After dropping off the rental car at the airport, and catching a cab back to the meeting place where the team was staying, we all piled into an old dodge van, and headed for Talketna. Talketna is a small town, which acts as the take off point for tourism and climbers going to climb in the X mountains. We were scheduled to take off about 2:00pm, and ended up taking off around 3:00pm. The company we used was Talketna air Taxi. Or TAT. I was one of the first to pile into the plane, with massive gear, and take off. The bugs and heat of the day were more than I expected. Once in the air, the mountains arose on the horizon. An amazing change happens, between the green lush marsh lands of Alaska and the X mountain range. The glaciers are everywhere, and you can’t believe how quickly you change from all green to all white.
We landed on the glacier, unpacked all our stuff from the plane. The landing strip is going up hill, and is controlled by the Ranger station that maintains the massive amount of traffic coming and going off the glacier. We setup camp, got all materials ready and then started getting ready for the next day. We buried food for the return trip, as well as beer and some other drinks some of the team brought along. All good ideas, I would later realize.
On this day, I learned what its like to use the bathroom that is open to the public, and how to keep from freezing when the temperature drops below zero. At the landing strip, there are two toilets setup, that sit right over crevasses. It and the 14,500 camp, are the only place where you can actually sit down. The public part can be a bit much. A line normally forms in the morning and in the evening, so you have to plan your events carefully. This is where I first started to realize, that your mind can truly control your body, if you tell your body what you want it to do. I immediately changed my cycle of going to the bathroom just before I went to bed, so no one would be in line. Something else you don’t see everywhere, are pee holes. These are holes that are marked for you to use, to pee into. The hole goes deep, far beyond what you can see, and is stained dark yellow. Truly a very scary thing. Also something you don’t want to fall into.
Denali is the one place where you have to carry everything in by either having it on your back, or carrying it in a sled. Because of the sheer number of items you need, mostly food and gas for the stoves, you cannot possibly carry all of it in your pack. I would find my training paid off in spades, for I would normally carry around 40-60 pounds in my pack and about 100+ in my sled. I found the sled was easy to use, and keeping my pack lighter, made my legs less tired. Carrying all that heavy weight during training, really helped me keep from thinking I was not strong enough.
Moved from camp 1 to camp 2, at 7700 feet. Just below, X hill. Had to stay close to camp, many crevasses.
The trek was overall easy.
Mark and I hitched to the guide X.
We set a faster pace than the other two teams, and led the entire way to the camp.
The sun was hot, and being in such conditions just cook the skin. You have to have sun block on all the time. I made the mistake of not putting enough on the, the first day. Something I would not make the mistake with again.
When resting during part of the trip, the other two teams caught up with us. The last team, was the one with Wayne. When Wayne pulled by me, since I was running tail to the team, I could not believe how he was dressed. I had stripped down to just basic pants, light long underwear, and just a long underwear top, with the sleeves rolled up.
Now Wayne had a full jacket one, Ice pant bibs, that ran up to his neck, a full on winter hat, and his ski goggles. He was pouring with sweat. His goggles were so fogged up, that he could not even see. I could not stop laughing, it was such a funny sight to see.
Now you have to realize, I had just my baseball cap on, rolled up sleeves, and my ice pants, and I was running hot. Wayne was a mess.
We setup camp later that afternoon, and then spent the afternoon in our tents trying to dry our socks and gear that had gotten wet during the trek.
Overall the day was easy, but the sun was incredibly hot. Sitting in a tent, that then captures the sun does not make the day go by any faster.
I had brought a book, so I started reading it that afternoon, and was done with it by the next night. I would find, you cannot bring enough books with you when you climb something like Denali. I read four books while on Denali, and could have read more.
Carried a load to 10,500. Buried on the right side of the hill.
This was our first day of just hiking up to a higher level to then return to a lower camp to sleep. The old principle of climb high, sleep low.
The climbing started early, the temp was below zero.
We reached 10,500 around 12:00, and the sun was full out. Its just incredible how the temp can go from zero to 90 degrees in a matter of a few hours.
We all had carried about 60 pounds of gear, and were tired. We stopped just short of were our camp 3 would be.
We returned to camp in about 2 hours flat. I was in the lead and made the team go a little extra fast.
Spent the rest of the day finishing my book. Finished reading it about midnight. One thing about Alaska, is the sun never goes down. I found, I enjoyed it. But it did make me want to stay up all night, so I would have to put blinders on, to really fall asleep. Some good tips that both Mark and I did adhear too. We both had eye blinders, and we both had ear plugs. I slept great with both. I would not even know what was going on.
