Monday, August 11, 2014


Mount Waddington, with the summit at left
    It was easy to agree on a trip to the Waddington range.
Zach Keskinen, Brett Baekey, Hanson Smith, and I recieved a Ritt Kellog Memorial grant to make our trip possible.  We hoped more than anything for good weather and conditions that would allow us to climb some of the wildest mountains on the coast range.  Just before we were due to leave, we were struck by some news that shifted our focus.
    On July 14th our friend Cole Kennedy was hit by icefall and killed in the Cordillera Blanca, on the SW face of Piramide de Garcilaso.  He was an inspiring climber. Everyone in the CC community looked up to him.  He and I shared the same advisor and major until he graduated last year. We didn't discuss physics very often: it was evidently easy for him, but his interest lay elsewhere. He was dedicating his time wholeheartedly to climbing and becoming a mountain guide.  He was getting after it all the time, and he showed serious promise as an alpinist. Cole had a unique attitude about climbing, and his focus was set on two opposite ends of the spectrum. Rarely was he seen sport climbing.  Instead he focused a part of his time on bouldering, and was one of the strongest and most technically talented climbers at CC.  At the other end of the spectrum, he climbed just as well on traditional rock and winter routes.  Maybe he cared about purity, or maybe he just did what he liked.  In any case, he got really good.  Cole and I had plans to climb together, but we never shared a rope in the mountains.  This is something I regret.
    Our thoughts are with his climbing partner John, who returned home to the states, and with all his friends and family. The circumstances of the accident, like many in the mountains, were out of their control.  Despite this, we still had to ask ourselves questions about risk. These are questions we've heard a million times, but it brings them to the surface in a new light. It was clear to us that we could have only one goal that really mattered: to bring everyone home safe.  Routes and summits seemed like a vain and insignificant afterthought.
The Combatant-Tiedemann-Asperity massif.  Its south faces fall around 1600m and are mostly solid granite.
   For Hanson and I, the trip began in Wyoming.  We needed to get on our feet and do something. We climbed the Grand Teton via the direct-Petzholt ridge.  We then soloed the entirety of the upper exum ridge together, summitting in good time and good weather.  I hadn't climbed with him in a while, and it was a good oppurtunity to build confidence and solidarity, and work out technical kinks in our systems.  It also felt good to be in the mountains again.  We were both off-balance emotionally and our assessments of risk were constantly changing.  I was still shaken from a close call with icefall on the north face of the Grand in June.  Our day on the Petzholt was a reminder that good days in the mountains really are good. It's hard to beat sunny rock climbing in high places. It restored our motivation after some trying days.
    Straight away we made the marathon drive up to Squamish, boxed in by wildfire smoke much of the way.  17 hours of metal and Moby-Dick on tape later we were in the Northwest. In Seattle we spent some time connecting with friends and sharing memories of Cole.  The next day we met up with Zach, and the next day with Brett. 
     We had a rainy day of cragging and bouldering in Squamish.  We quickly realized that the weather was improving and we needed to jump on our first oppurtunity to fly.  Hanson and I were both suffering from injuries that limited our abilities on pure rock.  For us this was an easy decision to leave Squamish, and Brett and Zach would get the oppurtunity to climb the Chief on the tail end of our trip.
      We drove 10 hours through that night, and arrived at Tatla Lake ready to fly the next morning, having slept for zero hours.  Flying in on a helicopter was an amazing experience, but with a low cloud ceiling and bad weather we were forced to land near the Scimitar glacier.  Following our landing at a dissapointing location we had 3 days of hauling heavy loads through bad weather and difficult and dangerous terrain.  We eventually found ourselves on Combatant col at 9800 feet and took some time to rest and watch the rime shed.

We skiied with sleds, for 3-4 laps each, to haul our gear up this 300m ramp.  Only a narrow path was safe, and this was arguably the crux of our 'approach' to the col.

