American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Alaska, Kichatna Spires, Kichatna Spire, Black Crystal Arête

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Kichatna Spire, Black Crystal Arête. Chad Kellogg and I completed a new route (to the summit) on Kichatna Spire (8,985') in the remote Kichatna Mountains. The Black Crystal Arête (3,000', 5.10 A2) climbs the striking south ridge of the spire, and is the first route to ascend the peak’s southern aspect. This was the seventh independent route to the summit, and the eighth ascent to the top of the spire. We accomplished the climb by a single push, 25.5-hour round-trip effort from our camp on the Shadows Glacier.

After two brief attempts, we left on the morning of July 13 during a rare spell of good weather. We accessed the complicated arête via seven pitches up its east wall, below its first major gendarme. On pitch two, I led an unlikely 5.10+ sequence through small roofs and delicate flakes: the first key to the route. Once we were on the arête, several gendarmes required much route finding but went mostly free, with a few points of aid. Chad’s “Bomb-bay’s Away” pitch proved exciting, as a seemingly stable booger of rock, five times his size, flushed out of a chimney as he climbed it and stood on top of it. Overhanging aid through shifty chockstone flakes followed.

The ridge, however, dead- ended into a steep headwall 900 feet below the summit. Somewhat discouraged, we considered our options. Straight up, a 100-foot off width disappeared into blank slabs. To the right, overhanging cracks and chimneys offered little hope. But to the left, the most amazing feature became apparent.

Two dead-horizontal seams jutted for 200 feet into what could be construed as more promising terrain. Chad led out. One for the feet and one for the hands, these near perfect “cracks” gained instant

2,000-foot exposure over the south face. It was an amazing traverse and another major key to the route. Above, I got the “Icebox Desperado” pitch—an ice-smeared vertical chimney that required some brilliantly nasty aid and free up disintegrating cracks and what not.

Several more pitches led directly to the summit ridge, only 200 feet from the summit. An easy boulder move got us up the summit block. We were on top in the late evening, not a breath of wind, and hardly a cloud in the sky. We spent nearly 45 minutes on the summit before starting the long and cold descent. A repeat of the traverse with frozen fingers and toes and 20 rappels later, we reached the western cirque of the aptly named Shadows Glacier as the rising sun again warmed us. We named the route for magnificent, near-faultless black quartz crystals on the ridge. Some were upwards of two feet long!

We also made two attempts on the Citadel. The first was a week spent on its sheer east wall, where continuous rain hampered our efforts. We also made a single-push attempt on the peak’s south ridge, reaching a point 800 feet below the summit before descending.

Also of note, we had to leave earlier than planned because the Shadows Glacier was quickly melting. Each day we would watch the fern line rapidly move up toward our airstrip. A combination of warm temperatures and less-than-normal snow pack was surely a factor. In general it looks like the Kichatna glaciers have recently been taking a real hit. We called Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi to come rescue us, before we might have had to walk out.

Joe Puryear, AAC

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