The NW Alpine Blog of Alpine Pursuits — first ascent
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Ice Climbing in the Rolwaling Himal
by Nick Frazee
Overall our trip was fantastic, splitter weather most days, great temps, wonderful ice conditions, and the serenity and beauty of a nearly empty Himalayan valley. We spent 5 weeks climbing all that we could in an area that may take closer to 5 years to fully explore, and along with a first ascent of a 500’ flow, we topped out plenty of enormous, seldom climbed lines up to 1200’ in length. Every climb we got on was a classic by our standards here in Bozeman, but in my eyes, the true gem of the trip was an unfathomable formation we could see from where we stayed.
We had been staring at it for weeks, all the while talking about possible lines up it, what we might encounter, wondering if it would even go. 450’ of ice, equally strange, funky, and strait up ugly, it loomed across the river from our camp. Huge overhanging mushrooms stretched out horizontally, flanking steep ice up the lower section, a massive overhanging bulge riddled with mushrooms and jellyfish guarded the center,
and then there was the top, a massive black tube about 20 meters high rolled over the lip to more solid looking, easier ground. The funk down low we knew would be interesting, thoughtful climbing though manageable, but the black tube on top terrified us. We often speculated as to what was actually going on up there, would it be a thin window pane? Would it have open running water? Would it even support body weight? Could we sneak around it on the thin dry white ice on either side?
We decided to give it time. Perhaps with warmer or colder weather, the resulting changes in the formation, would give us a better idea as to what we were getting into. A few weeks passed, nothing changed, the black tube remained constant, unwilling to grow, unwilling to build up fat blue ice that we hoped would eventually form. Eventually, however, our curiosity got the best of us. We got sick of waiting and wondering, packed up and decided to go have a closer look.
Bud Martin approaches our first ascent.
Bud Martin following the first pitch of our first ascent
The “black tube” at the top of the funky flow
The funky flow from the approach
Bud Martin getting awkward in the mushrooms and jellyfish
Bud Martin leads towards the tube
The clear tube on top
With plenty of stops on the approach to eye up the route, and pick possible lines through the baffling features, we geared up and cautiously moved up the first pitch to a belay cave to where the really interesting climbing began. I moved out onto a steep, featureless curtain, topped by enormous mushrooms and jellyfish, awkwardly moved over, around, and between the large overhangs and set up a hanging belay in the only place I could, directly below the last pitch. I cowered beneath my pack sneaking peeks of Bud as ice rained down from the dry white features he was negotiating. By the time he made it to the black tube he was out of sight, he moved slowly, cautiously and all I could do was imagine what he was encountering up there, wondering if we would have to bail. Suddenly he began moving smoothly again, and as i paid out rope I realized he had made it work, he was topping it out. The ropes came tight and I headed up, when I
got to the tube I was shocked to find Bud’s path straight up it. We had expected to have to sneak around it on the thin white ice on the side but as i followed his delicate pick marks i realized what he had found 15 min before, the tube was absolutely bomber, almost two feet thick the whole way... but formed of crystal clear ice. I began to laugh, not believing what we were climbing, every crack and fracture from every tool
placement was perfectly visible. You could see each tooth of your pick and how it sat inside the ice, the water flowing and swirling on the backside, and even the rock beneath the flowing water. As I topped out still on perfectly clear ice, Bud stood with a smile on his face that said “I cant believe we got away with that.” We both began to hoot and holler, laughing and giggling like little girls the whole way down.
We just got an e-mail and photos from Chris Kalman who's down in Cochamo, Chile right now where he just finished putting up a big new route with Austin Siadak and Florian Haenel:
Highlights of the route include a true knife edge bolted arete for two pitches that was wild to bolt on lead, a traversing pitch to a dirty dihedral which I led onsight with a 50 foot runout to a 5.9 friction stance where I handdrilled half a bolt hole just to clip a sling to a hanger to stand up in and lunge for the trees! Florian also had a pretty epic lead with a 5.11 runout over some pretty marginal gear. By and large, the majority of the route has gone up at 5.8X or 5.9X. However, as is the Cochamo way, it is not so much about how you first establish the line, but what you leave to future generations. Thus, we will be spending another couple days working on the route, bolting on fixed lines or lead where necessary to make the route safe for future climbers.
Interestingly enough, though this will be technically the easiest route I have ever established in Cochamo, it will be probably be the most difficult to put up. As is often the case, easier means lower angle means more cleaning and more bolting.... I have always wanted to establish an easier line, since I have had many experiences with more novice climbers coming to Cochamo and not having a nice line to climb. This will be the longest route under 5.11 to reach the spectacular summit of Cerro Laguna, and probably very popular for that reason.
Photo courtesy of Austin Siadak
Jason Stuckey reports on his great Spring season in Alaska
It was a busy winter and spring in Alaska this year. Several long high pressure systems provided good conditions and weather for climbing. In March, my friends and I made our fourth trip into Mt. McGinnis, the eastern most peak in the Hayes Range. A 14 mile approach brings you to the east face and easy access to a col on the northeast ridge, our objective. We gained the col, dug in for the night, and continued up in the morning. After a few blocks of simul-climbing along the knife-edge ridge, Andy arrived at the belay and told me that he was feeling pretty worked. I turned and looked at the long section of ridgeline we had remaining to get to the summit, almost a mile. I know we could have made it to the summit, but it was descent back down the knife-edge ridge that I was worried about. It was an easy decision, we went down.
