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Erdmann, Roskelley Get ‘Rotten Scrappy’ on Unclimbed Kichatnas Face

The Erdmann-Roskelley NE Face (IV M3 70 degrees, 4,000′) on the northeast face of Augustin, Kichatna Spires, Alaska. Benjamin Erdmann found no evidence of a second ascent after Michael Graber, Alan Long and George Schunk first climbed the peak by its west face in 1977. [Photo] Benjamin Erdmann collection

Before attempting Augustin, the tallest peak on the triple-forked Trident glacier in 1977, Michael Graber, Alan Long and George Schunk imagined buckling icefalls, steep couloirs and volatile cornices. Days later, the mountain’s form loomed beyond Graber’s pointing finger that was tracing his proposed line “through an icefall, [then] jumped three bergschrunds in the central snowfield, wriggled through a narrow slot into the final couloir and sprinted for the summit ridge. Snow and ice all the way…The peak was plastered,” Long wrote in the 1978 American Alpine Journal. To them, Augustin was “more terrifyingly alpine” than any other peak in Alaska’s Kichatna Spires. Its west face was also the largest in the group, and it had never been climbed.

This April, Benjamin Erdmann and Jess Roskelley found Augustin in a similarly wintery state, “with daily storms and unconsolidated snow on the faces,” Erdmann wrote to Alpinist. That time last year, they found solid blue ice high up on the east face of the Citadel, when they established Hypa Zypa (VI 5.10R A3 AI5+ M6+, 3,700′) with Kristoffer Szilas. Now, they couldn’t get a single ice screw to catch in “the aerated stuff” on Augustin, but they “landed and launched” anyway, he said. Around 1,500 feet of mixed rick and rotten ice, with a pause to bivouac, brought them to a col on the ridge that separates the middle and north forks of the Trident glacier. In naming their line, which did not continue to the summit, they took the German word snicklefritz, meaning “a mischievous little boy,” and applied it to the “rotten scrappy” nature of the conditions. The SnickleFritz reaches a grade of 5.9 A2 M5 80 degrees.

Soon after they descended, the weather socked them in for ten days, so Erdmann and Roskelley skied up and down each fork of the Trident and the mountain passes above. “We felt a bit like Shackleton, except with lots of good food, global communication and minimal hardship,” Roskelley said afterward.

Erdmann aids through a mixed gully on the SnickleFritz in rock shoes. [Photo] Jess Roskelley

On Easter night, April 20, the pair climbed up steepening snow onto Augustin’s northeast face under shaded seracs. They passed a few hours in a single sleeping bag before waking in the sunlight. Variable mixed terrain capped by a long, steep snowfield stretched for thousands of feet above them. They simulclimbed it all, carving out a new, “classic and enjoyable” route they called the Erdmann-Roskelley NE Face (IV M3 70 degrees, 4,000′) to a 2:30 p.m. summit.

Thirty-seven years earlier, spindrift lashed Michael Graber’s face as he “wriggled through [the] narrow slot” that he’d visualized from his stance on the Trident glacier days before. Moving slowly through many-veined couloirs high on the west face of Augustin, he and his partners felt like “sitting ducks [waiting] for any ice mushroom or piece of cornice that the mountain might throw.” But the snow held in the cold and stable conditions, and they climbed onward, “ticking off the obstacles, putting more and more of the objective dangers behind.” Just below the summit, Long wrote in the AAJ, “the light of dawn…spread out in a glowing fan on the glacier below. A bald eagle soared by. The fear and uncertainty we had poured into the climb began to emerge as exultation.”

“On the summit the release was incredible; no longer focused on the next step or the next hold, our perspectives expanded to encompass a fantastic panorama. Concentration gave way to relaxation in the snow and the sunshine, our thoughts drifting beyond the climb and the mountain to gentler places where survival is taken for granted.”

Sources: Benjamin Erdmann, 1978 American Alpine Journal

Erdmann follows Roskelley’s lead high on Augustin. [Photo] Jess Roskelley collection