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North America, United States, Alaska, Kichatna Spires, Various Activity

Various activity. Jen Olson (Canmore, Alberta) and I (Vancouver, B.C.) arrived in Talkeetna on May 23. That same day Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi flew us to the Cul-de-Sac Glacier in the heart of the Kichatna Spires. The weather gods were with us then, but we would pay our dues eventually.

Paul planted us directly below our main objective: the southwest face of Sunrise Spire, which rises for 800m above the glacier. The face is divided into four buttresses by three distinctive weaknesses.

We intended to attempt a crack system on the better rock to the right of the rightmost weakness, following Klemen Mali’s 2002 attempt. Surrounding us on all sides were the impressive faces of the Citadel, the Steeple, the intimidating north face of Kichatna, Mt. Jeffers, the Dark Tower, and Cemetery Spire.

For the next two weeks we woke to blue skies every morning. We climbed Sunrise Spire via the Southeast Couloir, which we hoped would be our descent option from the southwest face. On the southwest face we fixed 150m of rope and made a summit bid.

The rock we encountered on Sunrise was friable and gritty. The 200m that formed the steepest part of our climb were characterized by loose, flaky rock and seamed-out cracks. The aiding and climbing above our fixed lines (which we threw off, intending to get them later since we planned to descend the east side) was tenuous and engaging. Past the steep buttress we had anticipated less demanding terrain. However, we encountered burly pitches of rock that could be described as kitty litter. A strenuous 60m icy, overhanging offwidth capped our day in the dwindling 1 a.m. light. We huddled together for a couple of hours of frozen head-nodding. In the morning we climbed another snowy offwidth, to a heartbreaking 50m below the summit ridge, before bailing the way we had come and retrieving our fixed ropes. The decision to retreat was especially hard, as we knew descending the couloir on the backside would be far less demanding than rappelling the entire face.

After several rest days we climbed 450m of new ground on Cemetery Spire, following an obvious couloir that diagonally splits the west face. We were stopped, though, 50m below the summit by a lack of wide gear. Two days later we climbed Peak 7,270', beside Mt. Jeffers, by a Grade II route and called Paul for a ride out of Dodge.

The weather gods decided we’d had too much high pressure. The skies closed in, and the winds picked up. We waited eight days by eating, drinking, reading, and going crazy, before Paul was able to come and pick us up, 23 days after dropping us off, for breakfast at the Roadhouse Grill in Talkeetna. We came out to the tragic news of the disappearance and deaths of Karen McNeill and Sue Nott. If we had forgotten amidst our own drama, this reminded us that the most important part of going out is not getting to the top, but coming home.

We thank the Mugs Stump Award for the generous support.

Katherine Fraser, Canada