Monday, September 14, 2015

Zero For Seven On "Peak Grand Union" (part 2)

       Back in Nome, Drew lay despondent in his crib, neutered, once again without his skis, his machine far away. I, too, suffered the Scarlet "L" burning on my forehead: I was now zero for two on my initial climbing objective, what should have been a simple matter, the casual ski of "Peak Grand Union" from the Mosquito Pass side, and now we would almost certainly have to drive back in there and spend the entire day digging out Drew's machine instead of climbing.    
          Drew enlisted the legendary Roger Thompson for our snow-machine rescue crew. I secretly packed, in addition to the tools needed for snow-machine rescue, the climbing tools needed for another ski attempt on Grand Union. 

Attempt #3:

Date: April 4, 2014

Personnel: Allapa, Drew, Roger.

Rides:  Three guys on two Arctic Cats to rescue s third stuck Polaris.

Reason for bail Stuck snow-machine time-suck screw-over factor. 

       There was no way. There was never going to be enough time for Peak Grand Union. There was too much to do to save Drew's machine.  Roger performed mechanical wizardry with pieces of a metal fork shoved into the choke, while I stamped and hatcheted out a ramp of packed snow through the willows that was darn near a quarter-mile long uphill. Finally, when all was ready, Drew stepped up for the Olympic finals, his one glorious shot at freedom. In a feat of athleticism I could never hope to match, Drew gunned his snow-machine to freedom. We toasted our success with Yukon and Jack Daniels. 
       We had a grand day. Roger was a shaman with a Google-Earthish knowledge of the Kigs and the ability to corral energy from the folds of the Earth like Castenada's Don Juan. Drew was reunited with his machine, his essence restored. But I was now "Zero for Three" on Peak Grand Union.

Justification:  The Kigsblog definition for what constitutes an "attempt"  requires nothing more than the firm commitment to climb in the mind of the climber, plus some measurable movement towards the objective. (By these terms, an attempt can be made on a mountain without ever leaving one's house.) Therefore, Attempt #3 does, in fact, constitute an "attempt" under KigsLaw.

Pictures from Attempt #3
Drew and Roger at Silver Creek Pass looking north over the Sinuk to Mosquito Pass
Attempt #4

When: April 4, 2015

Personnel: Allapa, Jeff, Leonard, David

Plan:  Establish camp on the north side of Mosquito Pass. Have fun skiing and snowboarding in the Cobblestone Valley the next day. Ian sneaks away for a ski ascent of Peak Grand Union.

Reason for bail: Blowhole!

        The four of us came roaring out of San Berdoo heading for Tehachapi, up the Snake River Valley, past Mt. Distin and across the Stewart River. As we were starting the gentle rise over Silver Creek Pass, exhaust from the Blowhole started up. 
       It soon became obvious that a single vector of prodigious wind was channeled straight down from the north through the middle of the Kigs. We all recognized the beast for what it was: a serpent of wind, probably 5 miles in diameter, writhing its way down a very specific corridor of valleys through the mountains, Mosquito Pass, Silver Creek Pass— right down our intended line of travel. Blowhole, the locals call it. The gusts were a big hammer banging on us. Driving straight into this stream would be a silly, frostnippy nightmare when calm, still air existed on either side of us. 
        "Retreat to Earp's cabin!" was the cry barely heard behind our Darth Vader masks, though nobody really knew if the legendary mountain-slayer's cabin was still available. We hung an abrupt east towards the Kougarak Road. The wind ceased completely after seven miles; you could have flicked a lighter.
       We would proceed to have "entirely too much fun" that weekend, including a deep twilight ski that same evening at Nugget Pass, a killer bivvy at the Salmon Lake cabin, and a beautiful day in sunshine at Morning Call Creek. But Attempt #4 on Peak Grand Union was once again over before it started, foiled by a Blowhole.

Videos and Pictures from Attempt #4 
(above) Video of David at Morning Call Creek
Jeff on his Split-board starting down the eastern slopes of Pk. 2712 above Morning Call Creek. This is the highest of the hills that lie east of the Kougarak Road in the Nugget Pass area.  Without crampons, we could not get to the icy summit, so skied off a high shoulder.
Leonard and David are tramping up Pk. 2712 

Attempt #5

When: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Personnel:  Allapa

Plan: Take day off school. Take advantage of the Kougarak Road being open to Mile 24 and haul Super Smooth Andy G. to the end of the road in the morning. Ride solo snow-machine over Mosquito Pass and bag Peak Grand Union.

