An account of my May 2008 trip to Mt. McKinley (Denali).
This is based on the journal I kept during the expedition. I've finally got all of the journal typed up and available here and I've added all of the pictures (except for the flight-seeing tour the last day). Captions are in place as well. Five months after the trip, and its just about done. I've got a bunch of video footage as well, but I don't (yet) have the disk space necessary to pull it off the camera. One day.
"Mountaineering is so much fun because it feels so good when you stop." -Mike Walter
- Other Blogs
- Three other climbers in the team have blogs with information and pictures from the trip. They include Baron, Wes and John. Wes and John actually had satellite phones with them, and they phoned in daily updates for their respective blogs. Wes and Dan were kind enough to send out CDs with all of their respective pictures, so I've incorporated some of those pictures here.
- Table of Contents
Day 0: Sun May 04 (Still in NYC)
Day 1: Mon May 05 (Traveling to Anchorage)
Day 2: Tue May 06 (Traveling to Talkeetna)
Day 3: Wed May 07 (Gear Checks and Orientation)
Day 4: Thu May 08 (Fly to Base Camp)
Day 5: Fri May 09 (Base Camp to Camp 1)
Day 6: Sat May 10 (Camp 1 to Camp 2)
Day 7: Sun May 11 (Stuck at Camp 2)
Day 8: Mon May 12 (Stuck at Camp 2)
Day 9: Tue May 13 (Stuck at Camp 2)
Day 10: Wed May 14 (Camp 2 to 11k)
Day 11: Thu May 15 (Stuck at Camp 3)
Day 12: Fri May 16 (Carry to Windy Corner)
Day 13: Sat May 17 (Camp 3 to Camp 4)
Day 14: Sun May 18 (Back-Carry from Windy Corner)
Day 15: Mon May 19 (Carry up Head Wall)
Day 16: Tue May 20 (Rest, Eat & Hydrate @ Camp 4)
Day 17: Wed May 21 (Stuck at Camp 4)
Day 18: Thu May 22 (Stuck at Camp 4)
Day 19: Fri May 23 (Stuck at Camp 4)
Day 20: Sat May 24 (Stuck at Camp 4)
Day 21: Sun May 25 (Stuck at Camp 4)
Day 22: Mon May 26 (Camp 4 to Camp 5)
Day 23: Tue May 27 (Stuck at Camp 5)
Day 24: Wed May 28 (Stuck at Camp 5)
Day 25: Thu May 29 (Stuck at Camp 5)
Day 26: Fri May 30 (Summit Day)
Day 27: Sat May 31 (Camp 5 to Base Camp)
Day 28: Sun Jun 01 (Base Camp to Talkeetna)
Day 29: Mon Jun 02 (Flight-Seeing Tour & Talkeetna to Anchorage to New York)
Day 30: Tue Jun 03 (Travel to New York)
Epilogue: Sun Sep 28 (Post-trip Stuff)
- The Team
- This May 2008 expedition of Mt. McKinley (Denali), the highest peak in North America (at 20,320'), was guided by RMI Guides based out of Ashford, WA. The team consisted of:
Mike Walter - lead guide
Billy Nugent - first assistant guide
Federico Campanini - second assistant guide
Curtis Jones (that's me!)
- Day 0: Sun May 04
- Still in NYC
- RMI said the snacks we bring along should weigh about 15 pounds. After shopping yesterday I ended up with only eight. I bought more today and it came to exactly 15.0 pounds. Amusing. Mostly I have a bunch of the highest calorie candy bars I could find (mostly Snickers and a few 3 Musketeers), lots of trail mix (several different variations), chocolate chip granola bars and fake fig newtons. We're going to stop at a grocery store on our way to Talkeetna and I'll have the opportunity to pick up a few more things. This really is an enormous amount of food. I don't see how I could possibly eat it all.
I spread out all of the gear that I'm bringing with me on the floor, yesterday, and took a few pictures of it. It's an impressive amount of stuff. I should probably start packing it into the duffel bags at some point today. I hope it all fits.
I'm going to be in Alaska tomorrow....
All of my McKinley stuff, before packing
All of my McKinley stuff, after packing
- Day 1: Mon May 05
- Traveling to Anchorage
- New York to Atlanta to Salt Lake City to Anchorage. This is going to be a long day. I'm taking car service to the airport. Hauling a hundred pounds in two large duffel bags is no fun on the subway and a bus. It's 9am and the driver is supposed to be here now. They're always late.
Finally on the road. The idiot Dial-7 driver was sitting on 31st St. without making any significant effort to contact me and let me know that he had arrived. When I finally called the car service company (to find out when the driver would be arriving) they told me that the driver was there already. And this explained the hang-up phone call I receied shortly befoe - the driver's idea of contacting me, I guess.
So, we start driving and out-of-the-blue the driver - in an accent so thick I couldn't really understand him at all - tells me what time it is. 9:17am. After much striving, I finally determined that he wanted to charge me for the time that he had to wait. Yeah, right. I called up Dial-7 and elaborated on his ineptness and they sided with me. They also denied him "priority at Laguardia". Overall he wasn't very happy with me. They need a "speaks English" checkbox on the web site. Even if it said, +$5 next to it, I'd still check it.
First flight. I'm on my way to Atlanta. My rubik's cube was the cause for my meating this guy Mark. He is starting a five month job some twenty miles from Talkeetna with Princess Tours. He used to live in Dunwoody (I used to live in Dunwoody). I gave him my name and email. He is supposed to email me so that I can send him pictures from the trip.
I'm on my way from Atlanta to Salt Lake City and I have this enormous couple sitting next to me. I guess I should be thankful that I don't have the middle seat. The in-flight movie has started and the lady (who does have the middle seat) was looking all around for the audio jack. There's no polite way to say, its on the arm rest and your enormous thigh is completely blocking it, so I instead let her use the one on my arm rest. Hysterical.
It's 4am ET and I'm finally in Anchorage. What a day. Ninteen hours of traveling.
I made it to the Holiday Inn Express, finally. They sent a van to the airport to pick me up. It's a pretty nice hotel.
And I'm starving. The lady-behind-the-counter said that Sicily's Pizza is still open (its after 1am) and that they deliver. So I've ordered a large pizza. Hopefully that'll take the edge off my hunger.
Okay, so, I've mocked the notion of the superiority of New York pizza - although mostly I mock the people - and this was the first time I've had pizza outside of New York in probably a year. It was terrible. Easily the worst I've ever had. I'm hoping I haven't become a New York pizza snob.
Anyway, Family Guy ended and then I caught the end of Die Hard (1). And that's a good way to end any night. I'm going to sleep now.
- Day 2: Tue May 06
- Traveling to Talkeetna
- Day 2: Tue May 06 (Traveling to Talkeetna)
I'm back at the airport - the group's designated meeting place. I'm going to be hanging out here for the next four hours. Joy. I have a rubik's cube, a computer science book and an iPod. I'm guessing I probably won't touch the book. I didn't bother to load any movies onto my iPod before leaving. Sucks.
I haven't spotted any other climbers yet. There's a guy sleeping near me. He has a lot of stuff, but based on his pudginess, I'm guessing that he isn't part of the group.
Just finished talking to the guy who was sleeping near me. Although he wasn't sleeping when I spoke with him. He saw all of my stuff and came over and asked if I was, going to McKinley as well. I very enthusiastically said that I was. Turns out that he meant the town of McKinley, or something like that. He is doing the same thing Mark is doing (Princess Tours) and is going to be a cook/maintenance guy.
There's this guy here at baggage claim with a big duffel bag. He tried to get one of those baggage cart things that cost $3. First he went to the wrong end and pulled unsuccessfully for a while. Then he went to the correct end and again pulled unsuccessfully for a while. Then I think he realized that you're supposed to pay. I suspect he is part of my group.
My week+ of facial hair growth is coming along well. My face should be nicely protected from the harsh cold. It's like a natural balaclava.
We're on the road to Talkeetna. We all met up at baggage claim as planned. We're going to stop at some grocery store called Carr's. I'm thinking about getting tortillas, cheese and salami. And maybe some lunch - all I've had is airplane food and bad pizza for the past two days.
It's cloudy off in the distance, so while we can see the low peaks of the front range, we can't see any of the high peaks. We'll be able to see the highest of the peaks, up close, real soon, so I'm not too disappointed.
So, Talkeetna is small. We got checked in at the Tee Pee (the hotel), and the remainder of the evening is ours. We're supposed to meet up at 07:30 at the Roadhouse for breakfast and introductions and then we'll get to gear checks after breakfast.
The guides and all of the other clients seem very cool. This should be a good trip. The plan is to fly out to the Kahiltna glacier (where base camp is) on Thursday morning.
It's surprising to note that I have excellent AT&T service. And then I saw the cell phone tower across the street from the hotel. I wasn't expecting any cell phone service. Also, the hotel has free wifi, which I find even more surprising. The TV in my room gets two stations, and poorly at that. That's more along the lines of what I expected.
The Teepee; the hotel we stayed at while in Talkeetna
A cell tower; I didn't expect to have any cell phone service, much less good cell phone service
Downtown Talkeetna. Believe it or not, this street will be bustling with senior citizens on vacation in one short month
- Day 3: Wed May 07
- Gear Checks and Orientation
- Met for breakfast at the Roadhouse. This place has the menu on a chalkboard on the wall. There are three choices for breakfast and each comes as either a "half" or a "whole". Everyone - and I mean everyone - orders the half. I too ordered the half. It was a considerable amount of food.
The guides introduced themselves. I don't have much to go on, but Mike seems like he is a pretty good lead guide. Each of us (the clients) had a moment to introduce ourselves - mostly just who we were, what we did for a living, and why we felt compelled to climb the mountain ("I feel couped up in New York", I explained. "This is my rash over-reaction."). I made a point of emphasizing that I just lived in New York; I wasn't from New York. I feel compelled to apologize.
Gear checks. We're using the Hudson airplane hangar at the air field. We all have all of our gear spread out all over the place. Mike recited everything that we need, plus gave us instruction on what to do with our rope. He suggested we craft foam wraps for the top of our ice tools (so that we're not holding directly on the medal; even with gloves it'll make your hand cold.), plus the ice tools need leashes. We need ditch loops on our packs (so that when you fall in a crevasse and you're hanging from the rope, you can drop your pack with it attached to the rope, so that it won't cause you to hang up-side-down) and a loop attached to the pack for dragging the sled.
We've reduced everything to an amount that we can cram into our packs and one duffel bag. We had to weigh and label (with the weight) each bag so that the pilots could properly load the planes.
After some conversation on the matter, I picked up some pringles, more candy bars and a Sobe drink from the store in town. I'm leaving the Sobe to be consumed when I return. The pringles and candy bars are coming with me. Mmm...pringles.
Billy and Fede (the first and second assistant guides, respectively) have been out back organizing our breakfasts and dinners into big white garbage bags. Twenty-two of them. That's a lot of food.
We all went to the Denali National Park ranger station. It's in Talkeetna, of course, on one of the three streets that comprise Talkeetna. On that topic, I understand there's a permanent population of 600 people in this town and yet I have no idea where 600 people would possibly live. Anyway, we each paid our $200 registration fee (I thought that was covered in the RMI registration ... apparently not) and received a lecture about keeping the mountain clean and a slide show depicting the course of our trip.
The ranger station has a big board which shows that there are 1085 registered climbers this season (so far), 160 on the mountain, 3 people have returned from the mountain and no one has summitted.
We're back at the hangar sorting and packing our gear. Outside, a raven just got into an in-air fight with a seagul and ultimately dragged it (the seagul) down to the ground and started feasting on it - with the seagul pinned up-side-down, trying to flap its wings. Welcome to Alaska. The birds here are psychotic. I got a picture.
The group got a tent orientation. First the guides showed us how to properly set up and anchor one tent and then we all set about doing our best to mimick them with the three other tents. Pretty easy stuff. I imagine we'll all be pretty competent at setting up and tearing down the tents by the end of this trip.
We're done with gear checks. It's time to eat.
We criss-crossed town stopping at pretty much every eating establishment that Talkeetna has to offer, and they do have a surprising number. The highlight was definitely the cafe at the Roadhouse. I had blueberry cobbler with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and a glass of milk. So. Very. Delicious.
We're just burning time eating food. Very soon these calories are going to be keeping us alive. We're supposed to meet at the hangar at 9am, boots on and ready to fly. I can't wait. We're almost there.
I met the Ed mentioned in this sign when I did ice climbing with Rock and River in Adirondack Park early this year. Great fun. So, some guy traveled from Death Valley (lowest point in the country) to the summit of McKinley (highest point in this country) in one trip. Crazy.
The or so really does a good job of succinctly describing life in Talkeetna.
We used the Hudson hangar at the Talkeetna airfield to do gear checks
Two of our guides are sorting out our meals - one day's worth of food (breakfast and dinner) for twelve people in each white bag
The Hudson hangar at Talkeetna airfield
Inside the park services office they have a board that shows climbing stats for Foraker and McKintley
The guides showed us how to set up one tent and we set up the other three
A raven had an in-air fight with a seagul and eventually threw it to the ground, pinned it, and started eating it (while the gul was still alive) - welcome to Alaska!
We sorted out what we needed to bring from what we could leave behind and got it all packed up and ready to fly
My two piles (stuff I'm bringing and stuff I'm leaving)
- Day 4: Thu May 08
- Fly to Base Camp
- Day 4: Thu May 08 (Fly to Base Camp)
9am and we're all here at the hangar, ready to fly. I shoveled down my breakfast at the Roadhouse so that I could get to the airfield on time and now we're just waiting; and to think, I could have enjoyed those scrambled eggs. Oh well. The weather is beautiful here at the airfield (Talkeetna International Airport?) but apparently its foggy at base camp and they can't land in the fog. So we wait. It could be minutes. It could be hours. It could be even worse. I'm trying not to think about spending another night in Talkeetna, waiting to fly out.
Apparently a weather front is moving in that could last until Sunday. Two or three more days in Talkeetna? Uggh.
Two flight-seeing customers are about to leave and the pilot offered to take someone from our group along in case he could manage to land at base camp. Mike (the lead guide) told Billy (the first assistant guide) to go with them. If Billy manages to make it to basecamp and then bad weather moves in, he'll be stuck there by himself. We over heard a conversation between Billy and Mike that went something like, "But I don't want to go out there. I'm going to get stuck and have to spend the night there by myself." And then Mike, "You're a guide. This is what you do. Now go." Ha ha. Poor Billy.
Still, I'm jealous. *I* want to go out to base camp and get stuck. Enough of being in Talkeetna.
Bad weather moved in. The pilot managed to land. The tourists got to walk around base camp for a bit and then they took off again, leaving Billy behind. The fog rolled back in so Billy is there by himself for the time being. We continue to lounge around the hangar doing nothing.
We're going back into town to get lunch. Probably ... hopefully ... our last good meal for a while.
The weather is clearing up. Wes and a bunch of gear got to go on the next flight. They're off....
Ten minutes later and Wes is back. Bad weather again. This sucks. But its comical too.
Sweet! We have a go. Dan, Wes and I jumped on a plane and we made it to base camp. We tossed everything out of the plane, joined Billy and the pilot was gone. Fog is rolling in so no one else is taking off. Now the four of us might end up staying the night here while everyone else remains in Talkeetna for food and beer and spends the night there. Whatever. I think I got the better end of the deal (if it comes to that).
