(above) Phil Westcott on descent of "East Tig", June 2, 2012 ( 5 Saturdays Ago). Much of the route is visible beyond Phil. The route follows a ramp system perched rather flutteringly over the impressive swoop of the north face of Tigaraha. A 35 ft. chimney on the summit pitch is visible in the photo as a vertical black line rising out of a notch at the righthand edge of the photo. In front of that is a rather exposed 5.4 slab.
5SA The GLUE OF TOWN lay thick and sticky with the post-schoolyear pile-up of personal responsibilities. The GLUE threw everything it could think of in my way, including, at the last minute, a failed, moose-blood dripping, refrigerator/freezer in my home. In my blind frenzy to cut through the GLUE with the MACHETE OF SELFISHNESS to make my escape to the mountains, I committed many uncoolnesses; wasted meat of moose incurred loss of karma points. Thanks go out again to life-partner Kristine whose own nonentropy field counterbalances my own considerable disorder, and without whom no Kigsblog would be able to combine action with rave and spew.
Part of the urgency of the climbing window at the time 4SA was the dual presence of those two most rare commodities: good weather in the Kigs, and a motivated partner. Phil Westcott was here for the Spring in the employ of the National Park Service and seemed to have the right set of rather off-beat qualifications to make a proper Kigsboy— i.e., an individual who might see some sense in doing worthless climbs on small, toppling choss heaps with huge, torturous approaches. We set the compass to STEELY FOCUS, hacked our way out through dense foliage composed of doubt, schedules, computers, parties, the GLUE, in short, to the mountains, where all was soon forgotten.
(above and left) Tigaraha from north. The pitches are marked on the E. Tig to give a sense of scale. The best descent is to downclimb the route. For greater kicks, from the summit of East Tig continue west along the spine of Tigaraha following the 2005 Peacock-McRae route (IV, 5.9) MARK!, leg up, spin, leg up, can't find it, tail in the way, MARK!, spray some down there, ah, the easement upon the swollen bladder of Narcissus brings relief the continuation of the East Arete to the Grand Tig, by downclimbing two pitches (these would be the West Ridge of East Tig, 2 pitches, 5. 3), then getting back up on the spine of the arete via an enlivening 5.9 pitch with a rotten overhang-- the rest is a sidewalk in the sky with great climbing up to 5.8 until you reach the summit of the Grand Tigaraha, whereupon downclimbing the 5.3 sky-friction slabs of the West Arete bring you to the West Notch between the Grand and West Tig. This Notch, accessible by Class 3 slopes, would mark the starting point for the regular route on Grand Tigaraha, the West Arete, (II, 5.4).
One may return to a basecamp in the Sinuk from the West Notch by heading back east across 4th class slabs that traverse under the 800 ft. south-facing wall Tigaraha, but it's a grovelfest, and treacherous when wet; somewhat easier to contour around to the northwest of the West Tig, staying high, traversing across Class 3/4 terrain, to the conspicuous "Fab Four Tors," John, Paul, George, and Ringo, which, by the way, are all excellent one-pitch climbing tors little piss here, little piss there, whirl, lift, cancel, whirl, cancel, whirl, lift, little piss here, MARK!. From the Fab Four Tors one may descend weary lengths of Class 3 talus slopes back to the Sinuk.
There is a hidden "North Gully" that drops from the West Notch to the north providing potential quick access from the Sinuk to the Grand Tig. Conditions are usually icy in this chasm, and huge hanging pianos chock the narrow walls. Once I felt compelled to put in a screw for a self-belay on some weird ice in there; another time I painfully rappelled North Gully in rock shoes with snow-bollard anchors. Crampons advised.
(above) 800 ft. north face of East Tig, the Grand Tig in background. A patchwork spectrum of metamorphized granite.
Had a discussion this morning with Samuel Johnson on dreaded Facebook (no place for introverts)(link to Sam's blog alpineessence) about a possible climbing metric for assessing approaches; I don't know if anyone has applied a term to the concept yet, so I would offer: "slog ratio."
