Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Among The Peakbaggers

Summit Tor of Mt. Osborn
(above) Summit Tor of Mt. Osborn, August 2014.

    I began this post with the intention of placing the 2014 Mt. Osborn Peakbagging Expedition under indictment for Crimes of Anthropocentrism perpetrated in the Kigluaik Range last August.  I neglected to take under account the fact that I had participated in said crimes myself, setting myself up for counter-indictment, an opportunity which the defense team immediately seized upon. Now, of course, once again, the result is Kigsblog involved in legal action against itself. Once again, allapah's climbing license stands in danger of forfeiture should the charges go against me. If the court decides my status must be changed to that of "peak bagger," then, of course, I must forfeit my status as"real climber," and my climbers license be rescinded.

Here is a more rational and succinct account of the trip than mine: Greg's Trip Report on Mt. Osborn from his own awesome website
Grand Central Basecamp
(above) Grand Central Basecamp, August 2015. My dog kept snarling up the bear fence. 

   Mitja, my wall partner from Yosemite days, used to spit the word "peak bagger" if anybody suggested doing a climb easier than 5.7— "What are we, peak baggers?" In the pages of Climbing In North America by Chris Jones, we read how Alaska first-ascensionist Vin Hoeman got teased by his peers for bypassing aesthetic climbs in favor of topographically prominent protuberances. We, on the other hand, belonged on a different page of the book, the "young turks in search of a backcountry wall." We narcissized ourselves modern deconstructionists undoing the epistemological errors of our forebears. We were Conquistadors of the Pointless, not Conquistadores of Points. In truth, we were clueless California snobs who hadn't yet left the Valley, a place with many walls but few summits, only a giant rim.
Lower Southeast Ridge

(above) Lower Southeast Ridge.

      Then came many years later to the Kigs, a range of winding ridges protruding with bumps and tors, enough like Scotland that I think Scotland's nomenclature of  Munroes, Corbetts, and Grahams would work nicely here. At first I chose climbs with a pure heart, and picked whatever looked nice and fun to climb, whatever felt attractive.
       However, after years of Kigs-bagging, a new phase began to set in. A positive feedback loop between ego-bloat and Kigs-baggery had been created, so that after a certain critical mass of ascents in the Kigs had taken place, my mind could conceive of a future state of task-completion in which I had bagged each and every peak in this somewhat circumscribed range.  Climb selection then shifted to a set of artificially-created values rather than earth-based co-attraction. My mean climbing ability came down another grade as more and more I chose to stalk off after distant bumps like a watered-down Vin Hoeman. It didn't help that no other climbers seemed interested in the Kigs; this only inflamed Ego with the prospect of total, imagined OWNAGE.

Midway up Southeast Ridge
(above) The Balustrades, midway up Southeast Ridge. "Highly resistant, coarse-grained pelitic paragneiss and schist present in layers varying in thickness from 10-100 meters containing quartz, plagioclase, biotite, sillimanite, feldspar, garnet, and graphite. Locally pervasively migmatized." From the sacred Miller/Amato map of 2004.

     If one sets out to climb all the peaks in a range: what, then, constitutes a peak?  For many summer seasons I sat on sunny shoulders in the Kigs, for hours and hours simply gazing outward, letting the eye play along the geological clash zones of pluton and schist. My mind began to play mathematical games with the mountains, drawing triangles between summits and cols, classifying and reclassifying the parameters of what constitutes a peak.  Pk. 4500+ was an example of this last Spring.
      This is how I eventually came to reify the natural flowing processes of the Kigs into a static set of mathematical values. The frog of my technical climbing ability boiled slowly away into mere hiking skills. I evolved into a peak-bagging Colin Fletcherite along the same lines as my frame-pack wearing, Sierra Club cup toting parents, the very entities we had been rebelling against.

Upper half of Osborn Southeast Ridge
(above) Upper half of Osborn Southeast Rib. Some nice granite in this picture. Had a beatific soloing session here during the afternoon on the way down the mountain in gathering thunder shower. The Tor at left is about 110 ft. on good rock, unclimbed. Can you find the mountain dog in picture?

      All this anti-peak baggage, lodged deep in my subconscious!  Greg, one of the peak baggers under indictment for Crimes of Anthropocentrism in this post, warns against this very type of anti-peakbaggerism on his website, "Indeed, most peak baggers come in for a lot of abuse from serious mountaineers... we are not really that bad. If you meet a peak bagger, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, and some taste."

