Denali - Trip Report - Part 6Click here to go to the Peak Page for Denali
Tuesday, May 13:
We woke up at the K2 bunkhouse to pouring rain, thoroughly depressing us--it
was just about the hardest rain we had seen yet in Talkeetna, and we were
pessimistic about flying to the mountain anytime soon and worried about Mike,
Barry, and Andy in a possible blizzard. I was sick of breakfasts at the
Roadhouse, so I just went to Nagely's store and bough some Apple Jacks and
soda for breakfast, which I ate back at the bunkhouse. I started reading a
book I had brought, Tokein's Silmarillion, but after a while I was bored of
that and went for a walk in the rain to the railroad trestle, across it to the
other side on a pedestrian sidewalk, then back along the tracks to the
airport, where I hung out in the K2 office reading Washburn's coffee-table
book on McKinley. There were some Spaniards there, and I gave my rusty
Spanish a workout by chatting with them for a while--they were attempting the
Cassin Ridge, but, like us, were temporarily held up.
After a while it was back into town for an ice-cream cone and then to the
bunkhouse, and, since it had stopped raining and the skies actually looked
like a definite clearing trend was happening, Steve told me to ferry
everyone's sleeping bags back to the airport. I did, but no one showed up at
K2 for a while as I sat and read some more. About 2:30 PM, though, Rico came
back from his unplanned night on the glacier--somehow he had been able to take
off, and apparently things were now in flying shape. Indeed, other air
services--Geeting, Hudson, Talkeetna Air Taxi--started loading up climbers, and
K2 seemed to be the last to get moving once again.
I walked into town, and ran into everyone but Steve on Main Street, where I
told them the news about Rico. I had missed a group lunch at the Deli waiting
at the airport, so I ordered a burger and fries at Sparky's corner fast-food
shack. I had just started to eat when Steve walked by, telling me and the
others that we were ready to fly, and to get to the airport. I ate my food on
the run as I walked back to the airport, and by 3:45 we were all changing into
mountain-climbing clothes once again, storing valuables, and everything else.
Bill, Bruno, and I piled gear into our plane, and Tom got in and tried to
start the engine. However, it wouldn't turn over, and he kept turning the key
again and again as it made sputtering sounds. We were all excited and joking
a bit, but suddenly Tom saw smoke coming out of the plane's engine and he
turned to us and said, very seriously and authoritatively, "Please exit the
We did, as quickly as our heavily-clothed bodies could squeeze out between
the seats. We then hung out as the took of the engine cowling and mechanics
started fiddling with our plane. Steve, from the other plane, was not happy
at this development, and he and Bill spearheaded an effort to get us into
another plane. They succeeded, so we moved all of our gear out of Tom's plane
and into Rico's, got a solid safety lecture from Rico (in contrast to the more
laid-back Tom), and soon Rico was piloting Bill, Bruno, and myself out across
the taiga and towards McKinley, behind the plane with Steve, Greg W, and
Our route was the "Round Robin" way, all the way up the Kahiltna Glacier
from its very foot, avoiding the passes, which were still socked in. It was a
longer route, almost an hour in the plane, but scenic. The sun was almost
coming out, and we all tried taking pictures, but it was hard in the cramped
plane. I had the best views, sitting in the front right next to the pilot.
Rico's plane had no co-pilot controls, so it was a more comfortable ride for
me than yesterday's.
Finally, the landing strip stomped-out on the Southeast Fork of the
Kahiltna came into view, with a motley collection of tents next to it. I
fired off one last picture, then the plane approached and landed facing uphill
on the moderate snow slope, using the skis the pilot had lowered on the plane.
After slipping and sliding uphill after landing, the plane did a U-turn at the
top of the "runway", sputtered downhill a few yards, and stopped. Ours was
the last plane to arrive, and Steve and others were right there to help us get
gear out of the plane quickly and move it away from the landing area. After a
few frenzied minutes the plane was empty and Rico climbed back in and took
off, using the downhill slope of the glacier to pick up speed on his plane's
skis so he could take off.
Since Mike, Barry, and Andy had already been there a night, they had a
campsite all dug out and set up for us, and since Steve, Greg W, and Luis had
arrived about fifteen minutes in front of us, most gear was already carried
the hundred yards, past several other campsites, up to our site. I helped
ferry the remaining gear, and when I finally arrived at our area, all the
tents had already been set up. I helped out with other camp chores, like
making piles of food and gear, general organizing, miscellaneous shoveling,
and setting up the cook tent.
Our expedition's basic camp set up was four yellow and tan Wild
Country/Terra Nova tents, each capable of holding two people comfortably or
three in a tight squeeze. Since there were nine of us, the plan was to rotate
so the people enduring a three-man tent wouldn't have to do it every night.
We also had a large red and gray pyramid cook tent, which was raised over a
circular pit dug into the snow. This pit was ringed with seats for people to
sit and a counter in the middle for stoves, pots, pans, mugs, and other
cooking stuff. The cook tent was a great place for the whole group to
gather, out of the weather, to sit, stand, socialize, and eat. On McKinley a
group will often spend many days holed up in camp, waiting out storms, and a
place to hang out with more space than the usual cramped backpacking tent was
a welcome and very nice luxury.
All tents and especially the fragile, floorless cook tent had to have their
sites shoveled out and leveled, and the ideal site was dug down into the snow
for wind shelter. Also, walls of snow blocks around the pits were often made,
making for establishing a camp a backbreaking task of endless shoveling. We
had about eight shovels with us, including two massive grain scoops for moving
huge amounts of powder snow at once, and to make our job easier we always
looked to use a recently abandoned campsite where a lot of excavation had
already been done. At the camp at the airstrip I don't know what Mike, Barry,
and Andy had found, but I assume they had modified an existing campsite and
whiled away the day they waited for us by shoveling a bit.
By the time the plane had left us off it was 5 PM, and the guides felt it
was too late to move anywhere today, although us clients were antsy to get
moving after our forced delay in Talkeetna. So after getting camp in order
the guides got out the stoves and cooked up dinner in the cook tent, although
Steve was not happy with the way Mike had shoveled out the pit, with seats all
around and an island counter in the middle--he preferred a counter connected to
the outside walls. The guides did all the cooking, snow melting, and stove
operation on the trip, which was part of the deal when we clients had paid our
fees. Dinner was some soup and then some pasta, served to us in our
individual mugs and bowls. There was always water for hot tea, coffee, and
cocoa, plus plenty of water for our water bottles--the guides were obsessed
with keeping us well hydrated, and with six MSR XGK-II stoves and two huge
pots for melting snow, there was always a steady supply of water available as
long as we heard the roar of the stoves.
The weather that evening was not that great--an hour or two after the planes
left it got socked in again, sparing us the incredible noise of the constant
stream of planes. We hung out as it alternately snowed lightly and cleared,
and set off to do various chores. Bruno and I went to dig a cache hole where
we would leave some emergency food in case we were stranded here waiting to
fly out in a few weeks, and we all attended to other miscellaneous business.
Annie and a National Park Service volunteer came by our camp to introduce
themselves, but, since we had Steve and Mike, we didn't get any real safety
lectures or inspections.
The latrines were wooden boxes with seats supplied by the NPS for this busy
area, and after a couple trips there we all were pretty much in bed by 10 PM.
I was in the triple tent for the night, with Greg W and Luis, and in the
middle, to boot. I didn't sleep too well, wedged firmly between two guys, and
Luis snored a little bit, too, right in my face. Still, I was excited to be
finally on the mountain.
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