Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pass Creek Pass

    The panic attack drifted swiftly around the corner like an afternoon thunder shower sweeping around a buttress, like the foen enveloping the climbers in the Eiger Sanction, except it wasn't the Eiger I was clinging to, only a Class 3 nothing slope on some obscure shoulder of a mountain in the Kigs. Mind phased in to the zone of anxiety like a starship entering sub-space, ship's systems malfunctioning, red alerts blazing on all decks. The anxiety was composed of multiple constituents, two parts paranoia to every one part legitimate worry.
       But the true spark point, I was well aware, though the awareness did not help, was nothing more than the fasciculation of a tiny set of muscles in my right and left pectoral muscles, still quivering due to the released strain of having taken the backpack off. The pectoral sensation had been transmogrified by runaway mind into a possible cardiac arrest in progress.  It was only June I knew, warm and fine. Nobody would freeze in the Kigs that night, nor would there be any horrific falls on this easy hiking ground.  But still, the headlines flirted in my imagination: Seemingly Healthy Fifty-Year Old Man Found Keeled-Over On Remote Mountain Slope.

(above) Pass Creek peaklets, the original objective of this 5-day Kigsxpedition—  foiled, due to the copious amounts of snow exhibited in the photo, and genuine June avalanche conditions at the pass from which the picture was taken. Lotta snow for June, ironic for a little snow year, the cause being cool temperatures in preceding May.

      JUNE, 2014.
       The trip had started off with GLUE OF TOWN so thick that I grew hysterical and lapsed into HISSY FIT MODE right there in front of spouse and children. Gear then became disorganized, as friend Mikey pulled up in the driveway on time to whisk me up the Kougarak Road to my drop-off.  On the list of things I had forgotten was shells for the shotgun, so we stopped at Salmon Lake to ransack Earp's cabin.  I found some old paper shells. They would burn me later that evening when one would jam in the shotgun, rendering it useless, and me naked. Worst of all to the fate of my 5-day Kigsxpedition, my spectacles chose that moment to go out of phase with this dimension, and vanished, which meant there would be no reading the entire trip.
         Persistent GLUE OF TOWN tendrils stayed attached to my psyche the first two miles of the hike. I treated my condition with Yukon Jack. Soon, and with great relief, the SNAP! came— the last long GLUE tendrils stretched, stretched, and then "snap," I was free. Worries, self-negations, chain-reactions of guilt and responsibility, inadequacies, self-flagellations, the flaming shards of burning ruin I had left in my wake, the house projects left dangling, the band going on without me, the long-suffering woman, broken-down 4-wheeler, literary mediocrity— these fixtures of GLUE suddenly resolved into vapor as the magical energy of the Kigluaik Range began to penetrate my mental process.

(above) Map of Salmon Lake area showing the pass between Fox Creek and Pass Creek, plus route hiked in June. Don't know if this is the pass that put the "pass" in Pass Creek— it looked to be Class 3 or 4 on the north side, but was laden with dangerous snow.

      When the first trial shell jammed in the chamber, I cleared it by firing the shotgun. Was this a stupid maneuver? I wouldn't know, because I'm not a knowledgeable gun guy. I win the award for the lowest ratio of shots per year versus hours carried, meaning I've carried and slept with the thing for months, years, but seldom fired it. When the second shell became somehow jammed in the barrel, I grew afraid of the whole device, dismantled it, and stashed it under a rock for retrieval on the way out. I've hiked the Kigs with a gun and without— with is better, given the huge denominator of hours spent alone out there. Yes, bear encounters are rare, this is merely paranoia, there's nothing to worry about, especially in a low bear year like this one— but maybe my denominator (hours spent in the wilderness alone) is different than yours. The gun acts as a bad piece of gear on a rotten lead: you take it for the illusion of pro, it calms your head. And now, in June, no bear protection had I, no companion, nor glasses to see.
(above) North Face of Pt. 2650+ on shoulder of Pk. 3190 between Paso Robles and Fox creeks. A somewhat complex hill with several high points, another clash zone of the gneiss and schist, elsewhere referred to in this blog as "Aaka," the father. I went scrambling around on its ridges this evening in June.

