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Chasing the Boogie Man on Alaska's Kooshdakhaa Spire

Posted on: June 15, 2015


Between May 18 and May 25, the author, Erik Bonnett, and Max Fisher climbed two new long routes on the border of southeast Alaska and British Columbia in the Coast Mountains. First, starting on May 19, they climbed Otter Water Boogie Man (5.11- A1, 2,000') on Kooshdakhaa Spire, ca. 7,500 feet (pictured) in Alaska. A few days later, they crossed the Canadian border and over a glacial pass to establish Lichening Bolt Buttress (5.11-, 1,300') on an unnamed 7,000-foot peak. [Photo] Erik Bonnett

On May 19, one day after arriving in Alaska's Coast Mountains, Max Fisher (Canadian) and I (American) climbed the first of two new routes, one on Kooshdakhaa Spire, ca. 7,500 feet, and the other on an unnamed 7,000-foot peak, located over a glacial pass.

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William Wacker, a southeastern Alaskan climber, asserted in the 2013 American Alpine Journal that "most of the mountains surrounding Haines are geologically not good to climb without snow on them." In other words, the Coast Mountains are known for poor rock quality. However, Wacker conceded that there are exceptions. In my opinion, Kooshdakhaa Spire and the unnamed peak are such exceptions and contain quality climbing.

The Kooshdakhaa group of peaks is located about seven miles west of 7,127-foot Mt. Foster, a mountain on the border between Canada and the United States. At the southern edge of the group, Kooshdakhaa Spire rises more than 2,000 feet above a hanging tributary of the Chilkat Glacier.

Fisher first spotted the spire in 2013 when he was leading a NOLS expedition in a nearby valley and snapped a picture of the clean buttress feature. "It looked steep; eighty degrees at least, maybe vertical," he told me.

(Top) Castle Grayskull [named after a fortress in the 1980s cartoon He Man and the Masters of the Universe—Ed.], also called Kooshdakhaa E4, was first attempted by Dave Anderson and his party in summer 2003. (Bottom) Fisher starting up the 300-foot hand crack on Kooshdakhaa Spire, 2014. The team summited Kooshdakhaa Spire once in 2014, via a moderate route, then attempted it twice by a harder route but failed. They returned in May 2015 and finished their project on the spire in 33-hours round trip. [Photo] Erik Bonnett

A year later, in 2014, and with support from a Copp-Dash Award, Fisher and I visited the area for the first time. After we made the first ascent of Kooshdakhaa Spire, ca. 7,500 feet, via a moderate snow, ice and rock route, we made two attempts on a steeper, more challenging line but retreated seven pitches up. Though the route we attempted contained sections of imperfect rock, it also had a 300-foot hand crack splitting through two roofs.

On May 19 of this year, Fisher and I rapidly ascended to our previous high point on Kooshdakhaa Spire. From there, I jammed an offwidth roof crack and gained access to the steeper crack systems above. From bergshrund to summit, we were on the wall for 33 hours, climbing fourteen pitches of 5.10 to 5.11 with some aid.

After climbing twenty feet above the belay through poor rock, the author pendulumed off a #2 knifeblade to access a hand crack filled with loose blocks. About twenty feet above this picture, the back of the dihedral turns to perfect hands. [Photo] Max Fisher

Fisher and I called the route Otter Water Boogie Man (5.11- A1, 2,000'), a loose translation of the word Kooshdakhaa. In the mythology of the Tlingit and Tsimshian native people of southeastern Alaska, a Kooshdakhaa is a shape shifter that lured fisherman to their deaths, though at other times it saved the lost from perishing from the cold. The name represents the range of experiences we encountered on the spire, from shivering to sunshine to storms to splitter cracks.

Fisher jams up moderate flaring cracks on the final pitch of Lichening Bolt Buttress (5.11-, 1,300') on an unnamed 7,000-foot peak in British Columbia. [Photo] Erik Bonnett

As the weather held stable, Fisher and I moved across the Canadian border and over a pass to the valley that Anderson's group had previously explored. There we found good rock across from ca. 7,800-foot Castle Grayskull/Kooshdakhaa E4 and climbed a new route, Lichening Bolt Buttress (5.11-, 1,300'), on the unnamed 7,000-foot peak. Our route ascends aprons and crack systems with mostly moderate climbing but with a few 5.10 and 5.11- cruxes.

Fisher traversing from their first to second climbing objective. The team discovered that rafts worked better than sleds for transporting their gear. After completing their second objective, they paddled out of the area down the Nourse River. [Photo] Erik Bonnett

During both expeditions, Fisher and I arrived by airplane and returned to civilization by packraft.

Sources: Erik Bonnett, Max Fisher, 2013 American Alpine Journal, 2014 American Alpine Journal

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