Wednesday, June 4, 2014


      This started as a post about a minor peak in the vicinity of Mt. Osborn which Max Vockner and I climbed five weeks ago, but in the process of researching the article, a can of worms became opened: INDICTMENT!  It was discovered that Kigsblog is once again guilty of crimes of misappropriation. If you have arrived at this post seeking information about the GLACIERS OF THE KIGLUAIKS controversy, scroll down to the lower half of the post. 

       First, in accordance with Kigsblog's "Action Only" Posting Clause, it is necessary to report on Max's and my awesome day-climb of Pk. 3054 (Thirty-Fifty-Four) on April 6, 2014.

(left) Max on 45° ice, east face of Pk. 3054. We never really used the rope, though it hung there suggestively for a few lengths. At bottom is the pass that leads to the north heading left out of the picture.

   Max is one of these new-generation, grew-up-in Alaskans who can do anything, fly Super Cubs, fashion skis out of wood, high-ski his snow-machine, and climb ice, too— he passed the crucial "Litmus Test #1" which is, "Did you arrive in Nome packing crampons and ice ax?" Kigs-readers might remember Max from "Pk. 3147 Expedition On Trial" a year ago— he was the unclimberly influence that swayed Nate and me from our holy climbing purpose with his totally cool and laid-back ways. As a long-time, grew-up-in-California Alaskan, I have never quite lost my veneer of Lower 48 "bumbly-hood"--  what if my snow-machine should stop working, what then?--  so I was more than overjoyed to be riding with Max.
(above) Mt. Osborn and vicinity. The two glaciers are of interest due to the "misappropriation" suit currently being brought against the author of Kigsblog (by Kigsblog itself!)

      The GLUE of TOWN was running thick, around 8 or 9 kiloGlue, hampering our escape from Nome. An early crux came when the tire went flat on the trailer, which we solved by abandoning the concept of the trailer altogether and just making the ass-slapping ride over the bare countryside all the way from town. 
      Snow-machine conditions during the strange Spring of 2014 had been difficult to predict:  several freezing rains had created changeable crusts in the climate-changingly low snowpack. Once off the main trails into virgin territory, the machine tended to trench down alarmingly, and the willows seemed mutantly tall and thick above the anemic snow.  
       But I had a secret weapon for getting through the willows of Grand Central Valley:  my ski-tracks from the previous week. I had already tried to make it in to Osborn solo the weekend before, chickened out because of primal fear of solo snow-machine, then skied several miles ahead, carefully designing a path through the Salicacean jungle to be used as a guide for later machining. Having the tracks to follow a week later definitely infused mojo into our Pk. 3054 expedition a week later. 
(above) Looking up North Fork of Grand Central.  Pk. 3054 is above Max in this picture. We climbed the slopes visible on its right flank. The saddle to the right of Pk. 3054 is sometimes used as a pass to the north by snow-machiners, but steepness and iciness on the north side caused us to chicken out on northward passage the day we were there.

       We parked machines at the top of the pass. Crampons went on at dismount. The climb of Pk. 3054 from the pass amounted to 1400 feet of 45° hardened snow, perfect crab-walking on daggers and front points. You wouldn't want to snag your pantlegs, though; a fall would find you instantly accelerating to a high downward velocity, your ears filled with the irreversible whistle of nylon against ice. Super frisky extreme skiers might have been able to ski our climb, but for me the thing felt like a climb, not a ski. 
(above) Northeast Face Osborn, April 6, 2014. In each yearly ring of the Kigsblog tree, there must be embedded a photo of the Northeast Face. Officially, that is the Grand Central Glacier in the cirque there, not the Grand Union. The Grand Union Glacier, if there is, in fact, anything remaining of it, lies to the other side of the big wall in this picture.

      Interesting rock formations protrude from the summit ridge of Thirty Fifty-four.  Looked at from below, they promised mandatory fifth class moves on airy rock towers, in case of which is why we carried a rope and a few pitons.  But as per usual in the Kigs, the summit tower proved an easy walk-up from the south.  
      The rock on Thirty Fifty-four proved to be choss of the worse order. North of Osborn is an area of uplift where the three types of metamorphic rock in the Kigs are competing for attention, marble, schist, and gneiss, where the sedimentary bolus of Osborn has displaced the usual interfolding of schist and gneiss, creating unique "chevron" shapes of color on my "Amato-Miller Bedrock Geologic Map of the Kigulaik Mountains, 2004." I had been hoping for a chevron of good orthogneiss on Thirty-Fifty-Four, but all we found  was ghastly "coarse-grained pelitic paragneiss and schist... locally pervasively migmatized!"

