Thursday, June 14, 2012

Helpful Tip

For new viewers, because of the enormity of this post not all the photos will show up on this one page.  To see all of them, you have to either click on the older posts option at the bottom of the page or click on individual sections under the blog archive at the top on the right side of the blog.  If you only look at a few, the posts To The Summit and The Top of North America are the best! :)

Denali: Anchorage to Base Camp

I want to start by just saying how extremely lucky we were throughout the entire trip with weather and how our bodies adapted to the altitude.  Now, sorry for the length of time it has taken to get this post up and the length of the post itself....lots of pictures plus lots of stories and explanations!  I blame the altitude!  And I can still do that....after talking with the family doctor about why we have felt so sluggish since we came off the mountain and why we are sleeping so much and just generally feel "out-of-it," he says it's brain fatigue.  He said while we were on the mountain, constantly moving higher up in elevation and into lower levels of oxygen, our bodies were developing a tolerance for hypoxia, a condition in which the tissues are starved of oxygen.  Basically, it's like recovering from a head injury, a concussion.  Sleeping a lot and drowsy are common and it could take up to a few weeks to recover.
So it begins.....
June 11th we picked our friend, Arnaud, up from the airport in Anchorage.  We spent several days getting last minute gear and groceries while using Eagle River State Park as a base camp for sleeping, sorting and organizing.
We packaged and accounted for 24 days of food.  We planned to leave three days worth of food and fuel at base camp on the glacier in case we got stuck there waiting to fly back to Talkeetna.  So, we had 21 days of food and fuel to lug up the mountain.
Here, Andrew is tying snow anchors onto our tent.  The idea is to dig a deep hole in the snow, fill the anchor with a snowball and bury it so the hurricane force winds, that are not too uncommon on the mountain, don't blow your tent away.
We also spent a couple of days in Talkeetna before we flew to the glacier.  The weather was beautiful....making us hopeful!
Weighing all of our gear!  We were allowed 375 lbs. of stuff, anything more costed more.  We ended up with 430 lbs. of gear!  Oops!
We flew with Sheldon Air.  I can not say enough about how totally awesome they were!  They were so enthusiastic everytime we dealt with them on the phone and even more so in person.  They allowed us to sit on their couches and use internet the days before we left.  Holly made us zucchini bread the morning we flew out and when we returned before we were even out of the plane she was there with fresh baked cookies!  Then, after we were all unloaded she sat us down with homemade soup with bread and butter (and bottled waters...HUGE...because for 20 days we had been drinking water melted from snow which tastes slightly of white gas and has mystery floaty things in it)!  
Holly's husband, Dave, loading our gear.  He flew us to base camp.  On our way to base camp I remembered that I forgot to drop a few things at the post office which were in our truck (not even stamped yet) and Dave agreed to retrieve them, stamp them, and mail them for me!  They are too awesome!
And we're off!

Beautiful, cloudless, blue sky day!  Couldn't be better!  That's Denali on the right, Mt. Hunter (~14,000) in the middle, and Mt. Foraker (~17,400) on the left.
BASE CAMP! 7,200 ft.
Again, we were so incredibly lucky to receive the kind of weather we did.  Many days were clear and calm, the most beautiful blue skies ever, and many were partly cloudy with a little snow here and there.  We hardly had any winds the entire time.  The windiest days were are high camp and they were nothing like they could have been.  The temperatures were very mild...20s were the warmest temps we had on the lower mountain and the lowest temp was -25F at high camp....not bad comparatively speaking.  I actually wore more sunscreen on this trip than I have ever worn in my life and we still got a lot of sun on any exposed skin (faces, necks, and hands)!  We only suffered minor injures and illnesses....a few blisters on our feet, Arnaud got one sun blister on his face, fever blisters on lips, I got a nasty head cold, very minor headaches from altitude, and a little temporary numbness in fingertips and on the tips of toes from nerve damage, but that's all.  From the moment we landed at base camp, we considered it an honor to be there and to have gotten that far already.  There are a number of things that can turn a team around at any stage of the game.  The whole trip was a gift from above and we were so fortunate for it to work out the way it did.

Denali: Base Camp to Camp 1

We arrived to base camp around noon on the 17th of May.  The plan was to set up camp, hydrate, bury our  cache for when we return, and start acclimatizing.
Andrew burying the snow anchors.  We normally buried about 9 or 10.  Three on each side of the tent, two on the main vestibule, and one on the back vestibule.
Woooo hoooo!  Base camp!

