Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thompson Creek Headwall and other Spring Adventures

"Thompson Creek Headwall" (above), panorama by Tyler Rhodes, the site of Spring weekend exploits, 5 Sundays Ago.  We approached the Headwall blindly from the broad ridge on top of it and, after some trial and error among the peaklets of Thompson Creek, managed to descend the Headwall via the wide-ish snow couloir at the righthand vertical sun-shadow line in the photo, Tyler and Keith on skis, me and Lucy on crampons!            The ideal is to suffer.  This suffering is necessary to offset the deleterious influence of growing up a spoiled American brat who has been handed everything and never truly learned the knowledge that true suffering has to offer.
     Swooshing down powdery mountainsides is NOT suffering.  A good telly run, echoing Buchanan once again, is "entirely too much fun," and I agree:  the Spring skiing in the Kigs these past few seasons has registered considerably high on the PURE ENJOYMENT spectrum, and Spring 2012 was no exception.  However, it must be noted, that although a ski-mountaineering descent qualifies as the reciprocal of an ASScent, thereby qualifying skiing as a form of climbing, skiing as an end in itself poses a transgression of the RULE OF SUFFERING because it is TOO PURELY ENJOYABLE.  
       It can therefore be concluded that the act of choosing to ski downhill rather than go climbing qualifies as a chicken-out, a cop out, a fraidy-cat failure to face the solitude of the brooding north wall.

       Panorama looking north from the Buffalo Creek/Thompson Creek divide. (above).  More panoramic wizardry by Tyler Rhodes.  The image faces the opposite direction of the one above.  This one faces north, looks down Thompson Creek, perpendicularly across a segment of Grand Central, and up Gold Run Creek.  Mt. Osborn is about a quarter of the way across the panorama from the left.   Pt. 3207, high point of False Tigaraha, at camera's left hand.  Pt. 3080, which we ascended on the way, at camera's right hand. 
    On a sunny day in Spring 4 Sundays Ago, I am sitting on the tailgate at Deep Creek Canyon, Mile 30 Kougarak Road, getting ready to return to the cold and shaded Headwall on which I had not done a route the weekend before due to damnable, super-fun skiing with Tyler and Keith.  All ties with humanity have been cut.  Flaming ruins lie in my wake. Severed tendrils of TOWN GLUE still trail from the rear bumper from yesterday's battle with the MACHETE to escape town. Beetle-browed and grim-jawed, I am sharpening the positive-clearance chisel on my BD Cobras, a knot of self-involvement, a Haston, a House, my own wizened version of Dr. Doom poised to risk it all for obscure glory on the north wall waiting out of the sunlight.  The plan is to sneak back in to Thompson Creek and solo/scramble a line through the granitic gneiss...  at last, for the first time in a long time, to face down my demons and actually climb something...
      Then, I see them...  Coming along the Kougarak Road in the morning sunshine, a sparkling parade of people I know and love, BOATLOADS of fun and friendship, all enroute to the nearby ski slopes of Nugget Pass, party after party, Jeff, Laura, Erin, Nate, Lorne, Keith, Mallory, Erica, all yahooing their way towards what promises to be a corn-fed day in the Spring Kigs, still blanketed with snow.  
        Leading the parade, Tyler, the avenging Angel of Angle, leering with the knowledge that once again he is stealing me away from my appointment with Hermann Buhl's Lonely Challenge on the Thompson Creek Headwall, that he is sucking me away from pain, blood, and bruises, into one of the FUNNEST days I will ever have skiing. 
        We will follow the sinuous gullet of a filled-in Copper Creek into the steep hills that lie to the east of the Kougarak Road at Nugget Pass.  I will spend the day hanging out on tundra patches with beautiful, laid-back Nomenclatures, trying to keep up with Tyler, taking the ridges where he drops the chutes, freshly driving out the grizzlies from the valley, and hanging with my good dog, Lucy.

(Below) Map of totally excellent ski tour, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Conger, and Mr. McRae, May 6, 2012.   Deep Creek Canyon would be the easier way to access Buffalo / Thompson Pass from the Kougarak Road.  The endless slog out Grand Central was aided and abetted by wind and crust.  
(Below) Ian, Tyler, and Lucy gesturing over the drop-off, Pk. 3080.  

