Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Five Foothill Winter

“Where was his boyhood now? Where was the soul that had hung back from her destiny, to brood alone upon the shame of her wounds and in her house of squalor and subterfuge to queen it in faded cerements and in wreaths that withered at the touch? Or where was he?

The kids teased me he was my brother. He had done some ski-mountaineering around Anchorage before he came to Nome, and some bold ski descents out on rocky St. Lawrence Island, plus he knew his way around a snow-machine. I was teaching fourth and he was teaching sixth, so it was natural the two of us would team up for a series of A.D.D.-stricken adventures this previous Fall and Winter of 2015.
Five foothills of Nome: A. King Mt. B. Mt. Brynteson C. Mt. Distin D. "Rocky Mt." E. Bear Mt.
 Snow conditions did not permit penetration into the deepest Kigs until the "wet dump event" of early March saved the Iditarod from a bumpy finish and finally brought some true accumulation. What follows in this post is a recounting of our adventures up to this point in the season, adventures that took place not in the Kigluaiks, but in the foothills of the range, and a survey of the mountaineering potential that awaits there in the Birketts, Hewitts, and Deweys of the Seward Peninsula, the medium-commitment objectives that await within the Nome radius.
Kougarak Road skiing
Peak 2347 (Fox Mt.? Rocky Mt.?) on the left, and Pt. 1640 ("Rocky Mt. Bluff") on the right, near Milepost 22 on the Kougarak Road
He was doomed to get slaughtered from the start. It's an education thing. You see, if you remove the functional leadership from a cohort, the remaining student body is bound to wallow that much more. I had once been posted at his station in the "56er Pod," in the lee of our excellent charter school, and knew what it was to get utterly thrashed— thrashed by yourself, and those you serve, and your mind squeezed by unassailable paranoia as you walk your lesson plans like slack-lines across the abyss of each day. I could see that my friend, this portrait of the artist as a young man, was heading into a DOOM ATTRACTOR of significant magnitude, and parallel, in some respects, to the ones that had dogged me in my own "56er" days. 
Rocky Mt., aka Fox Mt., aka Pk. 2347: We parked near the old crane on the Kougarak Road around Mile 22. We left the 4-wheeler trail up Rocky Mt. Creek after half a mile and cut east across a steep ravine (little bushwhacking) up to the hundred-foot Bluff, which can offer decent mixed climbing if the temperatures have frozen it solid enough to avoid being a cliff of decomposing, body-mangling, head-bleeding choss.
          By September, he was beginning to show the first fringes of fray. Loose cannons roamed the hallway unsupervised and befuddled by adolescence, while this year's well-meaning administration walked confidently into the shadow of the valley of its own DOOM ATTRACTOR. No support was available. He flapped and floundered in a bog of learning disabilities and outmoded pedagogical practice perhaps ill-fitted to our clientele. His spirit was slowly evaporating. It was time to go to the mountains. "It is a way..." wrote Melville, "of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation..." So off we sketched to the first of the foothills.
Drew and Lucy on Rocky Mountain, looking west
“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and willful and wild hearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the sea harvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gay-clad light-clad figures, of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

Rocky Mountain (Pk. 2347), September 14, 2014

       One of the drawbacks of a foothill is that it is a foothill. Not, by definition, a mountain... On a foothill, a climber incurs great risk of a Non-Technical Climbing Foul because there is often no real climbing to be had. 
       A Non-Technical Climbing foul can be avoided at Pk. 2347 (which I will henceforth refer to as "Rocky Mountain" as I know of no other name for this hump) by means of a solo up the 100 ft. high choss cliff of Pt. 1640 ("Rocky Mountain Bluff") and which can be quite moderate and fun if the utter choss happens to be frozen together solid enough to prevent automatic death. But my partner had no crampons or axe that day, being more of a ski artist himself, so we bypassed the Bluff that day and hiked up the south ridge of Rocky Mountain, my fifth or sixth pilgrimage to the top of the hill. 
       My Non-Technical Climbing foul was later dismissed in court under the provision of the NO SKETCH PARTNER LAW, which allows a climber to NOT CLIMB if their partner is not prepared to climb. This allowed me to simply enjoy a nice day hiking up the mountain, instead of perching and preening on crampon stilts high enough above the ground to get seriously injured. It really didn't matter anyway as my climbing license was about to be revoked altogether due to my recent participation in a trip with known peak baggers.
Earp whacking turf on Rocky Mt. Bluff.  Years ago, on yet a different trip to Rocky Mountain, Joni and I skied off the wrong side of the summit in a whiteout, precipitating an epic of massive proportions that essentially went on for several days:  snow-machines, shoulder-deep snow, freezing rains, car wipeouts, knocking on people's doors in Dexter and Banner Creek, and forestalling a rescue by means of primitive internet connection. Huge fun, great times, full-scale memories...
         Rocky Mountain appears from most angles to be the highest and most massive of the Kigs foothills, not quite a Kig itself, but high enough to qualify as a Graham were it located in Scotland. My friend and I stood on its summit with the whole range hanging across the way, and the sun going down. It was that sad, frozen feeling of late Fall when the world is coming to an end, time is frozen, and you can view your entire life as if in the palm of your hand. Rose light bathed all my favorite summits in the whole entire world. In that moment, my colleague and I had finally attained freedom from our titanic Weltschmerz incurred far below in the crucibles of education. The last tendrils of TOWN GLUE snapped, our egos momentarily went to zero, and life and worries went to very, very small. In response, following Newton's Second Law, the swarming electromagnetic impulses of our energy bodies surged forward through the quantum foam like a school of darting fish, warping our time perception, creating that eternity feeling on the summit.
Allapa and good dog on summit of Rocky Mt.

