February 10, 2009

Getting out, FA of 'Lunar Smears'

It has stayed relatively cold, recently warming up for a day or two almost to 10 degrees above 0 F! Last Saturday I got out climbing with Andy Sterns, and last Sunday I took Tia the hound out for a two hour ski on the Tanana in -30 F temps. It was a gorgeous day! It seems like the quality of light really changes when it gets down below -20 F. The snow was so slow that glide was almost nonexistent, but I still had a good time being bundled up and getting in some cardio in cold temps. This Saturday, I helped out with a benefit auction for Boys and Girls Club of Fairbanks (Wendy's employer) for the entire afternoon following a morning of reading and homework for the Clinical-Community PhD program.

On Sunday, the temps warmed up above 0 degrees F, so Andy and I went out again (without a camera) to discover something heretofore unknown to either of us in terms of climbing so near to Fairbanks: A multi-pitch mixed route! We drove out to the first pullout for Grapefruit Rocks, then skiing back past all the established crags. We dropped most of the way down into the base of the valley, from where we spied a fine looking buttress among many other nice looking pieces of limestone. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that it might provide excellent mixed climbing, on both rock and ice, which it did. I onsighted each pitch, placing gear (cams and nuts only) on lead. Andy followed efficiently and we had no problems staying warm. We left no traces of our ascent on the crag, for any who might worry about a mixed climb near a traditional rock climbing area.

The first pitch was about 20m long, and went at about M4 with sections of gorgeous water ice plastered an inch or two thick in the back of the corner. It ended with a mantel onto a nice flat block and a belay from a sturdy birch tree after some low angle turf climbing.

The second pitch offered up the business of this little route, about 40 meters of sustained mixed climbing starting with turf sticks, flowing into a dihedral with small footholds and not quite perfect hook placements (M5). The climbing was more technical than pumpy. I had to stack a couple pieces of gear to make it feel super safe, but the gear was generally solid. The pitch finished with some juggy footless climbing, finally entering a chimney to finish with somelock-offs into a mantel on to the crest of the buttress, where I belayed Andy up, anchoring from a slung block.

From there, we climbed another pitch which was almost 60m in length, a very easy but insecure 'au cheval' ridge straddling pitch with several small gendarmes. This pitch ended as the buttress merged into the hillside. From here we walked back down the hill to grab our packs and the dog (Tia came along). We had a great time and felt like we took advantage of what may be exceptional conditions, finding some ice on each of these three pitches. We are guessing that the ice we found plastered in corners and on slabs here was the result of melting from a short warm spell several weeks ago. Andy and I conferred and decided to call it Lunar Smears (M5). We felt lucky that it hadn't sublimated yet. Please contact me with any questions, or if you would like clear directions to base of the buttress. It could use a second ascent while it is in such stellar condition, and confirmation/revision of the grade.

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