EARLY SPRING IN THE HIGH ATACAMA

As part of the ‘Lost Temple of the Inca’ project with Bedrock Film Works I traveled to the volcano Llullaillaco (6,723m) in the Atacama desert of Chile to assist in a scientistic study being preformed by Colorado University in Boulder and to shoot the ruins that lie just below the summit and constitute the highest known Archeological site on the planet. 

The team flew into Antofagasta and purchased supplies before driving to San Pedro Del Atacama to begin acclimatizing. We then traveled to the site Zorritos for further acclimatization before arriving in our 4800m basecamp. 

We spent the following 2 weeks based from this basecamp climbing and working on a series of study plots. 

My climbing partner Preston Sowell and I made 2 attempts on the peak, the first was shut down by a wind storm which destroyed our tent and on the second I was successful in making the summit. I spent an hour on top examining and documenting the ruins where 3 children were sacrificed approximately 600 years ago. It was an incredible experience. 

 

LATE SPRING IN THE WRANGLE SAINT ELIAS

Alpinists Graham Zimmerman (USA/NZ) and Chris Wright (USA/UK) have returned from a fantastic and fruitful expedition to the St. Elias Mountains of Alaska that resulted in the first ascent of the West Face Direct (M6, 5.10X, A2+, 95 degrees, 6000') of Celeno Peak (13,395').

The pair departed from their home in Bend, Oregon on the 6th f May and traveled to the small town of McCarthy, AK by way of Anchorage. They arrived in McCarthy in the late morning of the nd were picked up by Jay Claus from the Ultima Thule Lodge who flew them into the Canyon Creek Glacier. The Canyon Creek is nestled into the Western side of a group of peaks within the Wrangells known as the Twaharpies.ising from the head of the glacier is the West Face of Celeno Peak, the climbers’ objective.

Jay Claus made the first ascent of the peak in April 2012. It was fortuitous that he flew Zimmerman and Wright into the glacier. As they flew, he was able to provide very precise beta on the best descent options from the peak. Zimmerman and Wright are very thankful to Claus for this beta as well as for the flight into basecamp. This was both climbers’ first trip into the Wrangell Mountains. The stunning beauty of the peaks and the expanse of range impressed them immensely; alongside the Saint Elias Mountains, these peaks continued to the horizon in every direction during the flight into the glacier.

In basecamp, a storm pounded the range the evening of the h and the h before clearing on the 10t. A forecast then showed a week‐long weather window, prompting the team to launch on a direct line up the West face of Celeno Peak at 1 am on the 1h after waiting two days for the mountain to clear.

The route began with 2,000ft of snow and ice climbing to 70 degrees, which the climbers ascended unroped. A small section of this climbing had to be completed while exposed to objective hazard from above. With an impetus placed on climbing quickly, the team spent less than 15 minutes exposed the hazard. This placed them on a mixed spur they planned to climb directly to the summit of the peak.

Zimmerman led the day's first block of pitches through fantastic mixed climbing, sustained at M4 to M5 with a stout M6 chimney crux. Wright then led two moderate, yet extremely loose, pitches that placed them at 3,000ft above the start of the route. There, they stopped in the late afternoon to bivy. They dug a platform into a thin snow ridge on the crest of the spur, which offered a relatively comfortable bivy free of objective hazard.

100 feet above this bivy was a geological contact between the granitic lower half of the route and the metamorphic rock that defined the upper half. This metamorphic rock presented above the team’s bivy as a severely overhanging headwall. Wright continued his block on the morning of the 13th, leading two moderate pitches that led to what appeared to be a weakness in the wall above. He then spent 3+ hours leading the route’s crux, a wildly steep and loose pitch of 5.10X A2+ that can only be described as “totally f*%ked and a very compelling reason for this route to not be repeated by future parties”. The culmination of the pitch came while he was making the final aid moves through a roof and dislodged a large section of rocks, damaging one of the ropes and crushing a carabiner lower on the pitch.

After dealing with the damaged rope (fortunately the core shot was close to one of the ends), Zimmerman took the lead and carried the team through two more loose but moderate pitches of rock climbing to the top of the rock band and a 3x4ft platform on which they melted water and sat out the heat of the day. While this day resulted in less than 500' of progress, it allowed access to generally less steep climbing above.