The cloudless summit is directly behind our tent.  But when you looked closely at it you could see ribbons of wind-blown snow coming off the ridges and summit.  It was not a summit day.  Also, if you look inside the vestibule of our tent, you can see how we dug a hole into the snow so you can have someplace to put your feet and legs when you are getting out of or into the tent.  You can make all kinds of things with the snow...tables, kitchens, bathroom pits, etc.

The south side of base camp with Mt. Hunter looming over it.
The east-west running airstrip and base camp sit at 7,200 ft. off  the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.  The sled and pole sticking up out of the snow in the bottom left of the picture is one of the bathroom pits.
Looking at the north side of base camp with Mt. Foraker dominating the backdrop.
Hanging out and enjoying the sunshine and the new scene.
Here's our175 pounds of food plus four and a half gallons of fuel we are going to carry up the mountain.
Avalanche coming down Mt. Foraker (in the photo above and a close-up below).

Found a heart-shaped snowball! :)

The next day....we're off.  To all the camps except camp 1 we did double carries (carried half our supplies up one day then the rest of our supplies and gear got carried up the next day), but the move to camp 1 was a single carry.  It was heavy!!!  I was carrying my body weight and Andrew and Arnaud were carrying more than their body weight.  When we got to the mountain the weather had been pretty cold (-35F inside the tent at camp 2/11,000 ft.), but when we arrived it started to warm up a bit.  Although the mornings were cold, -5 at base and camp 1, the day temps were warm for glacier travel, 10-15 F.  So we got moving when the sun hit camp. 
Here we go!  During this entire trip we were roped together for safety purposes on the glaciers.  That means that you only go fast as the slowest person (me) and when one person needs to stop, everybody stops.  There was no talking while traveling, so we all had a lot of alone time to think.  Also, you have to really trust the people you are roped together with.  If one person falls in a crevasse, you are trusting the other people to stop the fall asap, set up an anchor and get you out asap (because its cold in there).  Surprising to me, I actually led (in the front of the rope team) almost the entire way, up and down the mountain (because I'm the slow one).  Andrew led one day going back to camp after a carry, but the rest was me.  I was nervous about that at first but got real comfortable with it fast (because the travel conditions were so good).  The route was well traveled and highly visible. 
Just out of base camp you descend 500 ft. known as Heartbreak Hill to the main Kahiltna Glacier and head up glacier for 4+ miles gaining about 1,000 ft.

A mile a from camp 1 we decided the load and the heat were too much.  We made a cache and came back for it later that day.  The four bamboo wands (we brought 75 of them on the mountain) behind me mark the cache site.  We have read stories of ravens digging up food caches up to three feet down, so you have to bury them quite deep. 
Andrew digging up the cache.  This was so easy at 7,600 hard at 14K and 17K.
Camp 1 with Ski Hill behind it.
Panoramic of camp 1 and Ski Hill

Denali: Camp 1 to Camp 2

Camp 1...we were fortunate the whole trip to move into camp sites with snow walls already constructed.  A couple of times we added on, but having walls already there saved so much time and energy at the end of a long day. 
Looking up at Ski Hill.  A caved in igloo in the foreground.
Looking back at our camp and several others behind us.  
There were lots of songbirds at this camp.  They migrate over the mountain via the Kahiltna Glacier, so they stop in to camp and feed off crumbs left by climbers.  The day we made our carry to camp 2, we returned to find bird poop on our mugs and bowls that were left in the vestibule of the tent.
Our kitchen set up....we had two stoves, two pots (one for making water only and one for cooking), and one skillet.
Dinner....cheesy rice and bean burritos with hot sauce!  We brought six pounds of cheese (WI colby, pepperjack, and a little cheddar)!  And, five pounds of butter (to keep us warm)!
In the tent with hot cocoa!
Bathroom pit right behind our kitchen wall.  Talk about a room with a view! :)  The park service requires that all climbers use a CMC (clean mountain can) for using the bathroom.  They give you biodegradable bags for the can.  At all camps except 17K and base camp there are crevasses near by that you can toss your bags into for disposal.  And, yes, we all three used the same can!  Fun, fun.
Andrew and I roped up to go to the poop crevasse at camp 1.  The last thing we did before moving camp.
Going up Ski Hill looking back at camp 1.
From camp 1 to camp 2, it is four miles with 3,200 ft. gain.

Break time.
Coming around Kahiltna Pass....a kind of annoying spot because our sleds slid down the hill behind/beside us and pulled and twisted our bodies into an uncomfortable position.
This Kahiltna Pass area is one of the most common areas for whiteout conditions.  It is normally heavily wanded so people don't stray off the path.  It is also known as the "land of the ghost wands" for that reason. there are so many wands placed and left behind from of poor visibility.