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joepuryear

first ascent [TR] Kichatna Spire - The Black Crystal Arete

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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.

 

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Kichatna Spire from the Shadows Glacier.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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On the summit looking northwest.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Joe, I heard about this man! Awesome. Congrats to you and Chad both. Very cool.

 

As far as the smoke goes, it's still here in Anchorage and I hear that the entire interior is still pretty hazy. Puts a damper on a backpacking trip I was going to do in Denali.

 

Anyways, congrats Joe! Do you climb in Alaska often? If you're ever here and need a partner in the Alaska Range I'm game. I'm doing the West Rib on Denali in Spring 2006 and might do Hunter as well if I can find a steady partner by then.

 

Good luck in your future endeavors!

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Do you climb in Alaska often?

yelrotflmao.gif

 

Wicked looking route. Hats off to you guys. Thanks for posting such a detailed description and pics.

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WOW, nice work Joe! It's gotta be an odd feeling, standing in knee deep snow, in rock shoes.

Beautiful route!

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Utterly remarkable. I'll say it again, utterly remarkable. What a grand day out, Joe. Cheers!

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Wow. Fantastic.

 

I had the privilege of visiting Art Davidson at his house a couple years ago and saw a bunch of his pictures from the first ascent of Kichatna Spire. Incredible. There was a lot more snow in his pictures. I remember that he remarked that the glaciers in that area have receeded quite a bit. He thought it might soon be difficult to land a plane in there. Did Paul Roderick say anything about that?

 

Who needs patagonia when we've got the Kichatnas!?

 

Do you happen to have any pictures of those 2' long black crystals? I'd like to see them. Any idea what they are made of?

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The main glaciers are still relatively smooth and unbroken, so as long as there is an adequate snowfall over the winter, there shouldn’t be any problem with landing there anytime soon. The warm temps and slightly less than average snow pack out there this year meant an early termination of the climbing season. Of course there were only two parties including us out there the entire year so it’s not like a major destination anyways. There is a real noticeable recession in snow pack on the cliffs. The glaciers in general have pulled away from the surrounding cliff faces, in some places in excess of 150 feet, and several smaller glaciers and hanging glaciers are nearly gone. This has left a lot of newly exposed rock which appears to be very loose and flaky.

 

I don’t have a good picture of the crystals, but I’m sure they were a type of quartz – very perfectly formed and hexagonal in shape and a very black or deep purple color. They were falling out of a large cave in the rock about 100 feet above a ledge. Many of them were shattered but several survived the fall quite well.

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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!)

 

Don't forget, Joe, at 25 hours round trip you could also theoretically claim a "one day ascent". You know how long those Alaskan summer days can be. hahaha.gif

 

Otherwise, to quote Benny: "hmmm...25 hours. Sounds kinda like...2 days..." wave.gif

 

WORD my man. thumbs_up.gifrockband.gif

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I had the privilege of visiting Art Davidson at his house a couple years ago and saw a bunch of his pictures from the first ascent of Kichatna Spire. Incredible.

 

Art Davidson is an astonishing man. To merely be in his presence is very humbling. He is not only a great climber (it shows, he has so many first ascents in the Chugach and Alaska range alone) but also an incredible philanthropist.

 

The work he's done for other cultures is significant. He gave me his book, Endangered Peoples, and personalized it for me. He's one of my role models. Without a doubt, one of the finest men I have ever met.

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Just looking at the amount of possible climbing in the pictures makes my heart ache...now where's the gondola!?! cry.gif

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