Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Petit Tig

(above) Petit Tig (Pt. 3000+) would be the leftmost peak in the picture.  Then, East Tig, Grand Tig, West Tig, and the Fab Four Tors..  

         THE GLUE OF TOWN seemed fraught with potential complications, but thanks to Nate's machete, escape velocity was seamlessly achieved.  Soon, Nate, Lucy the dog, and I, were piling out of the truck at the good old gravel pit at Mile 29 Kougarak Road, ready for the long slog into Tigaraha in nice hot weather to grab the plumb, six pitch dihedral on the sunny south face of the Grand Tig.
(above) Tigaraha is maybe/probably/sort of located at the "3" on the map, though not labeled so on USGS.  The blue approach is better for an ascent of Tigaraha, but slightly longer;  Nate and I in 2013 employed the red approach, hoping to cross over the divide between Sinuk and Windy at a fourth/fifth class pass just to the south of the East Tig tower—  Thwarted! we were, by lingering summer icefields on the north side of the pass.

          A tight schedule it was, with Nate having to board a Soyuz capsule within 48 hours, so that the pyscho-gravitational influence of the GLUE OF TOWN never entirely abated throughout the trip.  Nevertheless, it was fine to be in the Kigs in the summer with the creeks a-gurgling, and the Plovers a-ploving, with ropes in the sack, and Nate fresh from a season of Leaning Tower and Prow aid solos in the Valley.  
      But, as we slog-o-matically slogged up the upper Sinuk (oh holy Ganges of the Kigluaik), I looked over at Nate, and got this horror-flick image of mangled body, crushed by random Volkswagon of choss, with me the frightened partner-child once again pressing the G-Spot Device that never quite reaches climax.  I had sworn off partners, but here I was in the hanging fields of deathly choss once again, with partner...

      (left) Mylon on the Erratic, 2004.

          Erratic Camp at  Sinuk headwaters is a place where nature has dripped green tundra-whiz over piles of morainal boulders to create a babbling garden of mini-waterfalls and rock-rimmed sleeping pads.  Nate and I settled in for the night, bodies pounded from the unacceptable slog-ratios of the day, minds lulled by the mountain music of water and midnight-sun birds all around.  In the morning, we shouldered torture-loads of climbing gear and began scrambling up thousands of feet of steep ledges above camp to the west.
(above) East TigPass.  Allapa descends in a westward direction from a point at roping up place for East Arete of East Tig, traversing over towards the shadowed dihedral in the background which was Nate's and my original target.  This is a photo by Mikey Lean in 2002. In the conditions pictured here, the East TigPass is easy Class 3 or 4 over to the Grand Tig, but six Saturdays ago, Nate and I were repulsed! by lingering summer icefields which hogged the picture.  Getting to the climb would have necessitated swinging across a choss-loaded WI1 gully on rappel with a hyperactive Border Collie in my sack, then traversing ice slopes with Nate in sneakers, and chopping steps with our carpentry hammers.
(above) Lucy under Singatook.

              It was Tuesday, June 18:  record temperatures that day all over the state. We sat on the crest, our objective slipping away, utterly stupified in the heat.   Finally, bobble-headed, we got up and headed back down the way we came.  The outline of things had grown blurry.  It was too hot for speech.
         We came to a wall that seemed to promise a pitch of climbing.  I tried to lead, but almost instantly got that "Kigs feeling":  the very rock itself is about to exfoliate, no amount of pro is going to save you from cratering or ralstoning, so I rationalized, Nate must be in terrific shape after Yosemite, let's see him try.
          Nate started to lead, but instantly got that Kigs feeling himself:  what had looked like 5.6 from below was indeed 5.6, but the rock so poor that once upon it, your mind notches the difficulty up to 5.9X!   He eventually threaded his way around some patches of solid rock to belay at the base of the summit boulder.  The top of the wall, formed a mighty chariot thrusting out over a 400 foot abyss to the north;  the very tip-top summit block forms a little toilet seat, with the crack cantilevered over tummy-tingling space.  I vaguely remember soloing this airy pinnacle on a bygone hot summer's day, but since I cannot remember the details, the FAULTY MEMORY CLAUSE dictates that Nate and I made the true and established first ascent on June 19, 2013, or at least a second or third first ascent, or at the very least, first concrete ascent that mind can remember.
(above) le Tig petit.  400 ft.  A few moves of fourth/fifth class are required to surmount the apical pinnacle on the back side.  The fourth class hike up the left skyline is highly recommended for those hikers who like to combine bouldering and scrambling in wild high country— and the rock is not that bad.

