Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Oro Grande Cirque Ski

BLOG-LAG:  16 Saturdays ago....

GLUE is the force preventing you from getting to outdoor recreation.
       Significant penetration into the Kigluaik Mountains occurred the second weekend of April. Or, should I say, significant infection, for what are outdoor recreationalists but pathogens invading the otherwise healthy outdoor environment?

David skinning up, Oro Grande Valley, looking northwest.
Click here for climbing trip report from 2012
        David and I prepared to go winter camping at Mosquito Pass. We would snow-machine over the pass on a Friday night and camp on the Cobblestone flats, then skin up on Saturday into the five-mile long Western Cwm of Mt. Osborn and make a ski descent of Peak 4500+, "Peak Grand Union," a close neighbor of Osborn, and the second highest peak in the Kigs.

Looking northeast from
Oro Grande Valley.

       Early last Spring season, I was hit by an injury that every alpinist dreads: I became involved in a play in town. "Good In The Country" it was called, an operetta composed of local songwriters' songs. Playing joyous music with friends, having TOTAL fun, has proved to be a substantial constituent of the GLUE of TOWN. The trip with Dave would be my last chance to get some serious training in preparation for my upcoming trip to the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter in June, before the GLUE of the PLAY would set up like epoxy around my boots, binding them firmly to Nome itself.

Not the line we skied.

      This attempt with Dave on Peak 4500+ constituted no less than my eighth attempt upon the north-side Kig. All other attempts had ended in failure and wild shenanigans, failure due to laziness, WORK GLUE, route finding error, and snow-machine hubris, well documented in the following posts:
Zero For Seven on Peak Grand Union Part 1
Zero For Seven on Peak Grand Union Part 2

The line we did ski, but it got too icy.
       We never had a chance. Zero For Eight on Peak Grand Union, Part 3. Friday evening rolled around and the GLUE had gelled onto the surface of everything and stuck there in opaque clumps that greatly slowed the process of leaving town as planned. Sleds, lashings, linkages, caps, shelves, walls, boxes, phones, mittens-- everything had clumps of this weird, jiggling, GLUE-like substance clinging to it.
       "Hey, I'm not ready. Let's just go early tomorrow morning."

More north-facing topography in our
side valley off the Oro Grande.

      By the time we arrived Saturday at our camp on the Cobblestone, it was 2 p.m. Too late to slog all the way up the Western Cwm to access our objective, Peak Grand Union. The weather report called for low-pressure to start barreling in the following afternoon on Sunday, so the jig was, once again, up.  Now that the GLUE had won, my switch was flipped, my plot was shot, leaving David and me free to simply wander randomly in the mountains without an agenda. Accordingly, with the remaining daylight we set out on our Sno-Gos, for all intensive purposes the Che Guevara and Alberto Granada of the outdoor recreationalist world, looking for something to do in that most holy and beautiful of ranges, the Kigluait.

Moon over Western Cwm,
looking east from Oro Grande Valley,
April 2017

         West up the Oro Grande Valley, we threaded willows in the gullet, then introduced our noise pollution into the upper valley, trying to gun our throttles over sastrugi and rocks. A fine-looking ski area came into view on the left, a north facing cirque spilling forth fresh terminal moraines, so we parked machines, disengaged boards, and from our parkas produced skins with still-warm glue which we affixed to the base of our skis and started up, me on my Tazlinas and Dave on his legendary Split-Board, until the parabola of the slope grew too steep for skinning, and the soft snow to boilerplate on the upper mountain, making our skins prone to dreadful, explosive blow-outs that sent us sliding backward down the hill, whereupon we chopped out ledges into the slope to serve as a base of operations for de-skinning and assembling our rigs for the downhill run. For some time a distinct sun/shadow line had been stalking us, and now overtook us, but as we swooped downward we passed back from the shadow into the sunlight, leaving two harmonized sine waves tracking across the zones.
A. The cirque where we went boarding  B. Camp on the Cobblestone Flats  C. Peak Grand Union

Bonus Pic from April 2017: Emily getting into the spirit of Beringian
bouldering. There was no ice at Dorothy Falls, so we clung to
thawing choss in order to get a workout.