         Kigsblog has received a grant which mandates the author explore only north-side Kigs drainages, for the reason that a certain feeling of ennui has begun to creep in for southern Kigs drainages, given all  these years of road-acces hiking and snow-machines from the south. However, north side objectives present a problem for your average, penurious, Nome weekend warrior: an extra day, extra gas, extra person, an extra helicopter, just to reach those back-there places on the dark side of the range.
       The idea of the June trip to Fox Creek, then, was to pioneer a quick route from the Kougarak Road into Pass Creek, a territory which would definitely satisfy the north side requirement. Why would they name it Pass Creek? Surely there would be a pass to the north side.

(above) Pk. 3900+, (referred to elsewhere as Kayuqtuq, Pk. 4000+, Fox, Foxy, or Tog 7, due to hyperopia), June 2014. Hiking route went up Fox Creek and hung a left to reach the sunlit pass at left of picture.

       There turned out to be a pass to the north, but I CHICKENED OUT of passing it, which makes this the second consecutive kigsblog adventure thwarted by avalanche danger. It was real this time, massive slabs of saturated summer snow starting to calve off in the stress zones on the north side of the pass, the parabolic fissures all lined up like crevasses on a glacier. Might've crept down the Class 3 or 4 moat to the side, but it would've been spooky down underneath all that overhanging snow and choss. Besides, it was obvious that miles of miles of the same spooky snow awaited between the pass and the Pass Creek peaklets, my original objective. Strange, oxymoronic, slough / slab avalanches had recently run all over the long wall that forms the north side of the pass. Don't want that feeling, the sphincter unease, the nebulous boundary layer between high danger and mere paranoia, the inability to decide which it is. So I was awarded another LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY CLAUSE, and turned back once again to the south side of the Kigs, though Pass Creek pass surely hikes in dry conditions. But I wonder: who's passed this pass on snow-machine?

(left) Lucy, looking down the face of Pt. 2650.

       A miserable night, for the dog at least, was spent camped at the pass in snow, wind, rain, and fog. Miserable for me without glasses because I could not while away the time reading the books I had stashed under a boulder down the valley. In the morning, a gray sky hung over the sloughing snow slopes, while the sun could be seen shining on the mountains lower down. So I descended.
        The GLUE of Earp's cabin at Salmon Lake sucked me past the event horizon, and I hiked all the way down to the road for the night. But the next day the glory of the mountains beckoned once again, and I hiked back up bear-free Fox Creek, and spent many, many hours up there clambering around with no monkeys on my back, no pressure to solo, no adhesive residue from GLUE OF TOWN, (only the occasional psychological shitstorm provided by my heavy metal-saturated amygdala) just getting my mind blown by the midnight sun, and the absolutely weird Miocenic BUZZ of the Sawtooths.

(below) Fox Creek drainage, with Paso Robles Creek coming in from the right, and Salmon Lake in the middle.
          My anxiety storm passed as a summer storm does. It rained, flashed, and thundered, then moved on, and I spent a fun rest of the morning wandering the ridges of Pk. 3190.
           Fox Creek was visited often this summer by we human pathogens. I laid down two heavy foot tracks in June, leaving TRACE in my big Italian boots. A week or two later, Jeff Collins and Wilson Hoogendorn began training in Fox Creek and performed feats of Kigs-running (below) that may never be equaled. Human footprints grew in August: a group entered the valley to investigate the psychic properties of boulders in the area. One erratic in the upper Fox drainage proved to be of significant interest. The team discovered that indeed, the rock emitted psychic resonance, though no hard scientific evidence could be extracted to support their hypothesis, as is usually the case in these matters. Their findings only confirmed what I had already known, for I had sensed the rock on my visit, too. Further research into the Fox erratic is merited.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Peak 3250+ (SaGuiq), west ridge attempt

       Theme: people snowboarding down things I call climbs. The latest humiliating installation comes via this awesome video (below) of Miner Joe and another guy boarding the west side of Peak 3250+ near Mosquito Pass, shot from a Bering Air helicopter in 2012. From my personal viewpoint of everyday flow, I experienced this video as a synchronicity factor 1.2, a slight rise in the standard deviation of normal coincidence, as the following tale will tell.

       Eighteen Saturdays ago, ( the current rate of blog-lag), during the climate-change brief window of optimal snow conditions we experienced last April, I loaded the Bearcat, nicknamed Super Smooth Andy G., onto the trailer and slush-bogged it to the place at Mile 30 Kougarak Road where all the trucks and snow-machine trailers were parked, just before Nugget Pass where the plow hadn't gotten yet.
(above) Kougarak Road heading north to the Kigluaiit.