We're setting up camp (leveling out some snow for the tents), setting up the tents, hitching sleds and lounging around. It's great to finally be on the mountain, even if we're stuck at base camp instead of being able to push on to Camp 1 immediately. Too late in the day - even if everyone else arrived right now.
I think Billy is relieved to not be stuck here by himself.
All of the sudden two Hudson planes showed up out of nowhere, carrying the rest of the group. So, we're all here. The guides are setting up the cook area; going to eat dinner and crash here for the night. Tomorrow, Camp 1!
Instead of hiking across a glacier, we were getting lunch in town because base camp was fogged in
In the cessna, flying over the Alaskan wilderness, approaching the front range, on our way to base camp
Our plane is leaving and the reality of the situation settles on me; and that's our pile of stuff
We get to base camp too late to start climbing to we set up camp right there
- Day 5: Fri May 09
- Base Camp to Camp 1
- Breakfast this morning was some entirely unsatisfying granola, but there was mention of burritos for dinner, so I'm not complaining. I just hope we don't have granola every morning.
Brutal. We're here at Camp 1. We didn't ascend very much, but it was _hard_. Packs and sleds were both heavy (60 pounds each). The trek was chopped up into four (or was it five?) one hour segments with a break between each one.
I don't know if this segment was in fact hard, or if it was mostly just a shock to my system. I live at sea level (plus thirty-seven floors) and while I trained with a heavier pack, I've certainly never dragged a sled, and walking up stairs (for training) doesn't well approximate pulling a sled up hill. Once we get on steeper stuff, the training I did will be more beneficial.
My legs hurt.
No one is saying anything about hurting, so I can only hope that egos permeate our group and that I'm not actually the runt. I have my moments of doubt though.
Somehow, in the chaos of choosing tents last night, the Geriatrics (the two oldest people in our group - who really aren't that old - but that's how I'm going to refer to them here, anyway) found their way into the tent I had chosen. I didn't think much of it last night, but this morning Jerry mentioned needing to pee half a dozen times last night. You see, getting out of the tent in the middle of the night is sometimes seriously annoying, and other times its incredibly dangerous (if there's a storm going on), but people still need to pee even during storms, so we have pee bottles. Sleeping soundly while the guy inches away from me is pissing in a bottle is not a talent I was born with - I'm pretty sure. As such, I am now convinced that earplugs are the best item I brought with me, save the cold weather gear itself. I didn't wake up for even a single peeing.
Chef Billy prepared a feast for dinner this evening - fahitas - comprised of chicken, cheese, onions and peppers, all freshly diced and placed on tortillas. It was delicious. Truly excellent.
For the time being (and probably until we move to high camp), we're sleeping three to a tent, which is nice because these are supposedly four person tents. With three people in the tent it is difficult to imagine fitting another person. I guess that mystery will be answered in the next couple of weeks.
Through years of practice in the art of extreme sphincter conter, I managed to only just this evening use the CMC for the first time. The CMC (Clean Mountain Can) is the Park's solution to dealing with human waste (of the solid variety) and thereby keeping the mountain clean. They are green and cylindrical plastic cans about a foot tall and maybe ten inches in diameter. The can is lined with clear plastic bags (corn starch bags) that are supposedly biodegreable. Only solid waste is to go into the CMC. We have six CMCs for our group of twelve. When a CMC is filled (and there's a minimum required "drop zone" in order to use the CMC without regretting it - as evidenced by experience), it is sealed and carried with us until we get to one of the designated crevasses, where the corn starch bag is "cracked" (ie, tossed into the crevasse).
This being my first experiece with a CMC, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a much less traumatizing experience than I expected - which is good, since I'll be using them for the next couple of weeks. The lesson to remember is this: always pee first, or don't forget your pee bottle.
Mike says that the plan is to set out for Camp 2 tomorrow morning. The weather has been perfect so far. Actually, it's amazingly beautiful out.
We're on our way from base camp to camp 1; there's a lot of nothing out there
It just looks like fun, happy snow ... until you plummet a thousand feet to your death - you didn't know you were walking over an open crevasse, did you? Yeah, it's pretty much impossible for me to just enjoy snow any more
Taking a break on our way to camp 1
Tracks in the snow
A mountain-ish thing. When you first get here, this is all new and amazing stuff
Yes, it does look like we're going *downhill*. You know, that means we have to go up-hill on our way back. I'm sure that'll be fun.
We make it to camp 1.
We dug out a kitchen area. And its ridiculous how cold we thought it was. Little did we know that it was actually warm out.
Billy and Fede prepare a gourmet meal for us. Dinners at the start of the trip were all fresh foods.
- Day 6: Sat May 10
- Camp 1 to Camp 2
- Second night on the glacier, and nothing terribly interesting to report. Sleeping on a foam pad with a therm-a-rest on top of it is surprisingly comfortable. Of course, I sleep on a couch when I'm not on mountains, so maybe I just don't have a good basis for comparison.
Breakfast this morning is toasted bagels. Very decent breakfast, although sort of lacking in quantity; but far more decilious than granola. It is evident to me now that I need to be eating more at every opportunity.
Right from the start, this morning, we were moving neck-and-neck with "Ze Germans". They're just another group heading from Camp 1 to Camp 2. We'll pass them and take a break and they'll pass us and take a break, etc. Not very interesting information for the journal, but when you're walking along a glacier for hours, there's limited entertainment possibilities.
We made it to Camp 2! Boo yah. My legs hurt, but not as much as they did yesterday. I'm mostly just running out of energy. Eat more. I look forward to my "carved in stone" physique upon my return.
Ze Germans crafted the most elaborate crapper I've yet seen. Wes has been our self-designated "crapper constructor", partly because he is good at it but mostly because he has the most powerful urge to "go" each day, so he has motivation to get it set up as quickly as possible. He does fine work.
Baron invited me over to his place in Anchorage upon our return. I believe he intends to throw a Memorial Day party. I can't wait.
So far I'm not smelling so bad - as far as I can tell. The weather has been so nice (as in warm) that sweating is inevitable, but it hasn't been too terrible. I'm sure the smell will kick in soon. The Kahiltna glacier is actually so warm during the day, later in the Summer (June / July) that most teams only travel at night (it isn't very dark at night) until they reach the upper mountain. And then you try to only be in your sleeping bag at night.
My handwriting sucks.
Dinner this evening was stir fry made with rice, peppers, chicken and broccoli. It was delicious but it was only adequate because I had lots of cheese, salami and tortillas before hand.
My second use of the CMC went great. And a bad trip to the CMC definitely has the potential for ruining your day, so, this is a good thing. I hope for many more pleasant CMC experiences.
Tomorrow we will push on to the 11k camp. We'll probably do a single load (ie, carry all of our gear and move camp at the same time). Uggh.
I believe we came down that hill the previous day; or maybe that's the way we're heading out to camp 2. I get all turned around.
Some people dry out their sleeping bags by tossing them on top of the tents.
We prepare to set out from camp 1 and head up that stupid hill
Some little mountains
On our way to Camp 2; taking a break
Mike, the lead guide, gets far too much enjoyment out of these trips
Looking back the way we came from
Happy to be sitting for a while
We've come quite a long distance but we really haven't ascended very much
The nose protector. You don't see a lot of those these days
Everyone is so happy and fairly cleanly shaved
When we get to camp the guides make sure that we're not sitting on top of a snow bridge; or that if we are, that it is a thick snow bridge
They call it "probing". I was of the opinion that a better word could be found
Wes settles in for some animal crackers and hot chocolate - the staple of any good diet
One of only several types of life we saw on the mountain - these birds enjoy flying, eating and freezing to death over night. Also, they like to get sneak into the tents at night. Not my tent, thankfully.
I still don't understand how those birds got up there, since they all just tend to die over-night
- Day 7: Sun May 11
- Stuck at Camp 2
- Whoa. So, a bit of a shock. Every morning the weather has been so beautiful - you almost expect to see birds chirping in the trees - if there were trees. This morning it is overcast and snowing. Snow! Such an inconvenience: it just gets on everything. Whatever.
We had nutri-grain bars and toasted bagels with cheese for breakfast. Deeelicious. :-)
Time to get packed up.
So a bit of a breeze started and the weather continued to get worse. Just before we started to pack up the tents Mike told us to hold off for a bit. We don't have to do any "alpine starts" here, so there's no problem with delaying for a while.
We're going to set up the canopy over the kitchen, and we have a light-weight tarp thing that we're going to anchor over the crapper so that we have a nice roof which'll protect us from the wind.
It's officially a snow day! I guess if you're not going to be climbing, you may as well be industrious in other ways. We're building up a snow wall around the cook tent, and we're digging out the interior for increased seating capacity. If we're going to be hanging around, we may as well improve our accommodations.
We unpacked all of our stuff and everyone went back to their tents for the afternoon to read / veg / nap / whatever. I'm still here in the cook tent. I tried taking a nap but my toes started getting cold so I put on my overboots (for the first time), and now my feet are all toasty warm.
Billy said that the secret to dealing with down time is to either "turn off your brain or dream of warm beaches." Time to eat more pringles. Mike said that Camp 3 largely puts us above some of the bad weather. I can't wait to be looking down on the storms.
Earlier today Billy mentioned something about, "taking the browns to the super bowl," which, he explained, was a euphemism for taking a dump. I guess when you do mountain guiding full time, you have a lot of time to come up with these things.
Dinner was mashed potatoes (re-hydrated) and turkey-and-stuffing meals. Both were amazing and for the first time, adequate. Mike announced that the eight of us consumed thirty-one servings of mashed potatoes. I guess we were hungry.
Some little mountains
Some little mountains
Our camp got "dusted" over night
- Day 8: Mon May 12
- Stuck at Camp 2
- I'm awake but very much still inside my sleeping bag. It sounds like its a nice day - I mean, the tent isn't blowing in the wind or anything. If its still crappy out, I'd prefer to just not get out of my sleeping bag just yet. But, we don't have a choice - breakfast is on.
Not a nice day. Visibility is slightly improved but its just as windy and snowy. I'm betting that we sit here another day. Bah.
Breakfast is some granola-and-raisin cereal and a cereal bar thing. I decided to skip the powdered milk. My pringles are running at about one-third; the end must be near.
So we're all just hanging out in the tents because being outside sucks. It's mid-day and some people just started moving into our little camp. Mike actually heard their rope dragging across his tent. We have twelve people, four tents, a cook tent and a crapper all in a nice little area, sectioned off with wands and set apart from the surrounding camps - so its a bit odd to see someone else try to move in. Mike got out of his tent to see what was going on. They explained that our camp looked all probed (for crevasses) and Mike said, "well, yeah, because we probed it." And then, "you know, the glacier goes on for miles...." They got the picture and moved on down a little ways.
Back to napping for a while.
We're having burritos made with fresh chopped onions and peppers for dinner. Mmm. The weather still sucks.
The weather really started getting worse during dinner. Brian asked if there was a top-end to how long storms could last. How does one answer a question like that? Mike didn't even try.
These little birds are sneaking under the tent flys at night and sometimes even into the tents. I don't understand how they survive at all.
I'm going to put my boot liners down at the bottom of my sleeping bag and see if that helps keep my feet any warmer when I put on my boots in the morning.
Our first set-back; apparently its not wise to climb during white-out; who knew?
Settling into camp, since we're going to be here another day
The cook tent
Inside the cook tent, all our happy and no longer hungry
- Day 9: Tue May 13
- Stuck at Camp 2
- It snowed a lot last night - or maybe the wind just blew snow on us from elsewhere.
Breakfast this morning is scrambled eggs (rehydrated, of course), which really aren't very good, but we also brought along some bacon. Everyone got five strips. Bacon definitely helps the eggs.
This guy - hair all disheveled and snot running out of his nose - stumbled into our cook tent just now. He had a hand-written note contained in a little ziplock bag for Mike. Mike started reading it silently and Eric took a guess as to its contents: "I like you. Do you like me? Yes[ ] No[ ]"
It turns out that while here at Camp 2 we're out of radio contact with 14k camp where RMI-1 (the first RMI group; we're the second RMI group) is currently hanging out. They're probably going to have to make a trip back down to 11k camp to get more food soon.
I wish I had brought a HT ham radio with me. And a roll-up solar panel.
I'm bored and restless. I've shoveled a bunch of paths around camp for easier walking and I built a snow wall around my pack and sled, after I got them both unburied.
The warm-from-the-start boot liners (heated overnight in my sleeping bag) were very nice this morning. My toes weren't cold at all, as they often are, after I put on my boots and start walking around.
I left a bottle of water in my duffel overnight and this morning there is this perfect egg-shaped liquid area right in the middle of it. Very strange.
Mike has been talking all day of doing a carry to the next camp. I'm not really a big fan of that idea. I wish we had just pushed on the first morning here at Camp 2. The weather wasn't _that_ bad.
Some people set up camp way down away from the rest of camp. I'm told they're taking core samples out of the glacier.
Thought for the day: maybe the Into the Wild guy actually committed suicide from boredom. I've been hanging out in the tent for hours now.
It must be 75 degrees in the tent right now. If try not to think about where all of this heat is coming from, it's actually quite nice. But, I wonder if we're suffering from CO2 poisoning. Fresh air comes at the cost of being cold air. Is the tradeoff worth it? Will Jerry ever stop snoring? These are the pressing issues of the moment.
I think a system comprised of an iPhone/Touch, data cable, packet-radio capable ham HT and a solar panel would be awesome. I certainly have enough time available to cope with a 9600 baud connection. What about live slow-scan TV? That'd be cool. Video capture from the iPhone! Who am I talking to? Time to continue staring at the ceiling of the tent again.
The storm broke this afternoon. For one blissful hour it was almost nice out. Almost time for dinner.
We're having this rice stuff and chicken for dinner. It's decent. Wes described camping on Denali as a nursing home: wake up, get a hot drink and breakfast, take a dump, take your meds, sleep for a while, snack, another hot drink, dinner, another dump and then to bed.
A couple of days ago someone was having technical difficulties with the CMC: hitting the rim. Obviously no one fessed up to the crime; and it's pretty likely that the perp is actually unaware that he committed the crime. Mike brought this all to our attention, and encouraged us to use the buddy system if we're having problems aiming. Well, that's the nice version of what he said. He concluded with, "There is no 'I' in team; but there is in shit."
Since we were on the topic he also told us a joke. Q: What's the difference between a prostitute with diarrhea and an epileptic corn husker? A: One shucks between fits. Ah ha ha. Anyway, it's late and I'm going to sleep now.
Nothing to do at camp 2 except watch the weather
The ice-core-drilling folks' camp
These very dedicated people dug a fairly sizable hole in the ice in no time
Chilling in the cook tent. Ha.
Its so much nicer in the cook tent than it is outside
I should say something about a witch making some magical stew, but nothing is coming to mind. This Tyson chicken stuff is probably a main ingredient in any such stew, however.
I tied my sled to my trekking pole so that if it all got buried, I could find one piece and pull up everything else
Camp 2: not exactly a booming metropolis
- Day 10: Wed May 14
- Camp 2 to 11k
- The weather doesn't suck any more! We're pushing on. Breakfast this morning is more of that granola cereal and granola bars. Uggh.
We're going to break down camp and head on up to 11k camp.
