Saturday, August 28, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Monday, August 09, 2010
This story has a short version and a long version. The short version is that Blake and I were awarded the AAC’s McNeill-Nott Grant and a grant from the Mazamas. Additionally as the youngster, Blake received the Mountain Fellowship grant from the AAC to help him out.Collectively we were pitching the idea of climbing the North Ridge of Mt. Ambition which is a proud snow and rock ridge involving over a mile and 5,000 ft. of climbing to accomplish. We covered roughly a third to a half of this terrain on “sub Fisher Towers quality rock” before reaching a decision point. To continue would mean complete commitment with little or no opportunity to escape other than by finishing the route. Turning around here would be simple enough but we wanted that ridge. In the end we decided to bail. We very well may have been able to climb the ridge despite the bad rock as it didn’t appear that technically difficult. However didn’t break a hold and take a bad fall or trundle large blocks onto the belay we decided that we would essentially be soloing due to consistently horrible rock quality. Receiving funding for a climb always adds the element of potentially letting your supporters down by not finishing a climb. However having had to descend or short section of that ridge reinforced our decision. For Blake and me, given the conditions it wasn’t worth it.
Deciding against Mt. Ambition was not the end of the trip. Over the course of the remaining week we established two first ascents in the area on Mt. Endeavor and Doormouse Peak. We didn’t put up anything very technical but it was consistently an adventure. If I had to sum up the climbing and challenges we faced I would say that it cannot be defined by its technical grades but rather by the sum of its parts.
The Long Story
The peaks around the Scud Glacier (which include Mt. Ambition) lie on the eastern side of the Stikine region.The Stikine region is essentially as far north as Juneau, Alaska. The Scud Glacier is just inside the British Columbia border. From higher points in the area you can clearly see the Devil’s Thumb, Mt. Burkett and the Burkett Needle nearer the ocean. The weather in this area is surprisingly good and much drier than the aforementioned peaks.
It took Blake and myself two days from Washington to Tattoga, B.C. The first order of business was to find Dale our bush pilot. After signing some paperwork Dale’s first comment was “when is it you guys are coming out again?” Not the most reassuring comment from our pilot, who had just arranged that date and who would shortly be dropping us 50-miles from the nearest human being.
The following morning we arrived at the dock on-time only to find Dale frantic because he had another flight later that day. We grabbed our packs tossed them in the plane and promptly took off. No need for any safety information. Later in the flight Dale gestured to Blake to tie a rope around his waist when preparing to toss a bag out of the 2x2 ft. bomb hatch. Safety was obviously a priority.
What I vividly remember is placing my boots in the hatch before taking off. What I know is that those boots were present at the dock and had vanished when we landed. Somewhere, somehow we arrived without my boots and one trekking pole short. I felt angry and sick. I must have forgot to put the boots in the plane. How would I be able to climb with the crappy pair of tennis shoes I was wearing? Dale said that he might be coming back to the lake with another group later that week. If the boots were at the dock and if he came back he would leave them on the beach. There was nothing to do but try to climb. The money had been spent, we were in the wilderness and I needed to deal with this problem.
Regardless of the problem with the boots (or lack therefore of) we needed to get up to our food cache. We had dropped a dry bag full of our food for the next two weeks onto a dry glacier. To reach the glacier we waded, bushwalked and thrutched our way 10 miles up the Quattrin River Valley. The bag landed on a flat, wide open glacier but it still took us a couple hours to find it. Thankfully I took a video of the airdrop that gave us an idea of where the bag may have landed. Unthankfully our dry bag had landed on bare ice and rocks and exploded.Blake (who tossed the bag) is obviously a better carpet bomber than dive bomber. The largest piece of remaining dry bag was about 18 inches by 4 inches. Inside the dry bag we wrapped everything in tyvek which was ripped into two pieces. The glacier was a graveyard off ramen noodles, peanut butter, granola bars, beef jerky and all the remnant of our once proud food supply no reduced to meager rations. Like an Easter egg hunt we spent hours salvaging what we could and collecting every piece of trash. We spent an hour or so on a piton and stopper hunt finding them in small crevasses and up to 100 ft. from the initial impact zone.
It was only our first day and we had only faced difficulties. My boots were M.I.A., we’d lost about a third of our food, Blake’s camera was dying from an unsuccessful river crossing. Things could only get better… right?
We established a base camp on the Scud Glacier within striking distance of any of the nearby peaks. The first order of business was figuring out how I would be able to climb steep ice with tennis shoes and newmatic crampons. The lid of Blake’s CiloGear pack had been destroyed in the airdrop. Using the fabric from that lid, two bottles of seam grip and duct tape we tried to make the shoes more water proof. From the plastic back pad of Blake’s pack I cut two rigid insoles to help stiffen up the shoes. The addition of a strap across the midsection of the crampon helped shore up their stability. Thus the Omnishoes were created. As if crafted by Prometheus himself they actually did okay. I led an icefall with some short steep bulges and several sections of front pointing without any difficulties other than serious calf strain.
