Andy Thien and Jason Halladay (seldom seen in wet climes sans brolly), navigating through the Anchorage rain on a penultimate food gathering expedition. The ultimate was was conducted at Walmart the next day.
Aaron Miller and Andy in the van, beginning what would become a very special relationship.
The airplane hanger in Talkeetna; a group of Swiss climbers packed in PBR and apples.
Weirdly (and to the horror of all the guides and Denali base camp locals) they flew out with the PBR untapped. Foreigners are inexplicable.
The train tracks in Talkeetna, Alaska, where the planes leave from. I think this sign is a polite way of saying, "When you're in our town, please shut up."
The teeming metropolis of Talkeetna.
We had to do an orientation before going on the mountain. Clearly we would not be alone with our thoughts on the mountain. The summit percent rate traditionally goes up to about 50%.
This quote stuck with me throughout the experience.
The cobwebs reduce the impact somewhat.
About half the climbers in the park come from other countries.
The Thiens has remarkably coordinated gear.
Aaron, feeling a little blue.
We flew out to the glacier in a DeHaviland Otter.
Each bag had to be labeled and weighed.
Looking down the nose of an Otter.
Sam Gardner, telling it like it is.
Look at all that crap! Too much gear.
They raise and lower the skis manually, depending on if it's a glacier or town landing. On the day we flew out, a pilot forgot to raise the skis in town and his plane nose dived on the runway.
Many dozens of miles from the road there is still evidence of serious snow mobile action on the lakes. This is just outside the park boundary.
Flying into the park is remarkable.
The patterns of the toe of a glacier are among my favorite in nature.
Coming into base camp on the Kahiltna glacier, we can see a taste of things to come.
A small subset of the 400 odd climbers on the mountain.
Jason, with his kiddie sled.
Mount Foraker, 17,000 feet of fun, lost in the fog.
We each had a sled with gear lashed to it. I had between 135 and 140 pounds of gear and food total, which is too much to hump around on my back. The food and fuel ends up being a crushing weight. The green thing is a "Clean Mountain Can," or CMC, which gets lined with a plastic bag and pooped in. When full, the poop is dropped in a deep crevasse. We had two of these for our party of six. Human waste and impact in the park is a serious concern.
Mount Foraker, in slightly better condition.
We skied up the Kahiltna glacier to get over to the West Buttress of Denali.
The path was marked with bamboo "wands" and by footprints.
We were roped on the way up in the event of a crevasse fall. It's unlikely on a route as well traveled as the West Buttress, but someone did fall into one while we were there.
Sam was with us for the first day and a half, then turned back because he was concerned about a medical procedure his son Hans was going to have to go through. A bummer since we'd all spent about five months training for this.
On our first day, we exited the plane about 7:00 p.m., rigged our sleds, and skied until midnight. It was still plenty light.
Well, 12:23 to be exact. I was cold and tired by this point.
Our first real look at Denali.
We're at about 7,000 feet, and the summit is 20,200 something. Long way up!
Icefall in the center, coming off of a hanging glacier. It stuns me that ice can cling to slopes this steep.
The "Ski hill," on Denali. I'd told myself I'd never climb this route because of the crowds (there are plenty of uncrowded mountains in the world). But the lure of skiing the route made it sound much more fun.
We got about six inches of snow every day for the first several days. We'd move upwards a few thousand feet and a few miles, hauling our 140 pounds of gear with incredible effort and excruciating slowness, then set up camp for the night.
The CMC was not too appealing at this point.
The views and the experience of being in the Alaska range are unbeatable.
On our 3rd night, we set up camp at 11,000 feet. At this point we really felt like we were getting some elevation. There are two major "acclimatization" camps, one at 11k and one at 14K. Folks stay at these camps for extend periods to acclimate. We just put in one night here, since we felt that we were essentially already acclimated to 14k from our training.
There is a huge hanging glacier off to the side of the 11K camp.
The shades of blue and white of glaciers create what must be among the most special views on earth.
All water that we drank had to be melted from snow. Human being needs lots of water at high elevation and thin air, particularly when exercising.
The zoo of people heading up from 11K.
After four days, we set up our highest base camp at 14K. It was a huge relief to take a rest day and come to terms with not having to shoulder a huge pack and plod along at 0.5 miles an hour.
What had enticed us on this trip was the idea of skiing from the summit of Denali--none of us enjoy crowds. the V shape in the middle of this image is the Messner Couloir, which rises some 5,000 feet from the 14K camp to just below the summit. We'd hoped to climb then ski this feature. Because of a variety of reasons (primarily hard ice and snow up high), we had to abandon this idea.
Home base! We dug our camp at 14K out of the snow and built walls around our tents to shelter them from the winds, which can get pretty fierce.
Modern gear makes for a relatively comfortable camping experience.
People would come into the 14K camp at all hours.
It got chilly!