Death becomes me. I'm _not_ being melodramatic. Leave me alone. It was only three hours instead of the normal 5 - 6, but we ascended at least 1,500 feet and my heal risers weren't cooperating for a reason I only discovered at the end of the day and my sled was seriously back weighted, thus digging into the fresh, powdery snow that had accumulated over the past several days, which all added to the suckiness. The torture. I was all but collapsing on some hills. Still, I survived. Barely. I'm happy to be at 11k camp. This has easily been the hardest physical thing I've ever done. I can't imagine complaining about anything ever again.
We get to rest for a little while and then we need to get camp set up.
We extended a snow wall for the tents and then Wes, Dan, Baron and I build an unrivaled crapper - nearly tall enough to stand in, a curved entry to add privacy and protect against the wind. And the weather is beautiful - it's even hot out (relatively speaking). Really wonderful.
I have this croupy cough which doesn't exactly gives me the warm fuzzies. But at least I don't have any muscle soreness - maybe that'll set in tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow, weather permitting, we'll be doing a carry up Motorcycle Hill and past Windy Corner. Thankfully, today ends our use of snowshoes ("slow shoes") and sleds. It's all just crampons and packs from here on.
Being up here on the mountain, I don't really miss nice temperatures or good food; I miss not having to conserve toilet paper. Internet withdrawal has been almost nonexistent. I think the toilet paper thing is what I miss the most. Also, I can't wait to shave. This is the longest I've gone without since I was eleven or twelve.
The RMI-1 team moved up to 17k camp (high camp) recently. They should be summitting in the next couple of days and we should be about a week behind them.
My toes are frozen.
Dinner was burritos and Oreos. This was definitely better than the granola we had for breakfast. Mmm. Oreos.
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- Day 11: Thu May 15
- Stuck at Camp 3
- The plan for today was to haul a bunch of stuff up past Windy Corner (called a "carry"), but, as usual, the weather sucks. In lieu of anything more entertaining to do, and since the weather is getting bad, we're going to help Billy construct sort of a walled hallway at the entrance of the kitchen to reduce the draft.
I gave Mike some aspirin and vitamin c, since he left his all of his stuck back in Talkeetna, and I have way more than I need. I like being useful.
My cough is a bit improved and I secretly hope we are not able to proceed today, to give my lungs (or whatever it is) a chance to heal. On the other hand, if we don't carry today, we'll be stuck on the mountain one additional day. No muscle soreness to report.
I learned today that Mike has summitted on all of his previous expeditions here (4). And the guide leading the RMI-1 team also has a perfect record (11).
One of the benefits of the 11k camp over the two lower camps is the presence of a crevasse that can be used for "cracking" full CMC bags - no more hauling the prior days digested meals with us. No one likes having the full CMCs on their sled. Surprising, huh?
I've been thinking about what I've learned on this trip as it applies to my upcoming trip to Yosemite (to hike up Half Dome). I'm definitely bringing my thermarest prolite and foam pad (since Jeremy said that he intends to sleep outside - and I will too). I think I'll just pack everything in one of my packs and stuff the pack into a duffel, and take that. No suitcases. Logistically that's a very simple trip when compared to this one.
My use of the CMC today was the "smoothest" yet. It's almost comfortable. Our design of the "restroom" proved to be a little drafty, but the resulting ventilation was really quite nice.
Jerry decided to venture out of the tent and has reported back that the weather is getting worse. We now can't even see the hill that we're supposed to climb and the wind is kicking the tent around pretty good. But, waiting (ie, acclimatizing) at 11k camp isn't a bad thing - better than three days at Camp 2.
I've been contemplating what sort of torture to endure next, and when talking to John about it, it turns out that he too is thinking about an antarctic trip - different goals though. I want to summit the highest peak (Vinson Massif, 16,050ft), while he wants to do this multi-week cross-country skiing thing. But I probably won't be doing this anytime soon since it is a $20k trip. I could do so for a lot less if I went without a guide.... Maybe not the wisest idea? We'll see.
I haven't been picking my lips at all during this trip. Leah would be so proud. Time to start thawing out something to eat.
Took a nap. I woke up because I was getting too hot. Even up here, with the wind and the snow, the sunlight can bake a tent. There's something peculiar about being completely idle and over-heated while napping on a glacier.
I ate some chocolate cookies. Before this trip I unwrapped a bunch of chocolate chip granola bars and stuffed them all into a ziplock bag (so that I wouldn't have as much trash to deal with). Anyway, they all froze into a single, large clumb, which clump is now with me in the sleeping bag, thawing. Back to staring at the ceiling.
Finished that nap. The latest weather report from the last person brave enough to venture out of the tent: sucks. Mike says, "mountaineering is so much fun because it feels so good when you stop." On to the next nap now.
I've been thinking about taking one of the "flight-seeing" tours after I get off the mountain. One of them spirals up the mountain all the way to the summit, while some of the others set down on Ruth's glacier. No option to do both, sadly. Doing this flight-seeing thing would require staying in Talkeetna another day. Jerry encouraged me to spend a couple days in Anchorage and go down to the key-something peninsula and do some halibut fishing. I wonder how anxious I'll be to get home?
It's encouraging to think that, weather permitting, the mountain portion of this trip could be over in just another 7 - 8 days.
Against my better judgement, I left the warmth, comfort and for a time, solitude of this tent to eat dinner, which was rice and chicken and "famous anus" (Famous Amos) cookies for desert. I was nice and warm before, and after an hour of sitting on a block of ice, I'm cold again. The weather report for tomorrow is favorable. An AAI group ascended Motorcycle Hill this morning, only to turn around and come right back down - ice frozen to their faces and generally looking a lot like popsicles.
It's freaking freezing out.
It seems fitting that these "bathroom" pictures have a yellow hue to them. Sadly, that color is from light shining through the tarp, instead of being a result of urine on everything.
No mountain out-house is complete without a shelf for one's coat...
...and a shelf for one's gloves. These bathrooms became increashingly elaborate as we progressed through the camps, culminating at high camp (camp 5), which bathroom could have withstood hurricane force winds. It's safe to assume that it was eventually subjected to such winds.
- Day 12: Fri May 16
- Carry to Windy Corner
- Breakfast was blueberries and poptarts. A rather light breakfast.
It drifted quite a bit last night so we're sort of taking our time getting ready this morning - with the hope that some other group will break trail for us. We're loading up our packs with everything we won't need for the next couple of days and we're going to haul it up past Windy Corner to 13,600' and cache it.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, we'll tear down camp and move up to 14,200' (Camp 4). When we leave this camp we'll cache sleds, duffles and everything else that we won't need until our descent (including snow shoes!). Arriving at Camp 4 signifies, in my mind, our real arrival on the mountain. No more being stuck at the lower camps. Upon arriving at Camp 4, we get to take a *real* rest day and just do whatever.
And we finally get to use crampons! I'm really not a big fan of snowshoes.
Some groups took off and broke trail. We're going to head up any moment now.
I'm taking the frisbee to the cache today and I'm going to leave the tennis and baseballs here. If I want to bring them when we move, I'll have that option. It all depends on how much weight I have to carry when we move, tomorrow.
Well, we made it to 13,600'. Windy Corner was, well, windy. We ditched our ski poles at Windy Corner and went on with just our ice tools. There's a fairly substantial pile of ski poles there. Here's to hoping mine will still be there when we return.
The guides dug a big hole and we tossed in all of our stuff. I lay helpless on my empty pack. And I tossed on my parka, too. I was pretty unconrollably cold. I probably didn't eat enough and my body is having a hard time keeping itself warm. And when one suddenly rests after vigorous exercise that body temp drops pretty fast.
A little while longer and we're going to head back down.
The climb today reminded me of my stair training (muscle wise) - both up and down. That's encouraging.
My cough is bad again (as of this afternoon), which is a bit of a bummer. I'm taking a regular regiment of vitamin-c ... no idea if that'll help, but it probably won't hurt.
I think I'll sleep well tonight. It is so much warmer down here at camp 3 than it was at the cache.
While we were out caching stuff today a bunch of people moved in all around us - and right next to us. This one group set up their tent and CMC beside our kitchen - which was rather odious, to say the least. Also, our kitchen area sort of looks down on their CMC area, thereby not affording them much privacy.
I'm hopeful that since I cached nearly everything I'm going to need at the higher two camps that my pack will be lighter tomorrow than it was today. I can dream....
I'm chowing down on some beef jerky in the kitchen. Fede looked hungry so I gave him some. It made me think that we should have a sign: Please don't feed the guides.
Whenever I rub my face little white flakes fall to the ground. I think I'm in need of a shower.
Mike just announced that dinner will be a large pot of ramen and chicken. He also said that the first RMI group attempted to summit today, but they were quickly turned back by high winds. The third RMI group arrived at base camp this afternoon and just set up camp for the night. We'll probably see them on our way down.
My cough seems to have improved dramatically during the past couple of hours. That's happy.
The weather and views this evening at camp are amazing. Clear skies above, clouds below us, bright, warm sun, no wind or snow. Of course if it stays clear tonight its going to be freakin' freezing in the morning.
Potentially just seven more days on this mountain. Time to sleep.
Despite the fact that he is squatting, I don't think that's where the bathroom is ... so, he is probably re-inforcing the walls or something.
For the first time, we finally get to dump the snow shoes and strap on the spikes. They're not exactly light, but they're better than snow shoes.
These people failed the race to procrastinate. Why they would want to break trail is beyond me.
Up. Up motorcycle hill we go. That's me right behind the dude with the yellow/green-ish sled strapped to his pack. And everyone in front of us is helping pack the snow down so that we don't have to. The joys of procrastinating.
At the top of the hill we take a break, before we start up the next hill
Billy, Yuri, Brian and Baron ... why, oh why, did Yuri have to get on that rope team? There should have been someone else with a b-name. We could have called them the b-team. That's not very nice. Sorry.
That's the last hill before Windy Corner, in front of us
Taking a break before we head up the final hill to Windy Corner
Taking a break.
Now this is what we pay the guides for. When I'm pooped, they still have to dig the cache. Of course, I probably wouldn't have had the problem with being so cold if I had to dig.
The cache gets wanded, and geocoded and we're all set.
The notion of a base layer is tragically lost on some people. Or, maybe, there was a fashion show about to start. Additionally, Yuri is the only Russian I know who would go on a month-long expedition without any vodka. Of course, he is also the only Russian I know.
Almost back to camp 3 ... looking down on it from the top of motorcycle hill
Mount Foraker. I don't recall being able to see Foraker from camp 3, so I'm wondering if this picture got out-of-place or something. Who knows. You certainly wouldn't, so I'm not terribly concern.
I believe that's motorcycle hill. The weird zig-zags to the left of the main trail are from people ascending the hill on skis
Thankfully, the local covenants did not prevent out-door clothes lines. My neighborhood in Atlanta is not so lenient.
If it snows, it'll mostly just get on the sled, and then I can un-burry my pack easily. The trekking poles and ice tool help mark where my stuff is.
This bathroom did not provide a very stunning view for its occupant. We realized the importance of this and adapted our bathroom-building technique in later camps.
- Day 13: Sat May 17
- Camp 3 to Camp 4
- Mike promised a post-sunrise wake-up, but the sun definitely hadn't reached above the ridge yet. It was chilly. I guess you'd think that should be expected, since we're camping on a giant piece of ice, surrounded by snow. Whatever.
Breakfast was that granola cereal stuff or grits plus a cereal bar. Blah. Who comes up with these menus? Oh yeah, now I remember.
We're tearing down camp. Those snow shoe anchors we used are really, really secure. We're packing up everything we're going to need at the higher two camps, and everything else (including sleds and duffles) will get cached here at Camp 3. Off to 14k we go!
Its been really helpful so far, knowing what to expect from the climb today - since we're familiar with about 2/3rds of it, from the cache we did yesterday. Speaking of which, when we were caching yesterday we ran into this due, Paul and Jamie, who were also doing a cache. What we remember of the group was how abusive Paul was to Jamie - yelling, "Jamie!", if he was going too fast, too slow, the wrong way, tangling the ropes. Poor Jamie. We ran into them again today at the cache (where we decided to take a break). We talked to Paul and asked him if he would yell at Jamie for us. He did. Jamie had _no_ idea what he had done this time. I mean, they were taking a break; what could he have possibly done wrong? Everyone was laughing. Jamie was just confused.
Well, we made it. The post-cache walk up to 14,200' (Camp 4) wasn't too bad. Or it shouldn't have been too bad. You see, Mike lets us know at the start of each day, "this isn't a race. We'll be moving slowly and steadily. We have all day, so there's no point in going fast." This is particularly amusing in light of the fact that he became intent on passing another group at the final stretch before camp. This other group didn't seem particularly interested in letting us pass. So, Mike picked up the pace and veered off trail - so, while going fast we also have to break trail (with crampons) at the same time. It was a lot like sprinting at the end of a long race - with the addition of a heavy pack and high altitude. It wasn't as hard as the Camp 3 sled-drag I endured, but this seemed needless. No muscle soreness to report though.
Paul and Jamie set up camp near us. I went over and talked with them for a bit. Cool guys.
Mike reminded us of the permanent "bathrooms" here at Camp 4. You see, we don't actually have to roll our own at this camp. There are two bathrooms: one with a seat and one that requires squatting. Both bathrooms used to have seats, but apparently the Asian visitors don't sit; they only squat; and they'd do so by standing on top of the toilet seat. Eventually the toilet seats would break, so, the powers-that-be finally gave in and now there's an official squatting bathroom.
Time to set up camp. There's nothing like getting to a new, higher altitude and then having to cut and transport ice blocks, build walls and set up tents.
A helicopter just swooped in and left again shortly thereafter.
Wes and I took a trip over to the range/medical camp just to check it out. They have a white board propped up that has the weather forecast on it. Paul, one of the medical guys working for the Park Service came over and talked with us for a while. Paul does these five to six week stints on the mountain each year and has worked as a medic for some sixteen years in Maine. Wes mentioned that he was a medic for the San Francisco fire department and we got invited back to check out the camp's med facilities later, if we were interested.
I asked about radios - they only use some Park Service channels and FRS. No Ham stuff. And they have a Park Service radio repeater on some adjacent mountain.
Paul said that they had just treated one guy for P.E. and another for frostbite. The latter guy is going to lose two toes. The contributing factors (I asked - because, well, I don't want to lose any toes) were wet and dirty socks and dehydration (1.5L in two days). Much like the effect of seeing really gross teeth and gums and instantly wanting to brush one's teeth - I now intend to change my socks after we get our cache from down below, tomorrow. And tomorrow is a rest day, so beyond changing my socks I intend to do as little as possible.
The weather up here is amazing. I'm sitting outside our new camp, just soaking up the rays. No wind. Clear skies. Bright, hot sun. Tour planes flying over-head. Of course, according to the weather white board, it's supposed to get down to -15 tonight; but as long as I'm in the direct sunlight, it's great. We have our sleeping bags out on the tents, baking, and any moisture in the tents is also vacating. Very much the nicest day yet. Although, on that note, it was seriously cold going around Windy Corner today.
