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.  

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