Kichatna Spire, Voice of Unreason to summit ridge, and Whiteout Spire, Front Butt. After we festered for five days in the rain in downtown Talkeetna, the clouds parted, and Paul Roderick of TAT was finally able to fly Rob Owens, Roger Strong, and me into the Cul-de-Sac (a.k.a. Cool Sac) Glacier. Our goal was the unclimbed laser-cut “super couloir” slicing the middle of the northwest face of Kichatna Spire. The day after arriving, we hopped on the route, only to be shut down by massive, overhanging snow-mushrooms blocking the narrow chimney on pitch four.
We quickly shook off the disappointment and re-racked and re-packed for the following day, not wanting to waste good weather. We climbed a 10-pitch ice gully separating Kichatnafrom Gnomon Spire to the southwest. This line had been tried at least three times, but all suitors were stumped by hard aid on Kichatna’s west face, above the notch. We were no exception. One pitch up the granite above the col, Roger encountered thin, loose aid that would involve full big-wall tactics.
After these two slaps in the face, we figured we should just try to get up something for the sole purpose of standing on a summit. We made the first ascent of Whiteout Spire’s northwest face via a scrappy gully line. The feature probably would have had ice in it, but after last year’s record dry summer we were left with shattered rock and frozen dirt. Our Front Butt (D+ M5,450m) had three technical mixed pitches, with steep snow climbing below and above. The guidebook calls this diminutive peak “one of the easiest peaks in the range.” Better than nothing, I guess.
With the bluebird weather still holding, we made one last effort on Kichatna, via a line that looked interesting: a steep chimney system, on the far left margin of the northwest face, splitting theslight buttress immediately right of the gully that separates Kichatna from the next peak to the north. On May 1 I crossed the bergschrund around 7:00 a.m. and launched up an impressive steep chimney system that we followed for six pitches. This eventually gained a 300m ribbon of blue ice that led to the ridge. The chimney involved sustained mixed pitches that went all free, except a few meters of A1 on pitch three.
We climbed all day, leading blocks of three to five pitches, with the two seconds jumaring for speed. The seconds’ packs contained the bare minimum gear: two liters of water each, Clif Bars and Shots, bagel sandwiches, a stove and a liter of fuel, belay jackets, and a light tarp.
We gained the north ridge around 10:30 p.m. in a building snowstorm, so we exercised good judgment and began the descent. We rappelled all night in constant spindrift, reaching the glacier and our skis at sunrise.
We named our new line The Voice of Unreason (700m, ED2 M7 WI5 Al), and it required a 25-hour round trip “day” to complete. Our 13-pitch route terminated at its juncture with the 1966 original route up the north ridge, about 200 vertical meters below the summit. Of course, we would have liked to stand on the summit of Kichatna Spire, since it had only been climbed seven times before. We were impressed with how sustained the route was, with its many consecutive M6 and M7 pitches. Both M7 crux pitches involved three-dimensional body English, technical torques, and a whole lot of groveling to pull through overhanging off-width/chimney features. In addition to hard dry-tooling, the route featured aesthetic ice features, like an inch-wide vein of ice on the second pitch and a foot-wide, super-tight runnel on pitches six and seven. The final handful of pitches wound up fun WI4 punctuated by M5 chockstones.
Our trip would not have happened without the generous support of the Mugs Stump Award and Arc’teryx.
Sean Isaac, Canada