Monday, July 10, 2017

Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven

Author posing on precipice, main summit of 3367 behind.

        If the Kigs are indeed mountains, then "Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven" is one of the range's great peaks.

       First of all, that number— 3367— while not a prime, the prime factorization includes 3, 7, and 37. My sense is that this figure had to be a close estimate by any of several U.S.G.S. surveyors from the earlier part of the century with a predilection for interesting numbers, probably bored with assigning 4-digit elevations to various Beringian prominences. The theory of bored surveyors might explain why the elevations alone in the Kigs are often sufficiently euphonious to stand alone as names. 

       With this theory in mind, I regret suggesting the Inupiaq name "Pingaroot" for Pk. 3367. At the time I came up with this name (or,  rather, when the mountain whispered its true name to me, which might loosely translate into English as "Three Gables") I was caught up in the Kigsblogian "Reverse the Trend" Movement, an effort to reverse the historical trend of assigning place names of European derivation to geographical features of Alaska. My regret comes from the conviction that the name "Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven" is a hard one to beat.
       Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven really sticks up from many places in the range, undoubtedly why the U.S. Army Map Service chose to install a survey station mark on the summit in 1949.  From the Cobblestone Valley to the north, attractive rock routes await a first ascent on granitic gneiss. The gullies that drop to the south, along the moderately steep mountain wall that extends from Pk. 3367 to Pk. 3213, are excellent for skiing, and highly approachable by snow-machine. Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven is a peak that a mountaineer might return to again and again.
         Three trips to 3367 I have made, the last two times accompanied by badass downhill skiers, both of whom I deprived the summit of 3367 by misdirecting them to the wrong gable of the mountain's three gables, repeating the same misdirection twice in separate years. This Spring it was Wilson, about to graduate from High School and leave for the greater ranges (to whom I facetiously said on the summit, gesturing to the entire Kigluaik Range, "All this is your's...") Back in the spring of 2011, the victim of my poor directional sense was Tyler, whose fine photographs of the trip I have finally, only now, been able to pilfer off Facebook, and which feature prominently on this post, without his permission. (Thank you, Tyler Rhodes) The moral of the story is that it's rather hard to distinguish which peak is actually 3367 from the bottom of the nameless valley to the south, so FOLLOW THE MAP closely.
Central Kigs from Teller Road:
A. Pk. 3367  B. Mt. Osborn  C. Mosquito Pass Peak
D.   Pen Tri Cwm  E. Tigaraha  F.   SaGuiq

Pk. 3367 from the north

Location of PK. 3367, Pingaroot, Three Gables Mountain
Iditarod week, March 2004. 
       FOLLOW THE MAP was all I had my first time to Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven. A thick, fat, hungover FOG obscured the morning. Alone, I drove for three hours through 100-yard visibility into the Kigs, in terrible fear of the zero visibility, and of my first ever snow-machine, a Polaris .340 that would eventually earn the name "Crusteo" which I had purchased from Morgan's Sales and Service just the year before. This was to be the snow-machine trip where I passed from beginner to intermediate, but first I had to get there. 
       Every single one of the 35 miles into the peak was permeated with a strong, palpable sense of DREAD, of wanting to turn around. The claustrophobia of fog creates madness, a dream of incubi pushing on your chest, a prison sentence, an anxiety attack that won't cease. Every single half-mile I stopped the machine, fished map and compass out of parka pocket, and carefully correlated the base of hills and mountains where they disappeared into the clouds with their counterparts on the map. Just a little further. Squiggles on the map were tiny injections of reality into a vast fog bank of unreality. In this way I tremulously made my way up the Snake River, across the Stewart, and through Silver Creek Pass.
         Arriving after several hours at a main river recognizable as the Sinuk, I so wanted to turn back, even though the Sinuk meant I was close to Peak 3367, my destination. If my calculations were correct, I had reached the Kigs"deep water", past the point of return where self-rescue becomes a hassle involving an all-night ski, frostbite, aircraft, and panicked friends in Nome, and this in the turn-of-the-millennium days before we all carried panic buttons with us. Wilderness is a sense as much as anything, and getting to the Sinuk always feels like traveling past the continental shelf where the water all of a sudden gets colder as it gets deeper, or like the abyss hoving into view beneath your feet while climbing, a sense of: Shit Just Got Real.
Tyler's calendar shot, author with Soul Powders on board, hiking up Pk. 3367