From my present vantage point I can see the path to Camp 5 - which goes up some two thousand feet (that we can see from here) and it looks like its bloody straight up. It's called the headwall and it looks like going down is much more fun that going up. At parts, I'm told, it's a fifty degree slope, but that's the worst of it, and that part is on fixed lines. From here I can also see Mt. Foraker and Hunter, clouds to the right of Foraker and endless mountains betwene the two peaks as far as I can see.
Baron, Brian and Yuri seem to be suffering from the altitude the most, but none of them seem too bad. A day of acclimating will do us all well.
Dinner was this __ILLEGIBLE__ that gets boiled plus ramen and chicken. And oreos for desert.
As soon as the sun started setting the temperature took a serious dive. -15 projected for tonight. Man its cold. Tomorrow we retrieve our cache and hang out. Mike said that breakfast will wait until after sunrise. He also said that the first RMI group got to 19k today with their last two climbers before they turned around (due to the clients).
We start our trek to Camp 4; this looks like the top of motorcycle hill, so if you had asked me then, I probably wouldn't have agreed that we had just started.
Looking back towards Camp 3, which is below the hill
Looking back the way we came
We're taking a break while we watch some people work their way up the next hill. Yes, they decided to drag sleds up this. No thanks.
Onward, we trudge along
Proof that it is impossible to suppress Wes' spirit. I think its probably his boots that make him happy
That's either Paul or Jamie. Oh wait. If he is in back, then he was the one doing the yelling (ie, "Jamie!"), so, this must be Paul.
And this must be Jamie.
Taking a break at our cache (from the previous day)
Mt. Foraker, as seen from where we cached (13,600')
Looking towards Camp 4, which is around the next hill and only 600' higher. Way up and off in the distance - that flat area on the ridge - is Camp 5 (17k)
We arrive at Camp 4 (14,200') and Wes is as gloomy as always
Baron, like all of us, was very happy to be sitting down
Mt. Foraker as seen from Camp 4
Mt. Hunter as seen from Camp 4.
Your humble author
Who in his right mind would haul a camera _that_ large up _this_ mountain? The DANimal would. That's who.
Our trek to Camp 5 will start by ascending the headwall. The tighly grouped line of people near the top of the headwall are on the fixed lines
A helicopter swoops in while John tries to get his satellite phone working. "Can't you see I'm on the phone, people!" Yeah, you usually don't expect to be disturbed by helicopters when you're out in the middle of nowhere. But you also don't expect to see people making phone calls either.
The ranger/med camp, equipped with a heated tent (for use when they have guests), solar panels and the Weather Whiteboard
Me, writing my thoughts on what it would be like to see this picture of me, writing my thoughts on what it would be like to see this picture of me, writing my.... Also, sitting on the ice is only comfortable for a short while.
Baron is VICTORIOUS! I'm not sure what the victory was though. That's our humble little camp, all set up, btw. By the time we left, this camp would be significantly more robust.
We're drying out the sleeping bags on the tents, and the tents themselves are "baking" in the sun. That's Mt. Hunter in the background.
The camp of Paul and Jamie.
Looking out into the endless mountains
- Day 14: Sun May 18
- Back-Carry from Windy Corner
- I didn't sleep so well last night and most everyone else reported the same thing. It took a while to get warm and then I just couldn't get comfortable. Lots of ice was forming in the tent and falling on the sleeping bag then melting. That wasn't comfortable at all.
Breakfast this morning is oatmeal. Yeah, bland and unfulfilling. And just the sort of start I need before we do a back-carry - which is what we're going to do today.
We're hoisting on empty packs now. That's a great feeling. They easily weighed sixty to seventy pounds on the way up here. We're going to run down to the cache, dig it up (well, we'll probably leave the digging to the guides), toss everything into our packs and haul it all back up here to Camp 4.
The back-carry is done. It wasn't too bad. We were *flying* on the way down to the cache. I think it only took about fifteen minutes to get down there. It took considerably longer to get back up here. It is a six hundred foot elevation difference, after all. This is supposedly a rest day, so, let's hope there isn't any ice-wall building in our future.
Tomorrow we're looking at doing a carry to the top of the headwall, or, possibly, caching all the way at Camp 5 (17k), if weather permits and everyone is feeling good. Besides splitting up the weight while ascending the headwall, caching also gives us a taste of the higher altitude - if only for a short while. If all goes well, we might event move to Camp 5 the day after.
Potentially just three more days until we've summitted. Then two days to get off the mountain.
Another climber was pulled off high camp today due to frostbit hands. The fault aparently lies with his not hydrating sufficiently. A good warning to us all.
Lucia's group should be descending to Camp 4 today (after their unsuccessful summit bid the day before). We dug up their cache and re-purposed their ice-blocks for a wall around our cook tent. We are supposed to be resting today, but they keep finding chose for us. "Active rest" Mike calls it. Yeah, we're all laughing.
Mike gave us all a tutorial on ascending and descinding the fixed lines on the head wall. It all looks easy enough.
Lucia's group just returned. They looked like the walking dead. They spent five nights at 17k camp. That must have been seriously exhausting. They all had ice covering their facial hair. They sorted out their cached stuff and they'll be heading the rest of the way down this afternoon. They handed off all of their extra food to other groups up here... to lighten their loads.
I aired out my feet today and put on a fresh pair of socks - such delight.
My hands are freezing. I need to stop.
This is our humble and rather space-efficient camp. We're all suiting up to do a back-carry from 13,600'. The existing walls weren't large enough to accomodating the guides, so we place their tent outside our camp.
After a fifteen minute sprint down the mountain we arrive at our cache and the guides proceed to dig everything out. Billy fusses for at least ten minutes about not having some piece of gear which he eventually realizes that he already has.
Back at camp, the weather white board has been updated. "Flip flops and sunscreen neeed today." Awesome.
As promised, after retrieving the cache I set about changing my socks. And airing my feet out. People vacate the area.
The weather was mostly great, except that wind would kick up these clouds of snow and blow over the camp every so often.
Looking across 14k camp
Some ice-sculpting that another group did
The 14k camp bathroom (with the toilet seat)
An amazing picture that Dan took this evening
Another amazing shot by Dan; this one with the moon
Another evening shot, looking at Mt. Foraker
- Day 15: Mon May 19
- Carry up Head Wall
- Sleep? Not really. I'm gross and I just can't get comfortable at night. Still, I must be sleeping because I'm not really tired, although I was not happy to hear Mike's wake-up call this morning - which was pre-sunrise, again.
Breakfast was morning is cereal, poptarts and cereal bars. I opted for the latter two.
The sun rose during breakfast, finally warming the area and cooking the cook tent. Precious, precious heat.
As promissed, we hauled a load up to the head-wall. The headwall is a bitch. There, I said it. My pack, containing a little group gear and the food and clothing that I wanted to cache, couldn't have weighed more than thirty pounds. At first the headwall wasn't too bad - just walking up steps, really, but then it just got steeper and steeper. At the steepest part and just prior to the fixed ropes, Mike decided that we should pass another group, of course. Being behind them on the fixed ropes evidently wasn't an option. Finally, we shortened the ropes, dropped the trekking poles, dawned the ice tools and continued on up the fixed lines. Once clipped into the fixed lines with the ascenders, we could lean back and "rest" our legs. It wasn't very restful.
We stopped at the top, 16,500' (twenty-two hundred foot ascent - it sure doesn't look like half a mile up, from down at camp) and got anchored in place while the guides started digging a cache. Another guide from Mountain Trips tried to steal some fuel that Lucia cached for us - imposing his own time-limit for the cache ("it's been there for twenty-four hours, you know"). Haul your own freakin' gas up the mountain. Don't steal ours. Moron.
The cache is all buried, so we're going to head down.
Going up the headwall is a combination of strength and technical gear. Going down we arm-wrap the rope and just walk like we're impervious to gravity. It's a peculiar contrast. Anyway, it was a serious workout on the quads - and that with empty packs even. The next time we go down the headwall, I'm going to collapse for sure. We'll have very full packs instead of empty packs (everything we cached plus everything we're going to move to high camp). The headwall is a bitch.
We have been promiseda rest day for tomorrow. I hope it turns out to be more restful than the prior rest day, which involved retrieving a cache and making a large ice wall around the cook tent.
After the headwall trip we all had such an excess of energy I guess, so we decided to take a trip to go see "the edge of the world", which is this cliff that drops from 14k camp down into the "valley of death", and from which point you can see our former Camp 1. We took lots of photos and several group shots. It's pretty neat.
While joyously sitting on the Camp 4 toilet, I snapped a photo of the view. It's pretty impressive - gives the Mauna Loa summit toilet view a run for its money.
I look forward to not touching my boots, spikes, gaiters, poles, harness or beacon until the day after tomorrow. My feet will be luxuriously wrapped up in my camp booties.
Weather permitting, we will be moving to 17k camp after our rest day. I've heard rumors of bad weather, so we might be acclimating at 14k camp a couple more days. Once we make the move to 17k and retrieve our cache, we're just one day from sumitting. The end is in sight! It'll seem more attainable to me, after we've made the move to 17k. I'm pretty sure I've thought the same thing for each of the previous camps.
The air at this camp continues to feel "thicker", which is a good sign. Still, jumping up to one's feet can give leave you feeling light-headed for a moment.
Mike said that the RMI 3 group did a carry to 10k, while staying at Camp 1 for multiple days and then finally jump up two camps. We probably won't see them until we are on our way down. The RMI 1 team should be back in Talkeetna today, as the weather was very much perfect.
Some people like to get an early start; like these people who are working their way up the head wall. I like sleeping in.
A nice view of Mt. Foraker on this wonderful morning
We're going up the headwall now; looking back at 14k camp; you can see our four orange tents right near the center
Looking back down the headwall
Time for our first break; going up the headwall is *so* much fun; oh yeah
Taking a break; looking at how far up we've come already; we'll ascend a total of about half a mile
Looking out at some mountains; I think this is a bit to the right of Foraker
All the fun is still to come; these people are ascending the fixed line portion of the headwall; you can see that they just crossed the bergschrund
We keep on heading up
Oh yeah; time to cross the bergschrund; don't look down; that's me right behind the lead guide (second from the front); standing wasn't really very comfortable or relaxing
The view from on high! At this very moment, I've climbed to a higher altitude than I've ever climbed to previously - by about two thousand feet
Mike, content as ever, standing at the top of the head wall
Looking out from the top of the head wall
Paul and Jamie make it to the top as well; you think Jamie would have done anything different if he knew that his name was always going to come second?
Looking out from the top of the head wall
Some climbers are continuing on towards high camp - although they might just intend to make their cache a little farther up (thank you, dad, for teaching me the difference between 'farther' and 'further')
"Resting" up here is just about as relaxing as it looks; ie, not at all
The guides dig a hole for our cache; you can see the gallon of fuel that the guide from some other group tried to steal from us
I told Dan to hold up so I could snap some pictures. We're about to start down the headwall now; you just arm wrap the fixed rope and lean forward; yeah, that's not scary at all
The view of 14k camp from the top of the headwall right before we started our descent
You can see our camp right in the middle; four small orange tents (three in a group, and the guides' tent to the left); it also looks like some folks are holding a town meeting without us
Another picture from the top of the headwall
Finally, back down at camp, we commence with intense relaxation
Paul and Jamie return to camp from caching at the top of the headwall
As though the trek up to do our cache wasn't enough exercise, we opt to take a trip to see "the edge of the world"; this is a view down into the "valley of death" which is the route to the Cassine; Camp 1 is just outside the valley to the right
A closer shot of Camp 1 as seen from "the edge of the world"
The mandatory group shot at the edge of the world (right behind us); "keep stepping back; a little farther; just one more step..."
Another group shot; it looks like Billy (one of the guides) opted to take the photo
Looking back at 14k camp on our way back from the edge of the world
We promptly return to our intense relaxation; ah, what I would have done for a camp chair; next time....
- Day 16: Tue May 20
- Rest, Eat & Hydrate @ Camp 4
- Last night Mike said that we'd be sleeping in tomorrow and that breakfast would be bacon and eggs. Breakfast (even these freeze dried scrambled eggs) did not disappoint. And those five strips of bacon each was also quite nice. This almost makes me forget about the endless granola breakfasts.
Orders for today are to rest and eat and hydrate. If the weather is good tomorrow (and it's been behaving so far this morning) we'll move up to 17k camp (Camp 5). Mike believes that we'll not effectively acclimate at 17k camp due to the extreme cold and inhospitable conditions, so once we move we'll try to summit as soon as possible. Hopefully that'll happen before we end up like the RMI 1 team.
I just over-heard Mike saying that a rescue from 17k camp is going on. The group camped beside us are all Seals and they'll be performing the resuce. If any assistance is needed then our guides are next in line. I guess we'll see the helicopter again. Can they not just land the helicopter at 17k camp and pick her up?
And it all makes sense now why that other group (the Seals) had identical parkas, tents, sleeping bags, climbing equipment, etc. Mystery solved. This really is a great place for people-watching.
I just counted 65 people ascending the headwall. Serious traffic jam. I bet there's nowhere to sit down at the top.
The four seal dudes have returned to their camp (from the ranger tent) to finish suiting up. It seems they were each fed a sandwich by the rangers. This is their first mountain rescure. I hope they've worked at altitude before, because if they start sprinting up to high camp, they'll never make it. Mike just told us to top off all of our water bottles, so that they (our guides, thas is) can be devoted to the rescue effort this afternoon, if necessary. This group being rescued summitted yesterday. All ten toes of this one lady are fristbit. The Seals have a 600' rope, so they're just going to lower her down the edge instead of using the fixed lines. I'm wondering whether they're going to use the fixed lines on the way up, too. If they move fast they'll just be waiting in line behind the sixty-ish people in front of them.
The Seal team has a bright orange rescue sled thing now. Ooh.
The rescue team is on its way up the headwall. Looks like five people in all (four Seals and one park ranger?). And just to clarify, I'm sure there are plenty of fat, lazy park rangers, but that doesn't seem to be the case much when you're a McKinley park ranger. Even our guides were in awe of some of the climbs these rangers had done.
Anyway, time for another sunscreen application.
Our guides are now on the park service payroll, in case they need to assist. I can see some folks on the west buttress descending towards Washburn's Thumb. Once the rescue team is at the base of the fixed lines the lady will be lowered via that 600' rope from Washburn's Thumb. I'm going to warm up my video camera. We don't usually get much excitement in these parts.
Doof. It's like 90 degrees in the tent. No need to warm anything.
After filling all of our water bottles, Fede is going to heat up a bunch of water to 104 degrees, into which they'll submerge this lady's toe-sicles.
Some strange looking guy just wandered into the now vacant Seal camp and took a picture. I consequently took a picture of him.
A group of four just broke to the right, off the trail, a little shy of the fixed lines. I expect that they intend to rescue the lady when she is lowered down. Maybe.
While sitting on the nice 14k camp toilet this morning, I chanced to look at my calves. I do beliee that they are noticeably larger than their pre-trip size.
Rumor has it that bad weather is due to hit us on Friday - so the plan is to summit before then, or be prepared to weather out the storm. However, if the weather report is to be believed, we should be sitting in half a foot of fresh snow with high windows right now.
Okay, so the four people who broke trail and are heading up rescue gulley have nothing to do with the rescue. The people I saw at Washburn's thumb were the people in need of rescue. They beat the rescue team to the fixed lines and started their descent. The rescue people set up a rope below the fixed lines that they can use when sledding her down. Two of the rescuers will ski her down the rest of the way and then Billy and Mike will lend a hand hauling the sled to the medic tent.
