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Emotional Release on Argonaut Peak

Posted on: May 1, 2015


This past Sunday, April 26, Vern Nelson Jr. and I were finally able to piece together a mixed route on the north face of Argonaut Peak (8,451'). We had tried the route six times over the past two years always hoping for magical conditions that would allow us passage. This time around, the conditions were still marginal, but my heart and mind were in a different spot. I've struggled to climb in the mountains since Chad Kellogg died beside me, but this past week I felt a different vibe. I knew it was time to dig out the tools and dust off the crampons. I committed myself to sections of climbing that had previously scared me and found a focus that I thought I had lost. Near the top of the difficulties, when it became clear we would succeed, I let my emotional guard down. I looked across Mountaineer's Creek at the Lara Kellogg Memorial Route—established by Colin Haley and Dylan Johnson after Chad's wife perished in 2006—on the mighty northeast face of Mt. Stuart (9,416') and let my tears release. Vern and I are calling our line the Chad Kellogg Memorial Route (AI4 M6 R A1, 1,250'), which travels over 800 feet of new terrain to reach the summit, and it makes me happy that Lara's and Chad's namesake routes will gaze lovingly at one another from here on out.

For sure this is not a huge route—though it is one of the harder mixed and ice lines in the Stuart Range—but it was personally, very significant. 

As far as the climbing on the Kellogg Memorial Route, it was a little bit of everything. We climbed seven pitches, some of which were short, some of which were long. We climbed sections of AI4, an M6 R crux pitch, and an aid pitch on a final unexpected headwall that forced me to do a wild tension traverse. I won't lie, I really wanted to draw a straighter line up this wall, but in the mountains you don't contrive, you just follow the path presented to you.

Chad, my friend, this one was for you. — Jens Holsten

Getting started on Pitch 1. An apron of thin, but good ice, gave way to a bit of M4 and a steep, skinny runnel. A long and very enjoyable pitch.  [Photo] Vern Nelson Jr.

Here is Vern pulling a delicate bulge on Pitch 2. The climbing wasn't hard, but the ice was very suspect. Swing too hard and the climb would be gone. In this photo he is over the crux and his tools are in good ice. The vast majority of the pitch is not shown. [Photo] Jens Holsten

This is a foreshortened view of Pitch 3, the crux M6 band... it sure looks easy in the picture, but it was a hard lead for me. I was able to place quite a bit of pro, but it was all pretty crappy and sometimes in suspect rock. The Stuart Range has really good rock and really bad rock. This pitch was mostly the latter. A snarg nailed into dirt gave me the courage to continue when things were getting a little questionable. [Photo] Vern Nelson Jr.

I originally wanted to continue straight up the major corner system we were climbing, but pro was so hard to get in the rotten fault line. I spotted an ice runnel and more protectable terrain out left, so we made a break for it. I just didn't have the nerves to keep forging the path we were on when safer ground was a traverse away. This was Pitch 5 for us. [Photo] Vern Nelson Jr.

After the traverse I thought the terrain was breaking down, but a headwall stopped us dead in our tracks. I set off from the Pitch 7 belay confident that I could free the mid 5.10 pitch even in my boots and crampons. I gave it my best shot until a rotten flake exploded in my hands and I took a small whipper onto a grainy #4. I went into aid mode, which I'm glad I did, as the finish to this pitch required a pretty exciting tension traverse. [Photo] Vern Nelson Jr.

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In the mountains you don't contrive, you just follow the path presented to you. [Photo] Vern Nelson Jr.

Vern Nelson Jr. and Jens Holsten on the summit of Argonaut Peak after completing their new route on April 26, 2015. [Photo] Vern Nelson Jr. and Jens Holsten

Argonaut Peak (8,451') showing the Chad Kellogg Memorial Route (AI4 M6 R A1, 1,250'). [Photo] Jens Holsten

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