After drying our shoes out for a day we attempted the North Ridge of Mt. Ambition. We left at 2:30 a.m. and quickly climbed through an icefall to a col between Mt. Ambition’s North Ridge and Mt. Endeavor’s South Ridge. The rock in the col was solid and apparently granitic. The “rock” on the ridge was loose and sand-like. Blake led through two pitches up to a grade of probably 5.8 or 5.9. I don’t think I pulled on a single hold or even took a breath while following those pitches. The experience has redefined all the “choss-aineering” that I’ve previously done.This rock put it all to shame. Blake described it as “sub Fisher Towers quality.”
We continued to climb on the ridge until the base of a snowfield below a distinct pyramid. We had remained optimistic that perhaps the rock would get better. We knew that once we got on the pyramid retreat would be hard or impossible. We judged that the climb would probably go, but it would get harder not easier. Neither one of us wanted to take the risks that the climb would entail.
Deciding to turn around is never easy, but it is always harder when you’ve been given money and support to attempt a climb. That is an unfortunate aspect of getting a grant. In the end we decided that we would honor the organizations more by making what we deemed to be the “right” choice (for us given our experience, perceptions, the conditions etc.) than to climb in a style not our own because we had been shown so much support. For myself I know it was the right decision and I am not second-guessing it.
Since we got such an early start on our climb we were able to reverse the route back to the col and continue on to climb the South Ridge of Mt. Endeavor. The comparison of rock between Mt. Endeavor and Mt. Ambition was night and day. Though we didn’t find splitter rock, we found rock that protected okay and that we could pull on. The route though not technically difficult was aesthetic and engaging. From the Scud Glacier the route was about 5,000 ft. long and seemed like climbing Mt. Stuart’s North Ridge stacked on the Nisqually Icefall… pretty cool.
On the summit we found the original summit register, unsigned since 1967. We had logged the second ascent of Mt. Endeavor. We’re calling the route Arete sans Chaussures (Bootless Arete) D 5.6 5000’ (still need to confirm this with GPS waypoints).
The summit was truly only half-way done on this climb. We ended up descending the SE Ridge (the line of the first ascent) in hopes that it would be easy and avoid the objective hazards of an icefall baking in the afternoon sun. Initially the ridge was pretty straightforward mostly fourth class with generally good rock. Farther from the summit the glacier slopped further and further away from the ridge crest, the rock became looser and more difficult. I convinced Blake that we should abandon the ridge and get on the snow. In retrospect this might have been a poor decision because the ridge might have been easy enough to down climb but that’s water under the bridge at this point. We had a tough descent which involved about a half-dozen double rope rappels with v-threads and poor rock with plenty of down climbing mixed in. Once we hit the snow, we still had a few thousand feet to drop before we stumbled into camp 20 hours after we started.
Our descent of Mt. Endeavor had required about 70 ft. of tat and left us with a whole 2 ft. of tat for any additional climbing. We wanted to climb something that had never been climbed before and picked and asthetic looking summit. Unfortunately we didn’t remember that it had been climbed by a group in 2003 and were disappointed by a cairn on the summit.
We climbed the West Ridge of Doormouse Peak and found generally good rock. The first four pitches of the West Ridge were on generally solid shattered granite up to 5.9. We gained the ridge crest and found continuous fourth and mid-fifth class climbing to the summit. Again we descended the line of the first ascent, the East Ridge to the glacier. In honor of our bush pilot, who really deserves to be memorialized we named the route Dalestrom D 5.9 2000 ft.
The last five days of our trip we were forced to reduce our rations to a single pack of oatmeal, five granola bars and half a freeze-dry dinner per person per day. In an effort to maximize food stores we boiled sweedish fish that had soaked and bloated on the glacier into a delish stew.Oatmeal was rounded out to become oatmeal plus with the addition of crumbs found in stuff sacks. Why just brew one cup of coffee with ground when you can brew 10?
After climbing two new routes we had no tat or food. Climbing any more routes would mean we need to cut up our ropes or slings. Regardless we were so hungry we really didn’t need to spend any calories doing anything but surviving. We decided to come out one day early. We spent a warm night next to a campfire on a lake in northern British Columbia, got picked up early the next morning and spent the next couple days supplementing our lost calories.
It is really hard to explain what this trip was like. The climbs don’t look all that impressive from a technical standpoint mainly because technically they aren’t hard. But given all the other problems: the omnishoes, the exploded food cache, the loose rock, the bushwacking, etc. these climbs were challenging for different reasons. The only way I can really explain it is to say it was an adventure.