-transmitters had been mangled that morning slogging up the talus with a pack.  After fifteen hours on the go, both Andy and I had gone past that familiar point where extraneous speech is avoided, we went about our business in a dull, dehydrated stupor.  Some weird exchange had taken place down in my nervous tissue colonies, where the cells brush past each other in the hallways exchanging silent information like Deadheads crammed into a show restlessly circulating: no Seretonin to be had was the word on the street, so those crazy little guys were dredging it up anyway from the endorphins instead, and the result was a completely altered state in which I could seemingly view streams of code flashing by in the Matrix of the nature surrounding us, except that it wasn't digital, it was absolutely analogic, parallel streams of electromagnetic information waving around like strata would do in a million-year time-lapse.  The land enjoyed us as we surfed its wavecrests.  Andy and I were just too tired at the time to care about any of this....

(above) The 3000 ft. approach, West Face of Osborne visible in background.

(below) Some of the best July foot-skiing ever!
(above) Kigluaik Mountains Organism anatomical chart showing helicopter landing zone / basecamp and the hiking route over Mosquito Pass in red, and the Kougarak Road in yellow.  
(above) Looking south up the Mosquito Pass corridor from the Cobblestone River.  "He is deep in d' plak-tow..." as they say on Planet Vulcan.  Bugs, packs, sore muscles, long way to go, absurd beauty levels, all the traditional accompaniments of Alaskan summertime suffering.  

           Copernicus, sun.  Columbus, spherical Earth.  Einstein, space-time.  (Buddha, transcendence, Jesus, love).  

        What's the next epiphany?  It will be simple, graspable by scientist and layman alike.  We will utter, "Why didn't we see it until now?"  It will only be proven with big math, but the principle proportion (think E=mc^2) will seem obvious, as in, we're looking at it right now in the pixels of the Matrix.

    If everything is thinking, then the mountains are thinking.  Syncronicities and intuition is proof.  Coincidences are nodal points where mental process is evidenced by collateral streams of causation producing difference on multi-layered levels of similar organization.  And who knows intuition like those who have grappled with teetering mountains?

      What is Mind?