It unfolded as planned. She is from Spain. She is expected to lose all of her toes. Her summit trip didn't return until 3am this morning.
What this trip is missing most (besides hot showers each night) is that of camp chairs. I had thought this earlier in the trip, but then I looked over at the seal camp, and they each have one. Looks luxurious. They don't have to lean up against snow banks when sitting. I think I'll acquire one before my Half Dome trip. Also, I'm only a little more than half way through one set of AA's for the GPS. I haven't needed to replace the batteries in the beacon, and the video camera claims to have another 270+ minutes of battery time remaining on the first battery. And I've been hauling several pounds of spare batteries. Oh well. Live and learn.
Dinner tonight is said to be soup. Seems like a dumb mountain dinner idea because one typically has to eat a lot of it to be full and most of that fulness comes from the broth, which really doesn't help much in terms of maintaining our weight. And soup is also messy.
Dinner was chicken and noodle soup. Ehh. Not enough calories to even lift my pack, Much less carry it, loaded, up the headwall tomorrow morning.
We start the morning out with freeze dried scrambled eggs; mmm.
Our camp, on this fine morning
A nice view of Mt. Foraker; and it looks like some people have vacated their camps
Lots of people trekking up the headwall today; including the rescuers
Traffic jam on the headwall fixed lines
Washburn's thumb; you can see a couple of people descending from high camp; among them is the Spanish lady with the frost-bit toes; apparently she isn't entirely helpless as she is going to beat the rescures to the fixed lines
This creepy looking character started snooping around the Seal camp while they were off conducting the rescue; he took a picture of their camp, so I took a picture of him
Nosing around some where; I never did figure out what he was up to
He continues to wander around camp, looking at stuff; but he doesn't walk like he is burning time; he walks like he is snooping around with a purpose
Just because we're in the Alaskan wilderness doesn't mean you shouldn't call home to your wife ... and tell her horrific stories about people losing fingers and toes and 110+ mph winds
The Spanish lady, safely in the bright orange sled, gets skiied down to camp; meanwhile our three guides wait at the base of the hill to help run the sled over to the med tent
Mostly it was the skiier in front who just pulled the sled to the med tent; our guides tried to assist
The lady arrives safely at the med tent after descending almost the entire way from high camp with frozen toes
With all of the excitement concluded, we returning to resting, eating and hydrating
The Seal team returns to their camp after successfully helping the Spanish lady down from the fixed lines; and one of our standard pee-holes can be seen as well; lovely
I stare off at something...I don't remember what it was...I was probably thinking, "this would be an excellent place to construct a data center - there'd be no need for refrigeration; just wait till all those people back home hear about this place called Alaska."
- Day 17: Wed May 21
- Stuck at Camp 4
- It takes twelve hours to get eight hours of sleep at night. At least I think I'm sleeping. I'm not overly tired in the morning, so I must be sleeping. It sucks having to rationalize whether you're in fact sleeping or not.
Every time I hear boots come tromping by the tent, I always tense up thinking that it is Mike, come to tell us that breakfast is ready. After multiple false-alarms, the boots finally were Mike. We wera awakened for breakfast more than an hour before sunrise and it is *unbelievably* cold. I refuse to give in and break out my parka. After breakfast I'm going to crawl back into my sleeping bag until the sun starts to warm up the tent - if I can make it back to the tent.
Breakfast this morning was five strips of bacon, each, and freeze dried scrambled eggs. During berakfast Mike told us about a weather system (excuse me; a "wind event") that'll bring seventy to eighty mph winds to the summit by Friday. The decision he is faced with is either to haul up to high camp today and hope that it isn't so windy that we can't summit the next day and then quickly scramble back down the mountain, or weather the storm out here - where the weather will probably be nicer, all the while acclimating, and then summit after the storm.
I awoke over-heated! Finally. While I was sleeping I heard the llama (the helicopter) come and pick up the frostbit Spanish lady from yesterday. She had to spend the night in the medic tent because the pilot had exceeded some FAA set limit on flight hours or something (the rule is, "don't get injured on a Tuesday"). Last I heard she was only going to lose three toes on each foot. I'm pretty sure that we crossed paths with her group some days prior. I'm glad we have good guides.
It might get a little windy here at 14k camp during the next several days, so we're looking at digging blocks out of the cook tent to lower both the floor and the seating area so that we don't have to sit hunched over because of the cook tent canopy thing. Might as well make the place more hospitable as long as we're going to be stuck here for a while. Time to work.
I'm going a little stir-crazy, but as long as I have seventeen days and a lot of money invested in this trip, I'd prefer to wait a few more days and summit on a nice day.
"Grow red blood cells, faster, faster. Carry more oxygen to where it matters."
This being the fourteenth day on the mountain, we should have at least eight more days of food left - which should be plenty to wait out the storm and still summit.
Time for some more rubik's cube action and then maybe another nap. One thing is for sure: on my next such trip, I'm brining an iPod full of movies and a solar charger. I'll be back when there's something more to report.
I took my nap and then decided to capture the festivities on video. Mainly, ice sculpting. It's all captured on video so there's really no point in recording the juvenile nature of it all here in my journal.
The weather upstairs looks pretty gnarly and it has started to snow lightly here. If this all plays out as predicted, we'll be sitting here for at least a couple more days. I wonder if we could then summit directly from 14k.... Time for one last nap while it is still warm out.
Now that was a fine, fine nap. I've sort of become a connoisseur of napping. We're at a high enough altitude that our bodies have to work fairly hard just to keep us breathing that we can lie around doing nothing and still lose weight. Anyway, the folks in the other tent claim that it's snowing. And Mike just woke us all up to tell us that dinner is on in twenty-five minutes. And unrelated to all of that: I keep thinking of this one scene in Men In Black 2 where Tommy Lee Jones explains [paraphrased], "you're not sad because its raining, baby. It's raining because you're sad." I've got about a billion movies that I want to watch upon my return, but I'll probably not want to when I actually have the opportunity.
Dinner was chicken and rice and was pretty good and sufficiently plentiful. After-dinner conversation included riddles and talk of conspiracy theories. John was the most avid. His included remotely activating cell phone mics (plausible), the cell battery being the surveillance device (dumb), remotely activating web cams (stupid), etc. Billy went on about the Yahoo/China journalist thing, claiming that Yahoo gave China the technology to find this rogue journalist - when I'm sure that all Yahoo did was hand over info that Yahoo had readliy available: ie, name, ip, etc. Not exactly technology.
And the weather report remains the same, so it looks like this might end up being a twenty-plus day mountain trek. Another six days. Doof. And only twenty-four more blank pages in the journal. I wish I had thought to write small the first week. Good night.
The helicopter (the llama) has arrived - it is coming to pick up the frostbit Spanish lady.
Update: I found an article about her here. It's very strange knowing that I was there.
Everyone heads over to the helicopter with the lady
Standing up can't be much fun
And she's off
Up up and away
The excitement is all over, boredom sets in, so Wes sets about constructing a...
Ah, yes! A couch. Meanwhile, John is working on something else entirely.
No couch is complete without a coffee table on which to place one's feet
No, they don't have a couch. But Eric does have frosted pretzels. I'm going to need to bring some of those next time. And is that HONEY that Yury is eating (or drinking)? What's the correct verb for consuming honey? And why is he doing it?
Eric assumes responsibilty for the construction of the phallic statue
After a hard day's work, everyone takes a break. Still, I think camp chairs would have been a better choice.
Bad weather rolls in, but Wes finds a way to keep himself entertained
And the Brits. What are they up to? I hope they don't think they can up-stage our ice sculpting. Actually, it looks like that's excatly what they're doing.
- Day 18: Thu May 22
- Stuck at Camp 4
- I slept better last night than I have in a week. That's not to say that I slept well - just better than normal. I woke up at 10am with a powerful need to pee, and since the sun was up, I put on my outer-boots and made my way to the pee hole (as opposed to employing the pee bottle). It was a little chilly outside, but really nice - light wind and snow.
Breakfast was some sort of cornflake and berry cereal and a nutri-grain bar. During breakfat we played this game where each person jots down on a small piece of paper an interesting and unknown-to-the-group fact about himself. I wrote down that I had been the treasurer of my church for a couple of years. It took them a while to identify me. Brian noted that he had had a mohawk at one time - controversial stuff for a Mormon.
Also during berakfast one of the new rangers (Brandon) delivered to us a sack of food he had collected from around camp. Rangers don't usually do that sort of thing. Apparently we're special.
Right after breakfast we started work on an igloo. Dan and I primarily quaried while most of the others did construction. The rings of blocks forming the igloo spiral up, and the entrance is through an arched hallway (designed and constructed by Brian). Wes dug out the inside, such that any of us can stand up inside (and I can't touch the top-center even with my arm out-stretched), with a nice bench to sit on around the inside. Its freaking cold in the igloo, but five of us comfortably ate lunch in there. Several other climbers dropped by to take pictures and one lady even asked if she could tour the inside. Some high-ish winds are expected tonight, so if the igloo survives, it should be good for the remainder of the season. We got some passerby to take a group photo of us in front of the igloo. Brian is working on an "RMI" fixture to put at the entrance. Time for a nap.
I woke up from another wonderful nap when the RMI 3 group pulled into 14k camp. I knew that Joel, one of the guides from my Rainier trip was in RMI 3, so I quickly found him and helped him dig out the kitchen and set up the tent over it. Then I moved on to helping build the walls around their tents. Olivia wanted the largest three tent area I've ever seen. It was a little ridiculous in size. I don't understand how she (Olivia) could have expected to build that wall with just her exhausted, non-acclimated clients. I'm sure we were all happy to help - I know I was - but it sure doesn't seem like it was planned well. Blah. Whatever.
Winds are supposed to pick up late tonight, so we reinforced our south-facing walls. The upper-mountain high winds are supposed to continue on until Sunday. We might not move until Sunday or Monday. But we probably won't need a rest day after moving to 17k camp, so hopefully we can summit the very next day.
Dinner was this clam chowder stuff (which was pretty decent) and fig newtons. But, right before dinner Mike handed out mini-bagels to everyone. It was the best thing I've tasted in a very long time. Seriously delicious.
After dinner I went over to talk to Paul and Jamie. I might have mixed up the names, but Jamie (I think) is working on his Ph.D. in particle physics, and has also heard of the xkcd comic that I like so much. Paul is studying at some school in Montana and has a five month Summer break which allows him to be here. They are both competent rock/ice climbers, and this is the longest trip they've ever done.
Lying in my sleeping bag now. Just like six more hours until it gets dark and much colder.
I over-heard Baron talking to Mike about wanting to return prematurely. Something about work. I guess we have enough time right now to run him down and get back up here before the upper-mountain weather clears up. Maybe if I volunteer my services in that regard, I can get my pringles out of 11k camp. Mmm.
First thing in the morning, everything is covered in snow.
Breakfast in the cook tent. Everyone looks so happy to be out of their sleeping bags.
As soon as boredom became unbearable, construction of the igloo began. The first ring got laid in place quickly.
After getting the first ring angled correctly, we start spiraling up.
A nice breeze and a little bit of snow kept us from over-heating. Yeah, that's a joke.
I was quarrying, and carrying blocks around (on the left).
As the walls start angling inward, the igloo becomes a bit cramped inside. I think that's Mike in the front-left, watching us fumble our way through this construction process.
In lieu of igloo building technique, we just have a lot of people hold the walls up until we can get the top-center piece in place.
At the cost of probably 20,000 calories, boredom this day was thwarted. At least for a few hours.
Now we start refining our creation - with the arched doorway and filling in the gaps in the wall.
Wes is inside, digging out the floor. And I'm walking around with the ice saw (on the right), probably because it makes me look busy.
Wes and his so called "action shot". Meanwhile, Brian took up residence next to the igloo.
Group shot of the eight of us who built the igloo. With this igloo being such a rare creation here, I'm surprised that I still haven't found any mention of it on the Intertubes. One would think that "(mckinley | denali) igloo may 2008" would turn up *something*. But, no.
Another igloo-team group shot.
Wes, looking for love in all the wrong places.
Standing up inside the igloo, from the top (cw): Brian, John, me, Eric and Jerry.
Wes, taking a break on his couch.
Me, in front of the igloo. My feet were toasty warm in my camp booties with the 40-Belows over them.
John, getting his picture taken in front of the igloo.
Brian crafted the "RMI" sign. Meanwhile, some new arrival at Camp 4 decide to set up camp right beside the igloo ... as though we weren't in the *enormous* camp area with an abundance of room.
Mike and Billy (two of our three guides) join us for an igloo-team group shot.
The front entrance to the igloo, with the "RMI" sign proudly displayed.
Another front-entrance igloo shot.
End of the day, and there's Mt. Foraker and a lot of clouds below us.
- Day 19: Fri May 23
- Stuck at Camp 4
- My best night of sleep yet. I don't know what was different - maybe we finally have the vents adjusted correctly and that might also be why I'm not getting those huge amounts of ice crystals building up on my sleeping bag or maybe its not getting as cold at night? That's doubtful.
I woke up well rested at 08:30 and decided to go pop on into the cook tent and see what was going on, but the cook tent was still collapsed. The wind is kicking around pretty good. I'm glad we're not at 17k camp right now. That'd be pretty miserable. I ducked into the igloo to pass some time in there, but that got boring, so I headed back into my tent. Aside from the wind kickcing snow around, its not to terrible outside.
When I was talking to Paul and Jamie yesterday evening, they mentioned that they brought 0.5L pee bottles because, "we're never going to need to pee a whole liter over night." The first time proved them wrong, and they now describe the half liter bottles as "useless".
When this snow (err, "wind event") clears on Sunday / Monday, there's going to be a ridiculous line of people going up the headwall. I suspect that we'll end up building a camp from scratch up there - unless we leave at 6am ... which doesn't really seem worth it. Too cold. Alright, I'm just rambling because I don't have anything more entertaining to say, and I'm stuck in the tent without anything to do. More later.
I made it to the kitchen before anyone else (besides the guides) and volunteered my assistance in running down to base camp and back with Baron and whomever, but Mike said that there wasn't enough time. I guess the forecasted end to this storm has bene shortened. He also said that there was a chance that we might be moving to 17k camp tomorrow, but I suspect he was just trying to keep our hopes up or something. Which isn't really necessary. The longer we live/breathe/eat/hydrate at 14k, the easier it'll be for all of us to summit.
Breakfast was eggs and bacon again. Not to sound ungrateful, but I never feel quite right after those meals. Maybe its the 234% DV of cholesterol in each package of eggs? Mike said that this was the last bacon and egg breakfast. More granola now?
I fell into our now snow-filled quary when walking to the cook tent this morning. I don't think anyone saw me fall. It was pretty pathetic.
I wish I had a camp chair. My back wishes I had a camp chair.
It's cold and windy today.
I over-heard JR (of the RMI 3 group) this morning telling his client that they would be doing a back-cary from Windy Corner today. Brutal. Wes heard the same thing and when JR was telling one of his clients to dress appropriately for 50+ mph winds, Wes just zipped up his sleeping bag and sunk further into it. I think JR was being a bit dramatic about the 50mph. Still, I'm glad I'm not doing a back carry today. Good luck to them!
How this tent continues to hold its form in these winds in entirely beyond me.
