Thursday, August 7, 2014

Regular Route on Mt. Osborn

I wrote this route description for a group of visiting climbers last summer. See Among the Peakbaggers to see how their ascent turned out, and for pictures that show the Regular Route on Mt. Osborn.

climb Mt. Osborn
(above) Mt. Osborn from the east from Grand Central Valley.
Southeast Ridge, Class 4, 3000 ft. elevation gain.  This is probably the easiest way up Mt. Osborn. Should be fine without rope or spikes in high summertime, but weather conditions on the summit ridge are changeable year round. Be sure to continue north along the summit ridge to the highest of the rock towers, the highest of the summit towers by all of ten feet.  Average hikers will take four to six hours round-trip from the base.  Descent is best made by going down the way you come up. 

East Face, WI3, M4. This offensive yellow line is a peemark on behalf of Phil Hofstetter and allapa;  we climbed this fun face in April of 2004, veering around for 8 hours to contrive a route with technical pitches of mixed and ice. On the return snow-machine ride that night, dehydrated and spent, we had never been colder in our lives.

East Ridge, AI 2. Another leg-lifting peemark on the internet.  Soloed this ridge on April 20, 2006. This ridge would most likely be a Class 3 walk-up in summer, but in alpine conditions it presents thousands of feet of cramponing up 45° wind-crust ice. Accessible via a low-angled snow couloir in the Northeast Cirque of Osborn.

(above) Approach to Southeast Ridge of Mt. Osborn.

Approach:  Park on shoulder/parking area just to the north of Grand Central Bridge on the Kougarak Road. Philosophies vary on which side of Grand Central to take for hiking up the valley, but Kigsblog strongly advocates for the north side (the right side, looking up-valley from the road).  There is a bluff running parallel to the trend of the river for most of the 8-mile hike to the base of Osborn;  in general, stay above this bluff for the first 4 miles of the hike-- some bushwhacking is virtually inevitable through this section, but by going through the proper channels it's not too bad. A hundred-year old road built by miners follows this route; I would strongly recommend following this road as closely as possibly, though it is completely overgrown in sections.  
      Start angling to the northwest where the bushes open up past Thompson Creek. When you get to the glacial moraines at the base of Osborn, you can follow the creek into the moraines, or better yet, aim for some prominent glacial erratics a couple hundred feet higher on the hillside to the right, and enter the moraines from up there. A great camp can be had on the West Fork of Grand Central in the moraines around the base of Osborn, oh King of the Kigs. Most of the hike is on BLM Land

Osborn West Face
(above) Mt. Osborn from the west. the Mosquito Pass side, the opposite side from Grand Central. Looked at from this direction, the summit tor is located at the apex of the mountain.

       More Southeast Ridge Beta:  A definite change occurs as one transitions from the lower ridge to the summit ridge; it's as if you suddenly enter a new layer of upper atmosphere.  The summit ridge itself is studded with a long line of rock towers, so in order to make one's way along the summit ridge towards the north, it is necessary to traverse sideways across 40° - 45° slopes, skirting just underneath the rock towers as one traverses sideways. This part of the climb is Class 3 (assuming summer conditions), not difficult climbing, more like steep hiking on sand and tundra patches with the occasional handhold on rock—  a fall would be very unlikely, one would need to fling oneself down the slope, and even then you probably couldn't get rolling— but one does have the sweep of the east face under one's feet to create an exposed feeling.  A rope threaded in and out of the rock structures can create a feeling of security, but most climbers will not feel they require it.
       The rock tower (tor) that looks the highest is not the highest above sea level.  As one begins the summit ridge traverse, one soon comes to an 80 ft. tall tor that dominates over the others. One might be tempted to make the mistake I made the first time by climbing this first tor;  I rope-soloed it and did some 5.6 moves.  From the top of this spire I espied another tor a half-kilometer to the north that clearly (to the naked eye) was a little higher, but I didn't have time to continue on that day—  it had to wait until a year later, when I returned to Osborn, and this time made the hike a few hundred yards further north along the summit ridge.  
         To locate the highest rock tower: continue north along the summit ridge (you will will be on easy ground on the east side of the ridgecrest) until you have reached the northernmost tower on the ridge. Then count four spires back to the south: you should be in the vicinity of Osborn's high point. The highest spire is higher than the penultimate spire by only 10 feet or so. Climb 15 feet of very loose Class 4 rock to a ledge in the notch; then climb about 25 feet of loose Class 4 up the west side of the summit tower.  Remember:  you don't get to say you've climbed Osborn unless you've gone to the very tippy-top! 
Mt. Osborn summit pinnacle
(above) Summit pinnacle of Mt. Osborn
(above) Northeast Face Mt. Osborn
      Gear for the Mt. Osborn climb:  Lightweight travelers may eschew rope, crampons, axe, and helmet in "high-summertime" conditions on the Southeast Ridge.  However, some or all these items may well be necessary, depending on conditions and comfort levels.  One long ice axe makes a very nice walking stick on this climb in any conditions. The only rockfall zone is under the summit tors on the traverse of the summit ridge, but the danger is not terribly pronounced.  A forty-foot rope and a few nuts would be all that was necessary for the highest summit tor. 
(above) Northeast Face detail

       First Ascent?: No information regarding Osborn's first ascent has ever bubbled up into my random flow, but almost surely, locals and visitors alike have been climbing Osborn for the last century or more.  Its status as a mountain lies somewhere on a wide spectrum between "big serious peak" and "just a big hill," trending toward the latter in mid to late summertime when the snow has gone away.
       There are stories.  Someone snow-machined to the top, it is said, which is perfectly believable if by "top" one is referring merely to the summit ridge, but there is a tendency on the part of Nomens to disregard the rock spires that protrude from the summit ridge;  I'll wager no one has snow-machined that last Class 4 move on the tippy-top tor!

(above) East Face detail

      Can Osborn be done in a day from the road?   Roman Dial mentioned a wager he made in the nineties while working on a field crew in the Nome area: he bet he could climb Osborn in a 24-hour day round trip from Nome, on bicycle and foot. He made the prodigious trip in a day, but in a stiff Grand Central fog, climbed the wrong peak.  So he went back and repeated the wager, this time from the road only, minus the bike ride from town, and climbed the proper Mt. Osborn. He wrapped a length of purple webbing around the summit tor for pilots to see, but this purple webbing either disappeared, or it is still up there somewhere. Roman never got his fifty bucks—  this would be a good time to pay it back.

(above)  West Face detail, looking south towards the Sinuk drainage. Photo was taken while perching on the tiny, rime-coated summit on the First Winter Ascent.

      I finally got up Osborn on my third attempt, my second year in Nome. Trying to follow in Roman's footsteps, I tried to do it in a day from the road in September without any bivouac gear but I got a late start, and, of course, I am not Roman. I found myself getting to the base of the mountain after a successful ascent just as the sun was going down. This left the eight-mile hike through the jungles of Grand Central still to go. "Ah, I'll just eskimo dance right here until the sun comes up and hike out in the morning," I thought, but just then saw the redwood—  an enormous pile of cured California Redwood left over from the days of the Wild Goose Pipeline in Grand Central.  It fired up easy as could be, and I spent the night playing the game where you sleep in the fire, first burning one side of your expensive nylon clothing, then the other.  The black, night ionosphere over the Imruk Basin crackled with plasma, the lights put on a show I will never forget as I fed the fire all night. At first light, the vast swamp that is Grand Central Valley was frozen solid, but only until the sun came around the corner— I raced out of there while the footing was good, back to the GLUE of TOWN.

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