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North America, United States, Alaska, Kichatna Spires, Kichatna Spire, as Good as it Gets

Kichatna Spire, As Good as It Gets. In July Nathan Martin and I completed a new route up the center of the central buttress on Kichatna Spire’s east face. This was the sixth ascent of the peak, with each ascent creating a new route. The east face is the mountain’s most continuously steep and largest face, rising 3,000 feet above the Shadows Glacier. Ours, the fourth route to ascend this face, rises directly to the summit. It is more than half free climbing and is composed of generally very good rock, though it becomes a bit flaky on pitches 12 and 13. From there to the summit the climbing is mixed, involving rock, snow, and easy ice.

We first attempted this route in July 2000, in capsule-style with a portaledge and haulbags. This attempt failed after we spent 11 days on the face and completed nine 60-meter pitches. From our high point we had hoped to complete the route in a single push, leaving the ledge and haulbags to be picked up during the descent. We climbed only two and a half of the days, the remaining days being spent cooped up in the ledge trying to stay dry in torrential rains. Water poured in through the fly’s clip-in loop, ran down the straps, and flooded our 3-by 6-foot home. This occurred after meticulous preparation to safeguard against this exact scenario, which I had experienced before on Middle Triple Peak. The best laid plans…. Stubborn and determined though we were, retreat became a dash to safety after five days of continuous downpour turned to snow. As water froze and turned to massive, life-threatening sheets of ice, we rapped. We descended in crampons down overhanging rock walls covered in verglas and flowing with icy waterfalls. Full survival mode.

Two weeks later the snow level dropped to 3,500 feet. Jay Hudson came to our rescue two days past our intended pick-up, after four attempts to fly in. We were the last climbers in the Alaska Range, and he wanted to quit worrying about us. This was nearly his demise. Upon landing, his plane sunk in the mushy snow, its wings iced up, and visibility diminished as darkness closed in and snowfall increased. On our fourth attempt to take off we became airborne but could not gain altitude. The iced wings, tail wind, and payload kept us mere feet above the crevasse-and-rock-strewn glacier at over sixty m.p.h. Jay turned to me and said, “We’re not out of this yet!” But there’s a good reason why we fly with Hudson, and before long we were talking about beer and showers.

Though I had just experienced one of the worst expeditions of my 20 and we had spent weeks on our backs, after two beers we were making plans for the next year. Hudson wasn’t sure that he wanted to be included and walked out of the Fairview shaking his head and mumbling about selling his planes and taking up fishing.

In 2001 we were back but had just missed one of the finest spells of weather in recent history. People had been summiting left and right in Alaska, while I’d been working the Eco-Challenge in Fairbanks. A month of fantastic weather was coming to an end. Though it had rained for the past two days, Hudson flew us in through improving skies. Within 24 hours we had BC established and four pitches fixed. Then it rained for eight days. On day 10 we started our alpine style attempt and 52 hours later were back on the ground. Our ascent had been completed in rain, snow, and swirling clouds, the summit reached in a total whiteout, and the descent made in a raging storm. The wind had howled, and our ropes hung up. We had given it our all, and we were successful. Thank God it was over. Yippee!

As Good as It Gets (VI 5.11c A3+), completed on July 10, is named for the quality of the climbing—also for the atrocious weather the route was climbed in.

Jay Smith, AAC