Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Thriller Arete of Silly Wizard Peak

"We have got to cook dinner on the other side of the bivy boulder," I gasped. Exposed at base camp to an oppressive heat, our only hope was to seek shelter behind the one large boulder on the glacier. We did so, and after a few hours felt better and more rejuvenated. We were nearing the end of our first full rest day after the needle and though we certainly could have used more rest, we knew we would be moving in the morning. When blessed with good weather I always feel thankful, but also obligated (in a good way!) to make maximum use of the gift. There was a line, a long ridge rising from a jumbled icefall that lookeed fun and most importantly, safe.

The next morning after a liesurely start we were climbing towards the base of the ridge. To avoid sloughing, hot, 50 degree snow slopes I lead a direct start onto the ridge. I moved carefully through 5.7X terrain, over polished blocks peppered with gravel and loose stone. Max lead one more rope stretcher of low 5th turning to 4th and we were out of the dangerous stuff and on to a broad alpine ridge with water running down slabs, refreshing the purple and yellow flowers that clung to moss hummocks hanging from the stone. The next thousand feet or so appeared to be quite moderate, fourth class and 45 degree snow slopes at most. We ditched our gear, tied jackets around our waists and started climbing. The terrain was easy, but very classy in a mountaineering sense. The ridge required scrambling, but never of a difficulty where one had to take their eyes from the magnificant scene that surrouned.

We climbed continuously, seperated by a few hundred feet, each basking in the beauty of our position. Finally, a cone of talus unlike any I had ever seen rose in front of me. "The summit!", I think to myself. I climbed up the suprisingly steep talus and then found myself suspended on a tight rope ridge of talus with drop offs on both sides. My brain wondered at how the puzzle of rock had locked itself into an airy ridge. "Is it solid?", I thought. I stepped out tenitivly and found that it did feel solid, so I kept moving. "No way!", I yelled to Max. He didn't hear me, ascending in his own world. No matter, he would see soon enough. Another corner turned had given me a view of the remainder of the route. The West Ridge of Forbidden popped into my mind, as did the West Ridge of Prusik, and so many like natured climbs.
This was our own ridge of such sorts, with thousands of feet of exposure below our feet.
Only one red light flashed in my brain. We were soloing and had no rope. When Max arrived I could see in his eyes similar thoughts. The ridge looked to be very easy, around 5.6 or 5.7 in difficulty, but absurdly exposed. We had no rock shoes or chalk, just our boots. Although not an art we practice on a regular basis these days, Max and I both have an extensive background in solo climbing. We both agree this is one of the most key tools in our skill set.

I decided to test the waters, knowing full well I would most likely immerse myself in the rambling hand traverse in the sky. We moved together, seperated by 100 feet or so. We passed over the summit and continued on the ridge, aiming for a col that allowed access to the glacier descent. Few words were spoken. Although the climbing was easy, the exposure had us locked in intense concentration. Once at the col we relaxed, flipped on our radio, snagged a weather report, and then sat back and enjoyed NPR's world music spotlight. The featured artist? Scotlands, Silly Wizard. It was decided. The name of the peak would be Silly Wizard Peak. Later, when our helicopter pilot picked us up, he let us know of Michael Jackson's passing, hence the name of our route: The Thriller Arete.

Our descent went smoothly. Simple snow plodding had us back at our gear in about an hour. The views of Devil's Thumb were amazing, so we spent the next few hours there before enjoying a calm, mezmorizing walk home in the fading light of another Alaskan day.

Summary: The first ascent of Silly Wizard Peak via the Thriller Arete: 5.7, 50 degree snow, 3000 feet.
Max Hasson and Jens Holsten, June 13, 2009

1 comment:

Matt said...

Absolutely fantastic. Sounds like an absolute blast.

I really like your blog. I found it early this year, and always await your posts. Its adventure without the fluff. something to aspire to. very cool.