Mount Waddington- 13,186' 
-Kiwi Route - Notch Chimney - 1000m, 60 degrees, 5.7, M-harder-than-expected, TD.
           We began the romp across the flat col with very cold conditions at around 2am.  The route breaks down into three sections.  After crossing a (very active) serac zone, you hop onto a 300m face of blue and smooth ice.  We climbed this in the dark, with Zach and Brett soloing and Hanson and I simuling below.
     After the face, you find yourself on a series of nice, steep snow aretes with quite a bit of exposure down to the Tiedemann glacier.  Most of the climbing here, though steep, was on firm neve with only short sections of ice. We were soloing through the alpenglow, and the sun rose on us.  The next section leads through a short, jumbled icefall, and onto the Stroll, a low-angle, hanging snowfield below the violently serrated, black teeth of Mount Waddington.
     From there we joined the standard route, climbing through steep, loose mixed terrain.  The chimneys proved more difficult than anyone had imagined, and we slowed down--too much. We found vertical sections of the chimney choked with good ice.
Temps got closer to freezing, and rime was constantly cutting loose.  Only the occasional big chunk would pose any threat, but it was serious motivation for us to move faster.

At 3:30am, safely through the serac zone and above the 'schrund, Zach and Brett solo together onto the calf-busting ice face of the Kiwi Route.

First light, well clear of the seracs.  Main summit at left, NW summit at right. 
The Tiedemann glacier.

Brett soloing in a sea of loose metamorphic rock

Hanson leads up to the notch.
Zach and Brett regroup at a belay as I lead behind them.  4 slow, rimed pitches to go. Solid rock was not a common theme.

The Tooth
Looking down at the final crux steps of the notch chimney.

Hanson stands on the summit- a pillar of rime big enough for only one at a time.

around 4pm, Brett and Zach rig the first of many rappels after a short downclimb from the summit of Waddington.

Snow walls kept the daily wind gusts from shredding our tents at the col.
Back on the stroll, we climbed up a short couloir to the slopes of the northwest summit, and then descended the Angel Glacier and the Firey route with pleasant postholing and short glissades in the reddening night.  We had to take some time in a maze-like icefall, and after a while we were 'jogging' through some more serac zones in pitch dark, and sat down in camp a bit later.  The next day Mike King of Whitesaddle air informed us that we were likely the first party in 2 years to make the main summit.

camp is visible as a small speck near the center of Combatant Col.

Zach and Brett investigate the Bergschrund below Combatant.
Combatant - Skywalk Buttress, 700m, 50 degrees, 5.9, ED1.
      I opted to leave my 2lb camera in camp, so photos from the Skywalk are mostly Zach's. I slept the entire day previously with a stiff neck and a sore throat.  Everyone else was racked up and prepared.  That night I packed my stuff-just in case- I was fully prepared to spend another day in camp while they climbed without me. I would leave the decision for the morning.
     The route had loomed over camp and presented a soaring, obvious line.  It was hard to say no in the morning, even when I woke up feeling as sick as ever.  I decided to climb anyway, confident that I would be able to hold my own, which I sort-of did.  I roped up with Zach and left camp a little after 7. We managed to simul much of the lower buttress.  After the Croft-Anker variation and the crux pitches, we had a routefinding snafu that led us to rappel about 25m.  We traversed right of the crest, and Zach led an exciting and runout traverse on edges. This took us to a steep corner and chimmney system.  For such a prime-line, routefinding proved to be tough and unintuitive for much of the day. 
   After some serious difficulties with rockfall, we found ourselves on the summit of the first tower well after dark. 10 full 70m rappels, in a group of 4, took us the rest of the night, and after a mentally trying descent we found ourselves rappelling over the bergschrund in morning light- at the same hour we left camp the day previously.  Were we forced to make single 60m raps, it would have been at least 23.  We found a minimum of anchors from previous descents, so this would have consumed most of our racks.
    The climb was worth it for me, despite a bit of a personal health struggle that led to some suffering in the long hours of the night(and in the weeks afterward).  The commitment grade is perhaps a bit exaggerated for the modern rock climber.  Many climbers might compare its length  to the Painted wall in the Black Canyon or the Regular NW face of half dome.
    The new day's light has us felling refreshed, so instead of going to sleep we just piled into the cook tent and lit up a pan of bacon for breakfast and held a surprisingly lively conversation.  We were a bit drained, and our weather window was quickly coming to an end, so the only thing on our minds eventually became flying out and resting in the lowlands.
Combatant, with Skywalk following the righthand ridge on the first buttress.  Kshatrya at far right skyline.

     A big thanks to the Ritt Kellog Memorial Fund for making this trip possible.

We would like to dedicate both of our climbs to Cole. He will inspire us for years to come.