        The terror of driving the truck and flagellating trailer up the mud road, the horror of gunning the throttle to load  big, scary Andy G. on and off,  the loathing of this mechanically-inept, environmentalist hippy at the smoke-belching engine, followed by the hypocritical utter joy of whizzing off on Smooth Andy G. into the Kigs at incredibly high speeds, west over good Spring crust.

(above) Snow-machine mountaineering journey to Peak 3250+, April 19, 2014. Kougarak Road was open to that point.

           Snow-machine crept a thin strip between the Windy Lakes and the foot of the mountain, didn't want to go out in the middle of the lake on that big piece of metal, too much thought of the temperature weirdness that winter— Nome had been a Zambonied ice rink, its snow-plows sleeping, a winter with two or three different times of rain. I imagined parabolic thaw fields lurking in the ice cover of Windy Lakes, and hugged the shore, up against the many rocks showing through.

(above) "Never get out of the boat!" Looking northeast up the Sinuk headwaters, April 22, 2014. This was a trip to the same peak several days later, again unsuccessful when Super Smooth Andy G. could no longer cross the Sinuk, which was breaking up for miles in both directions.

    Parked Super Smooth at the foot of west ridge of Peak 3250+. This mountain is an old friend, a lump of quartzose schists jammed up against the neighboring gneiss of Tigaraha to the north, not quite sentient, but with enough presence to be referred to as an entity. The best camping spot in the Kigs, the "hundred-year old rock slide" sits at the base of Peak 3250+ to the west. On a long summer day in 2002, Kristine and I climbed the southwest ridge, a horrible, festering Class 4 choss mound. I went back on snow-machine to bag the next ridge to the left  (west ridge) on a school Sunday years ago, but was defeated by a large NAP that swept over me in the warm afternoon sun. But I had come back for another try, and the temperatures were too cool this time for napping.

(above) Saguiq from the south. Southwest ridge is left skyline.

       After many trips, a mountain begins to require a name. Other things require names as well: clumps of willow, glacial erratics, indistinct bluffs, tundra dips, morainal confluences, pee spots, hills— all those features hitherto without a name that now do require a name, just so you can use them as milestones to get through long torturous hikes into the Kigs under a 60 lb. climbing pack. But a mountain, especially, requires a name.
       Hiking in to Mosquito Pass from the Kougarak Road, the hiker crosses Buffalo Creek, then Hudson Pass, then Sinuk, and Northstar Creeks. Reaching Peak 3250+ in the Windy Creek drainage means the hiker has "turned the corner" on the hike and finally arrived. Thus, I have always thought of Peak 3250+ as "Turncorner Mountain," which, under the "First Languages Fairness Compensation Act" must necessarily be translated into Inupiaq, a translation which in this case has been taken care of by my new contacts in the Qaweraq dialect department at the school in which I work. The result is the word "SaGuiq" (sah-ghoo-ik) to refer to Peak 3250+, which means (kind of, sort of, maybe) "turn the corner" in Qaweraq, the dialect of the southern Seward Peninsula. The capital G designates an Inupiaq "dotted g,"  the consonant pronounced with a glottal growl. Henceforth, I will refer to Peak 3250+ as SaGuiq, even though the governing body which has made this appointment is nothing more than large and random agencies of neurons in my scattered head.
(above) SaGuiq from west, west ridge on left and southwest ridge on right. In between, the face boarded in the video.

         This post chronicles a climb far from rad. In summer, the west ridge of SaGuiq is probably Class 3, and as we saw in the video, is perfectly skiable in the spring. 
      Nevertheless, I bailed.  The issue this time was not a NAP descending from nowhere, but moderate avalanche conditions up near the top. It was the wind-loading problem: snow piles up in the deposition zone on the lee side of a ridgecrest. The slope had already whumpfed twice under me on the way up;  now the snowpack dynamics were changing once more within the little narrow band of weather tucked under the very top of the mountain. 
       My route traversed over to some rocks, but I began to visualize how the pad of snow supporting me would disintegrate under my weight;  my crampons would snag, my tib-fibs snap, my body tumble in a slither of snow.  MOJO power-leaked from my energy body.  Suddenly, the alternative of going down seemed perfectly acceptable
(above) Looking south across the southwest ridge from the west ridge of SaGuiq, April 19, 2014.

