Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Troublemint Southeast Ridge 6/25/2019

Troublemint Southeast Ridge 
20.66 Miles / 10:16:38 / 5950ft gain

This was one of those days where I remained indecisive 'til the very end - I wanted an easy approach, no shwack, and something I hadn't climbed before. Hurdy Gurdy seemed like a good idea, but when the day dawned with plenty of smokey haze from the Kenai wildfire, I decided to set my sights further north.
I figured I'd try one of the Mint peaks. The approach, Gold Mint trail, fit the bill as an easy, runnable approach, and the distance from the Kenai (hopefully) meant less smoke. The problem was which peak? After a quick look at Peakbagger, I decided to aim for Troublemint... Although the truth was, I didn't mind climbing whatever seemed possible and appealing upon seeing it.
I was on the trail and running towards Mint Hut just before 7am. The brush was remarkably dry, and miles passed quickly and pleasantly. Visibility was awesome, and I had a few good glimpses of the peaks ahead. I still wasn't quite sure which was which.
Coming to mile 8, it was time to stray from the trail and ascend a small chute to the moraine. It was beautiful up here! Small, beautiful blue melt pools, with the sound of rushing water a constant background noise. I began climbing snow on the south side of what I hoped was Troublemint.
Melt pool with algae.  Troublemint background left
Looking up to my left, I studied multiple gulleys on the peak. None of them seemed promising. I continued onward, hoping to find something better.
Finally, I noticed a likely looking, wide ramp up to a col. I went up this ramp, turned left, and eyed the southeast ridge ahead. It looked mellow for a while, and then steepened to a blocky band of rocks after a few hundred feet.
This steep area of rock proved to be the first low 5th class section. I took my time, and gave all the pieces hearty *WHACKS* with my palm before weighting them. Going right turned out to be the best option.
The ridgeline
After this, I came to some very large blocks with deep pits between them. Passing these was fairly easy and secure.
Finally, I came to a butt clenching section of exposed ridge, with the inital few steps being the butt-clenching-est. The ridge eventually thickened back to a more respectable width, only to usher me on to the next trial...
A huge, challenging 5th class gendarme blocked the way, and I was terrified that this was the end. There was NO WAY I could climb up and down it without rope. After some contemplation, I managed to spy a bypass down to climbers right, but it involved some serious sideways downclimbing. Not for the faint of heart!
The terrain eased off for a while once past the gendarme, before once again becoming more technical and exposed. There was an awkwardly angled, less featured corner/dihedral on my right, but I chose to climb blockier and looser terrain on my left. After some low 5th/4th moves, I came to the tiny summit boulder.
The summit boulder
This boulder, I felt sure, must be the summit. I couldn't see anywhere higher. I figured I'd go up to it and take a look.
After some careful scrutiny, I decided I didn't like it at all. The obvious route had very small handholds, with friction footholds on dry moss. This didn't bode well for downclimbing ropeless!
Several abortive attempts later, I decided to take off my shoes and try it barefoot. Heck, if I'd known there would be moves like this, I would've brought rope AND ROCK SHOES. Even barefoot, I didn't like it. It was just too exposed. My grasp on the rock, the only thing keeping me alive, was too tenuous. Discouraged, I backed off. This was going to be worst asterisk of them all.
Then I remembered.
Keep looking around... You'll find a better way.
Dropping to the east side of the boulder, I skirted along a ledge, coming to the opposite side from I had been before. Here, there were more moves, BUT! There were handholds!
Gripping a wedged rock, I carefully placed my bare feet on several sharp footholds, making sure to note their placement for the coming downclimb. A crack running on my left was the next goal, and I shimmied my hands, then feet into this reassuringly large space. One or two moves later, I was there. I was on the one person summit of Troublemint! I let out an emphatic, joyful whoop, spent a few minutes, and began to descend.
Summit Pano

Summit rap anchor

Downclimb imminent!

The summit boulder 

The route I opted to take on the summit boulder
Downclimbing was careful and controlled all the way back to the Col. I never felt I would fall, and I didn't move a single rock. Still, in hindsight, I should've done my research. It was a lot more difficult than I was expecting, and the margin for error was very low.
After a brief stop at the glacial melt "Mint Lagoon" I began my descent back to the Gold Mint trail. As I jogged back to the car, I couldn't help but take in the sights of Alaska in all its summertime glory - flowers, sun, mountains, snow, clouds, rain showers.
Man, I'm lucky to live here!

The Minty Lagoon

Hershey's Kiss rock??
Lupins and mountains!

Route details

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mt. Yukla Attempt with Cody 4/13/19 to 4/14/19

   We made great time to our campsite (maybe a little too great) so we had the whole afternoon to screw around on boulders and contemplate life in general.
Cody striking a pose in the morning sun.  Yukla standing tall in the background.

View from the perch.

Hot hot heat climbing up to our campsite on the east side of Yukla.

Beautiful spot to camp!  Polar Bear and Eagle peak in the background right.

