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.

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