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Turner and Blakemore Weather Storms to Climb New Route in the Kichatna Range

Posted on: June 23, 2015


No Country for Old Men (ED AI6) cuts up and left out of the couloir at mid-height to summit the left peak, North Triple Peak (2560m). Starting on May 19, British alpinists Mike "Twid" Turner and Tim Blakemore climbed and descended No Country in a continuous 24-hour push. [Photo] Tim Blakemore

Deep and remote in the Kichatna Mountains, in the southwest corner of the Alaska Range, British alpinists Mike "Twid" Turner and Tim Blakemore endured strong winds and spindrift to establish a significant new route up the rarely climbed North Triple Peak (2560m). On May 19, the men summited the wildly corniced mountain after eighteen ice and mixed pitches, including eleven new ones. Their route, No Country for Old Men (ED AI6), is steep and sustained, and features a notable 70-meter crux lead; the pair climbed in low visibility, with winds producing spindrift and forming rime. However, they found the snow conditions to be stable and the ice reliable for twelve of the eighteen pitches. The men completed their climb and descent in a continuous 24-hour push.

The Kichatna peaks are steep and striking, reminiscent of the Patagonia skyline and far more remote. Although the summits are all below 2750m (9,000 feet), the walls guarding them are known for their high-quality technical climbing. The climate is famously unforgiving, as weather systems from the north and south collide among the sharp peaks. This creates a Venturi effect as winds pick up speed, snow blows horizontally and visibility closes in without warning. On this trip, the pair spent most of their time tent-bound.

Twid following Blakemore's lead on the Northwest Couloir. [Photo] Tim Blakemore

Turner and Blakemore spotted what would become No Country during a ski reconnaissance, noting a steep ice line that branched off the established Northwest Couloir to follow an impressive gully to North Triple's summit. On May 19, during a rare weather window, they set out following the Northwest Couloir for seven pitches to reach an ice smear that led to their target gully.

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The AI6 crux came about one-third of the way up the climb, where the team climbed through vertical, rotten ice with sparse protection. Blakemore told Alpinist: "[The crux] involved pulling over an overlap on poor ice with minimal protection. It took me about twenty minutes to get a grip and commit." Having surmounted the tricky lead, Blakemore was determined to continue. "The last couple of pitches were tricky (some with difficult snow) also, but overall a lovely natural line with good ice," he wrote.

To reach the summit, the climbers tunneled through a cornice. As Blakemore told UKC Climbing News, "The finish was almost comical. At one point I had burrowed...about 15 meters only to have to retrace, as it was a dead end." Finally, they located a passage up "vertical, sugary snow."

Twid leading the first technical pitch of No Country for Old Men. [Photo] Tim Blakemore

This was Turner's tenth trip to the Kichatnas. Here, in 2003, he, Stuart McAleese and Ollie Sanders climbed a new line on the Citadel: Supa Dupa Couloir (ED4: WI6+, 1230m), for which they received a Piolet d'Or nomination. On his fifth trip, in 2007, he made three first ascents that included Bish Bash Bosh! (ED: Scottish VII E1, 19 pitches, 900m), Cool Couloir (D: Scottish V, 15 Pitches, 800m) and The Whack and Dangle Sculpture (D: Scottish V, 14 pitches, 1000m).

[Read more about Turner's travels to the Kichatnas in the following NewsWires: The Citadel in 2003, the East Face of Mt. Nevermore in 2004 and Bish Bash Bosh, Cool Couloir and The Whack and Dangle Sculpture in 2007—Ed.]

Twid on Pitch 11 (WI4, 60m). [Photo] Tim Blakemore

Meanwhile, this was Blakemore's first visit to the Alaska Range. "I'm well-travelled and have climbed on all the continents," he wrote in an email. "I've climbed new routes in the UK, Norway—Aurland, Gudvangen, Senja—and Antarctica and now Alaska. I'm as happy climbing wild sea cliffs in the Scottish Hebrides as I am skiing in Antarctica—really, for me, the quality of the experience is paramount."

To break down the pitches up No Country for Old Men, the route begins after climbing seven rope lengths on the Northwest Couloir of North Triple Peak. From here, the team climbed 11 pitches of new terrain:

P1: WI5, 50m

P2: WI4+. 60m

P3: Crux. Poor ice, WI6, 70m

P4: WI3, 55m

P5: WI4, 60m

P6: WI4, 60m

P7: WI3 60m

P8: WI3 30m

P9: WI4+/5; poor snow, 60m

P10: Rock and snow

P11: Difficult cornice, 40m

Sources: Tim "Twid" Blakemore, Mike Turner, thealaskarange.com, thebmc.co.uk, dmmclimbing.com, themountainguidingcompany.co.uk, northernmountainsport.co.uk

The team would like to thank the following organizations: mef.org, alpine-club.org, powertraveller

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