(left) Looking northeast over the Kuzitrin flats.

     As for the climbing: you're dealing with a white tilted plane like a big tilted roof, down which you're looking through the V slot of your legs which is filled with dangling junk as you make the same crablike movements across the plane over and over for a very long time, and ice particles are tink, tink, tinkling slowly down the surface of the white plane making a sound somewhere between wind chimes and white noise, you're gripping your tool around the shaft just under the head, stabbing the whole pick forward into the styrofoam snow with your fists knuckle-forward so that you appear to be boxing the mountain as you stinkbug upward, copping a duck step wherever needed, yelling to your friend across the wall, "If Tyler were here he'd already be carvin' it down!"

(above) Descent from Pk. 3054

      From the top of Thirty-Fifty-Four, at last I caught a glimpse down into the fabled northern cirques of Osborn. If one has the gas, and conditions permit, it is possible for a Nomen to drive a snow-machine north on the Kougarak Road, round the Kigluaiks at their eastern tip around Mile 60, and then beeline it back to the west towards Mosquito Pass, enabling visits to the canyons north of Osborn along the way.  Alternately, one could visit the cirques by hiking over the pass from Grand Central, and then crossing some more passes.  Better yet, or perhaps not, hitch a ride on a helicopter that's going to that area anyway due to Graphite One.   
        Because I have always chickened out of making this trip, the northern cirques of Osborn have remained a mystery to me, a terra incognita of the Kigs.  Where lies terra incognita, there follows curiosity.  In April, I applied for and received a small Kigsblog Research Grant.  One of the stipulations was to find out more about the myterious NORTH SIDE of the Kigluaiks, beginning with the trip Max and I made to Pk. 3054.
 (above) I am trying not to drop my iPhone.

          The "Chevrons" north of Osborn were a deep, cold, fathomless nether-region. They were a breathing subconscious realm where dragons lay coiled.  Phil Westcott (of Slimedog Millionaire fame) had sent me some of the northside shots (seen below) he had taken with his super Dropabilly camera, and they revealed lurking giants with ice-coated, 2000 ft. north walls. But how does a road-system dirtbag penetrate all the way back in there to these cirques?
       Well, he doesn't. He starts researching it on the internet, right?

(left) North face of Pk. 4500+. A recent rewriting of Kigsblog Law regarding topographic prominence has changed the listing of this peak from a sub-peak of Osborn to its own independent Marilyn. This effectively renders it the second highest peak in the Kigs, a veritable K2 of the Seward Peninsula. My geologic map reveals it to be cut from the same medi-sedimentary choss as Osborn. One can only expect we are looking at death-marble of the most appalling order.

         Illumination of Kigs topography has occured for me in a distinctly south-to-north direction. My working kinesthetic familiarity with these mountains is like a climbing skin on a ski or the arrow of time, it slides in only one direction, which is a pity because the uplift is quite a sight more spectuacular when viewed in northern mode. The last few days I have been skittling over Google Earth, U.S.G.S. maps, iPhoto, and online geology papers (a research effort aided and abetted by a grotesque skin-flapping thumb injury incurred recently at the Windmill Boulders that is taking days to heal) trying to reason out more about the Kigs unilluminated north side.

(above) Northern aspect of Kigluaiks from northeast. Left to right, the four skyline summits are: Osborn, N. Peak Osborn, Pk. 4250+, Pk. 4500+. The namesake of this post, Pk. 3054, is a squat little knob atop a triangular snowfield sitting in front of and blending in to the choss of Osborn. This photo was ripped off from an awesome panoroma at Mansoor Saghafi's zoomable panorama of Kigs.

     Research into the north side surfaced two things. First, a new obssession to explore these canyons more deeply. Second, a brouhaha in the press:  controversy over newly discovered documents revealing gross mistakes in local geography and Nomenclature quoted by Kigsblog General Editor allapa. Indictment, subpoena, trial, and retraction, with the reputation of a famous scientist at stake, and Kigsblog turned against itself like an autoimmune disorder. Deep embarrassment, as well, before the four or five people in the world that might ever have noticed, ever have cared.