(Above) Tyler arrives at the pass between Buffalo Creek and Thompson Creek. The waters of Lethe have bleached out my memory cortex, but suffice it to say, the descent into Thompson Creek was not desirable from this point.  Mark this one down as "probably not a feasible pass." An interesting feature in this photograph is the summit pinnacle of Pt. 3207,  upper left corner, the true high point of the long ridge marked on the U.S.G.S. as "Tigaraha," which I like to call "False" Tigaraha—  a frightening solo, MARK!, squirt musk here, internet scent mark.

(Beleft) Descent Gully, Thompson Creek Headwall.   Mr. McRae, being unwilling to chatter, sideslip, or take 800 ft. skidding falls down icy-hard snow, had to suffer the ignominy of ice-climbing down slopes everyone else, including my dog Lucy, were gleefully swooping and carving.  
Thanks to Tyler Rhodes and Keith Conger for lending the blogseed for this post, their pictures!

      Two roads
   One leads to fun and friendship.
         The other to self-confrontation.

 The scars
  From the big Lonely
     Have not healed.

      Out over the wall...
    I am glad that you are here.

What is this?
      A yellow pod in the wilderness
Containing friends in larval form.

    Easy is the Kool-Aid.
      Kernels of corn rest momentarily on my ski tips.
    There will be no climbing today.

(Below) Three views of the Sinuk headwaters, April 28/29, 2012.  Friends conjoined in a partially-metamorphosed pupal form revealing the individual faces and personalities zipped inside the pod as we found it, lying on the tundra at the Sinuk headwaters early on a Sunday morning. 
         Mr. Lastine and I snow-machined into the upper headwaters of the Sinuk River, 6 Sundays ago.  He wanted to try out his late-season acquisition, a Polaris .440 (black and silver like the Oakland Raiders).   Our plan was to leave early Sunday morning and meet up with the Rhodes/Collins party who had bivouaced "somewhere around Mosquito Pass"the night before in Tyler's Arctic Oven.  My secret plan was, once there, to abandon human contact altogether, to motor away around the corner to Turncorner Mountain for a gigantic Herman Buhl sufferfest on a narrow, exposed ridge of snow and schist.
       The day started well.  The Kougarak Road was already punched out to MacPherson's Troll at Mile 18.  Machining conditions were ideal.  We easily followed Tyler's tracks in to the upper Sinuk where we found Tyler, Erica, Jeff, and Laura encased in their curious shell-like encrustation on the tundra.  Arms extended centipede-like from within the pod-casing and served Mr. Lastine and me hot breakfast burritoes.  
       It was so incredibly cool to be there in the Sinuk head, the fortress of scatter-my-ashes-here solitude, with such a fun party of friends, with cool human company, it was so nice having a traveling partner like Mr. Lastine, we had come so far together already, I didn't want to leave.  I couldn't.  I abandoned the idea of the frightening, windy, spiralling arete, and instead climbed two forty-minute hike-ups nearby at the head of the valley on the Sinuk / Thompson divide, so that I could return in time to roar out of there with the rest of the gang.  
        Days such as these are the glorious times of our lives.  Who would be foolish enough to exchange them for something that is not only equally silly, pointless, and selfish, but painful to boot?  
(above) Map of Sinuk headwaters. 
A.  The "real" Tigaraha ("Forefinger"), Pk. 3500+ (??)
B.  "Pen Tri Cwm," Pk. 3600+ (?), this is the name given by 1990s Todd party-  first ascent?- likely not.  The name has kind of grown on me, wish I knew how to pronounce it.  
C.  Pk. 3400+(?) I like to call it "Snakey Peak" after the aesthetic, unskied, "Snakey Couloir" on the northern, Grand Central side of the mountain, which Tyler refers to as "the Z-Couloir.
D.  Pk. 2750+, one of the ridiculous summits I reached from the Sinuk on the 6SA outing which is the subject of this post.  Call it one of the "Thompson Creek peaklets," as it is much more interesting from the side other than the one I climbed.
E.  Pk. 2900+, the other "Thompson Creek peaklet" I climbed that day.
F.  "False" Tigaraha, Pt. 3207.   
MARK!  I hereby squirt a little digital/glandular secretion of ego onto the internet for having climbed each of these summits!

