Posted on: December 1, 2005

On July 13-14, 2005, Chad Kellogg and I completed a new route, The Black Crystal Arete (VI 5.10 A2, 3,000'), on Kichatna Spire (8,985'). The route climbs the Spire's striking south ridge; it's the first route to ascend the peak's southern side, the seventh independent route to the summit and the eighth ascent to the top of the spire. We accomplished the climb in a twenty-five-and-a-half hour round-trip effort from the Shadows Glacier.

After two prior attempts, we left on the morning of July 13 during a rare spell of good weather and accessed the arete via seven pitches up the east wall, below its first major gendarme. On Pitch 2, I led an unlikely 5.10+ sequence through small roofs and delicate flakes—the first key to the route. Once we were on the arete, several gendarmes required much route finding but went mostly free with a few points of aid. Chad's "Bombay's Away" pitch proved exciting when a seemingly stable booger of rock, five times his size, flushed out of a chimney as he stood on top of it. Overhanging aid through shifty chockstone flakes then ensued to reach the ridge.

The ridge was short-lived, however, completely dead-ending into a steep headwall nearly 1,000 feet below the summit. We were somewhat discouraged, but then spotted a most amazing feature to the left: two perfectly horizontal seams, one for the feet and one for the hands, led for 200 feet into what could be construed as more promising terrain. These seams gained Chad instant 2,000-foot exposure over the south face. Above this traverse, I got the "Icebox Desperado" pitch—an ice-smeared vertical chimney that required some brilliantly nasty aid and free climbing up disintegrating cracks.


Several more pitches led directly to the summit ridge, 200 feet from the true summit. An easy boulder move gained us the final summit block. We reached the top in the late evening, with no wind and hardly any clouds. There, for nearly forty-five minutes, we watched the sun make its long horizontal descent toward Mt. Foraker, before we started the long and cold descent. A repeat of the traverse with frozen fingers and toes and nearly twenty rappels brought us to the western cirque of the aptly entitled Shadows, where the rising sun again warmed us.

We named our route after a magical cave with the most magnificent and nearly faultless black crystals. Some were more than two feet long!

Joseph Puryear, Leavenworth, Washington

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