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.
ATTEMPT #1

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










ATTEMPT #2

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.    

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