(below) View to the northeast from Tigaraha. The only picture I have (from a previous summer) to identify the previously unreported "Thompson Creek peaklets" mentioned above.  Pk. 2900 is the peak just to the left of the end of the rainbow.  Pk. 2750+ is the leftmost foreground peak. They were, of course, seran-wrapped in snow 6 Sundays ago.
(below) False Tigaraha from Sinuk, with badass couloir skied by Tyler on April 28, 6 Sundays Ago, the third, left-slanting couloir from the left.  This picture was taken by me weeks after Tyler's ski, 2 Sundays Ago, on a recent rockclimbing trip with Phil Westcott.  My estimation is that Tyler's couloir represents the most technically difficult descent yet skied in the Kigs.  Laurent and I climbed the couloir on the left (with some dips into the mixed on the prow to the left) with a rope years back.  Why is Tyler always skiing things I ice climb?  
(below) BONUS PIC:  The "Z-Couloir" on "Snakey Peak" (Pk 3400+?) from the Grand Central side, a fine climb between walls of marble that I did with Mikey Lean one February years ago, and one of the great ski descents still to be plucked in the Kigs, assuming no one has already plucked it. 

        In a previous post from 8 Sundays Ago, I invoked the No Sketch Partner Law:  "the scope of your climbing ambitions must conform to the mean climbing ambitions of the group."  In this rather empirical way of looking at it, if you are out with a partner who has zero climbing ambitions, then your climbing ambitions would be halved.  I was first introduced to the No Sketch Partner Law in James Ramsey Ullman's classic Banner In The Sky, in the scene where Rudi Matt remains with the injured Saxo near the summit of the Citadel.  However you name it, the Law comes down to this:  you can't sketch out on the people you're with.  You may need to practice the difficult art of NOT CLIMBING in order NOT to be an asshole.
        However, a loophole for climbing mediocrity exists here.  The No Sketch Partner Law becomes a force unto itself, much like gravity, or the GLUE of TOWN.  That day in the Sinuk, I could not escape the encampment of my friends because it was just so delightful to be in their company in the sacred CHI-giving mountains.  That day on the Kougarak Road, my friends in cars were like corpuscles of TOWN GLUE traveling down a capillary and finding me at the last minute.  For we know that the glue of town is composed of the ones we love most.  The company of friends is the most golden thing of all.   So it is that the No Sketch Law too often results in a violation of the NO CHICKEN OUT LAW which states, simply, 'Thou shallt not chicken out of climbing."
            (below)  Shadow of Tigaraha against False Tigaraha.

      7 Sundays Ago:  Earp and pre-schooler Robby riding Crusteo, Me on Super Smooth Andy G.., went gliding out to Salmon Lake for a night.  The April weather in the interior Kigs the next morning was 50-50, not so bad, really, cloud-torn over Salmon Lake, but mellow enough to consider going for a long ski, which I decided against, wisely as it turned out.  We decided to pack it in early and swim with the Sunday GLUE CURRENT towards Nome.
      But somewhere around Dorothy Creek (Mile 26), all Hell broke loose.  We found ourselves in zero visibility, with active drifts and near-hurricane wind pushing us right off the icy road, at a place with big drop-offs.  Big surprise!  The reverse of the usual weather graphic, with the blizzard in the foothills and the calmer weather at the crest.
        Earp waved me over:  "Robby's hypothermic!"  We stopped in the storm to grimly load him into a silvery, slippery sleeping bag, which Earp then had to wrestle like a giant flopping larva with one arm while driving the snow-machine with the other.  Little did we know, that right near the spot where Earp and I stopped to load the larva, Janet Balice was crouched in a drift hole, accepting a slow death in the storm for her and her dogs;  she had fallen into the same trap as us after a two nights in the mountains and her 5-dog team, with the legendary DIBELS in lead, had given up.  The sound of our snow machines passing nearby gave Janet the courage to roust up and drag her team out to Basin Creek, where at least the road was discernible.

     9 Sundays Ago:  Solo reconnaissance trip on Smooth Andy G. out to the Grand Central Glacier to check on Sluicebox.  
(above)  Sluicebox Couloir, April 8, 2012.  Super Smooth Andy G. (Arctic Cat) in foreground.

     3 Sundays Ago:  The best trip of all:  Kristine and Raina made it out to Earp's cabin for this one, along with Carl, Janet, Rod, Joni, and Robby, as well as Tyler, Erica, Jeff, Laura, Lorne, Erin, Nate, Tom, and others, tent camping across the lake in the BLM Campground.  Flowers, midnight sun, dogs rolling in anaq.  My camera had been consumed by Spring adventures so I got no pictures.  With my family at my side in the mountains, the tensions created by the GLUE vs. the LONELY CHALLENGE had cancelled out.  Mind at rest...