        Retreating due to avalanche danger creates a Schrodinger's cat of a paradox: if you had continued up the slope it would have avalanched, but since you didn't, it was never going to.  And you never get to find out the answer until the cat climbs up the slope, which if it doesn't, you never do. All in all, a situation designed to torment a self-negationist such as me. As I rode back towards the road on Super Smooth Andy G., my mind was busy performing obstreperous rationalizations. 
        I made the decision to invoke the LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY CLAUSE (a rule of the mental game which basically states that the climber cannot be punished or battered by self-judgment in the case of ambiguous bails) and tried to convince myself that the slab conditions on the climb I was bailing from had fallen in the "fifty-fifty" category— it might've gone, it might've not— but my claim seemed false. My attorneys tried to throw together a defense based on me being solo—  "...if I had a partner I would have scampered right up it, you can't take any chances when you're solo in the Kigs..."— until it was pointed out the nullity of this argument in the precedent of allapa vs. Swan Slab Jamcrack (1981), given that the climb itself is exactly the same whether you are solo or with a partner. Most damningly for my case, Intuition was prepared to testify that the slope on Saguiq was fine. Eventually, a straight CHICKEN-OUT was handed to me. I took it home and logged it on the shelf with all the other CHICKEN-OUTS. 
(above) On the right, Kirgavik Inuatqi (Killer Falcon Peak), Pk 3000+, between SaGuiq and Tigaraha. Had a fine day on good rock in the summer of 2002 soloing those little, (60-80 ft.) dark, gneiss tors in the picture. A falcon tried to murder me near the summit, hence, my little pet name for the thing. Osborn in the distance...

         Retribution for a chicken out.  Back in school the following week, I was visiting a colleague in the second grade pod.
       "Dude," he called from his teacher desk. "You know where this is?" He flipped his laptop around and showed me the same youtube that started this post.
       I was flabbergasted... the Kigs!  On youtube!  We recognized miner Joe and the Bering Air helicopter pilot. But I couldn't identify the mountain. So we played the video several more times. My face grew closer to the computer screen. Planes of snow spun around in circles, cliff patterns riffled through like shadows, familiar landmarks swooped by, and I grew nauseous with motion sickness. Finally, the fragments in the Kigs-o-scope coalesced into a specific place. I recognized the place. 
       The scarlet "L" began to burn like fire across my forehead. These yahoos were boarding down the same mountain I had bailed off the previous weekend! 
(above) Peak 3250+ at far left edge of photo, looking southwest. This gives us an idea of the peak in relation to its friends. Moving right one sees the dark mass of Tigaraha, with its 800 ft. north wall.

"It doesn’t matter how much effort it takes. The consequences of an accident are so huge, I think, in retrospect, and it's easy to see things in retrospect, what should we have done?  We should have had visibility. and should have waited, but it would have been a hard one to sell to us at the time...

"Avalanche danger is always high, and sometimes it’s really, really high, but that’s the attitude of walking on thin ice and really being highly aware all the time of the hazard so that you’re doing this right. All of a sudden you stop and say, hey wait a minute, is this going to be OK? Can I pick a better route, or can I get on belay and get out on the slope and dig a hole in it and see if I can reveal some layers and assess some stability, but really taking that avalanche hazard very seriously

"I don’t hold anything against the mountains. I’d say that i’m hugely more… PARTICULAR about the things that I climb, and I’m just very PICKY.  I just won’t get on anything anymore…. in college, I was, we all were, just a little bit more ready to jump on everything..."

Thanks to Colby for the quotations, and the esteemed Dr. Krupa for listening. 

(above) Tom Walter, my great mentor from the eighties, sucked down by wind-loading. He would stubai his way up anything.

       After I trundled out Tom in Kigscourt, I was acquitted, lock, stock, and barrel. There was not a pin to be dropped after Colby's testimony. I was handed the LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY CLAUSE that I had originally requested. I was even given a pass on self-humiliation over the snow-boarding video; it was remembered that around the time those boys were skiing SaGuiq in 2012, Tyler and I were over by PiNarut (Pk. 3367) (ping-a-root) throwing glory turns in tight couloirs. Sometimes the snow is O.K. And besides, these are all absurd turns of mind and deserve to be ignored. The truth remains that when traveling solo on snow-machine and climbing mountains in the Kigluaik, you want to avoid any kind of screw-up. /k/ /k/ /k/

(above) One of our Kigsblog photography staff, none too enthused with the skiing conditions at Nugget Pass around the time of this adventure, April 2014.