Another view from camp.
   Early next morning, we set off upward toward Twincicle glacier. Everything was going great - we made it up the glacier less than an hour after leaving camp, and the ridge ahead looked clear of snow. And then, all of sudden...
   We were walking just above the glacier when I heard it, and I thought my ears were playing tricks on me. Then again.
   We both definitely heard it this time, and terrifyingly enough, it propagated all around us. There was no question about it. The only way to go was down. It was a hasty, scary retreat.
Looking back up Twincicle after our hasty retreat.  The couloir we tried next is on the left.
   Once we were off the glacier, we settled down a bit and noticed an interesting couloir on climbers left. As it turned out, this couloir opened up into a mixed snowfield that brought us very high up the peak. Once we reached 6500 feet, we had to concede defeat - even if this route kept working, we would be at the summit too late for comfort. We descended once again.

Our highpoint of the day - around 6500~.  We kept going around things and it kept working, so we didn't question it!

Cody descending the snow slopes

   It was hard to turn back that second time, but in retrospect, I feel we made smart choices all day. We'll be back for you, Yukla!

On the way out, we noticed this gigantic rock that recently fell across the trail and annihilated everything in its path.  :O   Photo by Cody

On the way out, we noticed this gigantic rock that recently fell across the trail and annihilated everything in its path.  :O   Photo by Cody

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Watchman North Ridge 4/7/2019

  It was summer conditions all the way to the Eklutna campground, where I ditched the bike and set off on foot across a very moderately flowing river.  I didn't even need to take my boots off - the water was less than ankle depth for most of the braids with a jump across one deeper section.

Riverbed in the foreground, Watchman north ridge in the background.
   Once on the far side, I found an overgrown orange flagged trail, followed it for a while then went straight up brushy fields to gain the ridgeline.

   It was easy travel on the ridge.  Most of the snow had melted on east facing aspects, making crampons unneeded if sticking to the melt line.   Eventually snow cover increased, so I donned gaiters for the inevitable deep snow encounters.

   About midway through the ascent, the ridge dips down to a flatter bench.  I didn't trust that traveling on this bench would turn out well, so I opted to regain the ridge.  In retrospect I could have avoided several exposed sections by staying lower for longer, and regaining the ridge later on.
The ridgeline steadily became harder to negotiate, as the snow on the west side was deep and the rock on the east side was getting steeper.  I still managed to avoid snow for the most part, but was thankful for the gaiters and ice ax when I did encounter it.

   The summit block is essentially a narrowing of the ridge down to a very small point - a point that as I approached looked slightly threatening.  As it was, by sticking to the interface of snow and rock, I had good handholds the whole way while kicking into the snow and then standing on top of the melted out rock.  I'm not sure if the snow made it easier or harder, as summit photos of previous parties make the rock quality look quite poor.

North ridge with summit block ahead.  This was in fact looking back while on the way down - you can see my footprints if you look closely.  
   Looking at the summit register, I was surprised just how few people visit this peak - the last recorded ascent was in 2017!  With how fun the north ridge is, this was kind of surprising.  I spent a few minutes, snapped some photos, and began my descent.

Summit view.  Looking towards Benign peak.  Note the gendarme in the lower right.  This is where I was turned back last fall - trying to summit the Watchman from Serenity.

Summit view.  Looking toward Eklutna.  Bold and Bashful on the middle right.

Summit register.  Not the most happenin' place!
   Descending was fairly uneventful.  After surprising some sheep, I did some nice glissading down to the flat bench, and then opted to try and save further time by glissading down one of the northeast facing couloirs.  This worked out pretty well, using my ax as a brake, but the lower part of the couloir hardened up and definitely demanded full attention to maintain control.  I followed the remaining snow tongue down into the brush, crossed the river, and enjoyed a nice evening ride back around Eklutna.

About to buttslide the couloir!

Looking back at Baneful, the Mitre & the Watchman

Eklutna lake - still frozen, but not for long!

Route up

Buttslide route down!

Quick video from the summit/descent

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Early Season Ice-Capades

Quarter Climb - East side of Ptarmigan Peak
   Ice climbing has always been a mysterious, uncharted world of intimidating pointy things, strange jargon, frozen fingers, and prohibitive equipment costs.  That's why, when a co-worker gifted me some used ice gear, I took it as a sign that the first hurdle had been passed, and it was up to me to do the rest.  Oh boy!  (By the way, thank you again, Tom.)

First Climb - Blitz - 1/1/2019

   Having heard about my recent acquisition of some weapons of ice destruction, Brendan, friend and fellow Chugach crud tosser, graciously volunteered to bring me out for my first ice climb ever - Blitz!

   Blitz is a two pitch climb near Pioneer Peak.  The first pitch is easy low angle ice, and the second, shorter pitch, is steeper and more interesting.  Brendan explained to me the general theory of lead climbing as we walked to the start - the leader would go up first, placing ice screws as he went, build an anchor, bring the follower up, and then the process would repeat.  It seemed I had a lot to learn.  We covered lead belay technique, good feet placement, how to swing tools, and how to communicate.

