Denali - Trip Report - Part 18

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Sunday, May 25:

I was the first one out of our tents at 9 AM, and although it was very clear out, the wind was very intense, creating a ground blizzard that had once again buried the tents. I had mentioned to Bruno yesterday that we should move our tent to the empty area against the other wall, but he had balked, and it would have been a lot of work, so again we had huge drifts to clear away. All in all, I spent hours shoveling this morning, because in addition to my tent the collapsed cook tent had been buried with spindrift. It was not until 11 AM that we erected the cook tent, the rip now enormous and making it almost useless, and ate our breakfast.

I took a short rest back in my tent, and then I volunteered to help Greg W and Bill go dig a cache hole, where we would store our sleds, spare tent, cook tent, and anything else we would not be hauling up to 17,150'. Sometimes it seemed that this trip was more of a shoveling expedition than a climbing expedition, and the endless digging out of campsites, cache holes, snow blocks, and tent-enclosing snowdrifts got to be very annoying. I probably shoveled more snow on McKinley than all the driveways I ever did in my life growing up around New York. This cache hole was a hassle, too, since we had to chop through a layer of ice--Greg W had the strongest arms for this task, and I shoveled out the chunks he made with his ice-axe by using a grain scoop.

After a cold-food lunch in the cook tent, we all rested and hung out, and, like previous days, the weather improved as the afternoon wore on. It really looked good this time, too, and we almost thought that we might move today. The sky was as clear as a bell, and the wind had died down. However, Steve, experienced McKinley guide, looked up at the ridges above us and pointed out the huge, billowing snow clouds trailing off. He said it was way to windy to go up today, and beside, it was too late in the day. We'd arrive at 17,150' too tired to go anywhere the next day, or else be forced to camp at 16,300', neither of which was a good idea. He thought it best to wait here, where it was more sheltered, and get an early start tomorrow.

Steve and Mike had told us that we would take a short walk this evening over to the "Edge of the World", a rocky viewpoint a quarter-mile from the 14,300' camp where there were nice views down to the lower glaciers. First, though, they spent an hour or so duct-taping the rip in the cook tent, finally fixing that nuisance, and then, at about 5 PM, we all roped up for the short, flat walk to the Edge of the World. It was very windy there, and we all took a lot of pictures, but overall it was no big deal. The awesome scenery on the mountain had all started to look the same at this point.

While hanging around after my return I went over to the "Fire on the Mountain" campsite to chat with Glenn, Shawn, Julie, and Ron, but only Ron was there. He told me that the others had gone on up towards the fixed lines and high camp at 17,150', despite the wind. He was staying behind due to some frostbite on his hand--he pulled off his mitten, and I was immediately appalled at his deformed and missing fingers. However, he quickly explained that his hand had always been congenitally deformed, and that his frostbite was actually quite mild--just a few spots--but that the doctors over in the NPS quonset had told him it would be wise not to continue up. I knew Ron the least well of the four on his team, and I had not realized he had missing fingers on his hand.

While chatting here with Ron and some guy in a neighboring campsite I heard that a tent had blown down from the top of the fixed lines. Apparently someone was trying to pitch it at 16,300', had lost their grip, and it had taken off and blown over 2000' down to the 14,300' camp and then down into the big crevasse below camp. The guys came down looking for it, too. I was glad it was not one of Vince's tents, since we were counting on them being up there for us when we went up.

Dinner tonight was pasta with the usual garlic/pesto sauce, and at 8 PM we all huddled around the CB radio to get the weather forecast from Annie at basecamp--every day she broadcast the latest updates. Tonight, it sounded like the winds would diminish and that the next couple of days would be clear and nice. We all high-fived each other, happy that there was a strong chance that we would move up to high camp at long last. It seemed that the weather was clearing at just the right time for us, poised at 14,300' and ready to go. We decided to send off an "A" team to get a campsite at 17,150', like we had when moving to 14,300', and this time I volunteered quickly, not wanting to get stuck with Luis again. Andy and Bill, veterans of Steve's elite corps the last time, would round out the "A" team.

We spent the last of our six nights at this camp anxious to be leaving, and the wind didn't even blow too much during the night. Mike came over into the tent with Bruno and I, giving Andy and Bill a break from the triple-tent thing, so I was jammed against the tent wall. Still, I was lucky overall, since I only had to spend three nights tripled up in a tent on the trip, less than anyone else.

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