Another big new route in Kichatna Spires for Twid Turner

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 06/07/2012
North Triple (left) and Middle Triple from the Tatina Glacier. Arrows show approach and northwest pillar, while the approximate line of Ride the Lightning is marked to the right. Mike 'Twid' Turner

Supported by grants from the BMC and MEF, Dave Gladwin and Mike 'Twid' Turner climbed a new route on the northwest pillar of Middle Triple Peak in Alaska's Kichatna Spires.

Being on the western fringes of Alaska's mountain ranges, the Kichatnas have notoriously poor weather, but compensate with spectacular scenery.

It's an area Turner knows well, having made many significant ascents here over the years

This season was particularly bad for snowfall and Gladwin and Turner's original objective, a steep ice/mixed line toward the right side of 2,693m Middle Triple's west face, proved impractical under the conditions. Instead, they opted for the unclimbed northwest pillar.

It's relatively rare to meet other climbers during a visit to the Kichatnas but when the pair arrived they found two others on the glacier, a British climber Stu Inchley, and his partner from Tasmania named Kim.

The two teams decided to combine forces and spent six days completing their line.

This first involved climbing the left side of an avalanche-prone slope, then making a delicate traverse to the base of the pillar.

The next 500m involved iced cracks and corners that required steep aid and mixed. Fortunately, the top was reached in relatively clear weather, which afforded fine views of the surrounding snow-plastered peaks.

The 1,000m route was named Hard Arteries (A3 and Scottish V), as half the team lived off pure butter while on the climb.

Descending to the midway bivouac, all four were then storm bound in a snow hole for a couple of days, before safely descending to the glacier on day eight.

Middle Triple (8,835') is the second highest summit in the Kichatnas and was first climbed in 1976. The legendary American Charlie Porter, fresh from making an historic solo ascent of the Cassin on Denali, called Russell McLean in Salt Lake City and demanded he take the next flight to Anchorage.

The two decided to tackle the mountain's most formidable feature, the west face - a huge granite wall capped by 200m+ of steep snow and ice. The two used hammocks and spent 10 days on the wall, falling ice high on the route breaking one of Porter's fingers.

Less than two weeks later Dave Black, Andy Embick, Mike Graber and Alan Long climbed the north ridge - Illusory Ridge (5.8 and A3) - for the second ascent.

All except Black, who was replaced by George Schunk, returned the following year to make the first ascent of the now classic 1,000m East Buttress, which earned a place in "50 Classic climbs in North America", and has now seen a number of ascents.

Another big wall route was added to the west face in 1997 when Kitty Calhoun, Steve Gerberding, Dan Osman and Jay Smith climbed Ride the Lightning to the right of the Porter-McLean. They battled typical Kichatna weather and being late in the season experienced heavy rain. Around 600m of rope were fixed and the route completed at 5.10 A4 WI3.

The Kichatnas still have much scope for rock, ice and mixed climbing, but the justified reputation for fierce conditions, combined with a relatively lengthy and committing flight from Talkeetna, keep all but the hardiest away.
 



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