|Pk. 3250+ (Kirgavik Inuaqti) from the west, taken from the mouth of Tigaraha cirque. Vaughn Fester and I climbed on the turdlike buttress at center of photo. The attempted murder by the falcon occurred somewhere on the left skyline of the upper peak.|
|Pk. 3250+ from the southwest, at right. The summit tor had a few moves of 5.6.|
PROBABLE F.A. OF Kirgavik Inuaqti, August 2002.
This is what you came for: free soloing, "with one hand waving free," on good granite, deep in the Alaskan wild. You are palming a hand-sized arete, lay backing with your ass cantilevered into space. Beneath your ass is a sixty feet drop down to some ledges, but you also know that just on the other side of the arete just around the corner lies a sickening, thousand-foot drop into the canyon off the starboard bow. The day is hot and sunny. Your fear is gone, the rock solid, the lights green. You come to a hand traverse which leads horizontally from the arete. You are thinking about Peter Croft.
Little do you know that you are being stalked, here in this remote, high location. A keen predator is busy laying a trap on the other side of the arete, and is about to make a premeditated and calculated attempt on your life.
All day long, as you have labored up thousands of feet of scree and scrambling (with gear on your back), a nesting Peregrine couple has been hassling you from afar. You have long since determined that their nest is perched in the vicinity of some towers located a respectful half-mile away from the summit you are attempting, Peak 3025, which you will eventually come to call Kirgavik Inuaqti, the "Falcon Killer."
"Falcons!" you say, as you press onward, "always so persnickety, not like the Eagles or the Ravens." Still, as a climber raised in Lower 48 climbing areas where wall closures are enforced during nesting season, you can't help but feel uneasy. Am I being an asshole? you think. It's not like they're endangered. As a matter of fact, they seem to be everywhere this season, hogging all the rocks! The female won't shut up: in the words of Sibley, "a slow, scolding rehk rehk rehk; harsh, raucous, each note rising." But you hiked on despite the constant screeching, and came to the summit tower, and put on your rock shoes, and now you are "dancing beneath the diamond sky," and there is no turning back.
Rehk, rehk, rehk...
You make a mental note: if the bird decides to attack you (which you don't think likely) don't let go! But this is only a passing thought. All day the Peregrines have kept their distance, there is no reason to think either bird is close by. You mantle onto the flake which you have been hand-traversing, and reach up to clasp the edge of the arete. The flake provides a big foothold, but soon it ends, leaving you hanging solely by your arms.
It is then your ears register a very faint click. You almost doubt you heard it over the breeze, the rushing of your own blood, your gruntings and gasps, but right around this point you have to thank the amazing capacity of the human ear to feed the brain data from the sounds it hears, for you make another mental note: this sound you just heard had all the characteristics of the sound made by keratinous tissue coming into contact with granitic gneiss approximately 3 ft. away. The faint click of a talon coming lightly to rest on a tiny ledge? But you can't quite see around the corner for a bird, and you aren't quite sure.
You climb back down to the big foothold you just left. Chalk, chalk, dither, enjoy the view. Minutes pass. You try to visualize what the other side of this arete looks like: an enormous gulf of air lies between you and the spire of Tigaraha to the north. just a front doorstep to a Peregrine. You are glad you are climbing on the less exposed side of the mountain. Still, a fall would mangle. More minutes pass. You convince yourself you are being paranoid about the imaginary "click" you heard. You want this summit badly, so you remount the hand-traverse, and soon you are hanging by your arms again.
wiSHEP koCHE koCHEcheche!
It bursts around the corner, wings spread, talons rampant, three feet away from your face, just as your ears had informed you. Your arms are pinioned by the hand-traverse. Good thing you told yourself not to let go! For here is a secret: birds, with their hollow bones, do not relish contact sport, and you doubt it will engage. But what sheer, premeditated artistry of the surprise attack, for all intensive purposes like a child jumping out and yelling, "Boo!" It must have been waiting all the time you were convincing yourself it wasn't there.