Reason for bail: GLUE leading to late start / Technical Chicken-out.

       How I loathe the I live in fear of it. Better to pound the snow-machine over twenty miles of bare, bumpy tundra than load the machine on a trailer and drive the distance in a comfortable truck. Now, I know it is true that a proper man loves his internal-combustion vehicle and all aspects of dealing with its power, but I alone am fearful. I was unable to get the damn snow-machine up on the trailer for the longest time. Non-working neighbors watched from windows as I took repeated runs at the ramp in my driveway and only succeeded in head-butting the whole rig forward with a great "whack!"
       Next, came the Kougarak Road in early Spring... terrifying!  
       Mud-bogging it through puddles and standing splashes of frozen mud-slush, Smooth Andy G. lashed to the trailer fishtailing wildly in the rear, both sets of wheels tire-drilling like bootcamp marines in the potholes, washboarding out of control on the dangerous ramp next to the Troll's house, I was paralyzed at the wheel, too scared to turn around, change the music, or do anything other than punch it. 
       I finally made it out to Mile 25, quite late in the afternoon. The current pulling me backwards due to the GLUE of TOWN was palpable and strong, as it had been all day, since the time I woke up at 5 a.m. so I could get in to school to create massive and extensive substitute teacher plans.
        Before I had even pulled the starter cord on Super Smooth Andy G., I had succumbed to the invisible and insidious forces from the GLUE of TOWN. Be honest, I told myself, there will be no solo attempt on Peak Grand Union today. Another Technical Chicken-Out-- probably a good thing I did, but still a chicken-out. Now it was time to turn my attention to Plan B.

Plan B:  Climb SaGuiq ("Turncorner Mountain," Peak 3250+), a closer alternative on the south side of Mosquito Pass.

Outcome of Plan B:  Bail.

Reason for Bail: Technical Chicken-Out.

       SaGuiq ("Saw-goo-ick"), meaning "turn the corner" in Qaweraq, was an old friend of mine, a big, prominent, crap-pile of schist visible from many places around the Qaweraq (Southern Seward Peninsula) area. Kristine and I spent 13 hours one summer choss-climbing up its Southwest Ridge. However, despite climbing to near the summit ridge no less than four times, I have never continued all the way to the actual summit, the very tippy top tor of the thing. Upon this obscure quest I now set my day after the "Bail before you start" of Grand Union.
       The late-April snowpack was low as can be. I followed my friends Glen and Sue's snow-machine tracks from two days before which wove between rocks and bare tundra. They had reported copious avalanches on the surrounding mountain walls at which I initially scoffed— there aren't any avalanches in the Kigs!— but now I saw Glen and Sue were right, big crown faces on exactly the southwest aspects. I was glad to be climbing the narrow, low-angle South Ridge of SaGuiq where avalanches would not be an issue.
       But when I got to the summit ridge, after a pleasant, sunny climb boot-kicking up the south ridge, I saw the summit wasn't the casual kick-up I had assumed it would be. An icy gully intruded, and tedious iced-up scree. I would need to descend several hundred feet, then climb back up.
        I could have done it. It's not like this thing is even a real mountain. It's a Kig, for pete's sake. In better conditions, you could do the whole thing up and down without taking your skis off for any part of it (with the exception of the north wall, which is really quite precipitous and huge, with beautiful schistazoid patterns). It's just that I would be getting home at 2 a.m., and then rising early the next morning like Fred Beckey dragging himself to a Monday morning corporate meeting of fourth graders.  
        I bailed. That made a Bail for Plan B to add to the Bail for Plan A. That made me "Zero for Five" on my initial objective of the Spring, the casual ski up Peak Grand Union.

Pictures from Attempt #5:

Actual summit of SaGuiq (Pk. 3250+) taken from south summit.

Looking down south ridge of Pk. 3250+
SaGuiq (Turncorner Mt.) from near the confluence of Windy and Sinuk rivers. This photo is actually from Attempt #6 four days after Attempt #5, and shows the very breath of the Blowhole serpent that stalked me throughout the Spring. Glenn and Sue's tracks from the week before head north to Mosquito Pass.
Looking west from SaGuiq. Mosquito Pass is left of center. The "Hundred Year Old Rockfall" is visible in the center on the east face of Pk. 2850+. This feature will feature prominently in the next attempt on Peak Grand Union.