      So when Dave called in the Spring to give the news that he and some friends would be coming in August to climb Mt. Osborn, I was psyched. Dave was with a group of experts in the field of prominence, a body of knowledge which was the very thing in which I had been mathematically dabbling. Their expedition seemed like a message from the KigsGods. This was a chance for allapa to learn. Little did I realize at the time that I would eventually come under indictment, and my climbers license be put in Jeopardy yet again.
Looking across at the Northeast Ridge of Osborn
(above) Looking across at the Northeast Ridge of Osborn from the Southeast Rib. Mikey and I got benighted on this ridge in  early Spring of 2004. I came back later and soloed it in alpine conditions (45° AI-1) on April 20, hence the name "4-20 Arete." Kuzitrin country stretching away in the background.

JUDGE: Adjutant, please read the charges against Mr. Allapa.

ADJUTANT: Allapa is accused of Crimes of Anthropocentrism in the Kigluaik Mountains. specifically, the statutes surrounding "Reification of Natural Process."

JUDGE: How do you plead?

ALLAPA: Uh, could I get a definition of "reification"? I mean, I used to know it, but I always have to look it up.

JUDGE: Adjutant, read the definition of "reify" please.

ADJUTANT: To "reify" is to mistake map for territory. The error of treating as a concrete thing something which is not concrete, but merely an idea.

JUDGE:  In this case, the natural flow of processes in the mountains has been rendered into a series of static points, which is the point that qualified this point as reification. The climber is no longer climbing the territory, but is climbing the map instead, which violates the prime directive of CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN. Which, Mr. Allapa, brings us back to your Climbers License. How do you plead?

ALLAPA: This is preposterous! All I did was go climbing!

JUDGE: Plea?

ALLAPA: Not guilty!

JUDGE: Mr. Allapa... the time has come to explain yourself. Tell everyone here at KigsCourt, all these agencies gathered round you that arise manifestly from the neuron activity in your own brain: what happened?

ALLAPA: What happened?

JUDGE: Yes. What happened... How did you get yourself into this legal mess?
Cluster at the summit of Osborn
(above) Cluster at the summit of Osborn, August 2015. Later, back in town, I posed Dave the question: "Would you have still hunted down the highest of the many summit pinnacles of Osborn had I not been there to squawk about doing it, or would you, like many Nome locals, have considered the summit ridge of Osborn good enough to call the summit?"
      "Oh, there's no question," Dave replied. "We would have tracked down the true summit."

ALLAPA: Well, they had climbed some mountains alright. That was apparent right away. The first night in Grand Central, people were telling war stories over dinner. I don't remember the details: the usual stuff where mountains are involved, you know, dead guys frozen in place on Kiliminjaro, raving blind lunatics out of their minds from High Altitude Cerebral Edema on Orizaba, the snowstorm that nearly killed us all on Mt. Blanc, that sort of thing... So I interjected:  "Well, my partner Andy broke all his tib-fibs on this very mountain we're sitting under, and I had to drag him in pain for 8 hours and then he was in coma for 10 days."  This little tidbit elicited a tiny pause in the conversation...  Until the next person chimed in with the next story: "Yeah, the same thing happened to a friend of mine on Mount So-And-So... " Right about then I thought to myself: yes, these guys have climbed a few mountains alright.
       Had I taken the time before the trip last summer to look at Greg' website,, and seen everybody's prodigious peak lists, I would have better understood the hardcore edge to this crew. Dave, Greg, Edward and crew have visited a staggering number of high points. I mean, just go check the site out yourself. For some reason, reading these lists brings the taste of truck stop coffee in my mouth.

Class 4 climbing on the summit rocks
(above) Class 4 climbing on the summit rocks. Here we see Edward Earl, a Dougal Haston-like figure of the peak bagging world, speeding up the final steps to the summit of Osborn. 

JUDGE: Very nice, Mr. Allapa. Now, get to the part about the climb.