The equation is stated:
number of miles to get to the base of the actual climbing ÷
number of pitches of actual climbing = slog ratio
For instance, on the East Tig, it takes 8 miles of slogging for 4 pitches of actual climbing, giving a ratio of 8:4, or 2.0— a slog ratio which, Sammy and I agreed, is horrendously high, bordering on SILLY. Anything over a slog ratio of 1.0, meaning a mile of slogging for each pitch, would feel silly for most climbers. Even more damning for the slog ratio of the Tig (and the Kigs in general), an adjustment factor needs to be added to the numerator to account for the last half mile of Class 4 approach slabs, which are steep, loose, and treacherous, more like 4 or 5 miles of effort (with a packsack full of Camalots) than the half mile shown on the map.
(above) Phil Westcott at the rope-up area for the East Tig climb, looking southeast. Obviously Phil is impeded by his large camera which followers of Kigsblog wish I would carry instead of the paper cameras favored by men of action. In our later climbings, Phil later had to stow his large camera after it came within one exhalation of rolling off a thousand-foot belay ledge.
This spot in the picture is reached from the Sinuk via Class 4 slabs that show a good, healthy "green quotient," meaning the talus is glued down by vegetation for good footing. One can start slogging west up the hill at a prominent glacial erratic boulder that sits at the Sinuk headwaters; many bouldering possibilities are available on the way up. From this spot, one can descend directly west towards the West Notch for an assault on the Grand Tig, but one starts by downclimbing steep Class 4 slabs adjacent to a hideous chasm (Kigsterm for a gully filled with talus) and a rope might be warranted for those sheep unsteady on their hooves.
(below) Ian downclimbing from the East Tig roping-up area, heading west towards the Grand Tig. This image is taken by Mikey Lean from an earlier trip in 2002.
Norman by that time had turned into a grumpy old mountaineer, regarded by many as sketchy. Grey-stubble bearded, grumbling to himself, gear in tatters, the dogs of the village barked in protest from their chains. The younger climbers were friendly, but few would go on a rope with him anymore, except for Jules, who had gone back to the city and his piano...
Many come to Nome saying they are climbers, but few keep climbing. Few lie within the 0.02 percent of climbers who fit within the range of freakish qualifications that would allow them to actually enjoy the climbing on the Seward Peninsula, so they drift away from climbing after a time, with a degree of frostbite usually, and I am left with that familiar feeling of uncertainty as to whether the climbing in the Kigs is really climbing at all, nor daring to look in the mirror at the old mountaineer to gauge the actual degree of his sketchiness.
But really, it's the SLOG RATIO that's causing the climber attrition. You have to work so hard in the Kigs to get to the actual climbing. Only a person living in their own fantasy world can continually fool themselves that dragging gear over tussocked ground in the cold and wet with little chance of ever using the gear on a real wall is a worthwhile and noble venture. Has the global practice of climbing so far degraded as of 2012 that desperate climbers are finding it necessary to hike all the way back in to the back corners of the wilderness for a few stone smudges on a hillside? What sort of masochist buys into this fantasy?
(below) Phil Westcott and Lucy at the roping-up area, facing south.
Answer: Phil. Phil Westcott of the Westcott Brothers Band showed up in Nome on an SCA internship at Bering Land Bridge and actually sought out the sketch old mountaineer (thanks to flickr and Rick Anderson for the contact, see Phil's excellent photos on flickr), it seemed like a miracle: here was a young man dropping out of the sky who said he wanted to go climbing the Kigs, had experience on multi-pitch choss from his time at Seneca Rocks in West Virginia, didn't mind a little backpacking, and didn't care a bit that he had no gear. Furthermore, time would prove him a member of the freakish .02 percent of climbers who actually respond positively to HIGH SLOG RATIO-style mountaineering, even after his toenails fell off and he couldn't really walk for a week or two following. He has that type of alchemical mind that can take a chunk of anaq (such as the prospect of a horrible slog through Spring posthole-snow with a heavy pack) and transform it into something gold, a mind that crops out unpleasantries, leaving only fun and beauty, so that the mind is tricked into returning again and again to the source of its pain and beauty.
