On July 13-14, 2005, Chad Kellogg and I completed a new route, The Black
Crystal Arete (VI 5.10 A2, 3,000′), on Kichatna Spire (8,985′).
The route climbs the Spire’s striking south ridge; it’s the first route
to ascend the peak’s southern side, the seventh independent route to the
summit and the eighth ascent to the top of the spire. We accomplished
the climb in a twenty-five-and-a-half hour round-trip effort from the
After two prior attempts, we left on the morning of July 13 during a
rare spell of good weather and accessed the arete via seven
pitches up the east wall, below its first major gendarme. On Pitch 2, I
led an unlikely 5.10+ sequence through small roofs and delicate
flakes–the first key to the route. Once we were on the arete,
several gendarmes required much route finding but went mostly free with
a few points of aid. Chad’s “Bombay’s Away” pitch proved exciting when a
seemingly stable booger of rock, five times his size, flushed out of a
chimney as he stood on top of it. Overhanging aid through shifty
chockstone flakes then ensued to reach the ridge.
The ridge was short-lived, however, completely dead-ending into a steep
headwall nearly 1,000 feet below the summit. We were somewhat
discouraged, but then spotted a most amazing feature to the left: two
perfectly horizontal seams, one for the feet and one for the hands, led
for 200 feet into what could be construed as more promising terrain.
These seams gained Chad instant 2,000-foot exposure over the south face.
Above this traverse, I got the “Icebox Desperado” pitch–an ice-smeared
vertical chimney that required some brilliantly nasty aid and free
climbing up disintegrating cracks.
Several more pitches led directly to the summit ridge, 200 feet from the
true summit. An easy boulder move gained us the final summit block. We
reached the top in the late evening, with no wind and hardly any clouds.
There, for nearly forty-five minutes, we watched the sun make its long
horizontal descent toward Mt. Foraker, before we started the long and
cold descent. A repeat of the traverse with frozen fingers and toes and
nearly twenty rappels brought us to the western cirque of the aptly
entitled Shadows, where the rising sun again warmed us.
We named our route after a magical cave with the most magnificent and
nearly faultless black crystals. Some were more than two feet long!
Joseph Puryear, Leavenworth, Washington