ALLAPA: Yes, the climb... uh, it's not much of a climb, really, not by Chugachian standards. Three thousand feet of hiking, with a few shenanigans in the summit rocks. I tried to be nice and write everybody up a route description on this blog, but I got a few things wrong. In winter it's a real horse of a different color! Johnny Soderstrom almost froze his testacles off on the summit ridge in January.
       Anyways, everyone scampered right up, everyone except Carol, my new friend from Wasilla, who had the good sense not to get too caught up in the summit thing and power-lounged in the fine weather at basecamp. The rock outcrops on the way up the Southeast Rib sport some very gneiss granite in places, so I stopped to boulder like I always do. This was maybe my ninth or tenth time on the Southeast Ridge (with five or six summits included) but never with such a large party.   
       We all got kinda bunched up at the top in those hideous summit pinnacles. My dog, Lucy, soloed up the Class 4 choss moves just fine, but then she got stubborn and didn't care to do the last 15 feet despite my commands from the exposed summit, so now we gotta go back some time with a rope and dog harness.

 D.A.: So you did take part in this climb of Mt. Osborn on August 10, 2014, and was the sole purpose of this ascent to reach the hight point of the Seward Peninsula?

ALLAPA: Uh... yeah. Right?

D.A.: No more questions for now, your Honor.
Highest choss on the Seward Peninsula

Rappel from the summit rocks
(above) Rappel from the summit rocks.  The difficulty of this choss step is not the peril of falling, but the likelihood of getting crushed.

D.A.: Your honor, and various mental agencies of the jury, I would like to present Documentary Evidence A. This blogpost will prove that allapa was already applying the metrics of prominence even before the peak baggers visited. He specifically mentions Peak 4500+, a neighbor of Osborn's, as "getting its own Marilyn."

JUDGE: Order in the court!

(above) Western Cwm of Osborn. This mysterious valley leads 4 miles down from the mountain to the Mosquito Pass corridor.

JUDGE: Closing statements.

D.A.: Adjutant, please read LIST B: "Five principles of Kigsblog."

ADJUTANT: Five principles of Kigsblog

1. Kigsblog subscribes to the hypothesis that geological formations, such as mountains, are imbued with the property of MENTAL PROCESS (to a non-negligible degree.) 

2. Kigsblog has decreed that human needs must never be valued higher than the needs of the entire eco-system. 

3.  Kigsblog supports the notion that the mountain must always be given the advantage over the climber.

 4. Choosing a climb under the influence of EGO is against the law. 

5. Climbing a technical route must take preeminence over the necessity of reaching a high-point.

D.A.: Thank you. Ladies and Gentlemen, violation of any of these principles comes under the heading Crimes of Anthropocentrism. It is plain to see that Mr. Allapa has committed multiple violations of the these principles, in the present example of "KigsCourt vs. 2014 Mt. Osborn Peakbagging Expedition," and elsewhere in his writing throughout this blog. One look at his recent record of non-technical climbs should be enough to tell anyone that Mr. Allapa has degenerated from real climber into hiker. Not that there's anything illegal with hiking— but this former climber DOES NOT, by any judgment, deserve to bear the status of "real climber" on his license. You must, therefore, choose REVOCATION.

(left and above) Upper pitches of the Sluicebox Couloir. After reaching the summit of Osborn via the Southeast Ridge, I had time to run down the Northeast Ridge to the top of the Sluicebox Couloir, which is an incomplete route coming up from the Northeast Cirque that I have epiced on several times with various partners. 
       I had visited this horrifying drop-off on previous occasions, trying to scope out the last two, pitches of the Sluicebox which are hidden from view, but always in Winter, when the cornice was too bulging to see over the edge. Now, in summer, I could climb down and peer over: the exit pitches of the Sluicebox produced a sinking feeling behind my rectum. What I had thought would be a hidden, low-angle fissure exiting out the top of the Sluicebox did not exist. There appears to be nothing at the top of the Sluicebox but a sack-shrinking marble wall 300 ft. high with few weaknesses, and no flow source to feed an ice climb except for the small snow patch visible in the picture. 
        The good news is, right then and there, I was CURED of the Sluicebox Couloir! ABSOLVED from all the suffering it had caused myself and others! Save the damn thing for a future generation of Nome badass alpinists, my own Sluicebox quest is over. With a lighter heart, I traversed back to the sunny side of the mountain, and lost myself for hours in dreamlike rock climbing on solid granite.

JUDGE: You are accused of Crimes of Anthropocentrism in the Kigs. How do you plead?

ALLAPA: Your honor, it seems to me than any act of climbing, any type of climbing at all, is a crime of anthropocentrism.

JUDGE: Plea?

ALLAPA: Is climbing itself a crime?

JUDGE: Plea!

ALLAPA: Oh, alright, then, guilty.

