06/05/05: New Route on Kichatna Spire

On May 1, 2005, Roger Strong, Rob Owens and I (Sean Isaac) climbed a new route on the northwest face of Kichatna Spire in Alaska. We named our new line "The Voice of Unreason" (ED2 M7 A1 WI5, 700m) which 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 meters below the summit. The line followed a thinly iced chimney system that eventually gained a 300m ribbon of blue ice which lead to the ridge. The chimney involved sustained mixed pitches that went all free except a few meters of A1 on pitch 3. We climbed all day leading blocks of 3 to 5 pitches with the seconds jumaring for speed. The two second’s packs contained the bare minimum in gear: 2 litres of water each, Clif Bars and Shots, bagel sandwiches, MSR Whisperlite and a litre of fuel, Fission Belay jackets and a lightweight tarp. We gained the north ridge around 10:30pm in a building snowstorm so exercised good judgment and decided to begin the descent. We rappelled all night in constant spindrift reaching the glacier and our skis at sunrise.

Of course, we would have liked to stand on the summit of Kichatna Spire since it has only been climbed 7 times before but we feel content with our new route. Ironically, the weather had been perfect for the entire week before which we squandered on two other attempts on the mountain. Had the weather held, our plan was to sit on the ridge for the five hours of darkness then continue to the top the next day. However, we were not prepared to endure an Alaskan storm without sleeping bags and some sort of shelter.

We were all impressed with how sustained the route was with its many M6 and M7 pitches in a row. Both M7 crux pitches involved 3-diminsional body-English, technical torques and a whole lot of groveling to pull through overhanging off width/chimney features. In addition to hard drytooling, the route also featured some very aesthetic ice features like an inch wide vein of ice on the second pitch and a one foot wide, super tight runnel on pitch 6 and 7. The final handful of pitches wound up fun WI4 punctuated by M5 chockstones.

This was our third attempt in one week at a new route on Kichatna Spire. First we tried the obvious central ice line up the middle of the northwest face but were turned around by massive snow-mushrooms blocking the way. The second attempt followed a 10 pitch ice gully on the right margin of the wall to the west face. This line has been tried at least three previous times but all suitors were stumped by hard aid. We were no exception. One pitch up the granite wall above the col and Roger encounter steep, loose aid that would involve full big wall tactics.

We also 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 super 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.

This expedition was supported by the Mugs Stump Award and Arc’teryx. Equipment sponsors included Black Diamond, Petzl, Sterling Rope, Mammut, Kayland, Clif Bar, MSR, Outdoor Research, Mountain Hardware and Adidas Eyewear. Also, a special thanks to Paul Roderick of Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) for his superb flying which got us in and out of this remote range, quickly and safely.



copyright 2004: SeanIsaac.com