With the birds in the air, the way to the summit is open. You finally have an honest, free-solo first ascent. This is what you came for. Your mind is filled now only with reversing the moves to get down. Somehow, you know the Peregrines won't be any more trouble, having already played their card... and the name of that card was murder.
|Falcon Killer Buttress Off-width, 5.6|
|Vaughn thrutching a bit|
|More thrutching at Falcon Killer Buttress|
|Looking east towards Tigaraha. West Tig is the little hooked tor.|
(Kigsblog is now running an all-time high bloglag: 23SA, or "23 Saturdays Ago")
Palm trees swayed off Front Street, Nome. Warm air blew in off the ocean. Live music wafted on the breeze, just enough to keep the bugs away. Children swam at the beach night and day. I hiked in to Peak Thirty-eight Fifty, as chronicled in the the previous post.
Vaughn arrived on the plane from Fairbanks, and in so doing joined the scant ranks of Fairbanks climbers who have bought a ticket for the Kigluait. But his arrival was the straw that caused the long bout of paradise weather to expire. Normal summer weather returned, frigid, wet. It would be "move or get cold" conditions for most of our weeklong into Mosquito Pass for an attempt on Tigaraha's south face.
|In the moraines of Tigaraha|
Do another move. The physical moves of climbing on Kigluaik granite can be quite aesthetic, really, but maybe that whole flake there will suddenly just explode off of the cliff as if spring-loaded.
The big corner on the south wall of Tigaraha is out. The weather is not settled. Clouds of scud hurl along at three different levels going three different directions above our heads. So we head for the nearest low-lying buttress to grab some climbing before the rain starts again. "Falcon Killer" peak looms obtusely over our heads, as if base-jumpable. Cliffs, festooned with boulder-pudding dripping down on us.
We don the climbing accouterments and I take off leading. Soon am busting 5.7 moves on unknown ground above a copious hodgepodge of cams, pins, nuts, and slings, but it is impossible for me to feel like a badass because I am so continuously and constantly petrified of this rock environment around me.
Cam, cam, equalize, nut, equalize. Three equalized pieces equals one point of protection. Pin. "Bong! Bong! Bong!" goes the pin in rising, reassuring succession, but now the entire flake is making barely-audible sounds of strain from the outward pressure of the pin. Do another move. Pin. Equalize nuts. Try to ignore the alarm bells: "Bidot! Bidot!" Choss! My god! It's all going to suddenly and spontaneously exfoliate apart!
The mist is lowering, the rain manifesting. This route is heading nowhere into scabrous choss fields. So why are we spending all these objective-danger chips on it? Shouldn't we save them for a more worthy opportunity?
Or is it just my imagination? Is it even true we are spending objective-danger chips at the rate I think we are? Perhaps my chicken-shit mind is in thrall to irrational thoughts. I am becometh a dithering, mumbling, frightened old climber...
Ledge. Belay. Vaughn. My brother. Another pitch leads upward from our stance. Looks to be more of the same: fun-looking 5.7 flakes rendered tedious and nerve-wracking by the sheer engineering endeavor of equalizing all those sketchoid pieces of protection. Rappel. No, are you sure? Yes, rappel. I am sure. I want to be on solid ground again.
We get off the rappels. Run laps on the off-width with the top-rope. Down-climb the pitch I led because there are no rappel anchors at the top. Feel a single droplet of rain on my forehead, thereby vindicating our chicken-out. All because I felt scared, all because the choss exuded danger. Then, ironically, we proceed to solo up and down the climb we just did, then up the buttress on exposed ramps littered with shattered bearing balls, with little Lucy, the Border Collie, waiting it out on fourth class ledges while the humans fifth-class on. Ridiculous, how a rope seems to generate danger, and then soloing takes it away.
|(above) Cold and slimy bouldering in the moraines of the Sinuk headwaters|
During the arduous hike to the car from Mosquito Pass, a long, dense tentacle of WHITESPACE reached out from the sea, probed up the Sinuk Valley, and absorbed the region of space surrounding our bodies. Like that scene in the Matrix where Neo finds himself within the Construct: white, empty, pixellated nothingness. If I hadn't done the hike fifty times, hadn't memorized individual bushes, hadn't assigned each knob or bluff or thicket a fantasy name to relieve the many hours of tedious slogging, we wouldn't have made it out of there. Nor would Vaughn and I have walked the torturous, three extra miles when I got us lost, until we ran into the great Sinuk River, and found ourselves again.
|The Quyana-skatzi Boulder in the"Hundred-Year Old Rockfall," the finest bouldering garden in all the Kigluaiks, in oozy, clammy, perspirant conditions, July, 2015.|