(above) View from roping-up area of East Tig, facing southwest. On the left is a beautiful peak, "Turncorner Mountain" (Pk. 3250+)-- Kristine McRae and I did a horrendous fifth-class schist route on one of the righthand ridges in the summer of 2001. Lift leg, relax, relax On the right is a mountain I am fond of calling "Falcon Killer Pk" (Pk. 2840+) due to an attempt on my life by a Peregrine as I was soloing the highest of the granitic tors, visible as a dark bump in the picture, a 5.6 thrillfest with a prodigious drop off the starboard bow. Lift leg, nothing coming out...ah, there it is, MARK! I was nowhere near the nest; she leapt out from behind a granite turret from three feet away in a most murderous and calculated fashion as I was hanging from a hand traverse with no real footholds. Had I not heard the click of her talons beforehand, I might have let go.
A necessary skill is managing the GLUE of TOWN, a significant force built into causation that can hoist a trip with its own petard before it's ever left town, a type of causal gravity sucking one back into Nome even as one is trying to leave it. Phil proved he had the necessary focus, achieving escape velocity despite a few swirling, muddy eddies of communal torpor hanging like fog in the NPS Bunkhouse where he'd been staying. We slogged it to Hudson Creek Pass late on a Friday night; it was Solstice, mind you, time of day had become meaningless. Next morning developed sunny and fine, birds chirping, flowers resplendent, brooks babbling, breeze with no bugs. Phil, Lucy and I slogged it some more to the glacial erratic boulder at the Upper Sinuk where we made basecamp and prepared for a steep scramble with gear up the hillside above the erratic. (Better, really, to continue another half mile up the Sinuk valley and curve around into the stunning glacial cirque underneath Tigaraha, then traverse back left across the hillside above the erratic several hundred feet higher.)
(below) Mylon Schield playing on Sinuk erratic in 2003.
I banged in an angle piton at a belay for the simple joy of hearing the ascending RING! drifting out over the vertical walls. The summit pitch, a 5.6 squeeze behind 3 Volkswagons, radiated the usual Kigs feeling of fun climbing mixed with loose death. Soon we were astride the excellent pinnacle of the East Tig looking for hundreds of miles from the Singtook in the West to Kayuqtuq in the East down the spine of a sweet little mini-Brooks Range. I glanced at Phil's eyes; he was bitten. Infected. Smitten. He was a Kigsboy now.
(above) Phil on top of the East Tig, Mt. Osborn in the background.
(above) Grand Tig from southeast, taken from roping-up area of East Tig. The 2005 Peacock-McRae route (IV, 5.9) on the East Arete is marked. The best way to approach the start of the little red line there is top climb up and over the East Tig route described in this post. The 5.9 crux would be that first vertical part of the red line that regains the crest of the arete. From here, two easy and utterly-spectacular pitches follow the "sidewalk in the sky," followed by two pitches on the headwall with a 5.7 jamcrack to the summit. Descend the 5.3 slabs of the West Arete and rappel a 5.6 overhang to the West Notch between Grand Tig and West Tig.
(above) Ian nearing the 5.9 overhang that gains the East Arete of the Grand Tig; photo by Mikey Lean from an early attempt in 2002.
(above) "Chimneys of Tiresias," (III, 5.8, A1), on Northeast Wall of Grand Tigaraha. Soloed in June, 2007. Four pitches up the north face to where it joins the peak's "regular route," the West Arete (II, 5.6), then three more classic, easy, and spectacular pitches up low-angle friction slabs to the summit. This is the only shot I seem to have of the West Arete of Tigaraha. There is a deathly chockstone on Pitch 4 of the Tiresias Chimneys that necessitated a point of aid so as not to brush it with the slightest touch.
(above) Map of Tigaraha area 1) Park at incut gravel pit on west side of Kougarak Road around Mile 29. The first quarter mile of bushwacking is the worst part of the hike. 2) Sinuk basecamp 3) Tigaraha 4) Hundred year-old rockfall across Windy Creek- best camp in the Kigs. 5) Mosquito Pass 6) Pt. 3207, high point of "False Tigaraha" 7) Grand Central Valley 8) "False Tigaraha", mismarked on maps as the real Tigaraha "other 8") "Hudson Pass"