(above) The amazing Andy Sterns climbing hard at SRC last week. 

Heard you were dead
This is all a dream
Woke up this morning
Rock above, rock above!

Tried to take it all back
All the things we said
But rock was all around
Look out below, look out below!

The people in the village
The darkness lowering down
I'm gonna stay right here
All the night, all the night.

Boatman gonna be here soon
Dripping honey from a syringe spoon
Take us away from the stone and ice
Cause Lord I am so cold, I am so cold...

And when they load me in that chariot
When they fly me over the peaks
I'll say hello to the mountain morning
And know that I'll return, that I'll return.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Post Traumatic Fog Syndrome


Accident in the Sluicebox
Sluicebox Aftermath
News Miner Tim Mowry article about Sluicebox.
Alaska Dispatch Craig Medred article about Andy.
Interesting audio interview about Mt. Osborn rescue at

(below) Aidan's killer photo of Oz's marble Northeast Face from his cool website

       Long time not posting. Stalked by the fog, which generates its own forgetfulness. Been drinking great draughts of the River Lethe from an an old carcinogenic water bottle, freshly busted-out to cope with Post-Traumatic Fog Syndrome, a type of semi-comatose state of awareness that I caught sympathetically from Andy many weeks ago, which has persisted in its development for me personally, though Andy himself moved out of the lethargy-inducing FOG weeks ago.  Now, school is over, summer is here, the big blue sky stretches overhead—
      But no, wait... white vapor floats everywhere.  Smoke rises from the muddy impact craters, giant millipedes of fog worm butt their freezing heads through the blow-holes of the Seward Peninsula, horizon is lost in RT instability.  Condition:  Fog Head.  Reality partially obscured behind a white veil.  Download from short-term into long-term memory deliberately disabled, the mind hiding from truths and mysteries it is not yet willing to comprehend.  Fog in the morning, fog in the afternoon, blowing over from the worthless choss of Cimmeria, the lines between things blurred, details forgotten, fog in, fog out, sunshine.  What you're looking at, you don't see.  Perhaps memory had to be obliterated.
      Even on the sunny days that came in the nick of time to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder in June, a type of inertial fog hung over the clear skies like a sheen of goo, transfixing my motivation.  The lifetime that lies between thought and expression lay smeared evenly with a shimmering, transparent sheen of glue, the kind that won't let go once you touch it, but just extends outward with your fingertip into an ever-thinning, elongated string that cannot be broken.  It was the very GLUE OF TOWN itself.

(above)  Upper Buffalo Creek, May 11, 2013, 4 Saturdays ago.

    For brief moments, the fog pulls back, I dwell in blue holes of clarity.  One such moment happened for a day in early May, on a trip up Buffalo Creek with ski companions Tyler, Keith, and Jeff.  It is difficult to blog about it now, thick shards of mist keep veiling the screen, I'm not sure of dates or time—  the fog is composed of procrastination, denial, lethargy, sybaritic decomposition syndrome, and writers block--
(left)  Fogheads on the Kougarak Road, May 11, 2013

        The ski started in Lethian mist at 800 ft. above Norton Sound level, at around Mile 30.5  Kougarak Road.  The Deep Creek Canyon approach is definitely the choice for the good ski runs on False Tigaraha. Start at approximately Mile 30.5 on the Kougarak in the region of Nugget Pass.  Head west up Deep Creek Canyon, which soon makes an elbow to the North.  Leave Deep Creek and continue due west over a short pass to upper Buffalo Creek.  Head north up Buffalo for "Sister Turner"and other good runs, or, like Tyler and Keith did, climb up the ridge from the col between Buffalo and Thompson Creek  (impassable to Grand Central due to sheer cliffs of gneiss on the north side of the col) heading south towards Pk. 3080, and find that one, singular spot where a good skier can breach the Thompson Creek Headwall from above, and get some black diamond shreddy-shred turns down into the Thompson Creek basin. Tyler and Keith then simply skinned back up the "Headwall" to rejoin Jeff and me rolling somersaults on the good snow slopes at the head Buffalo Creek.

(left) Silly map of our ski trip on May 11:  The yellow shows the approach, the red shows how to drop into Thompson Creek, and the blue shows my mini-epic on the southeast ridge of Pt. 3207 where I was rescued from an ice climb that, once again, Tyler was skiing down.  "Tigaraha Mountain" is what I call "False Tigaraha";  the high point of the ridge is Pt. 3207 at the top of the blue line.

