Denali - Trip Report - Part 4

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Sunday, May 11:

Today our expedition did nothing but hang out in Talkeetna all day. It rained for a good part of the day, but, more importantly, the glacier landing strip on the Kahiltna was socked in. A woman named Annie was stationed permanently at "KIA" (Kahiltna International Airport), and she was in constant radio contact with the aviation services back in Talkeetna, letting them know when it was OK to land there. The weather had to be good in both places, about 100 miles apart, for us to be able to fly.

It had rained all night, and us clients at the bunkhouse woke up around 7 and made it over to the Roadhouse restaurant by 8 AM to meet our guides for a hearty pancake breakfast. It had stopped raining by 9, and looked like it might clear, so we all went over to the airport--I in my car with everyone's sleeping stuff from the bunkhouse--to go through our gear again. We got all the big food bags out of their shipping boxes and weighed them on a special scale, plus everything else, since K2 wanted each item marked with a rough weight in case the FAA got on their case for overloading their small planes.

Steve and Mike discovered that they needed another huge grain-scoop type shovel, and since the nearest hardware store was down at the junction, fifteen miles way, they asked me to go in my car and pick it up, and also make copies of the key to the equipment shack. I went to get directions from K2, and was told that the store was closed Sundays. The woman at the K2 desk's husband worked there, and was hanging out at the airport at the time, but he was just a kid, really, and said it was best to wait until tomorrow.

We had pretty much finished the weighing and organizing when Luis and Greg made a ball out of a balled-up plastic bag and duct tape and started playing baseball, using an ice-axe for a bat. We all joined in eventually, playing a strange game where we rotated positions after every pseudo at-bat. We found a ski pole was a better and safer bat, and had to be careful not to run into any of the nearby airplanes.

After a while it started to rain again, so we covered up the stuff again, and when it started pouring rain we moved it all back into the little AAI shack again, joking that this was the daily ritual. We ate more lunch from the expedition's food stock, the usual cheese, crackers, salami, and bagels, and then hung out, mostly in the K2 office. After some short walks I was tired and bored, so from 2 to 4 PM I took a nap in the back of my car, parked in K2's dusty side parking lot, half in the woods. When I awoke it was clear we would not be flying today, either, so I ran everyone's sleeping bags back over to the K2 bunkhouse.

I hung out there a bit, went for a walk to the town's railroad trestle, got some ice cream at Nagely's store, and at 6:30 PM joined my 6 co-clients for dinner at the McKinley Deli, where I had a small pizza for dinner. After that we went to the across the street to the Roadhouse for drinks, and sitting next to Steve and Mike was a familiar face: Mark Newcomb, the lead guide on my five-day trip to Wyoming's Gannett Peak in 1994. I sat down next to him and we talked a little bit about old times, and he told me he was working as an assistant guide for Mountain Trip, another guide service. The leader of the Mountain Trip expedition was a Chilean named Rodrigo, a friend of Steve's. Rodrigo and Mark also both worked for Exum in Wyoming during the summer; on Gannett Mark had been an Exum guide. Their trip was, like ours, trapped in Talkeetna.

I was called away from the table by Luis, Bill, Andy, and Greg W, who asked me if I knew how to play the board game "Risk"--they had the game in the lounge area of the restaurant, but no rules. I hadn't played since about 1984, but I remembered enough to get a fairly good game going. Initially it looked like I would win, leading the others to wonder if I was making up the rules as I went along, but Luis, with help from Greg W, finally prevailed. When we had finished it was late, so we left the Roadhouse for our digs at the K2 bunkhouse.

There were many more people there tonight, since the weather was delaying more and more climbers every day. I ate a snack in the kitchen while quietly reading a Sherlock Holmes book, then went upstairs to sleep. However, the vague stench, loud snoring, and uncomfortable bed soon forced me to beat a retreat to my car, parked outside. I carried out my sleeping bag and pad and was able to sleep quite well, despite the cold rain for much of the night.

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