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keenwesh

[TR] The Ruth/Tokositna - 5/28/2014

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Trip: The Ruth/Tokositna -

 

Date: 5/28/2014

 

Trip Report:

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Back in November, while in the midst of a (relatively) climbing-less internship, I was talking with my buddy from Boulder, Colin. He was telling me about how he would be getting on the Cassin the following June and was hankering to do a trip beforehand to prepare. He then proposed we do a trip together in May to climb in the areas surrounding Denali. I was initially hesitant, as I knew that such a trip would be more expensive than dirtbagging up walls in Yosemite, but after a few minutes contemplation I became completely committed to the idea. Getting up to Alaska had been on my radar for the last couple years and had never panned out. Here was my chance to finally go. I then started sending him links several times a day to routes I thought we should climb. He soon told me to fuck off. The trip was 6 months away and we had never climbed in winter together, let alone climbed sustained WI5+ routes on Alaskan peaks (or anywhere else, for that matter).

 

Freshman Dave was to be the third member of our team. Another guy from Boulder that I had met the previous summer, and an avid crossfitter, Dave was to provide more youthful exuberance to our group. Fortunately, Dave has a lid on his urges, so he was less involved in the rapidly expanding route list.

 

Dave and Colin, over my concern that a team of three would be too slow, cajoled Kurt into joining us, making four. Kurt, the third Boulderite, is rock solid and stoked. His addition yielded a team of four, who we decided to dub "Team Wank”. This proved to be a poor choice, as whenever someone would call TAT on the sat phone the person on the other end of the line would ask for us to repeat it. Perhaps they actually couldn’t hear us the first time, but it is much more likely they wanted to make us feel foolish.

 

My internship finished up before Christmas, and I met the fellows in Cody, WY (minus Freshman Dave, foreshadowing a future turn of events) for a solid week of ice climbing. I hadn't done anything physical for the previous 3 months, so they graciously roped me up plenty of tough pitches. Our newfound common goal and camaraderie led to a great time and equally great success. By this point subconsciously I felt that Team Wank (minus Freshman Dave) was unstoppable, and the trip was still 5 months away. Things were looking good.

 

During the Spring semester I followed a training program loosely based on what Colin forwarded me from what he was doing and the New Alpinism book. I went up to Hyalite as much as possible. When I wasn't up there I was messaging the fellows with more routes for our list. Stoke was high and all that mattered. I sprayed to everyone that would listen, whether they gave a shit or not. We were going to AK prepared and ready, with the blind audacity/stupidity that youth allows for. My spring break was spent in Boulder, climbing in Eldo and in RMNP. Not even nearly getting crushed by a collapsing snow mushroom could stop me. Returning to Bozeman with a twisted ankle from the aforementioned incident was not a reason to be dissuaded. Team Wank was determined to succeed.

 

Towards the end of March Hyalite got shut down by a combination of lack of funds (donate!) and massive snowfall. I switched to ski touring religiously. I went with anyone and everyone, when they had class/work/real world obligations I would go alone. I racked up as much vert as possible. I bought a heart rate monitor. I trained in the right proportion of Zone 1 and Zone 3 as prescribed by New Alpinism. I didn't get much better at riding, but I got really good at skinning uphill. Even when conditions were horrible I'd get out. Just before the end of the semester I headed up to solo a route on The Beehive outside of Big Sky and ended up doing it several hours faster than I had anticipated. This just motivated me to get out more and go harder. I started keeping a training log and would excitedly jot down my days exercise every night. I blabbered to my non climbing roommates about it whenever they were in earshot, somehow they never kicked me out or told me to shut the fuck up. I probably would have if the rolls were reversed.

 

Around April first Freshman Dave dropped out, he had a chance to go far at crossfit regionals and figured he should take it. "Alaska will always be there, this could be my only shot". We were disappointed, but understood his choice. Next year, buddy.

 

Finals week rolled around. I took my finals during the make up times, normally reserved for those with family emergencies so that I could finish earlier in the week. Getting back to Olympia I got a few days in the climbing gym and managed to hangdog several 10b's and even take a leadfall on a 10a. This gave me some concern, but not that much. I rationalized that we wouldn’t be climbing anything that hard anyway. In my mind skinning uphill for hours while running on little more than bananas and protein shakes is a much more applicable test of preparedness.

