Friday, August 31, 2012


July 31 2011
So I wrote this so I can keep better track of my Denali adventure. Located in Alaska, Denali is the Highest Mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,320 feet (6,194 m). Last summer I watched the TV series called Everest on Discovery Channel and decided I needed to climb it. After doing some research I found out that some practice mountains were needed. 
Denali Here I Come!! 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 1

The five of us climbers and three guides all met at Alaska Mountaineering School’s office in beautiful Talkeetna Alaska. Not surprisingly everyone that wants to spend a month climbing a snow toped mountain are all A-type personalities. We all got along great. The first thing we did was sit in a circle and tell everyone a little bit about ourselves. Everyone was very accomplished from summating Denali before, to striving for the 7 summits. I was the only person that hadn’t climbed a mountain before. We went over what is expected of us, and the rules while on the trip. We did gear check, lunch, and then traveled the 3 min drive to the airport. We loaded the gear onto the plane, took some pictures and minutes later took off flying to the mountains. It's daunting flying into the mountain range seeing 100s of snow-topped peeks. Our plane equipped with skis touched down on the kahiltna glacier at base camp. After removing all the gear from the plane we set up camp, cooked supper and went to bed. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Day 2

We were greeted by a chilly morning that was a clear reminder that we are not staying in a 5 star hotel. We are in the middle of a Mountian range camping on a glassier looking up at the highest mountain in North America. The only heater we have is our bodies covered in up to 7 layers of clothes. It gets so cold at night we keep our boot liners, water bottles, gloves, and any electrical equipment in our sleeping bags to prevent them from freezing. The scenario of waking up on the glacier was common to me because I spent 12 days on a mountaineering course 8 months before in the same area. The thing that was a surprise to me was that the sun didn't go down until 11:30 pm and was back up again at 4:00 am. To fall asleep I kept my hat over my eyes. We pack up for the day for a five mile snowshoe hike across the kahiltna glacier. We arrived at the base of "ski hill" and set up camp.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 3

Each morning we rope up into four man teams. We have a rope connected to all our harnesses for safety reasons. When we are traveling across snow and glaciers there is always the danger of crevasses that could be 100’s of feet deep just covered by a thin layer of snow. If one of the members of the team were to fall through this thin layer of snow, the rest of us could jump to the ground throwing our ice axes in to prevent that person from hitting the bottom and seriously injuring themselves. This does not happen all the time, however it is a very serious risk that we are all well prepared for. Today we traveled across the kahiltna glacier about four miles where we buried some food and unneeded goods for the next 3 days to lighten our load for the following day. Kind of like hiking the mountain twice.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Day 4

This was the most challenging day. We snow shoed to 11,000 camp, which took us close to 8 hours. The last two hours of it was this never-ending hill. By the time we arrived I was ready to crash. Generally when we get to our campsite we need to pack and flatten down the snow where our tents are going to go and then use our snow saws to cut out snow blocks to build 5 foot wind blocking walls around the tent. This would normally take a few hours however we have been getting really lucky and have been able to move into someone else’s tenting area who had just left hours before. However, we still needed to set up tents, eat supper, and use the CMC (poop can). We only do it right up here on Denali. We don't just go poop in crevasses or dig a hole in the snow. No, we use a green bucket with a black top that has a plastic bag liner. The best part about it, the bucket is shared between the eight of us and is only changed out once it is full. The full bag is then thrown into a narrow crevasse where the glacier will do it's magic and make it disappear. We have been trying to build walls around the pooping area however the walls don’t keep the wind or the freezing temperatures away. You can probably guess going to poop isn't something I look forward too. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Day 5

This was our easiest day so far. We descended about a 1,000 feet to pick up our cache and bring it back to 11,000 camp. We were in direct sunlight the whole day and it got hot and sweaty. When the sun is out we need to be very careful with exposed skin and put sunscreen everywhere. You even need to remember to put sun screen on the bottom of your noise because the sun reflects off of the snow and fries the little guy. To prevent my nose from turning into a blistered mess I constantly have been applying sunscreen and lip chap.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Day 6