The Northwest Face of Peak 9400 Photo: Jason Stuckey
As we downclimbed under bluebird skies, I struggled with disappointment. During all of my previous trips here the weather had been horrendous. As we descended through the icefall a couloir on the northwest face of Peak 9400 caught my eye. Chad and I decided to give it a go the next day while Andy rested in the tent. We skied over and started up the couloir around 9am. The snow was a bit deep at the bottom of the couloir where it pinched down, but conditions improved above. The angle was around 45 degrees, steepening to 60 degrees on the upper part of the face. Simul-soloing, we topped out 20 yards from the summit. The face had been in the shade the entire morning, and a strong wind had begun to blow about halfway up. But the summit was warm, sunny, and sheltered from the wind. It was glorious. I usually don't like to waste too much time on the summit, but we stayed for almost an hour. The view was incredible. We finally packed up and headed back down the face. An hour and a half of downclimbing brought us to back to our skis. We had dinner and slept, and the next day skied out to the car and headed back to Fairbanks.
Clint on Pyramid Peak before Bailing Photo: Jason Stuckey
Descending Peak 9400 Photo: Jason Stuckey
A week after the trip I got a message on Facebook from Clint Helander, a climber down in Anchorage. He and his partners had been waiting for almost 2 weeks to fly into the Revelations, the western most mountains in the Alaska Range. His partners had to get back to work and school, but he still wanted to fly in and needed a partner. I had never met Clint, but knew he had already made numerous trips into \the Revelations and had climbed several first ascents. This was an opportunity I didn't want to miss. Somehow I talked my boss into letting me take more time off, and a few days later I was on a flight to Anchorage. Clint picked me up, and shortly after we loaded our gear and were on our way to the Revelations. We landed on the Revelation Glacier, setup camp, and skied down to Pyramid Peak to look at a line Clint had seen the year before. We couldn't see the upper part of the mountain due to clouds, but the lower half looked good. We had a good dinner and went to bed early. At 4am we were up, and after breakfast and coffee we were ascending the lower slopes below Pyramid. From the ground, it looked like there was going to be steep steps of ice with lower angled sections in between. But instead of ice we found overhanging waves of snow. Scary, and not fun. We climbed around them on mixed \terrain, but around every corner we came to another wave of snow. After spending most of the day climbing six pitches we bailed.
Apocalypse West Face with Route Marked
We spent the next day skiing around and looking at other objectives. Clint wanted to try a line on a peak towards the end of the glacier called The Apocalypse. After a few minutes looking at the west face I was psyched. A steep ice and snow couloir looked like it would take us to the upper snow slopes and the summit ridge. We skied back to camp and packed. Another early start and we were heading up the slopes below the first section of steep ice by mid-morning. The first ice pitch was excellent and led to lower angled ice which we simul-climbed. The ice ended and a long section of snow climbing brought us to another steep ice pitch. After this more snow climbing with short sections of ice brought us to the base of a steep rock wall and the final section of ice before the upper snow slopes. It was getting late so we built an anchor and chopped a ledge in the snow at the base of the wall. After an hour, we had a ledge big enough for our tent. We brewed up, ate, and slept.
Clint Climbing on Apocalypse Photo: Jason Stuckey
Climbing on Apocalypse Photo: Jason Stuckey
The next morning we left most of our gear and went for the summit. After the last bit of steep ice we reached the upper snow slopes, and simul-climbed up to the summit ridge. As I reached what I thought was the highest point on the ridge, I realized (to my great disappointment) that a point 300 yards across the ridge was actually about 20ft taller than where we stood. We wanted to stand on the true summit, so we headed across the knife-edge ridge. The climbing, although very exposed, went quickly and before long we were on the summit. We took a few minutes to admire the view, snap some photos, and then began our descent. Heading back across the summit ridge and down the upper slopes went smoothly and before long we were rappelling back down to our bivy. Another brew, more food, and more sleep. The next day we downclimbed and rappelled the rest of the route. As we skied back to camp there was a brisk headwind and I realized how lucky we had been with the temperatures while on Apocalypse. Our first night was pleasant, a bit colder the second night, but when we arrived back in basecamp it was -20F. We ate a huge dinner, made several hot water bottles, and went to bed. When we got up the next morning the mercury in the thermometer had dropped below -25F. Clint had wanted to stay longer and try a couple more objectives, but I was feeling pretty satisfied and concerned about the weather deteriorating and having a hard time flying out if we waited. By chance, Paul Roderick with Talkeetna Air Taxi was flying a team of skiers in that afternoon and after a short discussion we decided to fly out with Paul. We made breakfast, broke down our camp, and a few hours later were sitting in Talkeetna eating pizza and drinking beers. It was magnificent.
First ascent of the Northwest Face of Peak 9400 (60deg snow, 3,400')
First ascent of The Apocalypse, A Cold Day in Hell (AI5, 4,400')