   "Climb on!"

   With that, Brendan was off, and I watched him pick his way through the initial few feet of ice, placing screws for my observational benefit.  Soon enough he was at the top, and it was my turn.

   "Climb on!"

   I tentatively began, trying to remember my good feet and tool placement.  Taking out ice screws was hard with a big 'ol gloved hand!  I quickly realized how much focus is needed while climbing ice.  There isn't room to think about anything else.

   It was all smiles as I reached the top of the first pitch.  That's when I knew what I'd been missing all these years.  Love at first sight.

Me on my first day of ice climbing!

   Despite my enthusiasm, the climb was actually in poor condition.  It had been ridiculously warm for the past week, and the upper pitch sounded disturbingly hollow as Brendan went up.  We decided to do a few top rope laps on this upper part, each time topping out in mud rather than ice, until finally our gloves were soaked and so was the rope.  Maybe it was time to call it a day.  We practiced a v-thread, talked about anchors, then rapped down and walked out.  

Baby's first v-thread.  Note the minimal, wet ice.
Best...  New Year's Day...  Ever!

Thanks for showing me the ropes, Brendan.

Second Climb - Ripple - 1/29/2019  

   For whatever reason, it took me longer than expected to get around to climbing my second bit of ice.  Perhaps I was too focused on the 2019 Frosty Bottom, but no matter the cause, when Chugach crusher Cody K. invited me along for an after work ascent of Ripple, I couldn't refuse.

   Ripple, a 65 meter WI3 waterfall, is a southcentral "Rite of Passage" and has a much more interesting approach than Blitz.  After parking Cody's truck, we were soon crawling along narrow ice shelves against the dark walls of Eklutna canyon. What an interesting way to spend an evening!

We spent a lot of time walking, groveling, and generally scuttling along shelves like this
   After a few miles of groveling and wall hugging, travel became easier, we turned a corner, and there it was -

Ripple looks BIG to the novice climber, ie, ME!
   It looked tall, really tall, and having only a headlamp to illuminate the frozen giant didn't makes things look any friendlier.  I hoped I was up to the task as Cody handed me a radio, ice screws dangling from his harness.  I backed off, stepping to the side to avoid the inevitable barrage of ice chunks, and let him know he was on belay.  With a couple strong swings, Cody started up the initial bump of ice, echoes of metal on ice reverberating in the chilly canyon ambience.

   Our world was reduced to the shine of headlamps and the sound of progress, bringing a focus that distorted time and made me unaware of the January temperatures.  Eventually, Cody's light grew smaller, and I heard a distant, exalted whoop as he crested the last section. He was at the top!  I waited for my turn.

   As Cody put me on belay, I shook out my hands and feet that were now feeling the cold.  Taking a deep breath, I launched upward into the darkness.

   Unlike Blitz, Ripple starts off steeply, and as I came to the first ice screw I realized I was closer to the screw than I probably should be.  It was a struggle to remove it and put it on my harness.  I ended up using a lot of poor technique in doing so.  Acutely aware of how long I was taking, I tried to ignore the insistent upward tug of the taught rope.  In my mind, I was apologizing to Cody for the noob-ness.

   I committed myself to doing a better job on the following parts.  And I did!  I stacked my tool placements, formed my triangles, and plucked screws with serene prowess.  Before long, I reached what might be the "crux" of Ripple.

   Much of the earlier climbing is far from steep, with flowing bulges of ice that offer short, steeper boulders, until suddenly you come to a long, nearly vertical section.  I took a few deep breaths as I felt gravity increase its tug, reminding me that I was stuck to a fragile medium by only a few inches of steel, and continued on - the reassuring tension of the rope coaxing me upward.

   With a jangle of appropriated ice screws, I hauled myself over the ledge and into Cody's lamp light.  We shared a reverent moment, staring into the dark clear night, watching our breath in the crisp air.  We did it!

Couple videos featuring Ripple

Third Climb & More.  AKA, I'm hooked!

The Pilsner Pillar WI4+
Cody belays Brendan around the Pilsner Pillar (right).  We setup a top rope and had at 'er.
The Pilsner Pillar!
Brendan sipping on the Pilsner

Cody being the foam on the Pilsner

Me on the Pilsner.
Hollow Icicle WI4
Cody truckin' in along Eagle River.  Hollow Icicle is center right, Spruce Pitche(s) are right.

Looking up the top part of the aptly named Hollow Icicle.  You could see water running underneath!  We had just rapped down.

Our ice faces!  This was actually at the top of pitch one, 'cause at the top of pitch 2 was very cold and nasty and didn't encourage lingering.  
Hilariously brushy rappel on a variant of the nearby Spruce Pitch

Quarter Climb - WI2?
Beautiful blue!
Dat Chandelier doh

Inside the Quarter Climb!

Soloing with ice screws just in case I need to rest
Video of the Quarter Climb & another mellow bit of ice nearby