British Mountain Guides Mike 'Twid' Turner and Tim Blakemore have just returned from the Kichatna Range in Alaska with a new ice route under their belts on the North Triple Peak (2560m) - 'No Country for Old Men' ED AI6 800m.
The route was climbed alpine style involving icy, mixed climbing up to AI6 and a ‘typical’ Alaskan cornice to finish. Eponymously named 'No Country for Old Men,' it follows 18 long pitches rimaye to summit involving firstly an ephemeral smear then a cleaving couloir all the way to the summit.
Mike was making his 10th trip to the Kichatna range, which is described by Twid as “the Patagonia of Alaska” and the pair had a few potential plans based upon his previous trips. Tim told UKC:
"In fact our primary objective ‘wasn’t there’ this year, but this line stood out whilst we were skiing around scoping out conditions. It’s actually hidden until you access the col between the Tatina and Monolith glaciers so it probably isn’t well recorded on previous trips' photos."
Describing the line - which they climbed in a 24-hour push in a brief weather window - Tim commented:
"It’s similar in length and style to an alpine couloir (about 800 metres vertical gain). Initially you cross a rimaye and follow the established NW Couloir for 6 pitches (time consuming but easy). From then on you climb a sustained series of pitches up a defined gully system on excellent ice. The crux (a 70m pitch) had two sections of 90 degree ice; the first AI5 (good quality ice and gear) and the second AI6 (poor ice and harrowing protection)."
An unrelenting finish awaited the team as a giant cornice proved tricky to overcome:
"The finish was almost comical. At one point I had burrowed up through a cornice for about 15 metres only to have to retrace as it was a dead end. Finally we found a way through and climbed ‘merely vertical, sugary snow’. It would have been a real disappointment to me if we had simply finished at an arbitrary high point."
The Kichatnas are renowned for their poor weather, and Mike and Tim certainly didn't have it easy on the weather front:
"The Triple Peaks seem to catch weather and are often shrouded by cloud. We were lucky to get in by bush plane (I was nearly sick with the turbulence) and once there it felt pretty committing (more so as our satphone didn’t work until we actually summited!). I think we had 2 or 3 days without wind and on most days there was precipitation. On the route itself we had spindrift and rime ice building as clouds enveloped us. A bit like Ben Nevis really!"
Conditions on the route, however, were more amenable:
"The initial snow was really time consuming but stable and the ice on the route was superb."
Regarding the name 'No Country for Old Men,' Tim told UKC:
"It’s mostly a reference to our age (particularly Twid’s!). We’re also both readers and much of the tent conversation was based around past novels read (it’s one of my favourite)."
Summing up the line, he commented:
"Routes have to have a certain ‘something’ about them and soon as I saw this line (and all the ice in it) I was super motivated to try it. It also suited an alpine type approach which I really like. Lastly, to pull over the cornice onto the summit was the perfect finish!"
Tim has two exploratory sailing and skiing trips planned (Svalbard and Antarctica) and has also been invited to take part in an expedition to Nepal in 2016. When asked if he would return to Alaska, he replied:
"The scope out there is huge and the accessibility (compared to Asia for example) is really appealing. At the moment though I’m not sure where I could fit it in!"
Tim and Twid would like to thank the Mount Everest Foundation, British Mountaineering Council, Alpine Club, DMM and Power Traveller for help with this expedition.