Sunday, September 27, 2009

Accidental Korohusk

On 6/18/08, Todd Kasteler and I had our sights set on climbing Cumulus Mountain (5815’), located in Eagle River, AK. We started running at 5:07 p.m. from the Eagle River Nature Center with high spirits and a thirst for the unknown. The weather was nice, but cloudy. Our route was a direct ascent from behind the Nature Center to the ridgeline on which Cumulus was located. Todd and I ran two or three miles down the Dew Mound trail, frequently looking up towards the ridgeline for the “perfect” line of ascent. The goal was to limit the amount of bushwhacking and to avoid steep cliff bands as much as possible. However, this ended up not being the case. We trudged our way up through brush, Devil’s Club, thorn bushes, alder, and cliff bands for probably 2500’ of vertical. Finally, we made it out and discovered a grassy slope that seemed to lead right to the ridge. Todd and I happily traversed across a few rock bands and found our way to the clearing. We then proceeded up a long, sustained grind to what we believed was the ridgeline to Cumulus. The clouds thickened, lowered, and fully covered the ridge. Todd built a rock cairn to help us know where to head down from the descent. Visibility was very low.

Todd and I excitedly began the ridge climb to Cumulus! The climb was relentless, exposed, mysterious, and unforgiving. False summits littered the ridgeline. Since the visibility so low, we never had a view of the summit. We simply pushed onward and upward with only the goal of reaching the summit in mind. The ridgeline was more difficult that we predicted. We grossly underestimated Cumulus Mountain.

Todd and I finally reached a point on the ridge that seemed near the summit. However, the angle steepened, the rocks became more broken, and the exposure significantly increased.

Surprisingly, Cumulus was testing our limits of comfort. We came to a jagged drop-off and wondered how in the world we would get to the summit. Todd slowly and carefully climbed down a rotten gully. He grabbed my feet and helped me get down. We made our way up a narrow slab of rocks to “solid” ground. My legs and hands were shaking. Almost there! We continued toward the summit, but a vertical wall of rock with deadly exposure on either side rudely confronted us. There seemed to be no way to move safely up or around. We peered into the depths and found nothing encouraging.

This was the end of the journey; at most, only a few hundred feet from the top.

Todd and I jointly felt the section was too risky and dangerous to navigate. Our hopes of climbing Cumulus Mountain were finished. At one point, I remember proclaiming to Todd that God gave me a message: You are almost at the end! In retrospect, I misinterpreted the message. I wanted to believe that it meant we were almost at the summit, rather than vertical, rotten rock will soon stymie you near the end. It is a painful experience to turn around so close to the top. It took hours of dedicated work to reach this point. Feelings of melancholy and disappointment permeated my soul. Todd was my savior. He shared comforting words that rejuvenated my optimism and sense of adventure. My feelings lingered for awhile, but quickly dissipated the longer I talked with Todd. We carefully retraced our steps down the long steep ridge and found the cairn he built several hours earlier.

We blasted down a glorious scree field and made our way to a glacier. Once at the glacier, the running was smooth and fast in the snow. We were quickly at tree line. Todd found a bear trail and we headed down. Fortunately, we only saw one black bear from a distance. Nevertheless, it was a spooky experience. Todd and I yelled, grunted, and howled the entire way down the game trail. We challenged any bear to look into our souls. After several minutes of fast and exhilarating running, we landed right on the Crow Pass trail, four miles from the Nature Center. It was a lovely run back to the truck. The outing ended at 12:40 a.m., for a total of 7 hours 30 minutes of pure thrill seeking.

The next day Todd called me at home and said, “Jason, you know what, we almost climbed Korohusk Peak (7030’)! As it turned out, due to the low clouds, poor visibility, and unknown nature of the route, we ended up taking the wrong ridgeline. All along, we were not on the ridgeline to Cumulus, but on the diabolical ridgeline to Korohusk! Oh my goodness! No wonder the adventure was sustained, relentless, steep, exposed, and never-ending. The phone call and concurrent analysis of the Chugach State Park map answered many questions. Todd; thanks for a GREAT adventure! What is the next one?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Little O'Malley Peak

Todd called me this morning and inquired into my interest for a run. Our goal was to get outside, philosophize about life, converse, gain some altitude, and enjoy a short easy run (of course, keeping our eyes open for opportunities to spice the route up a bit). We tossed around a few options, and finally settled on Little O'Malley Peak. The beauty of living in Anchorage is that you can gain access to the backcountry without having to drive for hours. The total outing was only 1.5 hours, but complex enough to satisfy the spirit. The first picture in this collection is taken from the saddle between False Peak and Little O'Malley Peak. Last week's termination dust quickly evolved into winter-like conditions.