"She's just waiting for the summertime when the weather's fine.
She could hitch a ride out of town and so far away 
From that low down, good for nothing, mistake-making fool
With excuses like 'Baby, that was a long time ago,'
But that's just a euphemism 
If you want the truth he was out of control,
But a short time's a long time 
When your mind just won't let go..."
       Is this how Kristine felt? The new mother remained behind in our house on Fourth Avenue with our brand new, two month-old daughter, Raina. My mind was further fogged by the disequilibrium of the new father, a mental residues from confusion and miscommunication. 
       The only machete that allowed me to chop through the GLUE that day was Jack Johnson's new album, On and On, playing strong on the mental soundtrack in my head in those days before headphones. Just when the FOG seemed too dense to continue, little trickles of Hawaiian sunshine would trickle through Just a little further. For weeks, Jack had been most effective in rocking colicky baby Raina to sleep in my arms while simultaneously keeping me the exhausted dad awake and standing upright, and now Jack was powering me as I paddled out the back to my appointment with 3367. 
But somehow I know it won't be the same
Somehow I know it will never be the same 
Looking northwest from 3367. The granite mass of
Suluun is visible on skyline

         I arrived at a hilly place I calculated to be the root of the beanstalk where it disappeared into cloud. It was Peak 3367, but I was not certain.  
       But surely today cannot really be a climbing day! The FOG pressed down, a terminal illness, an inescapable responsibility, a bad romance. Behind the fog, the spatial yawn of remote wilderness. Driving a snow-machine is quite a different thing than shutting the thing off for hours and hours, leaving the complicated hunk of metal to frost up while you climb into bad weather wearing increasingly soggy underwear. Today's trip is just a snow-machining exercise, right? Time to turn around and head back for the Wet Buns contest in Nome
          But then, a sign from the heavens... Through the muffle of FOG blanket, I heard the clear sound of an airplane several hundred feet above. Think about all the times when you're sitting in the plane and the mountains look like islands in a sea of vapor.
          Thirty-Three Sixty-Seven is easy from the south. I don't think crampons were even needed. And sure enough, precisely at the 2900 foot level, I mantled right out of the fog onto the cloud ceiling. I paused for a moment, mid-mantle— my legs remained submersed in gauzy cloud, but my torso had broken through into the sun. The caterpillar sheds its skin.
       Only the highest of the Kigs three-thousanders formed islands in the sky, from the main island of Mt. Osborn a short way across, all the way over to the Singtook at the western tip of the archipelago. I wanted to walk across the FOG and inhabit each and every island. 
         But you get no photographs... The climb took place before the invention of photography. All you get is this confusing description of the internal and external landscape as experienced by one guy's subjective consciousness.
Couloir between Pt. 3050+ and Pt. 3200+ 

 Pt. 3050+ couloir
April 2011
     The first time to Pk. 3367, FOG, dampening my sensibilities, had forced me to concentrate, to overcome the A.D.D. that usually runs rampant in my brain, and so conversely provided me with a more accurate map of the outside world than I would have had otherwise. Justification for medication?
      But the second time, when I went back to 3367 with Tyler Rhodes seven years later for a ski descent, the day was bright, the visibility excellent. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, I assumed the mental map I carried in my head matched reality, and started up the wrong place.  We ended up atop Pt. 3050+, the penultimate gable of "Three Gables Mountain", the next bump to the west of the main summit. Tyler craved ski more than summit, so on we clapped them, and swooped down. 
       Even more rad was the couloir we skied later that afternoon on Pt. 2550+, a peaklet a couple of miles to the west of 3367.  We easily machined to the col at the very top of the valley (a valley for which some type of name would be handy, leave comments if you know) where it dumps over into the Glacial Lake cirque. Little hope exists that a snow-machiner might continue down the other side without ending up tangled wreckage and body parts strewn over rocks. 
       We parked machines at the col and skinned up some peaks to the south. On that day I was riding Tyler's "Soul Powders," his rather chattery tele skis he had abandoned long ago for the European rig. I was proud, for once, to keep up with Tyler for a whole run. Normally, I would have had to don crampons and down climb what he skied.
Looking west from west summit of 3367.  This picture was taken
in 2011 by Tyler, but shows the peak that Wilson  and I skied off of  recently in 2017.
April 2017
       Six years after the route-finding error with Tyler, having failed to register the event as a learning opportunity, I sent young Wilson up the same wrong part of the mountain, denying him the main summit of 3367 as Tyler before. Like Tyler, however, Wilson seemed less concerned with which was the highest bump on the ridge than which was the best line of huck.  The Nome-grown, incipient badass carved down a face through steep little channels formed between many sharp rocks, while I hobbled down from the top on boot ski, old and brittle. We met up with Leonard and Lupe at the bottom and all zoomed up the valley for more fun and boarding in the High Kigs, before commencing the long ride home via Silver Creek Pass and Snake River Valley.
Mr. McRae's class skiing with the Ski Ku, April 2017.
      Many of the images used in this post were pirated off Tyler's Facebook. Thank you Tyler, let's go back. Here at Kigsblog, an image is considered nothing more than "blog seed," necessary only for the orthogenesis of text, and never a means to its own end. So it is an honor to have excellent photos from someone who knows what they are doing.