      As we stopped on a sweet-smelling tundra island perched above the spring snows, FOG encased us in a resin of demotivation.  We spoke to the fog in exasperated voices as if it were member of the group slowing us down due to minor equipment problems. There was talk of, "Is it even worth it in the fog, maybe we should just go back to Tyler's truck and drink those home-brews?"  However, the four seasoned mountaineers knew that clarity must lie somewhere higher, whether it be fifty feet more altitude or five hundred, we could hear the plane traffic over the Kigs, meaning it was blue above.

(above) FOG, responding to changes in my own personal electromagnetic energy field that surrounds my physical tissues.  Research has shown that fog movement is susceptible to the influence of human brain activity and shamanic manipulation.  If you are a telekinesis NOOB, fog would be a good medium to start with.  I well remember this odd bank of fog pictured above pursuing me southwards through the Windy Creek / Mosquito Pass corridor in summer of 2004. The FOG creates a not unpleasant sensation in the mind, but years may pass inside it for the unwary Rip-Van-Winkle mountaineer. 

     We descended to the floor of Buffalo Creek, and began reascending to the north, towards the col.  Sure enough, all of a sudden, like an epiphany, Dionysus lifted her veil, and POP!, we were out of the fog.  Just mantled right on up to the roof in hot May sunshine.  Logic restored itself to cobwebby brain lobes, the way was clear, the little matter with the Sluicebox was resolved. It was like that scene in Operation Annihalate when the Denevan flies straight into the sun, crying "I'm free!..."
(above) Mr. Collins, Mr. Conger, and Tyler Rhodes at the Col between Buffalo Creek and Thompson Creek, May 11, 2013.  Not a go on the north side.  

 (above) Tyler and Mr. Conger ascending the ridge to the right (east) from the Col toward Pk. 3080.  The drop into Thompson Creek is around the corner in the picture, which the three of us pioneered last Spring of 2012.     

(above)  Pt. 3207, False Tigaraha.  My first summer in Nome, had a terrifying grovel up the left side of the summit block, finger-hoedadding over the bap-bap-bap slabs.  Mt. Osborne (4714) is in background of the phot:  thevoie normal, the Southeast Ridge, is the curving sun/shadow line down into Grand Central.

        Decided to climb up to Pt. 3207 from the Col.  Felt like a pro confidently kick-stepping, balanced over my boots, no crampons, scrambling straight upwards where Tyler had to zig-zag on skins. But like a NOOB, I had climbed into a trap.  When I got to the top, (no soloing the highest pinnacle this time,)  Tyler inquired, in a rather droll voice:  "You want one of the tools I have in my pack?"
       "Oh no, I don't think that will be necessary," I replied.
       Hot sun sinking low, the clarity was fading.  Started down. Within ten feet started sliding out of control.  "Bourrit!"  Like the cat in the tree, I had climbed up something that I could not easily climb down.  The kind of snow you just don't want to plunge steps.
       "Uh, Tyler, about that tool!"
       I was forced to face inwards as I descended.  You know the game, where you spend hours trying to see the way ahead through that narrow wedge of dangling junkshow between your legs.  I made everybody wait down below while I kickstepped back down Pt. 3207 in my cantilevered telly boots.  What a relief it was to reach the blue square signs and clap on the old Soul Powders to ski the rest of the way down.  
(above) Tyler Rhodes powering up Pt. 3207 from the Col.  I have to say, this guy seems to be a mutant, along the lines of an Alex Honnold, or Walter Bonatti, made of different stuff than the rest of us.  One of the great ski heroes of the Kigs. 

         We returned into the FOG, the car, the delusions, the full folly of the whole sad human race. I wasted many weeks lost in stasis.  A friend, Vaughn, did everything he could to rescue me before going on to climb the Cassin Ridge.  Weeks passed in haze of forgetfulness, quaffing ever larger draughts of Lethe, far from the mountains, pouring rain onto beautiful sunny days.  Nate, too, fresh from aid solos in the Valley, would sweep in on a plane and help me back into the Kigs, but I shuffled, and dithered, and we only climbed small puddles in the hot sunshine.
       This post began in FOG but must end in sunshine many weeks later.  Thank you to Raina, who almost singlehandedly beamed away the FOG. We're sitting in California now, lolling in abject heat.  Next up is the return to Fairbanks, the summering grounds.  The fog is at bay.  Must keep it that way.