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Sugar Man: new route from Much Mayr and Hansjörg Auer


The two Austrian guys went to Alaska's Neacola Mountains to climb a challenging Northface of an unclimbed peak

"Sugar man, won't you hurry 'cos I'm tired of these scenes...won't you bring back all those colors to my dreams." Hansjörg and I are lying in our tent, listening to music. It's been our pastime for hours. I see similarities to Rodriguez' song. The melancholic, yearning, and yet nervous waiting for the sugar man, who will bring the long-awaited drugs and ensuing relief... "Lonely Boy", by the Black Keys completes the picture of our mental state. "I got a love that keeps me waiting.” The snowstorm in the Neacola Mountains has been relentless thus far. Time and time again we shovel the snow off the top of our tent. Time is running out. According to the forecast, the first half of the next day is the only precipitation free stretch before the weather closes in again with more snow and winds up to 50 km/h. We were just going to have a look at the conditions on the probably unclimbed mountain west of the Citadel... Whether the rock is covered in loose snow, or if there is a chance... We start at 4 am, so that we at least get to try, and anyway, we didn't come here to sleep in - as Hansjörg puts it. Right above the wall, it becomes clear that it is much steeper than we anticipated. The first pitch, which leads up and right, provides us with a first taste of what lays ahead... virtually no ice and just enough plastered snow to delicately move upwards on the compact granite slabs. That is, if you mostly dispense with much protection. The first ice screw doesn't need twisting to remove it. The next piece of pro is a beak. I don’t want to leave it here frivolously, the wall above is high and the thought of rappelling here makes me shudder. After some work with the hammer, the beak all of a sudden pops, and I do the same. If it wasn’t for the ice axe that I caught at the last moment and that luckily held, it would have meant a twenty-meter pendulum onto an anchor consisting of two ice axes. Probably this would have been more than the anchor could take, resulting in both of us encountering the reaper. We engage in wishful thinking. “It will surely become safer soon,”  and justifiable to proceed. I lead the next pitch, hoping to find better protection. With few exceptions, the anchors stay bad: only our ice axes with an ice screw “stuck into” the snow next to them, to make it feel better. For the next couple hours, we run on adrenaline. Hope that nobody falls. Hope that the spindrift doesn’t collect - we are directly below the lane of the summit cornice. The day we arrived I saw several large sweeps of snow fall down over this part of the wall, sheets that were hardly spindrift anymore. Demanding mixed climbing dominates on the next pitches. Two pitches create intense memories: After several minutes of up and down, left and right, Hansjörg’s crampons scratch over the rock twenty meters above me. Even following this spot is tricky, there being even less snow/ice left over for me. I take a hook in the chin from one ice axe, fortunately the other one holds and I wobble my way upwards… thinking of the few bad pieces below me and the mediocre one far up and left… at the anchor. On the second unforgettable pitch, it is my turn to lead. It looks even steeper than the ones before. The tension rises accordingly. Slowly, I progress upwards. After the toilsome removal of the sugar-like snow I finally find a diagonal crack… this leads me up and left and the way to the steep snow/ice ledge is free. A few more pitches in increasing winds lead us to the summit. Forget the damn summit selfie, I think. The camera shutter already clicks. No break, no deep breath, let's just get out of here, because we don’t know what lies ahead. The weather is now deteriorating, the wind picks up. I go ahead on the knife edge ridge, at first balancing my way walking upright, then crawling rather than walking, for a moment sitting on the ridge with one leg on the left and one on the right, looking down to the glacier 800 meters below. The following steep slopes allow a quick descent. At the col we rest for the first time. It’s the first time we take a moment to pause, to talk. Hansjörg asks if I also feel the pins and needles on the lips, his symptom of excess adrenaline… We can’t hide our gratitude and relief. We agree that we should avoid such dangerous routes in the future… many hours later we are still restless, can’t sleep, and listen to “One day, baby, we’ll be old” by Wankelmut. Much Mayr