Monday, August 01, 2005

First Ascent - Kichatna Spire, The Black Crystal Arête

Chad Kellogg and I spent a few weeks in the remote Kichatna Mountains of the Alaska Range. We managed to climb Kichatna Spire by a new route. This was the eighth ascent of the mountain by its seventh route to the summit. The Black Crystal Arête is the first route to tackle the peak’s southern aspect by climbing the slender ridge that splits its south and east faces.

Kichatna Spire from the Shadows Glacier:

Aerial view of Kichatna Spire from the south:

Paul Roderick flew us into the Shadows Glacier on the evening of July 6. Immediately upon landing we went for the route but were turned around by rain. On the third day we made a second attempt only to be stopped on pitch four by more rain. After spending 5 hours with our feet in plastic garbage bags we pulled the plug and rappelled back to the ground. A few more days of bad weather came and went as we scouted other route possibilities. Finally a splitter two day weather window arrived and we were off and running. We left in the morning of July 11 and made our way quickly to the base of the spire’s south arête. The first six pitches climbed the east wall of the feature. However, what had been dry rock before, was now drifted in with fresh snowfall from the previous day’s storm. What had been relatively straight forward pitches became quite tedious. Pitch 2 proved to be the first crux. I led a small wet roof, followed by a thin detached flake led to a super mantle-reach. Delicate moves with thin gear above a ledge finally moved into more positive terrain.

Chad following up the east wall:

Once on the ridge proper, a few gendarmes provided interesting route finding. The first major one we climbed in three pitches and were able to traverse around its right side just 50’ from its top.

Climbing along the ridge crest. The Sunshine Glacier is in the distance:

A short downclimb off the backside, led to the “Ore Chasm” – a 5-foot wide cleft that require a wide stem.

The first gendarme. Chad can be seen down climbing toward the “Ore Chasm”:

A few easier pitches led to another gendarme only passable by a rotten chimney on its right side. Chad led up the “Bombay’s Away” pitch – named after a huge booger of rock five times his size that flushed out of the chimney as he climbed up and stood on top of it. Unscathed, he continued aiding and climbing up huge overhanging flakes to the top.

The actual ridge was pretty short lived, however, as it completely dead-ended into the upper south face. The only way to continue seemed to be a set of horizontal twin seems that led out left. Gaining instant 2,000+-foot exposure, Chad led across the thin traverse to the base of another nasty looking chimney.

Chad leading the key horizontal traverse high on the route:

I got the next pitch – a vertical ice-smeared chimney we dubbed “Icebox Desperado”. It might have been a brilliant M6 pitch had we had crampons and ice-tools. But with only rock shoes it proved to be an interesting mix of aid and free up disintegrating ice filled cracks.

This gave way to slightly easier terrain and after a few more pitches we crested the summit ridge, just 200 horizontal feet from the true summit. We topped out on a beautiful, albeit smoky, evening, as we watched the sun make its long descent towards Mt. Foraker.

On the summit looking northwest:

A view to the west. Middle Triple peak is on the left:

We sat on the warm and windless summit for about 45 minutes, before starting the long and dreaded descent.

The 2nd rappel:

We rappelled throughout the night. The crux was having to repeat a few of the key traverses with frozen fingers and toes.

Repeating the key traverse just after midnight:

About 20 rappels later, we returned to the Shadows glacier just in time for the sun to warm us up again. A short stroll back to camp and we were back just 25 and half hours after starting. We named our route after the most amazing black rock crystals we found on the summit ridge, some of which were upwards of 2 feet long!

The next 10 days or so we spent attempting the Citadel. We spent a week in a portaledge on the peak’s east face, but were thwarted by weather and bad rock. We also made another single-push attempt on its unclimbed south ridge, but we fell short of the summit by about 800-feet (that might be considered a new route by some people. ha!)

We knew our time on the glacier was drawing to an end with the rapid recession of the fern line toward our landing spot. Soon we would be camped on top of ice and after another week, we may not have been able to be picked up. So we packed it up, dialed Paul on the Sat phone and headed home.