I understand that almost everyone at 17k camp came back down to 14k camp to yesterday - including the rangers - except for two or three people who chose to remain up there. I hope they know what they're doing.
A quote from Wes, I think it was: "What happens in the igloo, stays in the igloo."
I heard Dan and Wes getting out of their tent to do some construction work (between gusts of wind), so I got out too. First we built a wall around the entrance of their tent (and then built it again a few minutes later when the wind knocked it down), so that the wind wouldn't blow directly into their tent. And I shoveled out between our two tents because the snow there was starting to really weigh down on the tents.
Afterwards we did a food swap in the igloo. I got some gummy bears and cajun nuts in the trading. Its nice to have a little variety.
Dan and Wes have very little snack food left if we expect to hang here until Sunday. I'll probably give them some of my protein bar in a day or two if we're still sutuck here.
Back to the tents until dinner.
Mike shouted out a request for assistance in getting a better cook tent wall established and after a little while I went out to help. Shortly thereafter we had dinner (ramen and rice soup), which probably provided fewer calories than we burned trying to stay warm in the cook tent while eating for an hour.
The rangers said that gusts today reached up to 60mph, and we should expect 30 - 40 mph winds tonight at 14k, and 85 - 90 at the summit. Brutal. Ear plugs are my friends. There's something about listening to another guy breathing at night that prevents me from sleeping - at all. It's disturbing somehow. The weather forecast still calls for this storm to last through Sunday (two days), so I don't expect we'll be moving until Monday. We can clearly see what the wind is doing (by how much snow it is kicking up into the air) all the way from the top of the fixed lines, across the West Buttress, over to 17k camp, and we don't want to be up there right now.
There's this one, small yellow tent here at 14k camp, all by itself, with no wall or any such protection surrounding it. And it was standing firm in the wind. Billy told me what kind of tent it was, but I've forgotten. I want one.
I went over and visited Joel this evening, right before dinner. He threw a snow ball at me but missed. The one wall that we did not assist his group in constructing, fell down twice today.
My pee bottle is MIA. Someone is going to be unsettled when he opens it and takes a whiff. I can still hear the wind against the tent with my earplugs in. Oh well. Going to try to sleep now.
The weather at camp was relatively hospitable, while up above it was evident that the wind was blowing a lot harder.
At the top of the headwall, the wind was kicking up the snow.
Relatively hospitable, is what I said. We still got gusts of wind blowing through camp. The wind itself wasn't bad, it was the snow that it blew everywhere that was annoying.
As you can see here....
- Day 20: Sat May 24
- Stuck at Camp 4
- My best night of sleep yet. That makes three days in a row of marked sleep improvement. Time for breakfast.
Breakfast was that cran-bran cereal stuff and one of the sweet-and-salty nut bars. They're pretty good. I'm tired of the cereal.
The winds at 17k camp are supposed to reach 110 mph today, and apparently there are more than just two or three people up there trying to wait it out. A two-man Japanese team attempting the Cassin is now four days over-due. The winds on the upper-mountain sound very much like the ocean during a bad storm. You can bet that their CMC is in the vestibule of their tent. Brian said that the weather forecast whitebard thing shows high winds on the upper-mountain continuing through the middle of next week. Mike hasn't mentioned any such thing yet. If that does prove to be the case, we'll run out of food before the weather clears - and I have no idea how we'd retrieve our 16,500' cache. Or do we just leave it?
The mountain walls surrounding 14k camp are bright and sparkly because the high winds have blown away all of the snow, revealing the blue ice underneath.
Looks like today will be another day in the tent. Man I wish I had brought an iPod with me. If I end up doing this again next year because we were unable to summit this year, at least I'll be able to put to use all of the things I learned this time around. Still, that's a very disturbing thought. As a team I can say that we are all very well acclimated to 14k, if nothing else.
We're trapped. I missed the meeting but got the re-cap: Mike confirmed what I heard from Brian. High winds through the middle of next week and high winds down at Windy Corner which makes our descent kind of hard as well. Supposedly we're going to try to get our cache from the top of the fixed lines tomorrow and then hang around until we can safely descend. There's always a chance that the weather will change soon, but not much of a chance.
I'm wondering whether Wes/Dan would entertain the idea of returning next year, sans the guide company. A smaller, more agile group. It's an interesting thought.
A small glimor of hope: John said that we're trying to get food from those climbers who are deciding to turn around now. With a little supplementary food we could stick it out through Wednesday - although the forecast doesn't indicate that we should necessarily expect better weather after Wednesday. We only have food, here, through tomorrow. Great.
I took a nice nap this afternoon. The nap ended when John decided to meticulously (not to mention noisely) scratch all the ice off his side of the tent from the inside. Whatever.
The weather started calming down at 14k camp around dinner time and most everyone was out and about camp this evening. A few groups (the Seals, the Brits and two AAI groups) are giving up and heading down and we are getting a little bit of food from them.
During dinner (rice, beans and chicken) Mike mentioned that the plan was to wait out the storm (through Wednesday) and that the three guides might ascend the headwall tomorrow to retrieve our cache. If the weather does improve after Wednesday, then we could do the move to 17k camp, or possibly entertain the notion of a "hail mary" and summit from here at 14k camp, which would probably be a 18 hour trek. It was obvious that not everyone was keen to summit from here, but I'd rather try that in lieu of no summit attempt.
Baron finally acknowledged that he is returning prematurely. He is departing tomorrow with one of the two AAI groups. He'll be returning to Ancohrage but intends to meet up with us in Talkeetna once we finally give up.
The two-man Japenese team who are (or were) on the Cassin are now four or five days over-due. They have a cook tent and a cache at Camp 1, and friends in Talkeetna who are waiting for them. It looks pretty grim for them at this point.
My toes are cold. I think its time to start staring at the ceiling of the tent for a while. Good night.
Gnarly weather ... winds expected to hit 110mph at high camp. And yes, there are people up there.
We hung out in the cook tent for a while. Not much else to do.
It's just snow for breakfast for Eric this morning.
Everything is covered in that annoying snow stuff.
- Day 21: Sun May 25
- Stuck at Camp 4
- We were awakened, again, before sunrise for no obvious reason. Leaving my sleeping bag each moring is the hardest challenge of the day. I mean, typically I've spent 10 - 12 hours heating up the sleeping bag, getting comfortable and finally falling asleep. Somehow this triggers Mike to tell us to wake up. I haven't figured it out yet.
Breakfast was more of that endlessly enjoyable cran-berry stuff and we were told to suit up for a round-trip to camp 3 (11k) to get food from the 17-man Brit group, which, yesterday, in true British fashion, did the math and deteremined that if they waited out the storm they wouldn't have any time remaining to drink beer in Anchorage. They have ten days of food for seventeen people cached at Camp 3 and that would certainly give us some more time on the mountain.
Meanwhile, while Wes was schmoozing with the Brits for their food, Olivia (one of the RMI 3 guides) walked up to the Brits and asked for all of their fuel. They explained to her that they would deliver the fuel to the rangers who would then distribute it, so, "go talk to them." It turns out that she wanted the fuel _not_ for this trip, but for her NEXT trip. Ridiculous. And later I over-heard JR (another RMI 3 guides) talking to Mike about the same thing. How do these people sleep at night?!
The weather forecast now shows only moderate winds tomorrow and the day after, so Mike held a group meeting and we all eventually agreed to try to move to 17k camp tomorrow and possibly summit the day after. We have four days of food cached at the top of the fixed lines, plus our gear. This, of course, means that we will have to forfeit the Brit's food and our "fate" (the end date of the trip) is now mostly fixed (based on our food supply). Mike said that he will be able to scrounge up some food here from other groups that are leaving, so we're not in any danger or anything. Well, not more so than usual. There's also a very slim chance that we might move up to 17k camp today, but it is already 1pm, so that's pretty unlikely imo, and then we'd have to take tomorrow as a rest day, so it wouldn't actually buy us anything. So, tomorrow...maybe.
Baron ran off with an AAI group this morning. I think they intend to make it to base camp by late today.
I'm lying in my tent, where its moderately warm - boots, gaiters and harness all on. I think that describes just about everyone. We are all set to run down to Camp 3. Oh yeah, my harness seems to be a couples sizes too large now. Finally. There's the promissed weight loss!
I guess this trip will be over in about four days. There's a rough end in sight. I really didn't care for the notion of waiting around 14k camp for another week or ten days. That's just too long.
The true torture begins tomorrow.
Through another feat of extreme sphincter control, I managed to avoid using the camp toilet during the past two day wind storm. This morning was down right warm in comparison - relatively low winds and only a little blowing snow. Still, my hands were completely numb by the end of the ordeal. The two RMI 3 teams are slowly trudging their way up the headwall today to dump a cache. I guess they'll be hanging around to the other end of the storm. I'm surprised.
That was one of the best naps I've ever taken - on or off a mountain. Mike woke everyone up with the announcement that lunch was on. You see, now that some people have exhausted their lunch food, he is now procuring lunch for us. And what a lunch it was - creamy, buttery garlic mashed potatoes. Glorious. Really. Now, to pick up on that nap where I left off.
Another decent nap ended with a call for dinner - ramen, tuna and chips-a-hoy cookies. I think we scored this food from some other group. I wish I had brought cheez-its. And wheat thins. And more pringles. These are the foods I've been craving.
The weather report just came in and it looks like we'll be moving to 17k camp tomorrow. Probably early. There was a time (a week and a half ago) when arriving at 14k camp was somehow synonmous with the end of the trip. But, so many days of bad weather have made those "just two more climbing days" seem impossibly far off in the future, if not completely unattainable. I've accepted the fact that we're not going to have the opportunity to summit so many times that it seems a bit surreal to be moving to high camp finally. Well, almost.
My right leg hurts. I think I pulled a muscle on something a few days ago when quarrying ice blocks for the igloo. I don't remember hurting it. But it hurts - mostly just when stepping down. I guess that means I should be able to make it to the summit, although climbing back down fourteen thousand feet is another story. I guess I'll be doping up on pain killers and pushing through.
If this all plays out, we'll be flying off the glacier on Thursday. So close yet so far away.
The forecast indicates that the winds are dying down. That's nice.
Brian's RMI sign on our igloo.
The igloo. Some idiots decided to set up camp immediately beside it, and incorporate the igloo into their wall. That's really nice.
The RMI sign on the igloo.
Mt. Foraker, enduring some pretty crazy weather.
Some weird, weird weather up above.
A fairly clear day, today.
And it became much clearer in the evening.
- Day 22: Mon May 26
- Camp 4 to Camp 5
- This morning was beautiful and not cold at all like yesterday. We got up a little early and "enjoyed" some kellogs cereal for breakfast. Immediately thereafter we set about tearing down camp and turning our kitchen into a giant cache. We're about to start on up the headwall, for a second time.
There was a serious backlog of stupid people on the fixed lines so it was very slow going. We got our cache, which barely fit in our packs and continued towards 17k camp. We stopped for a break right before the one other part of the trip (after the headwall) that requires ascenders. When the break was over, I lifted my pack up and the top of the left shoulder strap busted - due to some design flaw whereby the entire shoulder strap is secured by a tiny little plastic tab. Thankfully, Mike was able to spare some rope to tie the shoulder strap back in place, and then the guides started going off on Jansport equipment. Apparently it all sucks. So I'll be returning this pack as soon as I get back. I had this very solemn moment where I was contemplating exactly how bad it was that I only had one working shoulder strap on my pack. There's no way I could carry it back down the mountain in any dignified fashion - much less make it to high camp. Thank you, Mike. I thought it was over for me.
It took us six hours to get up to 17k camp. It was definitely hard, but not as bad as I expected - since Mike had been saying from the start that the move to 17k is the hardest day. We'd basically been preparing for this day since the start. And the Camp 2 -> Camp 3 day still tops the list of the hardest things I've ever done.
Wow. So, instead of building up walls like everyone else does, we decided to dig into the side of the hill, for added protection, supposedly. I think the idea was sound, but it took a lot more effort than anyone expected. Four hours of work, and I think we all found the digging _a lot_ more challenging than moving up to high camp. Insane. We're all utterly exhausted now. Great.
I think we spent more calories digging out a camp than we did walking up here - even when considering our psychotically heavy packs (post cache pick up). Except Yuri, who didn't do a single thing - he walked to where work was but didn't actually do anything the entire evening.
Dinner was comprised of these Mexican freeze dried meals. Nearly two thousand calories each. But it was way too spicy for me. I ate 2/3rds of it and it forced me to drink a lot of water, which was a good thing since none of us drank enough while walking up here. Jerry also dished out some mostly frozen smoked turkey jerkey, which was amazing. And smelled amazing. It was the first substantial thing that any of us in this tent (Jerry, John, Dan and I) had eaten since breakfast.
I don't remember shivering ever in my life nearly as much as I did this evening. And my thermarest has gone flat, which sucks. Just one foam pad between my sleeping bag and the snow. I re-purposed my parka pillow as a parka mattress, which helped enough to let me get warm.
We're four to a tent now. Very cozy. Time to sleep. Finally.
Camp 4 has been our home for so long, and we're finally packing up and leaving. I think we're all very happy. And probably a bit lazy at this point.
Trekking up towards the head wall. Let the fun begin.
Taking a break. We're still well below the head wall. Looking back down at Camp 4.
I'm not sure where we are right now. Maybe this picture is a little out-of-order.
Still below the head wall, looking back at camp 4.
Looking back at Camp 4.
We finally make it to the top of the head wall, take a break, and then continue on up - now finally reaching the West Buttress proper. We're really on the upper mountain now.
I don't know who he is or what he's doing. I don't think that's the route to high camp though. The flags in the foreground mark caches.
Approach Washburn's Thumb. This is the other place on the mountain where there are fixed lines. It's a walk in the park compared to the head wall though.
I think that's Fede. Don't step back.
We made it! Where? No where. We're probably half way to high camp or something. I think we were all just pleased that we were actually going to be able to go to high camp instead of having to return home from Camp 4.
Looking back down at Camp 4 from the West Buttress.
Camp 4. See our igloo?
- Day 23: Tue May 27
- Stuck at Camp 5
- I slept fairly well, all things considered. Four people in a tent definitely helps things warm up quickly if you don't mind a few smells. The amount of frost on the inside of the tent was a little ridiculous though. If the winds aren't forecasted to be very high, we should open the vents a lot more tonight.
Mike woke us up around 9am and said that we're in a holding pattern while we watch the winds above. As usual, despite being just one climbing day from the summit, we might be stuck here for a few days. I think we have food through Saturday. So we wait.
The hike across the West Buttress proper, yesterday, was amazing. Parts of it were only a foot wide with a multi-thousand foot drop on either side, and that's why we used several running belays. Where we couldn't drive in pickets, we slung the rope over rocks. It was a bit of a hassle, but the benefit in case of a fall was obvious.
Breakfast is oatmeal and a cereal bar. Joy.
After berakfast we went up to 17k proper (from our home on the side of the hill) and looked down on 14k camp. We could see "the edge of te world", Camp 1, the fixed lines, the Windy Corner cache area, etc. When we returned to our little camp, we set about constructing a West-facing wall and putting blocks up against the back and then we made a nice little fortififed area for the CMC. All that being done, Wes retired to the CMC and the rest of us retired to our tents. I have some honey roasted peanuts and sweedish fish that I stole from Baron's lunch bag. I love sweedish fish. Now its time to eat, hydrate and rest - my three new favorite activities.