Attempt #6

Date: Saturday, May 2, 2016

Personnel: Allapa, Drew

Reason for bail:  Blowhole/Technical Chicken-Out

       This time, we had it made. Enough snow, barely, with a crust down to two inches. It was May, for godssake. The deathly pall of the Kigs in winter had departed. You weren't gonna die from the cold. As long as you didn't sink your snow-machine in some type of slush-stream or water, everything was gonna be alright. Drew was pledged, completely pledged, to bag Peak Grand Union this time, fully down and organized. Weather was partly cloudy, not bad really, a minimum of breeze. We broke the GLUE of TOWN easily, not so many mittens and thermoses in May, and cruised to the end of the road in a sealed pod of comfort. Our thumbs were turned to throttles of joy as we screamed westward over Hudson Creek Pass towards the heart of the Kigs.
         As we crested the pass and began to drop into the Sinuk headwaters, we could already see the serpent six miles ahead poking its head over Mosquito Pass, taking the form that day of a giant, fat larva. The larva wasn't bothering to come any further to the south, but just lay there, occupying the entire pass with its fat body, a distinct, tentacular flow-maggot emanating from the warm Imruk Basin.
       Our facemasks would have displayed doubt could they have done so.  Drew and I both knew what it was like to pass through the membrane of a living, breathing Blowhole, to exist inside the body of the meteorological organism buffeted by its internal processes and unable to tell earth from sky.
        We daubed other excuses onto our emerging canvas of chicken-out: the overflow of the Cobblestone River that surely awaited us in total whiteout on the other side of the pass; the serious problems with Drew's war-battered machine; that certain draw on the north side of Mosquito Pass that might not be reversible once we went down it; liberal applications of "tired from teaching"; the avalanche potential that clearly still existed.     
          We edged closer to the pass. The wind freshened. We could see the metabolic pathways writhing in the membrane of the Blowhole. It was no use. Attempt #6 was going down in a Technical Chicken-out.

Plan B:  Visit the "Hundred Year Old Rockfall" at Windy Creek.

       I don't officially know the age of the rockfall across Windy Creek. "Hundred Year Old Rockfall" is just what I've taken to calling it. After I told Drew it was "My favorite place in the Kigs," we decided to visit the rockfall after our Technical Chicken-Out of Peak Grand Union had been decided.
       A bouldering paradise, of sorts... the rockfall must have dammed up the valley, until Windy Creek finally found its way through. Resting on top of the whole mass are cabin-sized boulders of compact schist, which rise above soft, velvety pads of tundra next to a babbling brook. Peaks surround: Mt. Osborn, Pen Tri Cwm, Tigaraha, KirgaviNuatqi, SaGuiq, Mosquito Pass Peak. A crime has been committed by my saying all this here.
       A little ski run with a rail run through the boulders. A nap in the sunshine. A change into the Scarpas for a little bouldering. And then it was time to submit our sorry way to the TOWN GLUE attractor once again. A beautiful day, an all-time day, a day fixed in the sunshine of memory—  but I still hadn't bagged Peak Grand Union.

Pictures from Attempt #6:
H2O Tazlinas, "Hundred Year Rockfall," Tigaraha, and KirgaviNuatGi
Mosquito Pass, and the "distinct, tentacular flow-maggot" that caused us to incur a Technical Chicken-Out
Drew in the Hundred Year Old Rockfall
Attempt #7

Date: Saturday, May 9, 2015

Personnel: Allapa

Reason for bail: The snow was completely gone.

        Super Smooth Andy G., the super smooth Bearcat .570, still awaited faithfully up at Mile 28. All I had to do was drive up there in the truck, and I would soon be skimming effortlessly over Spring snow to a final triumph on Peak Grand Union. As I drove along, I calculated the hours it would take for the rest of the day to cross Mosquito Pass  and reach the Western Cwm, ski up the Cwm, skin up Peak Grand Union and ski down, then machine back to the car. I estimated I would be out til the wee hours.
       But when I got to Mile 28, the snow was gone. It was summer. I was as full of it as your average Facebook poster. I was Zero for Seven on Peak Grand Union.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Zero For Seven On "Peak Grand Union" (part 1)

ski Mt. Osborn
Osborn group from the west. Red Arrow points to Peak 4500+ ("Peak Grand Union"). This photo exhibited a trace of Syncronicity Factor the morning that Bering Air pilot Kevin Ahl posted it on Facebook. That same morning I happened to be heading out on a long snow-machine drive from Nome to the valley near the center of the photo, what I call the "Western Cwm" of Osborn.  Note the narrow, willow-choked venturi at the bottom of the Cwm, site of snow-machine epics to follow.
Peak Grand Union
Osborn group from the northeast Left to Right: Mt. Osborn, North Peak, Pk. 4250+, Pk. 4500+.
Pk. 4500+ ("Peak Grand Union") from northeast. Is it not a Marilyn?
      The snow accumulation in March meant that deeper penetration into the Kigs was possible. My personal "Beckey's Black Book" offered Peak 4500+, which by my calculations ranks as the second highest summit in the Kigs, and looked like a fun and easy ski from the west, a good snow-machine mountaineering objective for a freezing-ass day. 

