Thursday, May 17, 2012

Denali Memoirs - Part 2

Back on February 26th I posted part one of my Denali journal from our trip in 2003. I meant to post this second part much sooner than now but...well...I just slacked. But one week from today I'll be in Anchorage and heading up to Denali again so I figured I'd better get this second part done and posted. So here goes...

Carrying gear to the top of the headwall. Mt. Foraker in the background.
Sunday, May 25th - The temperature in the tent was -7F when I first awoke at 6AM. Damn cold. However, I utilized the "hot water in the nalgene bottle" technique which helped to keep my toes warm. We again slept in until the sun hit the tent before getting up. We dined on Blueberry granola cereal before gearing up to carry to 16,200'. We all left camp around 12:50pm. Janet, Bill Chris and I roped up for the carry while David headed up solo. He would not join us on the carry so he could spend the day acclimatizing. We all climbed together until 15,200'. Each step up was a personal altitude record for me, Bill, David and Janet. David turned back at that point while the rest of us continued up the fixed rope to 16,200'. The weather was warm until this point but clouds and wind rolled in. The [fixed] rope was 11mm static and in good condition with pickets every 30 feet or so. The headwall was primarily blue ice but had good duck footed steps set in. We reached my personal altitude record of 16,240 feet for our cache on the backside of the ridge. It took us 3 hours to ascend to the cache which seems quite fast compared to other teams we've watched go up. The descent was pretty straight forward on the down line. Ti took us about 1.5 hours to descend and the views from up there were astonishing. I could see ski-hill camp and a huge portion of the Kahiltna. Foraker dominated the view. Tomorrow is a rest day.

Monday, May 26th - Memorial Day. What was I doing last Memorial Day? I don't recall, how sad. Perhaps something on the opposite end of the spectrum like some canyon hiking. Oh, the warmth with a beer at the end of the day! I'm holed up in the tent in a warm (relatively) sleeping bag while a snow storm blows outside. It's been a mostly snowy day with intermittent sun starting with +1F in the tent this morning. A warm night. I used to think 1F sounded cold. Now I'm happy to see any temperature above 0F. Today was a rest day at 14,000' I cooked up blueberry scones for breakfast before spending all day cutting snow blocks and building bigger walls around our camp. We have a luxurious camp of the biggest at 14k. I slept well last night after the sun set at 8:30pm. I never fully sets, though, so it's light all night. I had a dream about all of my immediate family and good friends and Allison. I you Allison. I can't wait to get back to you and hopefully grab a Frontier burrito with coffee. Oh yeah! The things you think about after 10 day of dehydrated food and melted snow for water. I will really appreciate the conveniences of civilization after this trip. But I'm stoked to be doing this and seeing this truly awesome part of earth. it's a great feeling to spend weeks away from a city and modern conveniences. Tomorrow is to be windy and snowy. Another rest day at 14k camp. Hopefully we move up on Wednesday and summit Thursday. Bill awoke at 5AM this morning with breathing trouble. Tight chest and coughing when he took a deep breath. He said he could hear/feel gurgling in his chest so we had him take a dose of diamox. He'll stay on diamox through tomorrow. He says he already feels better and he took the whole day off.

Tuesday, May 27th - Official tent day. At 2AM our southeast [snow] wall blew down in a major gust. The middle portion was scattered primarily onto Chris' tent with some blocks hitting Chris in the back. Small pieces smacked David and my tent and rudely awoke us all. The night was super windy with tons of light blowing snow. The day continues like this. The report is 4 feet of new snow at 7,800'. Hopefully our cache wand is still visible! Bill went to talk to John the doc about his HAPE symptoms. The verdict from John is to stay put through Wednesday and see how things are going then. If symptoms persist, Bill will be on his way down. I already volunteered to go down with Bill if he wants company. Bill said he wouldn't have a problem going down solo but truthfully, I wouldn't mind heading down myself. Staying put in this weather is not exactly the best thing I've ever done. Ha. A juicy steak and some Sumatra coffee sounds awesome at this time. I got up this morning to help Chris rebuild the broken wall and eat some hot granola. I then had to get my growl on which was enjoyable in this weather. However while out and about, I met a fellow named Bruce from Anchorage. He's up here from Anchorage for a repeat climb with Tom "the mountain goat" Choate. 67 years of age. Bruce is a very nice and outgoing self-described "climbing bum". Retired Navy since '94. The weather report is for more wind and snow tomorrow but not as intense with clearing Thursday and Friday. Hopefully we can move to 17k Thursday and summit Friday. Be out by Sunday. Man would that rule! Time to pee in the bottle...
The day has calmed down and we had spaghetti for dinner. Followed by cinnamon coffee cake for dessert. We all piled in the VE25 to eat the cake, play a few rounds of Uno and listen to Loveline. My resting pulse is 50. It was 46 when I fell asleep last night. It sounds like I have acclimatized well so far. We'll see how Bill is tomorrow and possibly go to 17k on Thursday.

