Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Go Team 1!

Nice to be able to give Alpine Ascents a summit for their first team on Denali for the year! And nice to finally be able to stand on top and take some pictures. Team 1 was little, just me and three climbers, but we worked hard, got along well, took care of ourselves, and made it up and down safely.

Our fly-on day was delayed by weather, so we ate, drank, sat around, ate some more, waited, and did actually get to fly on the next afternoon, through some clouds that were borderline acceptable to fly in. (I sharpened my crampons while we were waiting at the airstrip.) On our first few days working up the mountain, we encountered lots of teams coming down who hadn't been able to get a day of good summit weather, and had to come down. Only two teams in our first few days had been successful, the first summits of the season.

The weather for our overall trip worked out perfectly. We had some pretty nasty days in the middle, between 11,000' and 14,000' camps, but the team dealt with the strong winds and snow quite well, staying warm and functional as we carried gear and moved camp. It prepared us for summit conditions, which were less windy than those we encountered down low!

Once we reached 14,000' camp, things cleared up a bit, and we were able to actually see some of the amazing scenery around us. We moved to high camp at 17,000', took our rest day, and were duly rewarded with a seemingly suitable summit day. The winds died down to almost pleasant for the second half of our day (OK, it was still cold enough to wear my down pants, balaclava, and goggles) and we were able to stand on top at about 8:30pm. Go Team 1!

Fortunately, it doesn't ever get really dark there this time of year, so we got down around 1am and cooked some dinner before going to bed. Two days later, we arrived back at base camp, drank the beers we had stashed there for our return (only good ones - Alaska Amber and Moose Drool), and got right on a 4-seater
plane back to Talkeetna. Sweet!

Third time's a charm. It was nice to finally be able to stand on top and take some pictures. A big thanks to my team for persevering and making it up there. Nice job, crew! And huge thanks to everyone back home for your thoughts and prayers - we aren't out there all alone...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Those last 15 feet...

It's funny - I put in my last cybercast from Nepal about two weeks ago, and just finished typing up the first one for Denali. For being somewhere else all the time, I sure feel like I'm always letting people know where I am!

Island Peak stands at 20,305 feet above sea level. We were joking while we were there that we should just bring a really tall ladder to make it to the same elevation as the summit of Denali, which is at 20,320', and how different the two climbs were. Island: a different language, rocky trails, animals to carry your gear, people to cook your food and carry the kitchen, a day from base camp to the summit. Denali: US land, entirely ice from the moment you start, 120 lbs of gear that you are responsible for moving up the mountain, a shovel for making your own sleeping place level (and protected from wind and snow), and 15+ days of walking slowly uphill carrying lots of weight, hoping the weather will give you a break so you can go back down. It would be difficult for them to be more different, but it's all the mountains, and it's all good.

So we're off, weather permitting, tomorrow afternoon. We'll spend the next full day at base camp, by the snow runway, going over crevasse rescue and building a strong camp and all the other stuff we need to be ready for the mountain. It will be a few days until we have phone reception and can call in again, but posts, as always, will be at See you soon!