I am lying in my four-person tent with Dan and Brendan at 11,000 camp. Today we climbed just about 2500 feet just outside our next camp called 14,000 camp to bury everything we won't need over the next few days. Somethings we would bury would be food and extra layers of warm gear we won't need until we reach a higher elevation. This is done so that we make two lighter loads rather than one really big one. It was a tough climb today. Each morning we start off by having breakfast prepared for us in the meal tent. We ate hash browns today, no cheese for me! After we eat we pack up for the day. Generally I try to get most things ready the night before, this day not being an exception. Brendan and I were the first two people tied to the ropes with all our gear on. Seems like a good thing, however we had to wait in the freezing cold for everyone else to get ready. This has become a pretty normal thing. We are with a couple guys that are over 50, Dwaine and Jim. Nothing wrong with the guys. Infact they are both quite accomplished climbers. The only thing was they were really slow in the mornings. Our first hill of the day was named motorcycle hill. Not sure why they call it that. I asked the guides and they said "you will want a motorcycle while going up it." We started climbing this hill and it turns out that it's a 35 degree pitch and all ice. We have our crampons on so we made quick work of this hill. It's funny I see people on TV doing exactly what I was doing today by taking two steps, stopping and taking a breath before taking another two steps. As it turns out, there's no other way to do it. We got to the top of motorcycle hill after about 1.5 hours. I loved it. I was feeling really good except my feet were really cold. I knew I was moving my toes but couldn't feel anything. This was the coldest my toes have ever been and is one of the first signs of frostbite. A trick to warm your feet up is to swing one leg at a time back and forth like a pendulum on an old grandfather clock. After several minutes of doing this I began to feel a stinging feeling in my toes. Normally stinging is a bad thing but in this case the stinging feeling was the blood coming back into my toes. No frostbite for this guy! 
The rest of the climb was similar, with steep frozen walls of ice. Going up these hills was the first time that I realized that mountain climbing is dangerous. We are all tied to each other so if one of us were to slip and slide down the hill everyone else could dive to he ground throwing their ice axes into the ice and be able to stop the people from sliding to far. Good idea in theory however I feel very strongly that if someone starts sliding we are all going to be taken down with him. This was running through my mind when we were traveling a short section called Windy Corner. As you can probably figure out it gets it's name from all the wind. We had to stop just before we got into this area and put our helmets on to protect us from the 100s of precarious rocks that hung from the mountainside. We knew that this section was not a joke due to all the out of place rocks that littered the snow around us. As we started our trek through this area we were told to move quickly. Now thinking back that there are 4 of us tied together and we are going around the side of a mountain with falling rocks that's named windy corner; you could imagine that I was a little worried. We were walking across the hill trying to stand upright. We were pulling sleds that slid from behind us to beside us. Any mistake we would have slid down this hill to an edge that would be our maker. I took every step very carefully hoping that the people I was tied to were doing to same. After a 20 min sprint around Windy Corner we got to a safe zone. We are currently at 13,000 feet and in a good location to bury our extra goods. At this time I notice a head ache coming on. Very annoying because I have been getting them every time we ascended. Every time this happens I worry its altitude sickness, which would end anyone’s climb and would place them in a lot of danger. I put up with the headache and climbed with my team back to 11,000 camp. We ate supper drank lots of water and told stories while sitting in our snow kitchen. I still have my headache and am hoping it goes away soon. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Day 7

Today was the day of all days. I had to pull last bits of energy from my core to make it to 14,000 camp. So today's climb was the same as yesterday's up to windy corner. After that section we hiked another 3 miles on a slight up hill. I know what your thinking a slight up hill sounds nice. Not the case. It wears you out so quickly. During this stretch I wanted to slow down, stop, rest, take a nap. I dug down deep and continued to push myself repeating in my mind "one more step, one more step". During this last hour pulling a 40 pound sled and carrying a 50 pound pack I realized that not everyone can do this. Your body needs to be built for this and you need to be born with a mind to push yourself to the point that you’re going to fall over. Today was for sure the toughest day however it will be beat. Our next move is up the head wall. Pictures will not do justice. This hill is just outside of camp and stands there staring at us. The hill has ropes going from three quarters of the head wall to the top called fix lines which we attach to, enabling us to ascend pitches up to 50 degrees. I'm in my tent right now, so tired, laying in my sleeping bag with snow pants and a coat. For every 1,000 feet we climb the temperatures drop 4 degrees. We have another 7,000 feet to climb with an expected drop in temperature to -38F or -38C (this is the temperature where both F and C meet) not including any wind chill. Keeping warm becomes more and more important. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 8