Wednesday, May 28th - Day 12 on the mountain. A beautiful day. 12 degrees in the tent this morning. No snow is predicted so we got going early (9AM) and Chris, Janet and David moved up to 17k with the Wild Country tent. I cooked up pancakes to fuel them on their trek up. Bill and I hung back so Bill could recover a bit from his HAPE. He has no symptoms today and talked with John the medic about his condition and John said if the symptoms are gone tomorrow, head up! if the symptoms come back, immediately descend. Bill is going to give it a shot. Chris, Janet and David are going for the summit tomorrow and plan to descend back to here at 14k. Bill and I will go relatively light to 17k, drop off our sleeping bags in the Wild Country tent and hopefully continue to the summit, descend back to 17k and sleep in the Wild Country tent there and back to 14k on Friday. If Bill does not feel great tomorrow, he';l stay at 17k and I'll shoot for the summit if I feel well. The weather outlook tomorrow is great with 5F as the high at 17k with winds 10-20 MPH. A great outlook. Another low is on its way for Friday-Sunday so hopefully we can beat that and get to Talkeetna by Saturday! The lines up the headwall were crazy today. At one point I counted 80 people on the route. Out of control. Bill and I walked out to the edge of the world this afternoon. Awesome views! The Lama [helicopter] came in three times today. Twice to take climbers down and once for a resupply for the NPS.

Busy day on the headwall
Thursday, May 29th - Bill felt great today! I felt great as well. Bill and I left 14k camp at 7:45am and hauled ass up the headwall reaching the top of the fixed lines by 9:40am. We were both thinking about the summit. We picked up our food from the 16,200' cache and cruised along the ridge to 17,200' camp. The ridge was very exciting and offered amazing views to the north and south. A few section were literally two-boots-wide snow making for some adrenaline-pumping moments. Bill and I arrived at 17,200' camp 3.5 hours after leaving 14k camp. The time was 11:15am. Janet was sleeping in the tent as she felt faint--apparently she had gotten light-headed on her way to the pee hole and just laid down right next to the hole! This action got the attention of nearby climbers and had a few people concerned. So she stayed in the tent for the day. Chris and David had left for the summit only 40 minutes prior to us arriving at 17k.
Bill and I boiled some water there and left for the summit around 12:15pm. we caught up to David and Chris at Denali Pass. Obviously they were moving pretty slow. They had roped up the whole travers and, at David's insistence, clipped every piece of NPS-fixed protection along the way. This protection is placed every 2/3rds rope length or so. Chris finally became fed up with the slow pace near Denali Pass and told David they'd never make the summit at that pace. I think Chris was relieved to see me show up because as soon as I did, Chris took off! Ha! I told David about Chris' position--2nd time on the mountain and so close to the summit and I think David understood. Then I too off as well! At about 18,800', I put on my overboots as my feet weren't warming up. However the weather was beautiful with only a slight breeze and the temperature near 5F. I was feeling surprisingly great with Bill in tow as well. Bill, for having symptoms of HAPE and come from 14k, was hiking as strong as I've ever seem him. Denali must have turned him into some sort of mountain animal! We all (Chris, Bill and I) hiked strong to near Football Field. At that point, I had waited about 10 minutes for Chris to catch up. He told me he was slowing down and that I ought not wait. I didn't. I turned on the jets and passed at least five teams going across Football Field and up Pig Hill. Pig Hill was a killer but I still felt great. I danced along the fun and exciting summit ridge to reach the summit at 5PM.
I had the summit of Denali, the highest point in North America, all to myself for 30 minutes. I took a self portrait and a "group shot" with Aron as well as photos of the USGS summit marker and other trinkets that adorned the summit. I then took a moment to take in the view. Clouds, lots of clouds. However, Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter were protruding from the clouds which was an awesome view. The temperature on the summit was -3F with only a slight wind. (I'm at 14k camp now and it's snowing but full-on sunny.) Pretty cool. I began to descend but ran into Chris and Bill only 10 minutes down the summit ridge. I turned around and accompanied them to the summit at 6:00pm. We took some more photos and began down. I saw David in the middle of Football Field and watched him turn around. He had had enough but was very excited and elated to have reached 19,500' or whatever Football Field is at. I had ascended 7,290' feet in 10 hours all above 14,200 and I still felt great. We all made our way back down to 17k camp by around 9AM. The sun does not set until nearly midnight at 17k and rises around 7am. Bill and Chris boiled some water and then left for 14k camp. Leaving David, Janet and I at 17k camp. Bill and I had carried our sleeping gear to 17k in case we needed to sleep there that night. Apparently they got to 14k camp around 2:30AM but witnessed an awesome sunset along the ridge. I slept pretty poorly with three of us in the Wild Country tent with only a sliver of space in the tent. But it wasn't that cold. The overnight low @ 17k that night was near -20F but I slept so hard, I didn't feel it.

On the summit. NM represent!
Descending into 17k camp
Friday, May 30th - [Coming in part 3!]