Journal from my time on the Infinite Spur in 2001

I was just today going through a file on my computer of 'things I've written'. I came across a word document that I had transcribed from my journal notes of when I was on a route called The Infinite Spur on Mt. Foraker in Alaska in 2001. The notes here are quite personal but kinda interesting to read (for me anyway). We were on the route during a storm cycle and to this day it was the most committed I have ever felt. It was truely a life changing experience. Just this past spring Karen Mcneil and Sue Nott went missing on this route in a storm, never to be seen again. This loss makes reading my old journal notes seem that much more heart felt. Note that the original notes I took were with a dull pencil, on to small soggy pieces of paper...I'm pretty sure I still have those notes hidden away somewhere. Also, note that the journal entries stopped before we finished the route.
Photo: Copyright Eamonn Walsh. Rob O on the knife edge traverse high on The Infinite Spur.

ON THE INFINITE SPUR, (original unedited)

May,17, 2001(written on May 18th)
Ran into Barry shortly before we left for the Infinite Spur. Several laughs later we took off, on skis, for our adventure.
Day 1 involved extensive skiing on mainly level ground with the odd steep uphill and steep downhill where we would put the contents of our sleds on our backs. NOT FUN! The terrain was fairly benevolent to begin and proceeded to become more open as we approached the base of the 1000’ couloir that, …….. blocked our way to the route., We ditched our ski’s at the base of the right hand couloir only to find out that we needed to climb the gully to the left. The gully was not very steep but had crappy isothermic snow and several large snow mushrooms that towered over. We waited for cooler temps and then headed to the top, where we camped for the night. All day I was pretty nervous about the route and had second thoughts about doing it. It is so damn remote. 10 hour day.
Day 2. We woke at 7 am and were off by 9am. Down the ridge,…., across a glacier, up another snow ridge, and then down to the glacier at the base of the route. 2.5 hours. While brewing up at the base it started to snow it started to snow. The mountains began to roar. I cut into the meaty part of my plan with the blade of my knife. DUMBASS! 1pm we rested in the tents and waited for the mountains to settle and for my wound to close. I am worried about infection. We’ll see by tomorrow. The weather could go either way. I got ahold of Lisa at base camp today (cell phone) and got a forecast. Cloudy with light snow for the next 2 days. 2.5 hours
Day 3. May 19th- Up at 11pm (on the 18th), climbing by 12:30. The first challenge of the day was the bergshrund, We had to cross it below the serac fed gully right of our route. We then traversed into our gully and started up the estimated 1200- 1500 foot snow slope. This took 2 hours. It was quite dark and clear ….. We then did 7 pitches of mixed climbing. All the pitches were quite difficult (5.8) and at times a wee bit runout. There was a lot of snow covering the cracks i.e.: lots of digging. We ended climbing at 1:30pm on a snow ridge below the ice rib. We spent about an hour chopping a tent ledge. We assume we are at 10,500. We called B.C. for a forecast and it is calling for clouds, snow and wind. Tomorrow should be o.k. 13 hours.
Day 4. May 20th- Had a good rest last night, accept for the bumps. Took a while to get ready and we finally started climbing, in nice weather at 6:30am. Eamonn led up snow and ice for 5 pitches, all of which were simu-climbed. The last part of this MEGA pitch was run out and quite difficult. I wasn’t too happy with Eamonn for taking this choice for us and I think he understood. I then led one pitch of mixed with a lot of snow covered rock. Eamonn then took off again on a mega simu- climb over easy snow that established us on the Ice Ridge. The weather was shitty again with wet snow and very low visibility. We decided to chop a ledge for our tent and wait for better weather. The chopping was easy and didn’t hit ice. Mainly just icy snow. In total 6 hours of climbing that gained us 1,100 ft. Not the most productive day but will allow for acclimatization and preparation for a big day when the weather gets better. The “Ice Ridge” will gain us 3,000feet in elevation and we will probably do it in a day. It will most likely involve simu-climbing with no protection except your partner jumping over the other side.