(above) Pk. 4500+ and Grand Union Glacier. Photo ripped off from Kauffman in the link given below.

       So here is my mistake that caused such a flap:  I referred to the Grand Central Glacier as the Grand Union Glacier. This geographical error made its way into the Nome Nugget following the reportage on the Accident in the Sluicebox a year ago, thus propagating the misnomer to the properly outraged masses.  Not sure how I came by the mistake: Wikipedia specifically says that the Grand Union Glacier is the "only remaining active glacier in Western Alaska" so maybe I assumed it had to be the small glacier I was already intimately familiar with and knew to be an active glacier (I fell in the bergschrund once!) located in the northeastern gyre of Osborn (oh King of Kigs) at the head of Grand Central. I should have noticed that "Grand Union Creek" was marked on the map, but I didn't get around to it until this post!

(above) Area comparison of Grand Union vs. Grand Central glaciers, 2010 Google Earth.

       Reasearching this post, I stumbled upon an online publication I had never viewed before. Here is the link that opened the can of worms:

(above) Osborn from the west. This shot gives us another look at the peaks to the north of Osborn (left in the picture) recently declassified as independent peaks.

     The article linked above offers an overview of research and publications pertaining to glaciers on the Seward Peninsula. One truism I had already encountered, which seems to have been perpetrated by Dave Hopkins, the famous Beringia scientist, is that "three living glaciers" exist (or existed recently) in the Kigluaik Mountains, which always puzzled me: which three?  Where? I had my theories. Now, this newly-discovered link has substantiated them.

1. Grand Central Glacier  2. Grand Union Glacier 3. Phalarope Glacier  4.Thrush Glacier  5. Thompson Pass  6. Tigaraha  7. Thompson Creek  8.  East Fork Smith Creek  9.  Pass Creek
(above) EDITED: recent Holocene glaciations:  I'm not a glaciologist. I'm not really sure what the criteria are to determine TIME OF DEATH of a glacier. Something to do with mass balance. So all I have are questions.

1. Grand Central Glacier. Why, in 1973, does Hopkins decommission the Grand Central Glacier after looking at aerial photographs from 1950? I was standing on the thing the other day and it seemed, well, slightly glacial, or at least still to be steaming like a fresh Holocene turd from its recent glaciation. I have a feeling this glacier has been dying more slowly than most in the Kigs. It gets constantly fed by Mt. Osborn's little pet storm it keeps alive in the localized weather of the northeast cirque.   
2.  Grand Union Glacier on the Middle Fork of Grand Union Creek. Hopkins referenced this glacier as the "westernmost" active glacier in North America.  I haven't managed to get over to the Grand Union valleys yet, of which, I surmise, there are three.  Brooks, in 1901, stated there was a glacier in the East Fork of Grand Union, but this one was said "to no longer exist" by Hopkins in 1973. But which valley is Hopkins talking about when he references, as one of the three glaciers in the Kigluaiks, a glacier in "an unnamed tributary of the Pilgrim River adjacent to Grand Union Creek?" Did he mean the Phalarope Glacier? It does not make sense the Phalarope would be on an unnamed tributary, as Calkin's description would place it in a tributary named, of all things, Glacier Creek. Perhaps there is some confusion about the geography. I certainly contributed to the confusion by misappropriating the Grand Union Glacier's name in the Anchorage newspaper!
3. "Phalarope Glacier"(?) on Glacier Creek, referenced in USGS article as "7.6 km northwest of Thrush Glacier." I am not sure if I marked the right one on this map, but it makes sense there would be a glacier on Glacier Creek, right? 
4. "Thrush Glacier" referenced in USGS article. The location of this one I am sure of. This was one of my guesses for the "three glaciers of the Kigluaiks." Andy Sterns and I did three routes here in 2009. The encircling granite walls of Suluun form a huge weather hippodrome that feeds the tiny glacier tucked in the back.
5.  Mosquito Pass Glacier?  There is an odd, round declivity in the moraines at the base of the North Face of "Crater Lake Peak" where Jeff Collins and I climbed a couloir in the dead of Winter one year. I used to think it might be a glacial remnant, but just this evening, Ken Shapiro, hardcore snow-machine explorer but not a real geologist, ventured the opinion that this declivity is a "caldera." Hmm...  
6. Tigaraha Glacier?  Having climbed many times up and down the icy slopes directly under the north face of Tigaraha (remember: Tigaraha is mismarked on USGS maps), I would venture that there's not enough permanent ice left on this one to even qualify as a remnant. But the steam is still rising from its ablation.
7. Thompson Creek Glacier? If there's not a glacier there now, one must have passed through within the last half-Millenium. You can practically smell its recent passage coming off the Holocenic moraines that spill out into Grand Central.
8. Probable location of Smith Creek East Fork Glacier.  Henshaw and Parker referenced a living glacier in this cirque in 1913, but Hopkins stated it had dried up by the time of his 1973 field work. 
9. Pass Creek Henshaw and Parker said the glacier was in this drainage, before Hopkins determined they were talking about Smith Creek East Fork.