JR dropped by. He went from four clients to one client. There were tears, I heard. So pathetic.
Billy said that it's, "supposed to get shitty for the next two days and then get perfect, and that's when we can bust our move; bust a rhyme." And then from two tents over Eric yelled, "Bust a nut. Oh, wait, sorry."
Mike dug out our bathroom a bit so that there's now a platform for the CMC, and one's legs can rest naturally while "in dispose". I can't wait to try it out.
More freeze dried meals for dinner tonight, this time they came with the promise of adequate water. And not spicy.
After we summit, its just two days down. I can hardly wait. Of course we might not get good weather until Friday.
With nothing better to do, we head over to the edge of high camp that over-looks Camp 4. Amazing view. If you look very closely, you can see our igloo.
Our group. Well, some of us.
Looking back at high camp and Denali Pass is to the right.
Our humble little camp. Later today we would all build up some significant walls around the camp. Its current state was all we could accomplish on the day that we moved up to high camp. It was an incredible amount of work.
Camp 4 as seen from high camp.
Mt. Foraker, the valley of death, camp 1 (I think), Windy Corner - you can see nearly the whole trek (thus far) all at once.
Mt. Foraker, the West Buttress, Windy Corner, etc.
Taking in the sights.
Right in the corner on the right, where the West Buttress sort of dips down a bit, is the head wall.
Another shot of camp 4, the valley of death, etc.
- Day 24: Wed May 28
- Stuck at Camp 5
- It probably took me four hours to fall asleep last night. But then I did finally sleep fairly soundly.
Mike, of course, ended that sleep with an announcement of breakfast and that there were 50 mph winds above, so, "don't bother putting on your boots or anything." So we had a couple packets of oatmeal each and some fig newtons. We all basically just stay in our tents. One volunteer from each tent jumps out for a moment, grabs the food, tosses over the empty water bottles to the guides and scurries back into the tent again. Later, re-filled water bottles are tossed towards the tents. It's just ... cold.
When I was tossing and turning last night, something in one of my jacket pockets was poking me. I squirmed around and pulled out a three musketeers and then a mars candy bar but that wasn't it - and then I found my cash and credit cards. It would seem that I forgot to move it into my pants pocket in Talkeetna. This is scary in the sense that I was contemplating ditching this jacket in the headwall cache when it looked like we weren't going to be able to move to high camp.
Dan just said, "seven more hours until hot drinks." Hot drinks are the high-point of every morning and evening for pretty much everyone in the group except me. I can't get over the amount of fuel we spend boiling water for that purpose. And the huge plastic garbage bag of hot drink mixes must weigh twenty pounds. Hot drink mix for twelve people for twenty-two days is heavy. We could live without it.
I decided to venture out of the tent and stretch my legs a bit. The very first sensation was the dire need to visit the CMC, so after I took care of that I resumed the leg stretching. I could't find Joel; and Paul and Jamie were in their tent, so I didn't disturb them. I went back to the point from which one can look down on 14k camp. Beautiful sight.
A ten-man group is heading up to Denali Pass, just for the exercise. Two rangers are on their way up with, "direct orders from George W. Bush to place these pickets!" I'm glad they find purpose in their work.
Crappy weather upstairs. Billy said that he thinks the weather will be good, despite the weather report, which claims it will continue to suck.
Dinner tonight was pasta primavera with way too much water. __ILLEGIBILE__
Had a good conversation in the tent with Dan, John and Jerry. Nothing more to report and not much paper to spare, so that's it for today.
Some climbers decided that it would be fun to stretch their legs and climb up to Denali Pass and back down. It was very windy up there, so they had no intent on summitting. Yeah, no thanks. Also, some rangers were heading up to replace pickets.
Climbers, heading up to Denali Pass.
More climbers. It was probably a good idea for altitude acllimitization. Not a lot of fun though. I prefer acclimitizing from my sleeping bag.
From high camp, looking out at the West Buttress proper and Mt. Foraker.
The West Buttress ... you can see some climbers making their way up to high camp.
Denali Pass. You can see that the group of leg-stretchers are nearly at the top. It takes at least a couple hours to get there, despite not looking like its very far.
John and Dan decide to make a High Camp kettle bell workout video. They put the video on YouTube. Check it out here. I hadn't actually watched the video before, but I'm watching it now. After the kettlebell workout, they have the CMC Squat workout. Brilliant! Remember, if you ever have the pleasure of using one: sit. don't hover. Sage advice.
- Day 25: Thu May 29
- Stuck at Camp 5
- I didn't really sleep much last night. I started thinking about a Ham HT means of communication while on a trip like this. Then my attention turned to the Balloon Project, and then I realized that that Balloon Project interested me because it pertains to flight - but it isn't controlled flight. A Ham RC plane is beyond my experience level, but a Ham RC car would be a perfect starting point. I need an HT that can transmit on the apporpriate frequencies, and a USB cable to let me code a way to control it from my laptop. Then I can easily (and safely) work out how to make the vehicle return when communication is lost. Finally, add some video supoprt and then branch out to planes.
Breakfast was oatmeal. I'm done with oatmeal. I'm convinced that we expend more callories in preparing for breakfast than oatmeal provides.
The wind was kicking up quite a bit last night, and this morning a cloud covered Denali Pass. Of course Mike said to wait and see.
We neglected to properly open the vents in the tent, so it was caked with a ton of ice this morning. Not fun at all - still, much more hospitable than being outside. It's cold.
I didn't sleep last night, so I think I'll take a nap now.
Wonderful nap. I heard Billy saying that the wind is supposed to subside tomorrow (Friday) and be nice the day after (Saturday). The weather he is referring to is this jet-engine-esque roar which is the wind at Denali Pass. I'm going to see about another nap now.
It was a good nap until John decided to phone home. Oh well. I finished off the sweedish fish. I miss them already. The forecast says that tomorrow might be acceptable for a summit attempt, but the day after looks better. So, we'll see. So either Sunday or Monday we're off this rock, wehethr we summit or not. I can almost taste the pizza. :-) The pizza place in Talkeetna is really great.
So on our summit day we need to bring snacks for atleast five breaks, two liters of water, parka, balaclavas, mitts and goggles. That should make for a fairly light pack, which would be of some cosoloation if we weren't heading up to 20,320'.
We'll supposedly meet RMI 5, on our way down, at 11k camp, and we might just keep on cruising down to base camp, or set up camp at 11k and wake up early and arrive at base camp the following morning. Personally, if my body is up for the challenge, I'd rather get all the way down to base camp that day. Amen.
This wasn't a very exciting day. Here's some ice caked up on the inside of the tent.
This is our humble home at high camp. We built our camp into the side of a hill. This was a really, really bad idea.
- Day 26: Fri May 30
- Summit Day
- It was beatuiful this morning when Mike woke us up. The sun was already warming the tent - hours before it did so yesterday. There was already at least 50 people heading up Denali Pass. It is a very nice morning at 17k.
Breakfast was oatmeal, again, and I've decided to skip it. Definitely not my brightest idea yet, given that this is summit day. Oh well. I'm sick of oatmeal.
I slipped on my long underwear without taking my pants off completely and without emerging from my sleeping bag. Now that's impressive.
Its been a couple of hours and a ton of people are on their way up. I can see RMI 3, 4 and Paul and Jamie. We're packing up. Our packs are very light, but the altitude (20,320') is ridiculous. I'm sure that by the end of this trip today, the packs won't feel very light. My toes are cold and after all of the rescues we've been privy to, my mind instantly starts thinking about losing them to frostbite.
Getting up to the Denali Pass is a serious workout. And __ILLEGIBLE__ short break and we're off.
__ILLEGIBLE__ I've never bene kicked around by wind so strong and cold. I almost fell over a few times. Its a good thing I had my goggles and face mask. We heard from Olivia that the winds are much calmer at the footbal field which is just anther 500' above.
True to her word, the footbal field was scenic, bright and only a little breezy; it sure was a lot better there. We descended into the football field, which means that we have to walk up hill to get out after we summit. I'm sure that'll be fun. Mike just told us that we're ditching our packs here in the football field. We only need to bring our parkas and a bottle of water. Now that's a very nice surprise.
We only have to scramble up Pig Hill and then cross the summit ridge. My toes are still numb. They've been numb for hours now.
We did it! That was harder than it sounded and looked. Pig Hill sucks and the summit ridge went on and up forever. And it got seriously windy. Seven-ish hours after we left the serenity of our 17k camp, we were standing on the summit of Denali and we were only there for a few minutes because it was so cold and windy. My camera refused to operate and my GPS had given up shortly before.
Time to head back down. I guess we have to start by heading back _up_ out of the football field. Bummer.
Back at camp we're all in our sleeping bags mostly just contemplating the day that just was. What a day. Going back down was no picnic, but it thawed my toes, As each team returned, they sort of just flopped down in front of camp and did nothing but enjoy breathing. I took off my crampons, over boots, boots, boot liners, socks and sock liners and found ten very healthy looking toes.
Assuming we all feel good tomorrow morning, we'll pack up camp and head down to a lower camp. And possibly all the way to base camp. Sunday we should be engrossed in alcohol and unhealthy food, in an effort to regain all our lost weight. The weather is supposed to be good tomorrow and we're planning on heading out of here around noon. For the past twenty-six days, and really, for the past quite-a-few months, my goal has been to make it to the top of this mountain. After twenty-three days on this mountain, the moment my foot touched the summit, my goal instantly changed to, "climb back down the mountain, fly back to Talkeetna, take a shower and get some real food." Instantly changed.
For the record, we awoke at 07:30, left camp at 10:30, summitted at 18:00, and returned at 22:00.
I doubt I'll have any problems going to sleep now. Good night.
The day has finally come. The moment of truth. We start gearing up for our summit attempt. That's me.
Everyone is getting ready to go.
A couple hours later, we near the top of the first climb, which puts us on Denali Pass. It's beautiful (but cold) up here.
And we keep on going. One climb after another. Eventually, the wind really starts picking up.
Looking out over the mountains below us.
Taking a break.
Taking a break - with googles, parks and mits. It's rather chilly out. That's my butt (or lack thereof) prominently displayed in this picture.
We stop for a break in the football field. You can see Pig Hill here. This is the last big climb before we get on the summit ridge. You'd think that would put us right near the top, but, no, it's a long walk across the ridge before you get to the summit. And its here (in the football field) that we ditch our packs and just take along some a liter of water.
A lot of people are summitting today, and there's nothing more fun that having a bunch of rope teams intersect and try to pass each other on an impossibly narrow trail without snagging the various ropes. Going down sure does look like fun though.
The summit, finally ... looking back at the summit ridge. Mt. Foraker is in the background.
The summit marker. 20,320 feet. I believe it was placed there in 1989.
The batteries in my camera freaked out at the -50F temperatures (including windchill), so, this is my only summit pic - that's me bent over, dealing with something - probably my crampons.
A classic summit shot.
We leave the summit fairly quickly because of the winds, go back across the summit ridge, down Pig Hill to the football field, pick up our (fairly light) packs (after a short break) and head back down to camp. Going down is easy - even at 19,000+ feet. The sense of satisfaction is impossible to describe. Its everything we had been working for, for the past several weeks.
Continuing on down, one hill after another. This was easy going.
Heading on down. We're making good time. I'm second from the front.
We're finally back at the top of Denali Pass. All we have to do is scurry on down back to camp. Of course, this ended up taking *forever*. It's always slow going when you have to deal with the running belays and a six-inch wide "trail".
- Day 27: Sat May 31
- Camp 5 to Base Camp
- True to the weather report, at 9am when I awoke it was hot in the tent. All of the moisture had evolporated already. And then I went back to sleep.
Mike was kind enough to let us sleep in a couple of hours. I think we got up around 10 am.
Billy just informed us that breakfast would be cheese grits. Dan donated his block of cheese to the meal - so that he wouldn't have to carry it down. Jerry's frost bit fingers don't look too bad - a little sensitive, discoloration and blistering. JR's client from yesterday will probably lose a chunk of a finger. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we are still at high camp and have to be careful. We're not out of danger yet - but at least its all downhill from here. Well, except for Heartbreak Hill. But somehow I don't think that'll pose a significant challenge for us.
Time to start tearing down camp. The plan for today is to walk all the way down to base camp (7,200'). That's a lot of walking. With a lot of weight on our backs.
Well, we made it down the headwall. That was intense. A lot of people summitted yesterday, so a lot of people were descending today, and it took _forever_ on the fixed lines. My poor quads. After the fixed lines we were nearly running down the slopes towards 14k camp, and my quads just couldn't take it. I had to take a couple short breaks to stretch and rest my legs - they were just about to fatigue and crumble under my weight. I think I failed to eat enough while at high camp.
Back down at 14k camp, I can't help but think about the RMI 1 group that we saw, here, many days ago. They really looked bad. I've eaten a ton of food. And RMI 5 (they're here at 14k camp) filled our water, of which I drank plenty. We all look and feel pretty good. I guess that having successfully summitted (which the RMI 1 group did not), helps the positive mental attitude.
When we were approaching camp, I noticed some people tossing around a green frisbee that looked rather similar to mine. I went over to talk with a guy who was part of the RMI 5 group camped here, who was also with me on Rainier, and it turns out that they found my frisbee when they were digging out my cache. Of course, that means that they were looking through our bags. That's a little disturbing. Since they are going to end up staying at 14k for a while I told them to keep the frisbee. I guess I need to find me another one. That was a good frisbee, too.
Jerry is in the med tent getting his fingers worked on. They became discolored and blistered over-night, which is expected. But then on the way down the fixed lines he tore open all of the blisters. Insane. That's bad. So, the medic guy is hacking away at his fingers and bandaging them up. Meanwhile, we get more time to rest here before we continue on down.
Meanwhile, we were charged with ditching as much of our extra food as possible. We all tossed our extra food onto a sled and started devising a strategy when we noticed a Russian group near-by. We sent Yuri over to "talk with his comrades", with the sled, of course. He pawned off ALL of our extra food on them - and they were even happy to take it. That's awesome. That's a ton of weight we don't have to carry now.
We've been here at 14k for several hours. Jerry is ready to go - all bandaged up - and we're off to 11k (Camp 3). Thus far I have always placed myself right behind Mike in the front rope team. It's a psychologically helpful thing for me. Anyway, it didn't pay off this time. He has a heavy sled behind him, except that when you're going downhill, its the person _behind_ the sled who has to pull backwards to slow down the sled to prevent it from running into the person in front. Somehow I don't think I'm going to enjoy this.
Well, we made it down to Camp 3. The slowing-down-the-sled thing, especially down Windy Corner, was just as bad as I imagined. As we got to motorcycle hill I finally told Mike that if he kept on going, I'd collapse - there was no way I had the strength left to stop that sled down a hill _that_ steep. It turned out not to be an issue because we turned the rope team around, Dan now in front and Mike in back (which is good in case anyone starts falling), and Mike slowed the sled down.
The air down here is so thick and wonderful. We dug up our cache and I tore into my pringles and the left-over salami. It was so delicious. I knew my appetite had been suppressed at higher altitudes, and it has definitely come back in full force. It's getting a little windy, so we're going to set up the cook tent and hang out here for a while.
