February 23, 2011

2011 McNeill-Nott Award: Off to the Neacolas!

Ben Chriswell and I just heard from the McNeill-Nott Award committee - it seems we have won an award for attempts on big new routes in the Neacola Mountains! 

In 2004, I met Sue Nott at the Canadian Rockies classic Pilsner Pillar while climbing with my good friend Heike Schmitt. While I sweated and grunted my way up a wet, icicled-out and overhanging variation on the right I remember reflecting on the different experiences that she and I appeared to be having; she was dancing (while I grunted) her way up the standard Pilsner while chatting and laughing with her friends - one of whom is now my friend - patient, crushing Black Diamond rep Roger Strong.

In 2005, Freddie Wilkinson and I stayed in Sue and Karen's giant Mtn. Hardwear basecamp dome after our 55-hour repeat of the Diamond Arete and traverse of Mount Hunter- Freddie later thanking them by sending in a couple burgers from Talkeetna. It seems I now owe them - again - and I guess I'll just have to pass on what I can of their  desire and motivation to developing climbers just as they did.

In 2006, Greg Collins and I were shut down guiding clients on Mount Hunter during the same weird wind event that created the avalanche conditions we hypothesize killed these two strong women in May of the same year. We had a storm drop snow consistently from the South, and then a major wind event - from the North - causing some incredible windloading on southerly aspects. At the time we considered it quite unusual and dangerous, hoping Sue and Karen were hunkered down in a snowcave where the spur tops out, or on their way down the Sultana (NE) Ridge. Sadly, it was not the case and their belongings were located a couple of weeks later.

Ben and I had resolved to check these peaks out no matter what, but are excited to be able to put more of our focus into the climbing and less into worrying about whether we'll be broke when we get back to town. We have good beta on one 8300 foot peak with a couple of gorgeous 4000 foot granite buttresses. We are also aware of an 8900 foot peak with a steep 3000 foot wall nearby. Steve Gruhn has since researched and informed me that Joseph Carl and Joan Firey climbed the 8300 foot peak via the South Face of the East Ridge and named the peak Citadel in 1965. So, at least we know the best way to try to get back down!

Here is the link to the American Alpine Club announcement. 

Thanks again to the American Alpine Club, and the McNeill-Nott Award (funded in large part by Mountain Hardwear). As always, I hope this years crop of AAC award winners do their best to carry the spirit of the strong departed with them. Wish us luck!

1 comment:

  1. Information Steve Gruhn found in the UAA Archives regarding a 1965 expedition to the area: The party completed several area ascents including the first ascent of The Citadel, the 8300 foot peak which I have been recently calling the Citadel of the Neacolas to differentiate it from Citadel in the Arrigetch and countless other Citadel peaks around Alaska and the world. They ascended the south face of the east ridge on their second attempt. Some text omitted for brevity.

    Hi, Sam.

    I went to the UAA Archives today and reviewed the Hoemans' correspondence with Joseph Carl (born October 22, 1918) and Joan Marianne Firey (born August 3, 1928) of Seattle, Washington, and George W. and Frances Whitmore of Fresno, California.

    As far as the correspondence goes, on June 15, 1965, the party landed at either 4300 feet (according to Joan Firey) or between 3900 and 4000 feet (according to George Whitmore) on the north branch of the Pitchfork Glacier and moved camp about a mile farther upglacier to 4200 feet (according to George Whitmore). They used two aircraft - a Cessna and a Piper Cub.

    On June 21, 1965, amid fog all four climbed the east face of the south ridge of Citadel to within 50 feet of the ridge crest before turning back due to overhanging rime. Several days later when they finally got a view of the peak, they later figured they were between 8100 feet and 8200 feet and a quarter mile from the summit when they turned back.

    On June 23, 1965, the Fireys made an attempt on Peak 7850 (+/-; about 2 miles northwest of Citadel) from a col north of the summit. They got to 300 feet above the col, but turned back due to steep, unconsolidated snow. According to George Whitmore, two attempts were made on this peak. I don't have any information on the second attempt, other than it was from the Pitchfork Glacier and was unsuccessful; I suspect that Peak 7850 remains unclimbed. It's at 60 degrees, 53 minutes North, 153 degrees, 18 minutes West.

    They then moved camp to the 4300-foot level of the Neacola Glacier's eastern fork.

    On June 25, 1965, all four climbed Peak 6310 from the southeast, a third-class snow and mixed rock climb.

    On June 26, 1965, the Fireys and George Whitmore attempted Peak 7250 east of the Neacola Glacier headwall. They called this peak "Peak 7334." Their route was to a col north of the summit and then up 300 to 400 feet up the "north ridge" (which I think was actually the west ridge). They did not reach the summit, only getting to within 3/4 mile of the summit. It almost reads like they were on the northeast ridge of Peak 6925 and not Peak 7250.

    On June 27, 1965, all four climbed Peak 6920, a snow climb via the east slope, which was attained from the head of the Neacola Glacier's eastern fork.

    They then moved camp back to their Pitchfork Glacier base camp.

    On July 3, 1965, the Fireys climbed the east face of the south ridge of Citadel to the summit. Instead of following their route from June 21, they angled across the upper portion of the east face to avoid the difficult traverse of the south ridge. Joan Firey reported that it was mostly snow with a short rock pitch (Fifth class, dependent upon ice) and their ascent took them eight hours from their Pitchfork Glacier base camp.

    Joan Firey described the conditions as foggy with light precipitation throughout their trip, but conditions improved during the course of their three-week stay. Snow and ice hampered the rock climbing; Joan Firey said a shovel was required for the rock climbing portion. She reported that other than Citadel and Peak 7850, the major peaks are not granite, but fine-grained dense basalt, which is an overlay on top of granite with a very sharp break line.

    Steve Gruhn


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