Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reoccurring Revelations and Reconnoiterings


A beautiful pinnacle just above basecamp.

Another spring has begun, another trip to the rugged Revelation mountains has come to an end. Seth and I ran into more problems this year than we had in previous trips, but overall everything went smooth.

After waiting to fly in for five days in Anchorage, Seth and I finally got in the air with Joe Schoester of Sportsman Air Service. As we flew in, Andrew McClain and friends were flying out after spending nearly two weeks skiing steep couloirs in the tightly contoured range.

Weather was marginal for our chosen destination and, intent on staying to our fixed plan, we spent the next SEVEN DAYS waiting at Rob Jones' lodge on the Big River. We made no fewer than three attempts to land on a small pocket glacier, thwarted by high winds, low visibility, flat light and a malfunctioning Super Cub. YIKES! Perhaps I was just having to cash in on a little weather karma I've built up over the last few years.

We had plenty of time in the first week to become quite good at Sudoku.

We FINALLY made it out after a total of 12 days of waiting, and none too soon! Our chosen preliminary objective was a massive horrific 4,300-foot face on an unclimbed 9,000-foot peak. We spent the first several days at camp contemplating the route, conditions and our sanity. This peak was M-E-A-N! To our best knowledge, this peak had only been attempted once in the mid 1990s. No one had ever even seen the peak from our chosen side. It has been described as a "hopeless labyrinth" and "perhaps the toughest climb in the range." From the looks of it both descriptions were spot on.

A view of our first objective from camp. Our main route is hidden from view.

The mercury skyrocketed in the day, causing massive melt-freeze cycles and cataclysmic avalanches throughout the late morning to late evening. Our supposed route could indeed be classified as a "death line." We stopped counting after 250 avalanches ripped down every part of the mountain in one afternoon. A crescendo of rockfall and roaring snow echoed off the valley's surrounding walls.

On one of the last nights where it actually dropped below freezing, we climbed 2,000-feet up the face before calling it. A narrow slot with great looking climbing arched above to the summit, but the mountain was simply too active. Anything that came off the upper slopes would barrage us without fail. It seemed we were just a few days too late in the season.

Seth climbing up the lower couloir of the west face of the unclimbed 9000-foot peak.

With that we shipped out to the main spine of the Revelations, landing at about 5,300-feet on the narrow rock infested glacier. We set our sites immediately to the unclimbed south ridge of the Angel. In 1967, Dave Roberts attempted the ridge, stopping some 700-feet below the summit. Food was running low and the glacier was melting faster than a snow cone in the Sahara.


The first morning we skied up to the base of the Angel, then scouted some other monoliths farther down glacier. By 6:30 the next morning we were kicking steps up to the Angel.


The climbing on the Angel could only be described as jaw-droppingly sublime. I led the first block of pitches, where we simulclimbed roughly 600-feet of terrain up to 5.8. An amazing little 5.8 chimney led to the first major gendarme which was passed by lowering off a hex. Several more great 5.7/5.8 moves led to another shorter simulclimbing block. The climbing was continuously incredible, the coarse alpine granite was perfect. Hoots and hollers echoed off a 7,900-foot peak called the Hydra as we continued up. Seven hours in, we came to a large drop-off and a pinnacle leading to a massive gendarme at about 8,100-feet. It looked doable but not without a little bit of aid.





Drenched with sweat due to the heat and with a long and complicated descent ahead of us, we decided to cash in for the night and start our rappels. We were eager to get back to camp and give it another shot with a few more key pieces of gear.

After some downclimbing and a rather heinous series of eight rappels over rope-eating flakes, we touched down on the glacier. Our descent went down the ridge before dropping into a slot we called the Black Gully. For the first time on the mountain we encountered poor rock that made rappel anchors hard to come by.

Seth Rappelling off of the Angel.

It remained extremely warm after that and never really dipped below freezing again. Destitute but determined to nab a first ascent of something, we attempted a route on the unclimbed South Horseman, only to get turned by nasty snow, ice and rockfall conditions. Next we faintly tried a route on an unclimbed 8,100-foot peak by the terrifying Golgotha. That too ended in deep snow avalanche-threatening snow. Later on in the day we returned to see that a natural slide had wiped out our tracks up the first few hundred feet of the route we had climbed.

The mountains seemed to be telling us we weren't welcome anymore and our food was down to almost nothing. What small patches of snow had served as our pilot's runway a week ago were melting out to blue ice and rocks by the hour.

Quite bummed about not getting to have another serious crack at the Angel, we packed up our stuff. The next day we hiked 18-miles down the Revelation Glacier to the Big River and Rob Jones' lodge.

A C-130 on a pleasure cruise down the Revelation Glacier


While we had to walk away empty handed this time, I feel we made some really good choices in tough situations.

However, in Dave Robert's book On the Ridge Between Life and Death he says:
From the vantage point of middle-aged nostalgia for meteoric youth, it is hard to congratulate yourself for prudence rather than for boldness. I still think Matt and I made the right decision on August 28, 1967. Yet of all the regrets I have about my years in the mountains, in terms of sheer simple “what-might-have-been” - even more than the pang of not accompanying Rick and Art to the top of Kichatna Spire – letting the Angel slip through our fingers when we were within 700 feet of the summit on a perfect day still stings the sharpest.

Throughout the entire walk out, on the flight back to Anchorage and especially now, situated in the many comforts of urban life I can say only one thing. I know exactly how he feels! We will be back soon.

More pictures available here

Thanks to the McNeill-Nott Award and Alpine Adventure Grant for making this trip possible!

4 comments:

Alastair said...

wow - I love this
"From the vantage point of middle-aged nostalgia for meteoric youth, it is hard to congratulate yourself for prudence rather than for boldness."
Great post, terrifying photos.
I'm thinking of taking up climbing but not sure I am brave enough...

Alastair said...

wow - I love this
"From the vantage point of middle-aged nostalgia for meteoric youth, it is hard to congratulate yourself for prudence rather than for boldness."
Great post, terrifying photos.
I'm thinking of taking up climbing but not sure I am brave enough...

Hendrik Morkel said...

Absolutely EPIC, loved it. Stunning photos, great writing, really loved this!

alpine endeavors said...

Absolutely EPIC, loved it. Stunning photos, great writing, really loved this!