Or maybe, the next glaciologist to come along (and I would venture the Kigs are due for a glaciological check-up) will come to the conclusion that there are no remaining glaciers in the Kigluaik Mountains!

(left) Yet another look at Osborn, Northeast Face view, snapped in 2010 from a ledge on Kayuqtuq

OUTCOME OF KIGS-COURT TRIAL:  A counter-suit was filed against Hopkins, et al... on behalf of Kigsblog-allapa, also against Kigsblog-allapa, Judge Kigsblog-allapa presiding.  Namely, a claim was made that incomplete documentation of glaciers in the Kigluaiks and misleading conclusions made by Hopkins, et al... contributed to the misappropriations by said Kigsblog-allapa.  Settled out of court with no shame or guilt;  allapa is hereby relegated the civic responsibility of continuing to explore the hidden subconscious of the North Side, using no unfair advantage of technology that would trash the country. 
(above) Proposed graphite mining operation on North Side Kigluaik Mountains. Helicopters are in the air at the time of this writing. 

Link to Save Graphite Bay Facebook page.

       Blank space on the map, neurons with no dendrites, unilluminated canyons, a dark region of the KigsBrain visited only in forgotten dreams, animal migration-corridor nerve pathway haunted by people and spirits, unvisited cortical regions populated by two-thousand foot nordwands,  a chunk of TOTAL wilderness away from everything, precious, precious, TOTAL wilderness, an invaluable load of a very rare thing that should evaluate at the highest price we can possibly give it, untouched nature--  these are some of the things the Kigs North Side means to me, but it means a whole lot more to many other people. Since it has always been the full intention of Kigsblog to point attention to the theory of sentience for rock and earth, then it should be added that the fate of the Kigs North Side also means a lot to the mountains and the rivers and the estuaries, could they be represented.
(above) "Dragontooths, aka "Oro Grande Tors," from the northeast. Not sure about the origins of the name "Dragontooths."

      The author has made one bonafide trip to the Kigs North Side. In the summer of 2012, Andy Sterns and I spent two weeks in the Dragontooths, referred to elsewhere in this blog as the "Oro Grande Tors." A long fence of orthogneiss tors runs along the top of a ridge to the south of Oro Grande Creek. This ridge is what put the teeth in the Sawtooths, it dominates the view of the Kigs from the northwest.
       Each day Andy and I would schlep our rock gear up the three-thousand foot approach to bag another tor. Each day, as we mantled on to a new summit, we were rewarded with a stupendous view to the north out over the Imruk Basin--  the very lands sitting plum dab in the middle of Graphite One's target red rectangle in the image above.
(above) Dragontooths, "Nauloq Tor," third pitch of Caballero Blanco, II, 5.9. A pathogenic cell creeping its way into an otherwise healthy tissue.

       I now see that Andy and I were like cancer cells, functioning like a pre-cancer in this lobe of land. First, the climbers come creepy-crawly up the last bits of Earth that remain untouched by human hand. Then, industry and helicopters will soon follow, to suck out natural resources and transport them somewhere else so somebody can make money somewhere else. 
      It seemed so innocent, climbing those beautiful towers on a sunny day in the middle of bloody nowhere. How were we to know we were a portent of cancer?