Generally we have been getting up in the morning between 4:30 and 6:00 am. However this morning we got to sleep in until 10:00 am and even then it was -20 F. Last night and tonight I'm sleeping with 2 pairs of socks, slippers, underwear, long underwear, shell pants, snow pants, 4 layers of clothes on my upper body, two hats, mittens, a coat laid over my waist and a -15 F sleeping bag. Needless to say its been getting really cold. To make matters worse, during the night we need to keep the doors open by about 10 inches to let the moisture from our breaths out. Without letting this moisture out it freezes to the walls of the tent so when you wake up it looks like a mini ice coffin. With keeping the door unzipped it becomes very challenging to breathe the cold air and stay warm. I find myself putting my head completely inside the sleeping bag and sometimes waking up gasping for air. It's never a good nights sleep like you would have at home, however we are in the tent at night for close to 12 hours so there's time to make up for lost hours of sleep. 
Generally at home I would to go to the bathroom once a night. Not too bad jumping out of bed walking over to the bathroom trying to keep your eyes closed and not missing the toilet. As easy as that sounds, we have a better system here on Denali. We sleep with a dedicated Nalgene pee bottle. Without going into too much detail, we pee in the bottle so you don't have to climb over our tent mates, and walk the 200 feet through the snow and wind to the designated peeing area. With trying to prevent altitude sickness, by drinking a lot of water to keep hydrated, I would generally need to pee two or three times a night. You can imagine peeing for a third time into the same liter bottle it would be over flowing. Luckily we have a little pee dumping spot an arm reach outside our tent. 
Today we took it really easy and didn't get on the ropes and start moving until 12:00 and only hiked for 4 hours. As we are on the ropes hiking we are several feet away from the people in front and or behind us so we are unable to have a conversation. This gives me a lot of time to think. I find myself thinking a lot about business ideas and other life goals. Tomorrow is a rest day, so we will be hanging out at camp getting ready for a long day of climbing. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day 9

We took a rest day today at 14,000 camp and passed our time learning how to ascend fix lines and playing cards. There is another AMS team that started a week before us who is currently at 17,000 camp which is the launching point to Denali’s summit. One of the members was throwing up and had an "8 out of 10" headache. These are real signs of altitude sickness. She was escorted down to 14,000 camp with a guide today to heal. The other AMS people remained at 17,000 camp and are waiting for a weather window to attempt the summit. We listened to the 8:00 weather report tonight and we are expecting -30 F or -34 C tomorrow with winds and chances of snow. Not the best news when you are anticipating on cacheing equipment at 16,500 feet. We have a wake up call tomorrow at 9:00 am when we will be deciding what our next move is. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 10

When we went to bed last night they were calling for abnormally high winds at 60 mile an hour and temperatures at -30 F. The guides woke us up at 9:00 am to find blue bird skies! We haven't lost any days to weather yet. Right on schedule. 
Today we attacked the head wall which is two thousand feet ending off at 16,200 feet. It was really chilly this morning so I put on a insulated material that goes over the entire boot and up to the knee called "over boots" to keep in any extra heat. Just to explain what is on my feet while I'm climbing; we have a base layer of socks, wool socks, boot liners, plastic boots and now I have added my over boots. When we are walking we wear crampons (which are stainless steal spikes that strap onto our feet) The head wall has not been climbed by many people yet this year because we started climbing really early in the season. This is nice in the sense that there aren't a lot of people in the way slowing us down. However, it's also a bummer because the solid blue 1000 foot ice hill doesn't have a lot of foot tracks. (towards the end of the season it will look more like a set of steps) So as we we’re climbing we were kicking into the ice for every footstep. The first 1,500 feet was 35 degrees steep and was draining my energy quick. Climbing altitude so quickly you become out of breath fast. I was taking two steps, and stopping to take a breather. 
There is a common misconception that the higher you go the less oxygen there is. If fact, there is the same amount. To explain this let's say at sea level there is 10 pounds of oxygen and the circumference of the earth is 10,000 miles. At 16,000 feet above sea level the circumference of the earth would be 11,000 miles and there would still be 10 pounds of oxygen just stretched out. That is why you hear the expression "the air is thinner the higher you go". Some tricks that I was using today to avoid altitude sickness was pressure breathing, where you would breath in deep and then force the air out as quickly as possible. Also I undid my chest strap on my backpack to allow my chest to expand easily. The last 300 feet there are ropes lying on the ice called fixed lines. These ropes are laid out by the park rangers as a safety due to the angle of climb changing at 50 degrees. We would attach ourselves to these ropes because slipping is a real threat. This last 300 feet was very difficult for me because I needed more time to catch my breath but when you are strapped to 3 other people you need to keep pace. As I was about 10 feet from the top you could see the end of the fixed lines. All I was thinking about is how nice it’s going to be to sit down and catch my breath. All of a sudden I slipped!
I held onto the rope and tried to drive my crampons into the ice. My crampons were doing nothing however I was able to hang onto the rope and turned a fall that could have been 1,000s of feet and certainly death to only 3 or 4 feet. Not knowing why I slipped I look at my equipment and my left crampon had slipped half way off my boot making it unusable. Shaken up from the fall and the “what ifs”, I fixed my crampon and climbed the last few feet. 
We cached some group gear at the top of the hill, rested and then turned back. The climb down was super scary. We moved very slowly on the 50 degree ice facing our crampons down hill and making an imaginary line between our toes, knees, and nose to maintain balance. This is not a stage of the mountain I'm looking forward to after summating. It took about two hours to get down bringing us to a total work out time of 7 hours. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 11

