Monday, November 11, 2019

Indianhouse Mountain Northwest Ridge - 11/9/19

Ridge conditions November 2018.  Point 3920 on left, Indianhouse NW ridge on right.
   I'd attempted this ridge last November, but a late start and general unpreparedness saw me turning back at the first gendarme.  I vowed to return, and almost exactly a year later, I found myself parked at Fall's Creek and hiking up point 3920.  This time, it was 8am, and I had ice tools and a rope.

Top of 3920, looking towards Indianhouse.  First gendarme is center left.
   Reaching the top of point 3920, I clipped on crampons and took out the tools.  After descending to the ridge proper, I quickly made my way to the top of that first gendarme, encountering light mixed climbing on the way up.  At the top, I surveyed the options.  A rappel was pretty much mandatory from here - downclimbing would have been nutty and I had, after all, lugged 60m of 9.4 all this way...  Maybe I need to invest in a lighter rope ;)

Using the tools, cause I had 'em and hooking around was fun.
More hooking fun.  It's like having an extra long robot arm.

Rappel off the first gendarme.

Coiling the rope after my second rappel.
   After rappelling 50-60ft, I set off on the rest of the ridge, encountering similar basic mixed climbing.  Eventually I reached another, much shorter rappel, which proved to be the last rappel needed.  It was getting close to noon at this point, and snow conditions had been taking a gradual turn for the mushy.  I became aware of how short November days are, opting to traverse around the last few gendarmes before reaching the actual mountain.

Typical travel between gendarmes.
Steep snow.  I used a lot of knee work to avoid plunging deep with every step.  
  Once I attained the side of the peak, it was a simple climb up steep, variable snow all the way to the summit.  I spent a few moments, then proceeded down the standard main couloir route, where I traversed back down to Fall's Creek.  Yay for a new way up a familiar peak!  

Summit selfie.  You can see my footprints in the center.  A bit shocked to see no other prints up there!

A nice day above the fog!

Looking back toward the Suicides and point 3920

Indianhouse West Face in late afternoon light.  NW ridge on the left.

The HDR Pro app works pretty well for harsh lighting conditions.  Indianhouse west face.
Descending into the fog.  It's only 3pmish and the sun is already bye bye :'(.  More HDR Pro app.


   Light mixed climbing in the snow conditions I encountered, 4th/easy 5th class in summer conditions as described here by Bill Finley.  Be prepared for several rappels and spending a generous amount of time on the ridge itself.

Helmet cam video

Friday, July 26, 2019

Mt. Wickersham Southeast gully/ridge 7/25/19

Mt. Wickersham Southeast gully/valley to south ridge 

 Class 2+ with glacier travel

25 Miles - 13h 25m (GPX)

   I'd been scheming about this peak for nearly a year - plotting on Google earth, reading through old Scree articles, and bugging Wayne Todd without mercy, yet I still didn't know quite what to expect.  The obvious route seemed to be the southeast gully, but I could find little beta on it.  No problem!  Sometimes it's more exciting to head into the unknown.

Wickersham hiding behind a cloud
   The forecast had taken a turn for the better, and so on 7/24 Wednesday night, I found myself sleeping in my Honda Civic in the Matanuska glacier parking lot, true hobo style.

Civic lifestyle!  It's not quite van lifestyle, but somebody has to live it!
   After a 3am coffee, I made my way out onto the glacier, or at least, I tried to.  Being pretty unfamiliar with the Matanuska, I attempted to get on the ice right away...  Which turned out to be a bad idea.  The ice is initially a maze of crevasses and seracs, where one wrong turn will put you into a total dead end that takes agonizingly long to reverse.

   Heading left onto the moraine turned out to be a much better option, and one that my feet appreciated (walking lots of miles in crampons is brutal).  Once on the moraine, I quickly found a trail that the glacier guides put in.  This was easy travel for a mile or so until it eventually ran out, leaving me to fend for myself.

   The moraine remained good travel for quite a while, sometimes turning crevasse-y but mostly staying flat.  Eventually the ice on my right mellowed out, so I figured it was a good time to strap on the crampons and cross to the correct side of the glacier.

   Crossing took a while.  I never came to a true dead end, but I did backtrack around some wider crevasses, which was time consuming.

   At last, I finally got off the glacier, where I managed to put my boot into some deep cement mud in the process.  YUCK!  It felt like it added 5 pounds.  Some vigorous rinsing brought the boot back down to weight, and I vowed to tread more carefully around sickening silty mud.   After less than a mile along the edge of the glacier, I came to what I was waiting for - a stream flowing in from the right.  I ditched my crampons and ice axe, and went up.

Close to where I got off the glacier and stepped in heinous mud
Looking back down the stream
The Wickersham stream.  Go up this.

    Going up this stream proved to be very easy.  The brush stayed well back and there were never any true shwacking moments.  At a clearing, I realized I had arrived at a key feature I'd observed on Google.

   Ahead, the terrain got steeper and narrower, turning into more of a gorge.  To my right, a scree gully seemed the obvious route around.  I went up this, and once at the top, I realized how well the Google Earth scouting paid off!  I was on a wide grassy bench, and it was just a matter of easy sidehilling to get back to the (now mellower) stream flow.

Narrowing of the terrain on the upper left.  Go right here in the obvious scree gully
Looking back down from the scree gully.  Who put a golfing green in down there?!

On the grass bench above the scree gully (left), gorge on the right.

Beautiful serene views of the glacier
   I was now in a wide open valley with the stream trickling through its middle.  Travel was still tranquil, and I thoroughly enjoyed climbing to the peaceful sound of running water.  After a while, I came to another scree field leading up to the south ridge of Wickersham.

Looking down the valley.  Grass bench on the left.

The next scree field leading to the south ridge and summit (right)
    As I clawed my way to the top of the scree, I realized just how mellow the rest of this route was.  All the gendarmes ahead had easy scree bypasses, keeping travel squarely in Class 2.  Only once or twice did I go hand over hand, and even then this was optional.  It almost felt like cheating.

Looking up the south ridge.

Looking down the south ridge.

Upper part of the south ridge.  Summit on left.
   10:10 AM saw me at the summit, where I was surprised and amused to see I had 4 bars of cell service (ATT, you da best! haaaa)  I sent a few photos, and decided I wanted to stand on the actual summit, which is a slightly precarious block of stacked choss.  Once I tagged this, I figured it was time to head down and face the long walk back.

Looking north.  Actual summit on the right.

Looking southwest from the summit

Looking southeast

Actual summit block.  Not good for taking photos on!
Ascent GPX overlaid on Google Earth.  Note the glacial difficulties!
Well, OK - I actually did take a photo from the summit block ;)

As I ran down the scree, I couldn't help but gleefully (and badly) sing my new favorite song -

"Now I'm scree,
SCREE fallin!
Scree fallin, now I'm scree fallin."

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 where 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