Departing their small perch at 2 am, Zimmerman led through a final two high‐quality pitches of easy mixed before the route changed in nature from rock and mixed climbing to steep snow and ice. The team simul‐climbed to the top of the spur before cutting hard right to reach an iced gully that led to the summit. A short section of of this traverse was subject to exposure from a medium‐sized serac and the team moved through this section as quickly as possible. The day’s climbing consisted of approximately 2,500' of sustained 70 degree ice with short sections of 90 to 95 degree ice and snow as they crossed over flutings and between runnels. During this time the weather deteriorated, resulting in visibility being reduced to ~100'. It came as a huge relief when they reached a large flat snow ledge just below the summit in the early afternoon. Due to fatigue and the lack of visibility, they bivied on this ledge for the remainder of the day and evening.

On the 1h the climbers once again started before sunrise and made their way up 200' of moderate snow to the summit of the peak under clear skies. As the sun rose over the range, they marveled at the stunning ocean of mountains surrounding them with Mt Logan, Mt Saint Elias, University Peak and the Atna Peaks standing predominate.

The rest of the day was then spent following the first ascent route down the Northwest ridge to a couloir that provided access to the glacier below. The 3 miles of ridge climbing proved stunningly elegant, reminiscent of sections of the West Ridge of Mount Hunter in the Central Alaska range. Reaching the couloir at around 1 pm the climbers waited until the evening to rap and downclimb the 4,000ft couloir to the glacier below. This section was unpleasant and rather dangerous due to the low quality of rock that comprised the walls of the couloir.

Finally at 11:30 pm, they reached their skis on the glacier below and at 12:30 reached basecamp exhausted and hungry. The following morning the weather was still fair but the forecast was deteriorating significantly, so they called Jay Claus for a pickup. He graciously came out nearly immediately and picked up the team, dropping them off in McCarthy in the early afternoon. Zimmerman and Wright rallied back to Anchorage and on home to Oregon.

 

SUMMER IN THE LEANING TOWERS

[Below is a report written by Chris Kalman at the AAJ]

In August, Jenny Abegg, Alix Morris, Forest Woodward, and Graham Zimmerman visited the Leaning Towers of the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park. They made the arduous approach over two days, hiring horse packers to carry gear for the first six miles before camping at the Dewer Creek hot springs. The next morning, with the help of a local friend, they humped loads over a pass to the base of Hall Peak and set up camp.

Over the next ten days the four climbers split into two teams: Abegg and Morris, and Woodward and Zimmerman. Both teams began their trip by repeating routes established recently by Matthew Morriss and Winter Ramos (AAJ 2015).

Abegg and Morris then went on to establish Heart Like a Hippo (600’, 5.10) on the right side of the east face of Hall Peak. According to Abegg, Heart Like a Hippo was “full of fun moves and beautiful crack systems.” Following this success, Morris and Abegg attempted a variation to State of Wonder (300m, 5.11- C1, 2015), established by Jasmin Caton and Kate Rutherford on the east side of Wall Tower (AAJ 2016). After six pitches on State of Wonder, including free climbing the formerly C1 first pitch and fourth pitch (followed at 5.11+), they started up a left-facing corner to the right of the 2015 route. However, after one new 5.10 pitch they were halted by a widening crack for which they lacked protection. They rapped off to return to State of Wonder and continued up that route to the summit. Abegg is confident the full variation to the summit would go free, with steep crack climbing on high-quality rock.

Meanwhile, Woodward and Zimmerman put up two routes on the east face of Hall Peak: Shoeless Solidarity (400’, 5.10a) and Affirmations in the Afternoon (800’, 5.10b). Zimmerman said both offered excellent climbing on good, albeit dirty, stone and were well protected with a standard rack to a number four Camalot. Affirmations in the Afternoon finished with a 150’ traverse to the right, joining Heart Like a Hippo for its final 60’ of climbing.

Woodward and Zimmerman then climbed Pink Rabbits (1,400’, 5.11 A2) on the east face of Block Tower. Their route began at the low point of “a very compelling buttress” between Trout Fishing in America (Issac-Edwards, 1997) and Slim Princess (Caton-Rutherford, 2015), starting with a leaning finger crack to an obvious wide splitter. The resulting route involved 1,400’ of finger cracks, sustained wide cracks (it would be recommended that future parties bring a number five), some serious gardening, a dash of run-out slab climbing, and a single aid pitch utilizing beaks, small cams, and tension traversing to reach a small ledge, where the pair bivied under an emergency blanket before finishing the route next morning. Zimmerman said the aid pitch could be freed at approximately 5.12 if the aid seam were cleaned out.