Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Lines: Paikea's Journey and Divine Providence

In May 0f 2004, an international crew of climbers gathered at my family home in Anchorage to embark on a two-week expedition to the Tokositna glacier. Specifically, the area immediately South of Mount Hunter, directly below the 1000-1400m South faces of both Thunder Mountain and Mount Providence. Jay Piggott (New Zealand), Jeremy Frimer (Canada), and Jay Burbee (Canada) were my companions on this expedition. Jay and I completed new routes to the summit ridges of each peak, Paikea's Journey (IV WI5 M5 (1200m) on Thunder Mountain and Divine Providence (V WI4 M6 (1400m) on Mount Providence. We shared our basecamp area with three climbers from Colorado (Steve Su, Roy Leggett, and Andy Johnson). Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi stated that it was the largest congregation of climbers on this glacier that he remembers. Lots of laughs! Below, a photo of our basecamp on the Tokositna below the South face of Thunder Mountain.

Jay Burbee (Burb) and Jer made two single-push attempts on the right buttress of Thunder, visible in the above photo. As of 2008, there have been at least 5 attempts on this feature. As far as I know, it remains unclimbed. They found climbing to 5.10 A2, and snow wallowing to die for. The upper, non-visible portion of this buttress is reportedly a sustained and gendarmed ridge.

Jay Piggott and I turned our attention to an unclimbed couloir on the southeast face of Thunder, which turned out to be an excellent outing in single-push alpine style. At right, is me soloing the opening pitch of Paikea's Journey, consisting of unconsolidated thin snice (snow-ice) over rock. I threw a line down for Jay to follow this.

Following this pitch, we simulcimbed a bunch of 50 degree snow and ice. Then, we found a gorgeous goulotte filled with solid grey alpine ice up to 70 degrees which led into steeper mixed terrain. Below is me leading out on the crux moderate mixed pitch past a chockstone roof.

Below is a view down the couloir. Nice exposure!

Jay took this photo (below) of me leading the lower section of a steep ice pitch that led us to a small col where we finished the route. Very nice!

Here is a self portrait at the top of the route (Below). We didn't continue to the true summit of Thunder. This was back in the day when Twight had a lot of us alpine climbers convinced that summits didn't matter. I still feel that if you are somewhere for technical climbing only, it doesn't necessarily matter. But, these days I feel pretty strongly that summits are an integral part of the alpine experience.

After we topped out, we rappelled and downclimbed the couloir, waiting four hours under a small roof for rockfall to abate. In all, the route took us 17 hours basecamp to basecamp. We had a great time on what is destined to become a moderate classic!

Following our return to basecamp, we rested through several days of marginal weather and then embarked on a single push ascent of a new route on Mount Providence's South face, starting in the evening this time. Below is a self-portrait of Jay and I at the beginning of the first technical pitch on the route, after 800 feet or so of snow climbing.

And here I am leading a classy grade IV pitch through the first goulotte on the route (below left).

Following this pitch, we climbed several hundred feet of snow to enter the crux section of the route, characterized by well-protected mixed and thin-ice climbing as the dark of night set in. Jay remembers the pitch we are approaching as being very pumpy. Here is the approach slope leading to the mixed ground (below). In a fat ice year, this pitch could fill in with moderate ice climbing.

Following the mixed ground, we simul-climbed many pitches of moderate ice and mixed ground to access the summit ridge, where we again chose to call our route complete. Below, find a video Jay took at the top of the route!

And here is me on one of many rappels back down to the glacier (below).

The route took us 13 hours roundtrip from basecamp, climbing in single-push alpine style. It was great fun and provided a lot of classic alpine climbing terrain. I'll probably head back to the Tokositna again at some point, possibly to try a few more lines in this area specifically.

Steve, Andy and Roy repeated Dream Sacrifice (and completed a new variation (which they dubbed The Bums Lost) to Deadbeat, both on Thunder Mountain's South face. I like the photo below, as it show the camraderie we built with our glacial neighbors, whom we had a great time joking and partying with.