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Arctic Expedition to Arrigetch: Part 3

Arctic Expedition to Arrigetch: Part 3

Every grueling minute had been worth it. Peering out of my tent and up at the vertical rock wall towering 1500 feet overhead was both enriching and painful – it hurt my neck. Now that we had arrived and established a solid base camp, all that was left to do was explore the area and […]

Every grueling minute had been worth it.

Peering out of my tent and up at the vertical rock wall towering 1500 feet overhead was both enriching and painful – it hurt my neck. Now that we had arrived and established a solid base camp, all that was left to do was explore the area and climb some rocks.

We lounged around for a better part of the day snacking, napping, and massaging sore body parts. It wasn’t long before the restlessness boiled over and we had to explore our valley. Giants surrounded us on three sides and stood high above, with long aprons of talus covered in a variety of color lichens. There were glaciers hanging precariously off some of the higher peaks and drastically shaped rock formations everywhere. Down low soft tundra carpeted the valley and opaque glacial water streamed through beautifully cut granite waterfalls.

That day we walked up and checked out the closest behemoth: The Battleship. Its prow cut deeply through the ground and no force on earth can stop it from going wherever it wishes. Its black armor has only one weakness – time.

What a treat.

The rock type in the Arrigetch is one . . . SWEET VIRGIN GRANITE. Every rock we climbed was sticky and lovely. While a lot of it was loose as shit – we frequently sent blocks soaring thousands of feet – much of it was also solid and unending. After playing around for a day we decided that the next day we would attempt our first climb. One of our objectives was to climb the south face of a formation known as the West Maiden.

After a good sleep, we woke at 5 (The nice part about climbing in the Arctic during suppertime is that you never need a headlamp and can start your day whenever) and began the two-hour approach across the valley and up 3000 feet of talus. This line had only been climbed once before and was stated to be 800 feet of 5.8+ crack climbing. Our party made its way up in four long pitches, tossing blocks and cautiously avoiding loose piano-sized flakes. Once at the top we peered over into the next valley over, where the floor lay 4000 feet below, straight down. My gut dropped.

The descent was bittersweet. I didn’t want to leave that place but the clouds were rolling in. Fortunately, our valley was clearing of clouds and the view was spectacular.

The clouds that had rolled in brought with them a few days of rain. Affording us extra rest and whatnot. We played Vietnamese cards and read a whole lot of books. When the rain broke we would explore as much as we could, scoping out potential objectives and the approaches to others. Finally, when the rain broke for good we took the opportunity to bag another wall! We had seen an easy looking weakness on a wall near shot tower. Starting early the approach was easy, the coffee was strong with this team.

As we neared the climb we grew disappointed as the first two pitches grew wider and wetter. After some discussion, we came to the consensus of “CLIMB IT ANYWAYS!” I lead the first two 5.8-5.9 wet pitches through mud and blood and loose rock before topping out on the home run 5 – easy slabs that the rest of the climb would consist of, before going vertically again and hitting some stellar cracks to the top.

Uncertain as to whether or not this route had ever been climbed we’ve dubbed it “Birthed from the Rectum” 5.8ish.

Sadly, this would be our last chance to climb as the weather would come in and commence to piss on us for over a week.

It was late one night (around 4am) when I felt Keeley poking my face.

“Jim, wake up! We are in water!”

I bolted out of my sleeping bag to see about 4 inches of flowing water around the tent (bathtub floors actually work). Somehow we were dry.


We rushed out of the tent and saw that Eric was also deep in the water, but he hadn’t woken up yet. Keeley proceeded to wake him up while I waded knee-deep through quickly rising water to our gear and began moving it to higher ground. Once all of our tents were moved to better spots we went back to sleep. Later that morning (around 8) we woke up to start the day, but realized we were almost in water again. For breakfast, we spent a few hours finding better locations and moving gear. This wasn’t a good sign.

The rain never stopped. It only increased in intensity and dropped in temperature.

We spent a few days in our tents until we couldn’t take it anymore and decided to start the hike back out.

The thing about being soaked and cold in the backcountry is that you’ve got to keep moving. It was too wet to make a fire and we had to cover ground because the weather was worsening. Fortunately, our packs were now 50 pounds lighter and we had dry clothes to sleep in.

The incentive to move forced us to make the return trip to Takahula Lake in just two long days. We had chosen a better bushwacking route this time around and only got off route once when we were in thick fog and couldn’t see our landmarks. The crux of the return trip would be the small creek that we had crossed earlier, for it had now risen by two or three feet and was a gushing torrent of white water. We managed to tackle this beast by heading up-river until it braided three times and crossed there – but not without losing my second pole and a GoPro.

When we returned to Takahula Lake we shared a wave of relief, for the weather was much better down low, we had lots of food, there was stashed whiskey, and we were to begin the next leg of our trip: rafting the Alatna River.

That night we slept to the sound of wolves howling in the distance.

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