           But soon enough, the mountain led us back down to the trail, and the trail back down to the car, and the car itself, of course, was a re-entry module specifically designed suck us back in to the GLUE of TOWN, back to the land of our fears, and self-wrought complications.

Mt. Distin (Pk. 2115), February 2, 2015

Drew micro-spiking up the south ridge of Distin

“A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips where the white fringes of her drawers were like featherings of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.
          By February, the event horizon of my friend's DOOM ATTRACTOR had expanded outwards sufficiently to where it was exerting its influence upon several different domains of his life simultaneously. Psychological lynch mobs were assembling in the networks. A Facebook page called Nome Rant had emerged, on which any one of us might be slandered at any time. His van had stopped working, and the ventilation in his dirtbag hovel was poor. A relationship was creating disequilibrium in all quarters of his life. And, of course, the fleshpots of Front Street were never far from hand...
           He had, however, purchased a powerful, Polaris snow-machine and was "lunging at the harness" to take that monster sled to the hills, even though little snow lay upon them, and the roads still virtually open. Nevertheless, on a Sunday morning, with great smoke and thunder, we pull-started our machines, and thumbed the vectors up the Snake River towards Mt. Distin, for all practical purposes like Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern in The Wild Angels.
Mount Distin: In the summer, Glacier Creek Road leads 13 miles out to Mt. Distin from Nome and is doable by a most cars most of the time. We snow-machined up the road in February, punched through a small line of willows, and parked the machines as high as we dared on the slopes of Distin. In the Fall, it is possible for both Silver Creek and Steep Creek to sport a little ice climbing, but it ain't Valdez. I've climbed at the Bluff on several occasions, and in terms of rock quality, maybe it is Valdez, which is to say, terrible. Hiking Mt. Distin on a nice day is HIGHLY recommended. 
       If the Kigluaiks are a parabola open to the south, then Mt. Distin lies at the focus of the parabola. Mathematical proof could then demonstrate a line of sight to each point on the parabola, meaning you can theoretically see the entire range from Distin. It is the quintessential Nome foothill, a pyramid looming in the foreground of the larger Kigs in the distance, so that in certain visibilities it seems to aspire to be a Kig itself. Like its cousin Rocky Mountain to the east, Distin sports a Bluff with an 80 ft. cliff that can offer decent rock and mixed climbing, provided the climber can stomach the horror produced in his or her gullet caused by perching on the unstable Death Marble. 
Nearing the summit of Distin on a brilliant February day

“She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot… The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; …and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.
         The day we climbed Distin was so tremendously cold (yes it was, allapa, freezy-breezy, brass-monkey, witch-tit, well-digger's ass cold!) that the Judge had lifted the mandatory technical climbing requirements. The only way to stay warm in these kinds of chill factors is to keep your body continuously moving, so standing in one place to belay and messing around bare-fingered with little metallic toys is not mandatory. This left us free to flatfoot up the south ridge of Distin unroped, me in crampons and my friend in Katula Microspikes. The contention might be made that the south ridge of Distin provides the steepest and most technically-demanding line up the hill, but this kind of talk only serves to pump a hike into more than it really is: a walk-up. 
         Still, it was ice, and a fall would have mangled the faller, and the cold was so intense that you wouldn't last the time it took for your partner to make it to town on the snow-machine. We lacked, of course, emergency beacons, being too stricken by chronic A.D.D. to either find or remember such an item. Considering all these factors, I am certain our adventure that day constituted more than a mere walk-up.
Looking northwest from Distin