Day 5. May 21st- Up at 9pm to good weather so we start up (at 11pm). By the time we got to the end of the rib it was 9am. We brewed up for a couple of hours and then started up more mixed terrain. Oh ya, the climbing on the “ice rib” went well. No pro but safe snow. After the ice ridge we took a gully straight up the rock buttress. I think it was 5 pitches of fairly difficult mixed terrain that popped us below the “horizontal ridge”. Several hours of chopping provided us with the worst ledge I have ever seen. We used it and managed to get some sleep only b/c we were so tired. Note: I think we stopped climbing around 4 PM) 15 hours of climbing .
Day 6. May 22nd- Up at 7:15am with o.k. weather. The forecast is for bad weather but every morning seems to be o.k. with conditions deteriorating later in the day. This day involved a lot of shoveling and stress. It took 13 hours to climb the snow ridge. Only once in those 13 hours did take off my pack. The ridge consisted of storm snow over an old base. We shared leads of shoveling off the top of the ridge, to enable a better path. The only protection was the other climber jumping off the other side. Not a great scenario considering the ‘other side’ was mostly steep rock. At one point, with practically no terrain between Eamonn and I, I nearly fell off as a slab broke away from the ridge! A final mixed pitch took us to an amazing ledge atop a ridge, below a serac. I had less then a liter of water all day and needed rest badly. I believe this is at 15,000ft and the end of the technical climbing. I do have a badly frost nipped finger form the past 2 days of snow wallowing.
Day 7. May 23rd- Up at 8am. I slept well. Still feeling a bit dehydrated though and I’m worried about my finger. Should summit BUT!! We packed all out stuff and pulled the plug at the last minute. Eamonn is feeling sick and needs time to either acclimatize or rest. Tent day. The weather isn’t so great anyway (snow and wind). I phoned b.c. and forecast is scary but it has been the whole time. We have 5 days of food left. Hopefully tomorrow!!!!
Still Day 7. 5:42pm- We just prepared to go but the snow picked up again. GRIM! I’m scared. The forecast is bad, we have avalanche prone slopes the rest of the way to the summit, I have a finger very nearly frostbitten. I have no mitts, only gloves. Eamonn is not feeling too strong but better. If we wait 4 days until the storms ‘may’ stop the slopes may be even more prone to sliding. My will to live is strong! So many things to look forward to: family, being with loved ones, finding a soul mate, good food, good music, friends, old age, kids. If I get off this alive I will be a changed man. No more risky climbing. I want to settle. I want to contribute to the lives of those around me.
Day 8, May 24th- The forecast is for increasing winds and decreasing temps until Sunday. Today is Thursday. The weather isn’t so good this morning with snow and low visibility. At 12:30pm we decide to go for it. The snow has slowed a bit. At 1:30 we take off and within minutes I knock off a slab. There is good gear, utilizing serac ice on the left so we continue on. The ‘going’ is mostly good for the rest of the day. With 3 big leads we are out of the dangerous gullies and on mellow summit slopes. The wind is roaring so we dig in for the night.
Day 9. May 25th- A rough night with plenty of shoveling to keep the tent from collapsing. First every 3 hours and then every hour requires a 20 min. shoveling session. The forecast is for increasing winds today and by tomorrow 60 mph winds. Then they should improve with wind tapering to 20mph. We need to either move camps or try to summit and get part way down. We both have damaged fingers so we decide to wait out the storm and move the tent so we, hopefully, don’t have to dig so much. I am confident we will succeed now and that I will survive. We both agree this is the hardest thing we have ever done. I will learn a lot from this experience! I want BACON!


Blogger FFjunkie99 said...

Yeah that's intense dude. Plain and simple. I've been on Denali and skied past Foraker; I have a good idea how remote the Infinite really is. Good on you. I understood your thoughts at that time about not participating in risky climbing, and your feelings of wanting to contribute more of your life to friends and family. I'm in that boat nowadays myself. Cheers brother! ;)

5:30 PM  

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