 

On May 5th (a Monday) my dad graciously awoke at 2 am to drive me to the airport for my 6 am flight. I hadn't slept at all. As I was walking into the airport he told me to hang on and quickly stuffed some cash into my hand. "Get something to eat, be safe buddy". I gave him a quick thanks and a bearhug before disappearing into the sliding doors. The gesture meant a lot.

 

Throwing my bags onto the scale I breathed a sigh of relief as I was 1 lb under the weight limit. I passed though security, made it to my gate, texting Colin about my progress. Banter turned to the topic of piss bottles. I assured him that we could share if volume became an issue.

 

Arriving in Anchorage I was picked up by our friend and Alaska native Elliot. The guy housed the three of us plus two dutch folks on both ends of the trip. He also carted us around while we bought all our food and then drove us to Talkeetna. His help and accommodation went above and beyond common courtesy, I’m always surprised at the generosity of climbers.

 

Arriving in Talkeetna on May 7th we weighed our bags with TAT and waited for the weather to allow us to fly into the range. I’ll never get over how incredible it is to hop into a plane and 40 minutes later be in the heart of the Alaska range next to a pile of gear. All the planning and thinking about the trip and then you’re there. The trip is started, time to unpack and go climbing. My buddy Sam, who spends his winters in Bozeman, walked down to the Mountain House airstrip and helped drag our kit into camp. We cooked up some dinner, went over the next few days itinerary, and passed out. Waking up in the morning, Sam showed us how to properly rig our sleds (we never would have figured how to do that properly on our own) and we skied to the West Fork.

 

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Kurt showing some skin on the skin to the West Fork

 

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Sam mid water stop in the West Fork, North Wall of Huntington looms

 

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North Buttress of the Roosters Comb, decided to forgo it this trip as it looked really full on and a team of 3 much stronger than us had taken 9 hours to climb 3 pitches a week and a half before. On paper it didn’t sound too bad. Funny how things change when you’re standing below them.

 

Colin and Kurt left camp on the morning on May 9th for a lap up the SW Ridge of Peak 11300, charging back in after 17 hours. Sam and I lounged around that day, in preparation for our turn on the next.

 

Waking up at 4 am on the morning of May 10th we headed out, Sam taking the lead up to the first col. I led a simul block from there to the rap before the second col.

 

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Sam Coming up to the rap, North Face of Huntington behind.

 

After the rap I kept simuling until I reached the base of the final ice field. Sam took over and we did one pitch before simuling to the summit

 

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Sam heading for the top

 

The ice field was the crux for me, burning calves and lungs brought us to the top. The greatest learning experience I gained from this trip was the difficulty of moderate terrain. I wouldn’t think twice about running up a slab of WI2 out ice climbing, but when that slab stretches on unrelentingly for hundreds of feet the difficulty increases exponentially.

 

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The descent was surprisingly long and involved. We made 5 diagonaling 60 meter raps on v threads because the surface snow was so slushy and seemed primed to sluff. Once the angle eased off we kept traversing and rapped off a bollard to reach the rocky ridge. Many raps later we found ourselves with a big abyss below and a track headed up and climbers right to reach the real ridge. Once we traversed this we hit the actual raps and made it down to the glacier. Somewhere in here one of the (new) ropes got core shot. Once down I snapped a quick shot of the giant hanger above, which we then sprinted below and back to camp. (sorry mom)

 

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All told we made it back just shy of 13 hours, some other folks were kind enough to share their beer with us. Once again, the generosity of climbers surprises.

 

May 11th was spent skiing back to the Mountain House.

 

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Sam flew out that night. He had a Denali trip to guide starting in a few days and wanted to maximize his time to decompress. We decided to move camp down into the gorge the following day.

 

After a day of sledding all of our shit down and around the corner we got up early and headed for the Japanese Couloir on Mt Barrill.