“Heavenly God!’ cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy. 
       The SNAP of various GLUE TENDRILS was felt deep within our souls the higher we climbed on Distin. Worries and cares were rendered inelastic in the extreme cold, and ours broke off and trickled away in the already-fading light. The worldview of our universe had narrowed down to the single point of keeping blood in our capillaries, so what was the point of further narcissism?  Too cold to stop on the summit, we continued over and down to our waiting machines which faithfully started after a couple of pulls, chariots to carry us back into the GLUESTREAM of town, with all its attendant confusion.
Ready for the 17 mile ride back to Nome from Distin

“He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling…

Bear Mountain (Pk. 1962), March 1 & March 8, 2015

        A component in his GLUE MATRIX and a major driver of his DOOM ATTRACTOR was his lack of skis— he had left them on the Island when he moved to Nome. Once the snow came in for Bear Mountain he lay neutralized. All he could do was wallow in the fleshpots, while the rest of Nome's small boarding and skiing community got after the excellent powder in Bear's northern bowl. 
Skiing up Mineral Creek under Bear Mountain
          The hip spot to ski and snowboard around Nome is a sweet little hill called Newton Peak, not far from town, about a mile from my driveway. There, the action-oriented and partiers alike gather at a little pullout on the Dexter Bypass that used to be the site of a rope-tow, now serviced only by your friend's snow-machine to take you to the top, unless you're willing to skin it up.  But few of these Nome skiers and boarders seem to ever make it around the corner to Newton's larger cousin on the Kougarak Road, Bear Mountain. 
Narrow gully on Mineral Creek leading to the north bowl on Bear Mt. This gully is not necessarily navigable by snow machine unless snow levels are very high.
       Rising above Banner Creek Subdivision, Bear Mountain, at 1,962 ft.,  is just 38 ft. short of a Graham, and gets you twice the skiing vertical of Newton. Though close to the road it is the biggest hill in its group, thus fully deserving inclusion in this post about significant foothills of the Nome Region. Mineral Creek Bowl on the north side of Bear is a natural powder-collection basin replete with a corniced rim and half-pipe drain exit, and I should be water boarded for putting a local secret like this on the Internet, even on a blog so obscure and ignored as Kigsblog, but the justification for doing this is to throw out a challenge to the green-dot people on Newton to get over to the blue squares on Bear. 

Tyler and Coco on the summit of Bear Mt., March 1, 2015. Note the stiff wind. Did I mention it was cold? Yes, very. This shot is all the more poignant, in retrospect. Several weeks after the shot was taken, Tyler was again skiing Bear Mt., this time down the prominent "Nose" on the west side of the hill, when his ski came off at high speed, which if you've seen this guy ski you will know was very high! A degree of enmanglement followed by self-rescue ensued. Bear Mt. has sure been a place of utmost fun with ultimate friends and utter adventure over all these years. Don't let go of that puffy coat, Tyler!
       Thanks to the new H2O Tazlinas got for a bargain at Beaver Sports in Fairbanks, my runs on Bear Mt. limit-pointed ecstasy. No more noodle city in the cruddly-cruddleton like the old days, instead a pair of enchanted swords lashed strongly to strong new Terminators, with a bewitching top-sheet design between the skis that makes them look like salmon swimming up the Tazlina when you look down as you link turns together. Not that good skis mattered on Bear this year so Utah was the powder in the bowl, you could have skied it on Snowshoe Thompsons.
Tiny dots are skiers in Mineral Creek Bowl, Bear Mt.

The weightless moment will not last
The derivative is not the function
A picture of skiing does not show skiing
Amplitude, frequency, wavelength
The tracks are not the ski itself
The skis are just the edges
The joy will not last
Over before it started
Here they come down over the lip

I slept through it sadly
Woke up at dinnertime and had morning coffee
The curtains held away the light 'til sunset
When you returned as if it were morning
Now we're off to the town for evening breakfast
The weightless moment will not last
Bear Mountain is far away
Over before it started
My skis lie far across the ocean

“Her image had passed into his soul forever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory…

Look closely and you might see Mt. Brynteson. The shovel there on the back of Smooth Andy G. proved an indispensable tool for me several times in March when I finally got to learn the truth about what a sinker that Bearcat can be.