At this point my breathing is arduous and lungs feel like they are going to explode. I am hanging on for dear life. Just kidding... It is always fun to create a pose that depicts strife and danger.

Near the summit of Little O'Malley Peak.

Todd cranking up the ridge with South Fork Campbell Creek as the backdrop.

The city of Anchorage as seen from the ridge. Fall colors remind us that it still is the Fall season!

I am affirmed of the grandeur of the mountains by barely discerning Todd within the contour of the ridge. Being in the mountains tends to put life's "difficulties" into perspective.

Todd and I spice up our route by heading down a short, but funky ridge.

Todd is inspecting the landscape to determine a line that would take us through the brush with the least amount of frustration. A few years ago we had a backcountry adventure that hailed "The Trees" by Rush as our theme song...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Termination Dust

This morning I awoke to a fresh coat of termination dust in the mountains. I am not surprised given that I experienced a snow storm yesterday while climbing North Suicide Peak. Termination dust is bittersweet because it signals the beginning of the end of Fall. The glorious days of mountain running without snow trades places with the excitement of alpine climbing, snowshoeing in the backcountry, and skate skiing. Life is good.      

Sunday, September 20, 2009

North Suicide Peak

On a whim Sunday afternoon I decided to climb North Suicide Peak. The weather was marginal, but I jumped at any chance to climb one of the Chugach State Park 5000 ft. peaks. What I like about North Suicide is that it is relatively easy. To me this means I only have to drive for 20-minutes to the trail head, run 9.0 miles round trip, I don't have to negotiate significant exposure, and I can experience a bit of sensation seeking all in under 4 hours. The first picture in this collection is a view of the Suicide Peaks, with North Suicide being on the left. All pictures were taken with my cell phone because my digital camera said, "Change Battery Pack" just as I went to click my first picture. Thank goodness for cell phones!

This picture was taken somewhere in Hausers Gully. You can see Rabbit Lake.

The infamous Hausers Gully that runs along the right edge of Windy Gap. It is fairly steep with loose scree that makes climbing somewhat laborious and frustrating. However, the rocks on the side of the chute provide adequate handholds and footing.

During February of 2007, my friend Todd Kasteler and I ascended Hausers Gully with crampons, ice-ax, and helmet. We eventually reached the summit of South Suicide Peak.

Todd snapped a photo of me just prior to entering Hausers Gully.

North Suicide Peak as seen from Hausers Gully.

North Suicide Peak as seen from Windy Gap.

Looking down half of Hausers Gully.

A view from the top of North Suicide.

You can see Turnagain Arm in the distance.

My friend Rob DeVelice snapped this photo of me on the summit of North Suicide Peak in 2005.

I am holding the summit register for North Suicide Peak.

The wind was blowing and it was snowing at the summit! The clouds moved in and out, so I didn't stay long on the summit. I wanted to find my way down and locate Hausers Gully before my vision got obscured by clouds. Oh, the joys of climbing in Alaska!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Denali National Park: Mount Margaret

My family and I spent two brilliant days camping in Denali National Park. The Fall colors, 70 degree weather, cloudless skies, heavenly sunlight, full moon, uninterrupted panoramic views, and the total presence of The Mountain converged on a near perfection adventure. The first picture in this collection is taken from my truck window on Friday, September 4 in Cantwell, Alaska, approximately 20 miles from Denali National Park.

Fall colors in Denali National Park.

On Saturday, September, 5 my wife and kids decided to take a 6 hour bus ride into the park and I set my sights on a solo backcountry adventure to climb Mount Margaret. The route commenced by running up Savage River.

I picked my way up this valley and onto the ridge.

3,000 feet later I was standing on top of Primrose Ridge.

Mount Margaret (5,059 ft.) can be seen way off in the distance. I thoroughly enjoyed the run along Primrose Ridge to the summit.

I ran into a Ewe (female sheep) and her lamb. They were very friendly and didn't seem concerned with me at all. I just kept walking closer and closer thinking that at some point they would either run or mama would charge me. Luckily, they were intent on eating and basking in the Alaskan sunlight. I didn't mind because I got several quintessential photos of the sheep with Mt. McKinley as the backdrop. Wow!

The long and winding road through Denali National Park...not to mention an awesome view of The Mountain as seen from the summit of Mount Margaret.

We camped near Riley Creek.