       But I never did manage to get up the thing. And what a series of seriously fun blunders it was that kept me all Spring from achieving my first little objective! What follows is my Fail Analysis for the unfinished project.

        Some readers may recall the KigsCourt decision which placed me under mandate to focus exclusively on "North Side Kigs" adventures (having somewhat exhausted south side adventures.) Because Nome is located to the south of the Kigluaik Range, it is easy for a Nome-based climber to forget that the Kigs are a range more spectacular when viewed from the north. Only problem is, it generally takes an extra day of resources to get over to the north side from Nome, whether that means an extra day of hiking, extra gas container, or extra helicopter.

      Conditions were prime in Spring 2015 for simply snow-machining to the north side, a trip that takes for me two hours, but much faster if you're Johhny Bahnke or some bad ass like that. Nevertheless, on a cold Winter day, without a lot of bivvy gear on the goddamn tiny snow-machine rack, I get always that deep water feeling on the north side of the Kigs. These are the Golden Years before the road goes in for the giant graphite mine that's coming. You're a long way from Nome.
Map of Osborn group. I propose the name "Peak Grand Union" for Pk. 4500+, as it stands at the head of the East Fork Grand Union valley.

WhenMarch 15, 2015

PersonnelAllapa, Max, Drew, and a fourth guy whose name I've forgotten, but I remember he was a cheechako from a flatland state, and had a big snow machine, and this was his first trip to any mountains, and the big GRIN OF WONDERMENT on his face for the entire duration of the trip was a delight to behold.

Reasons for bail:  I chose the wrong cwm. ("Cwm," pronounced "koom," is Welsh for "cirque," and seems to have the right feel of a word for Mt. Osborn's western cirques.) The cwm we went up that first Saturday might well be called the "Southwest Cwm," but we needed to have machined further to the north and gone up the big "Western Cwm"  of Osborn to have accessed the target, Pk. 4500+. Funny thing is, I was convinced we were in the right valley for most of the day as we skied up. I pontificated knowingly to my friends about all the features.

Beta: To get to the entrance of the Western Cwm of Mt. Osborn, you have to head north all the way over Mosquito Pass down to the Cobblestone flats at the Oro Grande, practically to sea level. The cwms of Osborn present themselves as little gateways into the mountain on your right. You gotta be careful which gateway you pick. 
      Some heroic side-hilling on their snow-machines got Drew and the Cheechako into the Southwest Cwm above the willows. Max and I skied the mile and a half up the valley, and experienced far more bliss than the other two. The cirque is a mind-blower of marble with peaks in its own right, though you wouldn't be able to get over to the Big Oz very easily from here. We skied around on good snow, but achieved no exploits of any value other than what might be shared on a forgotten blog page. 

Ominous Foreshadowings: Drew exhibited a fanatical determination to milk his machine through the willows and get it up into that beautiful valley. 

Repercussions: The Southwest Cwm was so beautiful, the fun we had so tremendous, that the Judge let us off once we swore to return the following weekend.

Pictures From Attempt #1:  
Max silhouetted in a bird of light in Osborn's Southwest Cwm. I majestically pointed to the West Face of Pk. 3802 there in the center of the picture, and mistakenly pronounced it to be Mt. Osborn, and knowingly explained all its features that I knew so well. though something did feel a bit off.
Looking northwest from the "Southwest Cwm." 
Looking west to the upper Cobblestone: Suluun is partially visible in the background above Max's head.
Pk. 3802 and human pathogens invading the Southwest Cwm of Mt. Osborn


When: March 29, 2015

Personnel:  Allapa, Drew

Reasons for Bail:

a. GLUE. Huge entanglements of Attention Deficit Disorder caused us to arrive at the mountain too late in the afternoon.

       At the beginning of the 14-hour snow-machine mountaineering epic, as we tried to escape Nome, the GLUE drew us back repeatedly: hangovers, gas, befuddlement, mittens, baubles, boots, iPhone jack, playlists, iTunes, skin glue, shovel/paddle, face-mask, sock-bottle, sock-bottle, key, goggle, trip plan, sunscreen, through hooded eyes he regards the noonday sun.

b. "Started Up The Slope Too Soon Instead Of Walking Further Up The Valley" Syndrome. 

