Sunday, December 7, 2008

Arrigetch Expedition 2008

Welcome to my dedicated blog for our 2008 Arrigetch Expedition. Unlike the brief account on my main blog, this version carries links to photos! We had a wonderful trip and climbed two routes, repeating the North Buttress of West Maiden (V 5.9 R, 22 60+ m pitches (4400 feet climbing) and accomplishing the first ascent of The Pillar Arete on Caliban (V 5.10b 16 pitches, four rappels on route, plus simul-climbing). Enjoy the photos and this brief account of our trip. Also, please visit the links to write-ups on Climbing Magazine's Hot Flashes and the Alpinist Newswire.

In mid August, I quit my job of almost a year and climbed off the couch to go meet Ryan in Fairbanks, where he had just arrived after completing a hiking traverse with my youngest sister Sally. Both suffering from elbow tendonitis, Ryan and I had far fewer days climbing than skiing put in so far this year. We flew in from Fairbanks to Bettles, and from Bettles to Circle Lake. From there we walked with 95-pound packs for two days to our remote basecamp. Here is a photo of the Arrigetch peaks from the second day of our walk in.

Following our arrival, we set out to explore and then climbed the North Buttress of West Maiden, visible on the left as the sun/shade line on the prominent peak in the center.

Below: Ryan following one of the 5.9 R pitches, approximately pitch 15 of 22 total. I'm guessing we were a little off route, because the 40 meter runout above two bad pieces off the belay wasn't pleasant for me on lead.

Below: Here is Ryan finishing out our last block on about pitch 19, approaching the spectacular summit pitch which climbs a perfect crack through a roof (5.9) to end on the summit proper, 16 hours after starting. We spent the next 13 hours rappelling our way down the East ridge to the col between East and West Maiden, descending to the South, and walking through stacks of horrific talus.

Following our climb of the West Maiden, we rested for several days then turned our focus to Parabola's South face, pictured below with an ice lens we got from a little pond nearby. Unfortunately, this face proved flaky and we spent the rest of our day exploring the Aquarius valley and upper Arrigetch Creek.

We settled on an objective late in the afternoon and returned to camp to prepare for another single-push effort on the East ridge and arete of Caliban, the highest peak in the Arrigetch. We ascended the right skyline in the photo below, crossing four towers with multiple rappels on route to establish The Pillar Arete.

We ascended the sun-shade line on the lower talus ridge through 3rd/4th class terrain to access the beginning of the technical climbing. The 16 pitches that followed our completion of the 3rd/4th class terrain were varied and engaging, offering complex routefinding on a narrow arete stacked with pillars which constantly forced us to change plans and descent options. Below is me on the second pitch, a fine slab.

The pitch shown on the right led to the base of the arete proper. Below is me on the fourth pitch, splitter crack climbing into moderate face. The second, third, and fourth towers are visible in the background. What are not visible are the deep, narrow cols between each tower, forcing rappels. Every pitch on the route was quality, while routefinding was at times difficult. with unpleasant descent options such as rappelling 2-3000 feet or reversing our route of ascent back over the towers . However, the weather offered us no opportunity for complaint.

Below: After completing six or so pitches, we reached the top of the first tower. Here we switched blocks and Ryan took over the lead for towers 2 and 3. Below, Ryan is in the midst of the first of two rappels from the top of the first tower to the base of the col between the first and second towers.

Right: The second tower offered some routefinding challenges of its own. This is Ryan on pitch seven, navigating through gorgeous black granite on the North face of the second tower. The appearance of the ridge in this photo is deceiving. We have much more technical terrain to cover before the day is done.

Below: The third tower offered continuous climbing on steep rock on its South face. Here is Ryan beginning the 'spiral staircase' pitch which wrapped around above me to end on top of a massive roof.

Following completion of the third tower, we again switched blocks. I took us to the top of the fourth tower. We then rappeled 60 meters into the next col below the summit pyramid, which constituted a fifth tower ending on the East summit (6994 feet). Below is me leading a classy pitch on the summit pyramid.

We summited Caliban at about 11:30 PM, about 15 hours after roping up at the end of the 3rd/4th class terrain. We spent the next eight hours rappelling down Caliban's South ridge to a col, descending 4000 feet of talus to reach the valley floor, crossing Arrigetch creek to return to our basecamp, having completed the first ascent of The Pillar Arete (V 5.10b).

After resting for a day and a half,we began the 1 1/2 day walk out to Takahula Lake. Below is Ryan enjoying bush-free walking in the middle of 'hot springs' creek as we approach its confluence with the Alatna River.

Shortly after this photo was taken, we met the first people we saw on our trip, spending the remainder of the day with Steve and Kay who have a private inholding on Takahula Lake. Kay made us excellent chocolate chip cookies, and shared smoked salmon, cheese, home baked bread, and more cheese. We appreciated this, as we had recently run out of food. We helped Steve put his canoes away for the winter. Brooks Range aviation picked us up from the lake at the edge of their property, and we made our way back to the hustle and bustle of my new hometown, Fairbanks.