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North America, United States, Alaska, Hayes Range, Mt. Balchen, The Handicapped Route

Moria, Thunder Ridge; other ascents. On May 28 Ilona Barash and I flew into Betties, with the Arrigetch under a heavy blanket of snow. Gates of the Arctic National Park rangers advised us that travel would be impossible without snowshoes this early in the year and suggested that we choose an alternate location for our trip, but we were bullheaded and less than 100 air miles from our destination. Lance, of Betties Air, flew us over the Arrigetch, and after seeing the snow pack firsthand we decided to have a go at it.

The reality of a trip only sinks in when I find myself sitting by a small lake in the middle of the tundra listening to the fading whine of a propeller, as our last connection to the world turns into a small speck in the sky. The second time is no different from the first in that respect. Nine days after landing at Circle Lake, we attempted a direct start to the Brill-McGregor-Merrand route on the north buttress of Central Maiden. We found a bail piton atop pitch 1, and were turned back by loose rock after climbing a second pitch.

The following day, we climbed the North-northwest Ridge of Parabola. Previously, Jeff Pflueger described climbing this route to a subsidiary summit, but not topping out due to iced-up slabs (AAJ 2003, see photo p. 220). Climbing earlier in the season, we found kinder conditions and were able to climb the remaining pitches to the true summit, where we found a cairn. We topped out in the midst of a multi-hour Arctic sunset after a perfect bluebird day. The severe and awesome cirque to our south glowed orange as we downclimbed several hundred feet to the first rappel point. Snow and ice in the escape gully denied us an easy decent and forced us to retrace the up route.

Both Ilona and I consider climbing Parabola to be our finest day in the mountains. The climbing is enjoyable and engaging, and the small summit offers fantastic views of the entire Arrigetch. At IV 5.7, the North-northwest Ridge of Parabola is destined to become a moderate classic.

After moving our camp over a pass to the Hot Springs Creek valley, we set off on an unclimbed spur ridge of Moria that we later dubbed Thunder Ridge (IV 5.6). Upon reaching a subsidiary summit, we began hearing ambiguous rumbling noises far off. Rain, thunder, hail, lightning, copious downclimbing, several traverses along wet ledge systems, and about 10 double-rope rappels through the night got us back to flat ground.

We spent our last few days in the Arrigetch decompressing at Takahula Lake before Jay of Brooks Range Aviation brought us back to Betties. Despite rain on nine out of 22 days, we had better, more stable weather than on our July 2003 trip.

Addendum: Ilona and I climbed two new routes (previously unpublished) in the Arrigetch in July 2003. Citadel, South Face (5.9) ascends the obvious chimney system for four pitches. We found a bail sling on the second pitch, then no other sign of previous attempts. Aquarian Wall (5.7) wanders up the face just north of the first lake in the Aquarius Valley.

Yoav Altman, AAC