My feet and muscles are all doing fine. We have to switch from crampons to snowshoes here. Just three more camps to go - after we eat dinner and hang out for a while. The menu for tonight is cheese and chicken bagels. I've finished off the pringles, so, we better get off this mountain soon.
This guy was one of the weirdest guys we saw on the whole trip. He would sprint (relatively) ahead of us - a ridiculous pace - and then stop and rest (in this position) for several minutes before continuing again at his sprint-like pace.
Looking out at Foraker from high camp. You can see Camp 4 (14k) at the bottom of the picture.
Some guy up there, with an amazing and unobstructed view.
A last look at high camp (17k) before we start our trek down. The plan is to walk all the way back to base camp, during the next 20+ hours, so that we can arrive early the following morning and be first in line (for Hudson Air) to fly out.
Many people summitted the previous day, so a lot of people are descending today. This amounted to a serious traffic jam. It was very slow going on the West Buttress.
The West Buttress isn't always very wide ... and with a drop on either side of several thousand feet, it's important to walk carefully. I'm second from the front in this picture.
A long line of people ahead of us on the West Buttress.
A major choke point in our descent is Washburn's Thumb. People going up, and people going down. We were stuck here for quite a while.
Going down Washburn's Thumb on the fixed lines. This is the only place (other than the headwall itself) where there are fixed lines.
We got down the headwall and descended into some clouds. On the fairly steep bank we stopped to switch our our ice tools for trekking poles and get something to eat/drink.
We're all very, very happy to finally be back down at 14k camp. Seriously tropical weather here. Unlike the team we met on their way down from high camp, we are in high spirits and ready to go the rest of the way, after a nice break. This is also the point at which we get to ditch as much of our extra food as we can give away - thus reducing the amount of stuff we have to carry all the way down the mountain.
I don't know who this is, but I'm glad I didn't have to carry all that stuff. Crazy.
We made it down past Windy Corner and we've stopped to take a break.
Looking back at Windy Corner.
- Day 28: Sun Jun 01
- Base Camp to Talkeetna
- Well, it's 3am and a little dark-ish out (it never really gets very dark here), which makes it a little difficult to see the contours in the snow, which consequently makes it a little hard to walk without tripping, but that's not going to stop anyone. It also got kind of windy and snowy while we were hanging out in the posh, but that's mostly subsided now. The plan is to haul it down to base camp, get there early in the morning, and fly out around 9am - which is when the first planes usually arrive.
We're switching from crampons to snowshoes. We've got everything packed up. It's a little more weight than I expected, and we're once again dragging sleds. That was a fond memory I enjoyed forgetting.
Off we go.
Well, we made it down to base camp. It's 9am. That _sucked_. Seriously. My feet hurt more with every step. I basically stumbled into base camp and collapsed on my bag to get off my feed as quickly as possible. I haven't taken off my boots yet, but in my mind I can see my big toenail on my right foot hinged up and digging down into what is sure to be a bloody stub of a toe by this point - the nail jabbing into it with every step. I'm also sure I've got some serious blisters going on. Once I get these boots off, there's no way they're going back on.
Also, in other bad news, base camp is fogged in. Once it clears up, the plans can fly in. Until then, we're stuck waiting ... for an hour or a day ... who knows.
We dragged all of our stuff over to the sled which marks the line for Hudson Air. It was a slow and gruel process for me and my torn up feet. I tried sleeping on my back, but that's not working, so I'm going to roll out my sleeping pad on the snow and try to take a nap.
Whoa. I must be tired. With all of the commotion around camp and the bright light and my aching feet and I think I just slept for a while - until Fede woke me up and told me that we're probably going to be stuck here, so we should set up tents and move into them. Uggh. Fine. Whatever.
I've moved my sleeping pad to the tent and a few other things that I'll need for an over-night stay. Walking is so painful that this took quite a while. Time to go to sleep.
That was crazy. I must have slept for five hours, but it only seemed like a moment. The sound of plane engines woke me up. We were ordered to start tearing down the tents immediately - like an air raid was about to start and we only had minutes to prepare or something. I don't get it. Whatever. Now I've got to lug all of my stuff back to my duffle bag. Fun.
So, it's about 5pm and it's finally my turn to fly off. It takes four planes to transport our group. Talkeetna Air Taxi actually made a round-trip before the first Hudson Air plane made it. But, each and every Hudson Air plane came with a case of beer. Miller Light. And I don't like beer. But I can still understand the glee that it brought to the others. I would have preferred them to show up with a good (or even a cheap) scotch. Or made a nice merlot.
Brian's wife had been waiting for him in Talkeetna for six hours, so he got on the first flight. I had no desire to stand up so I let everyone else go - so I'm getting on the last flight.
Waiting until the last flight paid off. Mike was on my flight, and I got to sit up front - which offers a much better view than the back seats. The scenery on the way back was amazing. Instead of everything being frozen and covered in snow, everything has melted, the rivers are flowing, stuff is blooming and green - it's quite a contrast to how it looked when we flew onto the mountain so long ago.
Once we landed I hobbled out of the plane and started the long task of sorting through my gear, returning the group gear, getting the stuff I stored, figuring out what I would need to take into Talkeetna (toiletries, clean clothes, cell phone, etc.). It's a bit of a bummer that its so late in the day, because I'd really like to text everyone back home and let them know that I got back. I guess that'll have to wait until tomorrow. One more day won't kill them.
With all of our stuff sorted out, we were about to start back to Talkeetna (which is about a fifteen minute walk (or hobble, for me) from the airfield), when some friends of Jerry's (who had a pickup truck with them) offered to give us a lift back to the Teepee. Awesome! It was so great - warm wind blowing through my hair. Sitting down. Back support. The thought of an imminent shower. And real food. And not having to walk for a while. And Talkeetna is _alive_. It's full of senior citizens. I guess this is where they go on vacation or something. It was fairly desolate when we departed a month ago - its a totally different place now. Going to check in to the Teepee, take a shower and meet everyone at the West Rib for dinner.
The shower ran out of hot water. So, I'm half showered now. And I'm walking on the outside edges of my feet. I have these huge blisters across the bottoms of each of my feet. And my toenail wasn't as bad as I thought. It's all bloody, but its very much intact. What I had hoped was going to be an amazing first-shower-in-a-month was somewhat disappointing in that it was so painful to stand.
The hot water finally returned after waiting forty-five minutes. I guess when large groups all return at the same time, they all have showering in mind as their first goal. Shaving forty-plus days of facial hair is a serious chore. Especially so when I loathe having to stand. But, I'm all clean and clean shaven now, and those nasty clothes that I've been wearing for the past month are sealed in a heavy-duty black garbage bag - not to be opened until it is being held above the washing machine back in my apartment building in New York. I have a new motto for Gortex: "Gortex - it keeps the stink in." You see, I had my fleece pants on the entire time. And the Gortex hard-shell pants on over those. So, while I would have been able to smell the stench through the fleece, the gortext was impervious. But the moment I took them off ... whoo ... ripe.
I called Talkeetna Aero and made reservations for a summit flight-seeing tour tomorrow morning. It cost $200. We'll fly in a non-pressurized plane, spiralling up the mountain to the summit and then back down again. We'll have a chance to look at each of the camps along the way. Finally, we'll fly through Ruth's Gorge and back to Talkeetna. Sounds awesome. It'll be a great re-cap for the whole trip, and I might even be able to see the Igloo.
Anyway, I managed to stuff my feet, painfully, into my tennis shoes (they're such a joy to wear instead of boots - even with the blisters), and I'm going to hobble over to the West Rib for some dinner with the team.
Dinner was awesome. The West Rib is awesome. Those burgers and chili cheese fries and all of the other garbage we ate was awesome. Now its time to sleep on a real mattress for the first time in a very long time.
It's around 3am at 11k and we're about to start the final leg of our trip - back to base camp.
It was foggy and dark-ish, but the temperature seemed tropical, coming down from high camp.
The sun is slowly rising behind us.
I'm there in the middle. We're taking a break. At this point, my right foot is absolutely killing me.
Continuing on down the Kahiltna.
Resting. The sun is rising. We're nearly back to base camp.
McKinley, off in the distance, as seen from base camp.
Just hanging out, waiting for Hudson Air to arrive.
After hours of fog, an airplane finally arrives! Not our airplane, sadly.
Base Camp is a pretty happening place.
The sleds stuck into the ice mark the lines for the various air taxi services. We were first in line for Hudson Air.
Group shot of our expedition team. Fede, John, Mike, Billy, Brian, Eric, Wes, Dan, Yury, Jerry, Curtis (me).
Jerry, showing off his battle wounds.
Hudson Air wasn't the first to show up - in fact, they were the last - but, they brought beer, and that seemed to make everyone feel better.
The view from inside the plane, flying back to Talkeetna.
After flying out of the front range, everything quickly turns green - a color we haven't seen in nearly a month.
One of the first groups arrives back in Talkeetna.
Yes, almost everyone is back in Talkeetna, but a few of us our still at base camp, waiting for our ride. None of us are in this picture. I think that's McKinley in the background, partially obscured by the clouds.
Looking out of the plane, on the ride back to Talkeetna.
Brian flew out with the first group. One of the "benefits" of flying out with the last group is that I didn't have to help set up and dry out the tents.
Back in "civilization" ... we can see the runway.
I flew out of base camp with the last of our group. It was good to be back.
Back at the air field, we start sorting through our stuff and returning all of the group gear.
Some of Jerry's friends met us at the hangar and offered us a ride (in the back of their pickup truck) to the hotel. The warm air, sitting, back support, not having to walk - it was a wonderful time.
All cleaned up (I mention this, in case it isn't obvious that we're clean now), we met up at the West Rib to consume as many calories as possible.
- Day 29: Mon Jun 02
- Flight-Seeing Tour & Talkeetna to Anchorage to New York
- That was a very nice night's sleep. Except that someone in New York (212 area code) decided to call me at 6am. I guess that's noon their time. It only figures that my first night back in civilization (and somehow Talkeetna qualifies as civilization after a month on the mountain), that I'd be woken up early in the morning by a phone call. Naturally, I ignored the call, and the subsequent voicemail and went back to sleep.
I called Delta and arranged to upgrade my return tickets to first class. If I can sleep the whole way home, I'll be a very happy and well-rested person when I arrive - instead of just being in pain and grumpy.
I met up with Jerry and the Roadhouse for breakfast. I expected to see some of the others there as well. The orange juice I had was amazing. And so was breakfast, of course. I still stuck with a "half standard" breakfast. I don't think I could eat a full. Eric arrived as I was leaving. I've got to pack up my stuff and get ready for the flight-seeing tour. They're going to pick me up from the Teepee (otherwise I had no idea how I was going to get all of my stuff from the Teepee over to the airfield).
The Talkeetna Aero van pulled up at the Teepee right as I was walking out of my room. That was rather convenient. They took me right to their office at the airfield and I was able to store my stuff (one heavy-duty black garbage bag which I instructed them not to open under any circumstances) and register for the flight. This is going to be great. Unless we break down somewhere on the mountain and I have to walk back. That'd suck.
The flight was awesome. The plane isn't pressurized so they have these oxygen masks at every seat. I didn't wear mine because we're only going as high as the summit (or maybe slightly higher) and I was just at that altitude while carrying gear and walking up-hill - and while we're on this flight, I'm sitting. So, oxygen wasn't going to be a problem. The pilot informed me afterwards that I was the first person he'd ever seen do that. I guess most of the hikers don't take the flight-seeing tours. Their loss. It was really cool.
We flew right over 14k camp and 17k camp. I saw our igloo at 14k camp and where we had dug into the side of the hill at 17k camp. It was surreal flying over this area in minutes - that took us days to traverse on foot.
The van ride back to Anchorage hasn't left yet, so I'm going to catch a ride. I figured that I would miss it and have to take the train, so, this worked out rather conveniently.
My feet still hurt a lot though. And I'm still walking on the outside edges of them. Seriously limping going on. I'm sure traverising four airports for three connecting flights is going to be tons of fun.
First class from Anchorage to Salt Lake City. Time to get some complimentary alcohol and go to sleep. Good night.
- Day 30: Tue Jun 03
- Travel to New York
- I made it to Salt Lake City. I got a decent amount of sleep on that rather long flight. The bummer of this all is that I usually look forward to the complimentary drinks that are provided in first class, but aside from the flight from Anchorage, all of these other flights are going to be in the morning. And even though my internal clock is all screwed up to the point that this may as well be the middle of the night, I'd feel a little weird asking for a scotch at 7am. Oh well.
Walking through the airport is a very slow process. But, I've found that walking is significantly less stressful when you're walking slower than everyone else. No one ever gets in your way. I just hobble along, slowly, making my way to the connecting flight. I think my feet are swelling. My shoes feel really, really tight.
Onward to Cincinnati....
Wetzel Pretzl is the highlight of my every trip to the Cincinnati airport. I don't know why I happen to transfer through here so often. They have some awesome salted pretzels. So I got one.
I also finally got in touch (via texting) with friends back in NY. They're happy to hear that I'm alive. I may have neglected to give them any way to check on the status of our expedition (via the RMI site), so they really just haven't heard anything from me in about a month. I can't wait to get home.
I got a car service ride home from the LaGuardia airport. There's no way that I could have taken those large duffle bags on the bus/train - especially with the condition of my feet.
Driving through New York - all the noise, the foul smells, the crowded streets, the trash - it had a really profound effect on me. As I was watching all of it from in the car I couldn't help but think, "I live here??" I'm depressed at the thought of falling back into my normal routine - going to work every day, watching my tv show or two, reading those news web site that seemed so important to me previously. I like my work and all, but this past month has been so epic for me, that getting back into my routine seems, well, sad. I'm sure I'll get over it.
- Epilogue: Sun Sep 28
- Post-trip Stuff
- It's been a while since the McKinley expedition. My big toenail on my right foot is still there, and still bloody, but slowly improving. My right little finger was numb from the last knuckle down for about a month, which made typing (an integral part of my profession) a bit strange, since I couldn't actually feel that finger pressing the keys. The tips of a few of my toes were also numb for a little while. And I haven't yet gained back all of the muscle I lost on the trip. I think I came back fifteen or twenty pounds lighter and I was already fairly lean to begin with. The word "gaunt" comes to mind. The blisters eventually went away, although I ended up hobbling around in flip-flops for a few weeks. It was a good thing that work is "casual dress".
I'm planning a return trip to McKinley in May 2009 (doing the West Buttress again) with two guys from my Rainier trip (Corey and Brett). Self-guided this time. I learned a lot the first time around. I'll definitely be bringing an iPod Touch and a solar panel. And a better selection of food. And a pack made by a company other than Jansport. And I'll definitely tape up my feet really well before descending from 11k camp. I'm contemplating bringing some form of communication with me - be it a two-way radio (if I can find that there are available repeaters) or just give in and bring a satellite phone (which costs about $1.75/minute).
Following this, in June, I'm hoping that RMI will let me do Liberty Ridge on Rainier and then I'll go back to McKinley, one last time, and do the West Rib route. And then I think I'll be done with McKinley for a while. A long while.
The sense of non-belonging in this city hasn't completely faded. I know that I can't live here long-term.
Well, that's it for now. I hope you've found this journal and its pictures interesting. Please drop me an email if you have any questions or comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.