Denali - Trip Report - Part 10

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Saturday, May 17:

It was a miserable morning--cold, windy, and snowing--so we all just stayed in our tents. I figured that if the guides didn't roust us, then there was no reason to leave the warmth of the sleeping bag. By 8:40 AM, though, I was bored, so I got dressed and ventured out into the blizzard. It was pretty bleak, and our tents were all partially buried by snowdrifts that had formed during the night. I started shoveling them out, and after a while everyone emerged and helped shovel. By 10 AM or so we had all made it to the cook tent, where we ate breakfast with snow blowing in whenever someone entered or left.

By noon we had all returned to our tents, depressed at the prospect of a wasted day waiting out this blizzard. I napped and wrote in my journal, but soon the weather started improving. By 2 PM the wind had died down and the sun was starting to come out from behind the clouds, and most of us got out of the tents and milled about, taking pictures, organizing gear, or shoveling out some more. As it neared 3 PM we saw Rodrigo's Mountain Trip group roping up to go downhill to retrieve their cache, and Steve and Mike decided that we might as well do that, too, as long as Rodrigo was breaking trail down through the deep snow. First, though, they cooked up our hot "dinner" meal early, planning to just give us the cold "lunch" when we returned late.

Barry was still feeling tired, and he wanted to conserve his strength, so just eight of us put on the empty sleds, strapped on snowshoes, and roped up for the trip down to 9400' to get our cached stuff. We booked on downhill though the deep, powdery snow from last night, my ultralight snowshoes working very well now that I had some experience with them, and we were soon down on the relatively flat rolls of the upper Kahiltna. My rope team was Steve, Bruno, myself, and Greg W, who seemed to making a career out of following on the rope behind me.

Just before we reached our cache a tall figure in yellow, hiking uphill, recognized me and called out my name--it was Glenn Morrison, a friend from Tacoma that I had been skiing with on Mt. Rainier this previous spring. I knew he and his team were on the mountain, but I thought they wouldn't be on the mountain for another week.. My rope team was flying down the mountain, so we didn't have time to chat, but we knew that we'd probably see each other over the next couple weeks.

We got to our cache, the PVC pipe now sticking up to the right of the trail instead of the left. We rested, shoveled out the hundreds of pounds of food bags, fuel, and clothing, divided it up into eight piles, and put it into the duffel bags that we then strapped into our plastic sleds. Barry's gear was treated as part of the common stuff. It was getting late, so we started up as soon as we could, Steve's team, including me, going first. Steve set a fast pace, and Bruno, Greg W, and I responded, keeping up as we booked uphill. I felt strong, in shape, and confident of my ability to make the summit after this brutal, non-stop push uphill with heavy sleds.

Also, I had watched carefully as Mike had put his sled on, and I noticed that I had been doing it wrong. The trick was to put on the sled belt, then the pack, then move the pack's belt under the poles of the sled before cinching the pack's hipbelt. This felt much more comfortable, and for the rest of the trip I had no more problems with the sled poles jabbing me. I also saw Glenn's group on our way up--they were camped right above our cache. I had bought the very snowshoes I was wearing from Glenn used, and I yelled to Julie, a woman in his group, to "tell Glenn his snowshoes work great".

We got back to our 11,000' camp at about 8:30 PM, with Mike's rope team about twenty minutes behind us--apparently Luis was starting to feel out of it a bit. We ate our lunch food of bagels, cheese, peanut butter, fig bars, and other food in the cook tent, and Steve gave a little talk about altitude sickness. We were all bright and well-read on mountaineering, and we already knew about AMS and pulmonary and cerebral edema, but it was still good to get a recap before we ventured above 11,000'.

Joe had set up a tent for himself, making room for it by enlarging our pit-- he had spent the previous night in the tent with Steve and Mike. He had wanted to go up to 14,300' today, but it looked too stormy up high, so he just had to hang out. He met a climber named Julian, who was starting work as an AAI guide next month, and he made arrangements to team up with him tomorrow for the climb to 14,300'. I was with Barry in the tent again--I offered to switch into a threesome, since we had been in our current arrangement for two nights, but it was decided that we'd stay the same until we moved camp.

Barry seemed OK this night, but he was getting more and more depressed and worried about being able to make it. It was a reasonably nice night, with the wind not too bad, but it did get awfully cold. No one on our trip brought a thermometer, but we guessed that it maybe was getting down below zero at night.

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