JUDGE: Climbing license revoked! From this day on, Mr. Allapa, you will no longer be counted a real climber. You are a peak bagger now. this court is adjourned.
Courtesy of Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum
 (above) Franklin Karrer's photograph taken from the summit ridge of Osborn, sometime between 1910 and 1914. Compare this photograph to Lower Southeast Ridge, above, and you will see proof that Karrer took this photograph from somewhere high on Osborn.  Crater Lake is visible at bottom left. You can see the Wild Goose Pipeline: not the thick, Y-shaped lines, those are the south fork of Grand Central, but just above the stem of the Y.
       Is this documentation of the first ascent of Osborn? I think not. Read below to find out why. Photo courtesy of Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.  

     After our climb of Osborn, we hung in Grand Central one more night. Wandering the tundra around camp, we saw ample evidence that a sizable population of miners once lived there at the base of Mt. Osborn. These would have been miners working on the "Wild Goose Pipeline," a pipeline made of redwood visible on the south wall of Grand Central Valley intended to bring water to the hydraulic mining operations all around Nome. We found ancient stone campsites, huge piles of cured redwood lying about everywhere, and a road that looked exactly the width of an old carriage road.  
       So the next day when the time came to slog the bushy 7 miles out of Grand Central, we played a game where we tried to follow the hundred-year old carriage road through the intermittent willow thickets. I knew about this road from previous slog-whacks, but had always assumed it to be an intermittent four-wheeler trail. Closer inspection reinforced the hypothesis that this had once been a carriage road, where the big wooden wheels of the carriage (no doubt carrying stacks of redwood) would have fit right into a slotted track. The placement of the various turns and twists through the muskeg were well thought out, and the thought is tempting to take a machete to the sections of hundred-year old overgrowth and reestablish this road into Grand Central. (But that would be a crime of anthropocentrism!)
       Dave, Greg, Edward, Crystal, Jill, and Carol departed Nome.  Mt. Osborn was just another high point Dave had sandwiched between his previous climb of Mount Angayukaqsraq (the high point of Kobuk Valley National Park northeast of Kotzebue, and a bushwhacking sufferfest) and an upcoming attempt on Bashful (gnarly Chugach peak, the high point of the Anchorage Borough.) Our Luau celebration on the beach at Nome was thwarted by horrendous biting beetles that immigrated on a freight ship that summer. I learned plenty from this crew, things that I am now applying in the Kigs. I think this indictment, and subsequent revocation of my climbing license, marks a turning point in my Kigsaneering career, and I am grateful for the role that Dave and crew played in this evolution... even though I had to bust them for Crimes of Anthropocentrism.
      After the crew left, I went down and talked with Laura Samuelson at the Carrie McLain Museum on Front Street. Laura was kind enough to help determine that yes, there had been a road going up Grand Central Valley, probably built in the first decade of the Nome Gold Rush, over a hundred years ago. The "Wild Goose Company" contracted out for different kinds of jobs during this period, the Pipeline in Grand Central being one of them. Whereas most of the mining ditches in the Nome area are open on top like the letter U, the one in Grand Central was a fully enclosed tube like the letter O, leading me to believe that the Grand Central segment of the hydraulic ditches acted as a kind of plunger at the very top of the whole system; this is why the engineers curled it around to the very slopes of Mt. Osborn, to get every elevation advantage they could muster.
       Laura and I then moved on to one of my favorite questions: who made the first ascent of Mt. Osborn? We poked around a little with the names and discovered that there were several Osborns working in the Nome diggings in those early days of the gold boom. I got the feeling that the Osborns were a family of strapping brothers, one of whom probably hiked up the mountain that now bears their name. With all the workers that obviously camped at the base of the mountain, the idea of hiking to the top would have occurred to more than a few of them. I would guess it was a popular recreation for the workers at this field camp to hike up Mt. Osborn. But how many of them bothered to seek out that one highest summit pinnacle?
         Laura then had me flip through a collection of excellent black and white photographs taken by a teacher named Franklin Karrer around Nome between 1910 and 1914. I saw cool, school field trip photos of High School students visiting areas around Nome that could just have easily been contemporary school field trip photos. But then my eye was arrested by one photograph-- I instantly recognized it as having been taken from the top of Osborn. Laura graciously sent me the photo so I could verify that Karrer had been at the top of Osborn. I strongly doubt that Karrer's ascent was the first. People must have been hiking up Osborn all the time. But his must surely be the first documented ascent. Many questions remain. Just who was this Karrer, and how many peaks might he have bagged in the Kigs?
We shall leave