Mt. Brynteson (Pk. 1757), March 22, 2015

        Iditarod 2015 came, and swallowed him. He seemed to vanish, into the wild fleshpots of Front Street perhaps, or maybe back to the Island to reunite with his skis, I don't know. Iditarod 2015 swallowed me as well. Debauchery from the night before cost me a day out of my hungover life.    
       GLUE MAGNITUDE was running high, but by Thursday I had extricated myself and was ready for a trip out to my old friend, Mt. Brynteson, out in the Snake River Valley hidden under thick fog. My back was sore from an Iditarod week spent digging out Super Smooth Andy G., the Arctic Cat Bearcat .570, after my initial attempt at going camping during Spring Break and penetrating to the deep water of the true Kigs had ended less than a mile after leaving my house in a bum willow-thicket crossing. So I settled once again for a mere foothill as my great Iditarod accomplishment, but once again the foothill did not disappoint, but proved more than adequate as a salve against civilization, and the befuddling mental residue of all its inconsistencies. 
The Brynteson Crags. A fine place to climb after a good ice storm
      Past the haunted Rock Creek Mine up Glacier Creek Road, around the corner a few miles, you can look up and see ribs of schist coming off the northwest ridge of Mt. Brynteson: for lack of no other term, the "Brynteson Crags." This can be an excellent place for mixed soloing and scrambling when conditions have fused the choss together by snow and ice. Much is the fun I've had on the Crags continuously bouldering over turf, rock, snow, and ice, a heightened illusion of exposure between the feet, and an award-winning view of Norton Sound to the south. Words cannot describe the fun and spiritual transcendence of the day in March I spent whacking tools into the Brynteson cliffs, eventually climbing up into sun shafts piercing the upper blue-sky world, so I won't even try.
King Mt. from down on the Kougarak Road, 2015. Tiny smudges on the left skyline are the bouldering circuit.

“He turned landward and ran towards the shore and, running up the sloping beach, reckless of the sharp shingle, found a shady nook amid a ring of tufted sand knolls and lay down there that the peace and silence of the evening might still the riot of his blood.

King Mountain (Pk. 1226), 2015

         So many worthy Nome foothills have been left out of the narrative: Anvil, Twin Mountain, Engstrom's,  the mysterious Pk. 2043 out by the Penny River, others... But this foothill post must conclude with a special shout-out to King Mountain, a large hump on the long ridge that runs between Snake and Nome rivers. The thing about King is that it's so accessible from town, yet the hike up from the Dexter Bypass Road always reveals King to be a bigger hill than you thought! 
       Near the top of King, one is rewarded with a classic little circuit of stepped bouldering cliffs, cracks, chimneys, highballs, slabs, jams, all on the King Mountain skyline, culminating in a big 25 foot overhang that sports an unclimbed M6/7 dry-tool problem (5.10b in shoes) and a genuine overhanging 5.9 offwidth. These rocks get directly plastered by the freezing-rain southwesters that slap in off the Bering Sea in Fall, and so receive extra-thick coats of the shellac that transforms them temporarily into fantastical ice-climbing terrain, though it should be noted that 2015 was a poor shellac-year, despite at least three major freezing-rains that came throughout the season.
“He felt above him the vast indifferent dome and the calm processes of the heavenly bodies; and the earth beneath him, the earth that had borne him, had taken him to her breast…

          PEEMARK:  I hereby solemnly and egotistically declare on the World Wide Web that I made more trips than I can remember to the King Mt. Rocks in 2014 and '15, and rubbed musk on all climbing problems V0 or M4 or easier, and squirted pee on the holds high and low, (but did not yet dry-tool the Backward-Z Crack without hanging, though I have peed on all the moves successfully). MARK!!
King Mountain
Red arrow points to an awesome ridge-mounted bouldering area on King Mt.
“He climbed to the crest of the sand hill and gazed about him. Evening had fallen. A rim of the young moon cleft the pale waste of sky like the rim of a silver hoop embedded in grey sand; and the tide was flowing in fast to the land with a low whisper of her waves, islanding a few last figures in distant pools...”

           Let Kigsblog leave him here, islanded by the tide, veiled behind whiteout, with the author unsure if the literary contrivances in these blog pages have done the least bit to convey the situation as it unfolded the past season, and uncertain of where he might be now. I am sure he will return to Kigsblog soon, whenever the season moves on from the semi-penetration of foothills to the full penetration of the Kigluaik proper, whenever he gets his skis back. All I can say is I felt like I could be myself around the man, which is a rare thing, and we had a great Fall and Winter in the foothills.