Moved camp to camp 3, at 11,500. Just below Motorcycle hill. The climb up to 11,500 was a beautiful one. This camp is just below Motorcycle hill. Names for the steepness of the grade. Basically, when you see the hill, you know its going to hurt to go up.
At this location is a ranger, that will come by and check you out.
We setup or camp of 4 tents, and then rested for the day.
I had already started my 2nd book.
Carry back day. Went down to 10,500 to get all buried items. Snowed hard all night.
When we woke up this day, snow was already a foot or two deep outside the tent. I slept very well Tuesday night, and felt very rested. Our leader decided, we needed to go down and get our gear from the 10,500 location.
We strapped on our snow shoes and quickly covered the 1000 feet to the location.
After loading up with gear and food sacks, we moved back up the 1000 feet. It was snowing sideways, and visibility was very low.
It took about 2 hours to get the 1000 feet done.
Mark and I spent the rest of the day reading in our tent.
Carried a load around Windy corner to 13,500. Snowed all day, wind was strong.
When we woke up, we could tell the day was going to be hard.
Our leader wanted to go ahead and do a carry to 13,500.
The wind was blowing and it was cold out, around zero or just below.
Motorcycle hill was loaded with snow, it had dumped a few feet over the last two days.
We started up the hill going slow, breaking trail for other teams that were looking to follow in our tracts. No one did.
We topped out Motorcycle hill and continued on to Squirrel hill.
Squirrel hill is named for the rumor that a climber had once stopped on this hill, and found a squirrel in his pack. The squirrel jumped out, and was never seen again. Squirrel hill really sucked.
On the top of Squirrel hill, is the polo flats. These is mostly a flat section, that then starts going up to finish at windy corner. The weather had continued to snow the entire time. Visibility was about ½ mile. Overall, I enjoyed the conditions, for I was not cooking in the sun. We took a break at just below the top of the polo flats section. By this time, I was getting tired. We were at about 13,000, and the pace we had taken had been rather fast. We started our around windy corner, and I struggled.
Windy Corner is just that, a very windy corner where you turn 90 degrees and open yourself up to all the elements from the glaciers below.
I could not see, and felt like we were going to fast.
Finally, we reached a point beyond the corner, where we could bury our gear and supplies. I was very happy to be returning to camp.
The weather did not get any better, and continued to snow all the way down, back to camp.
On this day, Wayne was led by another guide, separate from our teams.
We caught up with Wayne at the top of the polo flats. Wayne was then turned around, to return with us.
Moved camp to 14,500. Beautiful day.
The weather as it does on Denali, changed on this day.
The day started off beautiful, and turned out to be very hot at 14,500.
By the top of Motorcycle hill, I had already peeled off as many clothes as possible.
When we reached Windy Corner, the sun was full out. I was dripping with sweat all the way to the 14,500 camp. The climb beyond windy corner is a slow gradual climb up to 14,500 camp. Here, is a small city. With around 50-75 tents, the amount of people is a bit staggering.
Carry back day, Went down to 13,500 to get all buried items.
Carry to 17,500, high camp. Started early, and made a carry to high camp. Struggled at the top section. Went slow.
Rest day at 14,500.
Moved to High camp. Mark ended up leaving for lower camp. Good weather. Felt horrible all day. Went slow. Forced the group to slow down all the way up.
Was asked whether I would go for it the next morning. One guide left.
I wanted to quit.
Left for the summit at 8:00am. Nice morning, very cold.
Summited around 1:00pm. Pushed hard all day, pulling the other climbers up the last section of pig hill. Never felt stronger than on top.
Left 17,500 after packing up camp. Went down to 14,500. Packed up 14,500 camp, and went down to 11,500.
Picked up snow shoes at 13,500, and moved down to 11,500.
Arrived at about 4:00pm at 11,500. Mark was at camp.
Blacked out, while setting up tent. Lungs were full of liquid.
Left camp at about 5:00am. I pushed the team hard all the way to 7700. Took a break before setting up the last section.
Arrived at the field at around 8:00am. Set a new record for getting down. Mark’s feet got wasted on the fast boot action. I drug the team up the last section. Could not feel better.
Caught the first plane of the group. Got my bags aboard.
Changed my flight and got the last Alaska flight out at 5:00pm.
Mark showed up on the next plane. Got a van ride back to Anchorage, left at 1:30pm.
Found a place to shower, and cleaned up. Very sun burned.
Got to the airport, and got some food at Quizno’s. First real food.
Caught the flight home.
Total days to the summit: 12 days
Total days on the Glacier: 14 days