       The result of my route-finding error was climbing to the top of a pretty cool knob, Pt. 3800+, instead of the intended target, Pk. 4500+. It would have taken two extra hours to correct for this error, which would have led to "Frostbiting Your Frostbite" syndrome and arriving back at Nome in the middle of the morning. Did I mention it was cold? 

ComplicationsAbandoned machine in the Western Cwm of Osborn. 

       Drew is like Fitzcarraldo when it comes to getting a snow-machine past an obstacle.  When we reached the Cobblestone River after two hours of wind-plagued riding from Nome, we still needed to get 5 more miles up Mt. Osborn's Western Cwm, a narrow, glacier-formed valley guarded at the bottom by a willow-choked venturi, then opening out above into a great marble amphitheater  I took one look at the venturi and decided NOT to snow-machine up it, but instead donned my skis for the hike through the willow patches. Drew, however, grew obsessed with the snow-machine challenge of getting his Polaris up into that Cwm.
        Skiing up the north side of the creek was peaceful and enjoyable, while Drew could be seen waging violent battle across the way in the willows of the south side. Five times his machine got stuck, and five times he freed it. Mutters and curses floated over the breeze, then the triumphant roar of his machine as he spurted out of the vegetation in a great spurt of power, free again. 
         S.O.B. if he didn't get that thing up the valley. We met in the bowls up above, rejoicing at beauty off the scale. But afternoon shadows were beginning to elongate in the Western Cwm. 
        The pivotal moment:  "Drew, are you going to be able to get your machine back out of here?" Do we ski up the mountain now, or do we start down the valley now and fight the snow-machine battle with the hours we have left?"
        Doubt crossed Drew's face. His expression resembled an ape's trying to make sense of human speech. "It will be O.K.," he finally formulated. "Let's ski up the mountain." 
        Later, in the evening light, after we had drenched ourselves in perspiration skiing up the wrong side of the mountain, it was not O.K.:  despite Herculean efforts, Drew could not reverse his tracks out of the Cwm. His snow-machine augured into a final, deep drift, and lay silent. Darkness like ominous cellos swelled in the background.
       "Abandon ship, and double-ride all the way back to Nome, or there's gonna be frostbite."  
       So we flopped gumby-like through a bottomless meter of sugar snow down to where Smooth Andy G. waited. The Arctic Cat .570 started first pull. We stashed excess gear, knowing we would return, and commenced double-riding through overflow, up tricky draws, through the surreal filigree of the blow-hole at Mosquito Pass, both of us moving as one, cranking 5.10 off the handlebars of Super Smooth Andy G. to avoid tipping, and arriving in Nome on a soon-to-be Monday school morning.   

Interesting Meteorological Phenomena: the "Blowhole"

      Losers in the end, we did however show a touch of bad-assedness on the way in. Channeled wind running through Mosquito Pass created a Blowhole of considerable hose-factor, a pulsating artery of wind about 5 miles wide, outside of which the air could be perfectly calm, as it was for us all day after we conquered our fears and pushed through the maelstrom on our machines to reach the calm on the other side, after moments of tremendous doubt getting pummeled in total whiteout and gusts strong enough to knock us off our mounts. 
           Little did we know, the Blowhole that day, which was channeling in an odd, climate-changed manner as it vectored through the valleys towards the east, would be the first of many blowholes to stand in our way that blowhole Spring, as I would continue to pursue the initial climbing objective on my list, the ski ascent of Pk. 4500+.

Pictures from Attempt #2:
Peak Grand Union
Looking northeast to Pk. 4500+ ("Peak Grand Union") taken from Pt. 3800+,  my high point.
Drew is already trapped in the Western Cwm of Osborn, but he hasn't admitted it to himself yet.
Skinning up Pt. 3800+.

Looking west from Pt. 3800+ toward the Oro Grande ridge. 
Looking south across the Western Cwm from Pt. 3800+

Looking north down the West Fork of Grand Union Creek
West Face Mt. Osborn. About eight weeks after this photo, Phil Hofstetter and a hardcore band of packrafters came from Grand Central valley on the other side and scrambled over the broad notch to the left of Osborn's summit in this photo. They descended "sketchy" summer snowslopes somewhere in the photo on their way down the Western Cwm and a traverse of the Kigs.  EDIT:  Naw, that ain't right. They crossed over a notch to the right of Osborn.