 

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Dropping our skis at the base, we started up the never ending stairmaster. Sweat poured down, keeping a slow pace was impossible. We suffered. Hitting the Col the others changed into a dry layer while I stupidly stayed soaked. The next 200 feet of traversing proved to be exciting. Again, moderate terrain is the sleeper crux. Steep faceted snow threatened to collapse the steps we made in it, and the runout was not the most ideal. Once across we cruised up mellow slopes to the summit.

 

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Looks straightforward, was a little unnerving.

 

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In the middle of the previous bootpack I found a single crampon, facing uphill. We were bewildered as to how it was left there. Needless to say, if it's yours, I want to hear the story.

 

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On top

 

We reversed our ascent, and then made several rappels down the top as by this point the snow in the main couloir had turned to waist deep slush. Once down we skinned back to camp to complete the outing.

 

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Next up was Ham and Eggs on the Mooses Tooth. With the exceedingly warm daytime temps we shifted to a night climbing schedule. Leaving the Gorge at 9.30 pm we were at the base of the route by 3 am.

 

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Kurt starting up the final pitch of his block. Cruxy rotten ice with a steep finish, he sent in style, hardest WI4 any of us had ever done. Many fixed pins off to the right at the top backed up the screws.

 

I took over next, lucking out in getting to lead the block with step after step of classic WI3-4. We simuled bits to do it in 3 pitches. Colin took over for the last section, which we simuled until a dinnerplate hit me square in the head, denting my helmet nicely. We belayed, and then did a final simul pitch to the col. Hitting the col at 8.45 am didn’t leave enough time to go to the summit with our 9 am turn around time. Getting killed by falling rock and ice once the sun hit was not high of any of our to do lists. Looking back I think we could have gone to the summit, but at the time we figured we wouldn't break any self imposed rules. We headed down.

 

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Kurt stoked to be here.

 

Rapping took 3 hours, getting us to the route canal camp a little after noon. We hunkered down in someone else's old kitchen to wait for night in order to descend the lower icefall back to the Gorge.

 

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Avoiding the sun

 

We headed down from the Route Canal a little after 10 pm

 

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Top of the icefall, heading back to the couloir.

 

We reached camp in the Gorge at 12.30, melted some water, and promptly went back to sleep. The day after was socked in, so we listened to podcasts and ate cookies in the tent. After our single bad weather day we skinned down the Gorge to look for routes that hadn't fallen down. The Escalator on Johnson was avalanching every few minutes, and the upper couloir was dry, so that was nixed. Wake Up, on Mt. Wake looked to be in decent shape, so we settled on heading up that the next evening.

 

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Skinning towards the route, 7 pm

 

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The schrund crossing was mellow

 

Kurt took the lead for the first pitch, which consisted of thin ice over granite, not much pro but excellent climbing.

 

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He belayed Colin and me up, where we unroped and cruised up the good neve to what we assumed was the crux.

 

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The “crux” was mellow, followed by a short simul pitch, to a tricky mixed pitch. I took over at this point with expectation that the rest to the top would be a cruise. I headed up and left, placing cams here and there, with the snow getting progressively steeper and less consolidated. I reached the shitty black rock to find very little pro opportunities and ended up digging a hole to belay in as I didn't feel comfortable with the 3 way suicide pact that this section was becoming. After belaying the others up Kurt took over and wallowed up the 60 degree snow until he could climb through the far left side of the rock band and reach a decent belay. he brought us up, and Colin took the last 2 pitches with good ice (and screws) to reach the ridge. We switched over to glacier travel mode and made our way to the summit.

 

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Descending to the upper col we left 2 nuts for a rap anchor in the shitty rock and then rapped off a slung horn to reach the center of the couloir, where we downclimbed to the schrund, rapping off a bollard to get over it.

 

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Making it back to camp after 18 hours on the go we brewed up, got in the bags, and slept for around 21 hours.

 

We awoke to continuing splitter weather, called TAT (Team Wank), and got a hop over to the Tokositna. After another day of resting and rehydrating we headed off to do the Harvard.

 

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Colin leading over the schrund.