Aaron and I each took our own tent. Jason, Sara, and Andy shared a tent. Not sure how they did it, since mine felt crowded with just me and my crap.
The main West Buttress route, from 14K to the 17K camp goes up this head wall. It's a line of people that we were not eager to join but the route makes a safe and easy way to get up high and acclimate. At this point in the trip we were realizing that we'd need either more time to get accustomed to the mountains (and climb something else), or we'd just have to suck up the idea of getting in line and climb the regular West Buttress route.
There's a very well equipped ranger station at 14K.
The camp is a little international city. It was kind of fun, once we got over the weirdness of being in such a remote place with so many others.
...until we realized that aliens had invaded.
Our little camp.
The U of A had sent some folks up to study the effects of melatonin on sleep at altitude. I'm looking forward to hearing what they learned.
Even Stay Puft put in an appearance.
Andy built a recliner.
Our cook tent was a tent-cap called a "Megamid" erected over a snow pit.
Jason, cutting snow blocks to build higher walls.
Freeze dried chicken breast. It was actually pretty tasty after soaking in hot water for 20 minutes.
Sara brought cheese and bacon.
The mango boys. These Patagonia hoodies were the gear du jour, clearly on deep discounted sale all over the planet. Andy was passing a party at one point and asked if they'd seen me; "A guy wearing this jacket." The response was, "Dude, I'm the only one in my party who doesn't have that jacket."
A shot of Mount Hunter.
We did a ski day up to 16,500 on the West Rib to acclimate. We'd us a rope going up, then unrope to ski down on the theory that we'd fly right over any crevasses (unless they were big, in which case we'd see them).
High on the West Rib.
Andy, following the wands back down through a snow storm.
Fount Foraker, with a nice white cap.
We climbed the fixed lines to acclimate. Below you can see the 14K camp from high on the fixed lines.
The ridge to 17K is a nice ramble.
17K is a desolate, wind scoured camp. Climbing the mountain from 14K is the way to go, I think, if you have fitness for it (we did).
Aaron, showing a bit of rime.
The ridge got a bit crowded at times, but it wasn't really a big deal. The week before we got here, though, someone was right about where Andy is now (if I understand what happened), lost his pack, reached to grab it, and fell of the mountain to the left of the photo and died. So, it's a bit steeper than it looks.
My favorite scene from the trip. Hope it shows up on your computer; this is ski tracks coming down from the fixed lines and the ridge above.
Why Jason is making paper dolls escapes me.
The cook tent made a nice social center to lounge, make jokes about camping food, the CMC, the snow, and farting (a common past time when eating freeze dried dinners for two weeks).
Lots of drama gets left out between the last picture and this one. Aaron and I climbed to 18,200 feet on a training day, turned around and went back to camp. We all rested a day, got up early (except for Sara, who had an injured toe), and tried for the summit via the standard route. We got to 17K in a bitter storm, came back to 14K, checked the weather report (which had changed) and saw that a week-long storm was moving in. Decided that we didn't have time to wait for another weather window, packed up our gear, and headed down the glacier to base camp to try to catch an airplane. Whew!
Going down hill with the sleds was easy. We rigged them with drag ropes to slow them down and then just skied all the way from 14K to the airstrip at 7K in one go. It was super fun.
Mount something or other from the glacier.
Heading down was the correct, if painful decision. We managed to catch a flight out the same day, and then the airstrip closed down for the rest of the week. We likely should have given ourselves and extra week to climb the mountain (but in retrospect, we should likely also have come in July if we really wanted to ski the steep big lines at the top of the mountain). But what the hell, it was a great experience and lots of fun.
Our plane coming in for a landing.
This is a DeHaviland Beaver, a slightly smaller version of the Otter.
Denali, off in the distance. I wouldn't really want to have to walk to the mountain from Talkeetna.
Love the patterns from the air.
And so, back in Anchorage, we had a couple of days to kill before our flight. We rented two Ford Fiestas.
Toured the Anchorage museum to see what a real mountain climber looks like (he/she is the one in the middle. The flanking ones are mere posers).
Jason caught up on his exercise at one of the kinetic exhibits.
Aaron surrounded himself with bubbles.
Then we went for a hike above Turnagain Arm, outside the city. This is where the famous bore tide comes through.
The next day we went for a boat tour to see some ocean life.
I think it's exhaling, causing that white patch.
Random beauty and shit.
Whales! We saw three varieties; humpback, killer, and fin.
A left handed orca, or so we were told. I didn't quite buy it.
These could have been inflatable props, set out in the ocean to fool the tourist.
More random beauty.
Glacier calving into the ocean.
Not sure what these were, but everyone seemed scared of them and the boat captain refused to approach.
Two eagles fighting. Somehow, I managed to bump my camera and switched the ISO from 100 to 16,000 (yes, that's correct). I was seriously bummed to have ruined this shot.
People kiting in Turnagain arm. And then we went home! End of story. You may wake up now.