Monday, June 14, 2010

Cutting Baby Teeth

Our trip to the Neacolas started with a few days of weather delays, a theme that would continue to play out throughout the trip. We had four days (ish) of good weather in our nine days on the glacier. Our first day was a divide and conquer mission to check different aspects for stability. The results were pockets of instability caused by a persisting gropple layer of inconsistent thickness. That evening the weather rolled in and our little camp became the center of our universe. It was like being on house arrest.

Three days later a little bit of improvement in the visibility inspired a short tour to ski a short shot low on the slope to the west of camp. Then things opened up. The clouds lifted and we found ourselves staring across the glacier at one of our objectives, the Teeth. The smaller of the two teeth looked better than ever and we decided to push up towards it at least enough to get a feel for the conditions over there even with our late afternoon start it proved to be a good idea. The sky went completely blue and it was a beautiful tour that would lay the groundwork for our ascent of the peak the next day. A descent in deep heavy snow in a lower angle couloir brought us back to the glacier and back on our track it was an easy glide back to camp. The next morning we got and early start and headed up our track breaking trail past where we had turned around the day before and pushing up onto a massive bench on the shoulder of this mountain. The windless, nearly cloudless day made for perfect conditions and so up we went choosing to head up the South East rib. Steep skinning turned into even steeper bootpacking until we reached the shoulder before the last ramp to the summit. The curving aspect that we came up was like the front of a sharks fin and from the shoulder we could look over the back of the fin, a vertical, precipitous drop of almost 1000 feet.

The climb to the summit was easy and straightforward. From the top we took a few pictures and a few moments to reflect on our accomplishment. Looking north and east we saw the looming monument that is the larger of the two teeth. Access to the larger objective was definitely not easiest from our vantage. We concluded that it would be better to go further up the glacier before even beginning to climb. All that was just a brief thought in the reflective celebration of our first Alaskan first ascent and looking to the first descent that was to follow. From the summit we skied down the face visible from the bench from which we had begun our climb on the rib. Descent snow and the rush of isolation and the spirit of pioneering a route both up and down that had never been done before was incredible.

With our first successful Alaskan objective completed we were ready for the day that followed, the solid summit attempt and first descent of “Superior In The Sky".

Headed up our path from the day before.

Uncle Keith's switchback clinic.

Serac fall triggered slides across the glacier the day before the summit.

Approaching the bench.

Keith and Emily at the bench.

On belay! Things get steep.

Looking back on the path to victory.

Exposure exposed.

The final ramp to the summit.

The big tooth in the backgroud. Tom and Steph on the summit of the Baby Tooth.

Getting ready to drop in.

Turns from the top as seen from the bench.