 

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Sunrise on Hunter and Foraker

 

Making good time to the base of the Spiral, I took over. Excellent climbing followed.

 

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The boys coming up to the first belay.

 

The second pitch contained some steep but positive drytooling, leading to easier ground and the base of the Bastion.

 

Kurt led the 5.9 chimney pitch

 

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and the next pitch, that, contrary to the topo, is not 55 degree snow.

 

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Hanging at the belay, watching low clouds roll in

 

Colin took over and we pitched it out to the base of The Nose.

 

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Looking back, we should have brewed up here. Each of us still had a liter of water left, so we didn't. Above this there really aren't any good flat spots, and the terrain is cruiser, so stopping isn’t really a good option. Additionally, with a team of 3 it would have been easy for the third to be melting snow while the others lead and belay, notes for next time.

 

Kurt wanted to try and free the Nose, and gave a really impressive effort. He made it a third of the way out the overhang before giving up and aiding the rest. Colin and I jugged the pitch with microtraxes and a upside down garda hitch. Kurt belayed us with the extra rope because we could and jugging a single 8 mil rope when it's running over an edge is unnerving. It took us 2 and a half hours to climb and follow this pitch. Really slow! Once at the top Kurt headed left for a scrappy mixed pitch to join the West Face Couloir. We simuled and soloed up to the summit icefield, where I went as far as I could sumuling until my calves couldn't take it any more. One more short pitch got us to the top of the icefield boulder. A half liter was brewed (not enough). This spot isn’t very flat and is covered in loose rock. The Nose bivi is a much nicer stop.

 

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A little gripped, with low clouds rolling in

 

Colin led 2 pitches to the summit ridge. The ridge itself was snow, so he dug a hole and belayed from that. I took the ropes and started traversing right until I could get to flat spot and bring the others across. We kept the rope on as there were a couple cracks. I climbed the short steep ice and belayed from snice just below the summit.

 

Reaching the top was incredible. I read David Roberts book The Mountain of my Fear early in my teenage years and had dismissed the route as something I would most likely never be able to climb, let alone in a single day. As my own climbing has grown to completely consume my life and be the only real constant I can rely on the Harvard has always been in the back of my mind. To be able to basically walk up and succeed without finding any of the pitches to be extraordinarily difficult was one of the best feelings I've ever had. Feelings such as this are fleeting, but leave a lasting impression, and are most likely why I enjoy climbing so much. Of course the conditions this year were perfect, and undoubtedly were essential in our success. Still, as a young alpinist, this much positive reinforcement just makes me wonder what we really are capable of achieving.

 

 

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To get down we reversed our steps down the ridge, rapped off an ice bollard to reach the ice field. After that 20 or so raps in all got us back down to the base, via the West Face Couloir. Exactly 24 hours camp to camp

 

Here is a little heads up to anyone going up the route in the future. We may have adjusted our plans had we known this beforehand. The amount of trash on route is surprising, mostly old goldline frozen into the mountain. A very worthy endeavor if someone was inclined to spend a couple days up there chopping it out and cleaning up this classic route. I'm guessing that it has been there since the first ascent. It's mostly located from the base of the Bastion to where the route joins up with the west face couloir, although there was some at the top of the access couloir stretching into the alley as well. At the Nose bivi alone there's a rats nest bundled up right next to the belay probably two feet in diameter. There is also a bunch of plastic right next to the lower tent platform. If I go up it again it'll be with the intention of pulling as much of that crap out as I can. Keep the mountains clean!

 

I received a Mountaineering Fellowship Grant for this trip. The AAC rocks, join if you haven't already.

 

Approach Notes:

TAT

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You should have cleaned some of that goldline off and sent it to David Roberts.

 

Nice sends. Looks like a great trip!

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Impressive climbs, fantastic images, and great writing. You make it all sound so reasonable.

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Damn that is a productive trip. The weather this year has been unreal - glad you made the most of it!

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Yes Keenan! I had such a great time reading this TR. Your stoke always inspires me!! Bummed we missed you on the Tok, it would have been fun to catch up. The Harvard was in fantastic shape indeed.

 

-Chris

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