Friday, April 19, 2013


After a total failure in the mountains it's difficult to say anything.  Yes, we tried, pretty hard, to climb, but we suspect it was -40 in basecamp and as rock climbers, Elliot Gaddy, Bayard Russell and I love all our fingers and toes.
The full story?  Thanks to the American Alpine Club's Copp/Dash award, Sterling Rope, Nemo Tents, Outdoor Research, and Ibex, we landed in the Hayes Range on April 2nd to attempt the unclimbed South Face of Mount Deborah.  During three days of freezing cold (but not too cold) weather we skied to the base of the face intent on finding a safe route.  
These three days of reconnaissance were vital to our understanding of the place, its snow patterns, and potential routes on the unclimbed South Face and their prospective dangers.  After 48 hours of watching and waiting, we skied over a pass to scope out a descent.  Back in base camp we geared up to make an attempt on the face, but bad weather stymied us for five days.  
An arctic front settled over base camp after the storm.  Our feet froze, our sleeping bags were sheathed with ice, the hot sauce congealed.  We dreamed about being warm.  But we also dreamed of Deborah: restlessness saw us packing to head up to our Advanced Base Camp.  As soon as the sun went down the three of us huddled in our -40 and -20 sleeping bags and all the clothes we brought, the alarm set for four.  We couldn't think of how technical M7 climbing would be possible.  
I told Bayard I'd never been that relaxed before trying a route.  He said he felt the same: we reasoned we were too busy trying to keep warm to worry about what lay ahead of us.
After some hours of sleep and many hours of melting water we started skiing towards the face.  I have never encountered cold so intense.  None of us could feel our feet.  The day before, the white gas in base camp had refused to light in the morning.  Every five minutes of skiing forced fifteen of foot swinging and jumping jacks.  We wondered what it would be like on the ridge, blowing, 6,000 feet higher.
Bayard prudently turned around to warm his feet up.  Elliot I, greener and eager, continued for another half-an-hour or so before we, too, sprinted towards Advanced Base Camp in order to save our feet.
I am wracked with guilt about not getting on our route; to have such an opportunity and squandered it leaves me feeling adrift.  I have not slept much since our return.  But I suppose we can take solace in the certainty that climbing would have resulted in frostbite.  
Some people fail by not getting off the couch.  Others fail by freezing to death in their tents.  Ours was a failure: total, absolute.  But one we returned from unscathed.  
Paul Roderick flew us out the same day.  "February conditions" had settled over the Alaska Range.  My intrepid Danish friend Kris had climbed a route in the Kichatnas during the "warmer" weather window.  He reported -23 degree tempetures on the summit.  All three team members suffered from frostnip.  Our good friends Peter Doucette and Silas Rossi reported similar "unclimbable" conditions in the Ruth Gorge, though the lads are still in the mountains, and will hopefully get a chance to climb! 
My favorite part of the trip, besides the requisite Fairview outing, was flying back with Bayard.  We got back to North Conway on a sunny, 60 degree day.  Rick Wilcox grinned ear to ear when he saw us back, as did everyone else.  Hugs, smiles, pats on the back: what a way to come home.  Freddie Wilkinson, Bayard and I went sport climbing the next day, toes intact.  But, gasping for the next quickdraw, I keep thinking about a return.  I've just come back from my second "Deborah Training Run."  Great things take time.
The project has weaseled itself into our subconscious.  I'll be back.

And now the photos.
Here it goes again.

Bayard's house, midnight or so.

Freddie's hanging scale of lies.

Elliot waits for his bags.  Always stressful. 

Maps are a good thing to have I guess.

The greatest bar in the world.

"A wretched hive of scum and villainy." -Obi Wan Kenobi

Last time I was here I went skinny dipping.  That was last time, though.

Hipster bikes and kitties.

Beaver the cat is really cool.

That's a nice looking kitty!  (Okay, okay, now its one of those dreaded cat blogs.  It could be worse.  I could be talking about my feelings on the internet.)

We became incredibly comfortable taking showers and making coffee while Talkeetna Air Taxi tried to do their jobs.  It was awesome.  Photo by Bayard.
Elliot did a great job getting us in there.

NH Union Break! [ed. note.  Peter and Silas probably don't have union breaks.  Too good.]

Bayard unfurls a brand new Sterling Photon.  A good rope, especially for fans of Science Fiction.  Which we are.

Picking a line.  No obvious solutions.

Elliot is the guide's guide.  This guy makes Shackleton look like Elton John.

Union break!

The only day we could have skied in our woolies was the first day. 

Building walls for our advanced base camp.

New England craftsmanship.

Getting ready to ski over the Yanert pass to scope our descent.

Getting cold.

Moki tent stuck in a storm.

The storm warmed things up.  Elliot gets in deep with the sharks.  Russell hustles.

What WOULD Voytek do?

Normally this snow would be avalanching everywhere but it was too cold when the weather broke.

A good loft day. 

Digging out ABC.

In two puffy jackets. 

The night before our attempt.  No photos from the morning because it was too cold for bare fingers.

Me on a typical morning.  Photo by Bayard.
Warming up at base camp, waiting to fly out.  Over it. 

Bayard reunited with Bailey and his grigri.  Happy non-campers!


1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael, I believe we were in the range around the same time. It was super cold to be sure. Hope you come back, AK has a lot of great mountains! Samuel Johnson