Today was a rest day where we got to hangout around camp and build our strength for a day that is said to rival summit day. We went through our packs and took out everything we will not need higher up the mountain like changes of clothes, extra mittens, camping booties, food, and solar panels. This is all done to cut weight and to make our move tomorrow an easy 10 hour day. Haha. Not sure if there is an easy 10 hour day. Yesterday the AMS team that's a week ahead of us and another guided tour went off the summit leaving 17,000 camp around 11:00 am. All last night we were trying to make radio contact with the AMS team to see how everything went and to make sure they made it home safely. We didn't get an answer last night. This morning, we were awakened by planes flying around the mountain. This is uncommon because just the other day someone was mentioning that there haven’t been a lot of planes flying. As the day went on there were more and more planes and helicopters flying around the top of the mountain. Pretty easy to put two and two together, everything didn't go as planned with the people summating Denali yesterday. This is when it started to hit me that above camp 14,000 feet it's serious. We were able to make radio contact to the other AMS team and they made it back to their tents last night at 2:30 am with everyone safe and sound. We are not 100% sure what happened to the other team, however, the rumor is that when traveling back to camp they had a fall. We are not sure how many people are missing and what the state of the people are. However, if they were hurt, laying in the snow all day is cretain death. Today at 17,000 camp they had 80 mile an hour winds that would give you frost bite to any unprotected skin within minutes. The wind blew so hard that it toppled the protective snow walls around AMS's tents leaving the people inside to feel the full effect of the wind. With winds that speed hitting the tent directly it is easy to imagine the tent being blown to bits. It starts by the wind blowing on the tent and flattening it out until one of the poles breaks. Once a pole breaks, it will cut through the tent fabric. The people in the two tents moved to the side the wind was coming from to try and hold the tent up however the wind was just too much for one tent and it ended up breaking. I am unsure how broken the tent is or how they will be sleeping tonight. They are planning on climbing down tomorrow and we will be able to get the full story. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 12

I am writing this the morning of day 13. By the time we got home last night, fed and in bed, I was too tired and cold to write a journal. Yesterday was our big move day from 14,000 to 17,000 feet. This day is said to rival summit day. The day included climbing the head wall up to the fixed lines and to where we cached some equipment two days before. As we were at the top of the fixed lines we saw the other AMS team coming down and congratulated them for all making the summit and back safely. We picked all the cached gear and started to climb the ridge. The ridge was covered in snow, ice and rock. I found out that crampons don't work well on rocks. At some points of the ridge it was less than 6 inches wide with snow on it that was traversed by straddling and walking one step at a time. Each side with over a 1,000 foot fall. At other points we are weaving around large boulders with howling winds trying to hurl us off either side. After 3 hours walking the tight rope we made it to 17,000 camp. We arrived about 40 minutes after the other rope team so they were rested up and started building thick snow walls around the tent location. At 17,000 camp you are looking down at all other mountains and are above the cloud line. I felt really strong in body and mind when we arrived, knowing that the next day was a rest day. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Day 13

This morning was the first morning that we didn't wake up in an ice coffin. Through the night the moisture in our breath freezes to everything in the tent including the walls, hanging sun glasses, and sleeping bags. To prevent this we left the front door of our tent completely open. To cope with the colder temperatures I turned into a mummy, completely sealing myself into my sleeping bag. As any rest day we sit around, go for walks, play cards, and eat, trying to give our bodies time to adapt to the altitude. Today was blue skies and sunshine. Our fingers are crossed for the same day tomorrow so we will have a clear shot at summating the mountain. My body and mind feels strong and I'm ready to climb. During supper I was informed that the other team that summated Denali with the AMS team ahead of us ran into some serious trouble climbing down. The summit day is 12 hours of the hardest exercise in half the oxygen. When you’re descending the mountain you are at the highest risk of injury because you’re climbing down hill, you made your goal and you want to get home back to friends and loved ones. When the team was descending the largest hills back to 17,000 camp one of the members slipped, pulling the whole team down with him. This happened when the winds were 60 miles an hour and there could be no help sent until the next day. All team members experienced frostbite. Other injuries included broken rib; leg and sadly one person didn't survive the fall. The team is all off the mountain and our prayers are with them and the family. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 14 Summit Day

I had a lot of trouble sleeping through the night staying awake excited about the climb. When we got up, as always, breakfast is made for us, however in this case you wish you made if yourself. The guides made us cream of wheat. Not sure if you have tried it or even ever heard of it but you should keep it that way. Needless to say I didn't end up finishing my breakfast. I had the mindset that I would be working all day with little food and short breaks. That mindset ended up serving me well because it took us close to 8 hours to reach the last hill to the summit. One of the guides walked by me and made the statement "Do you have it in you?" We were standing at the base of the last hill cleverly named pig hill staring at the summit trying to find the drive within and asking myself why I am doing this. I racked my brain and nothing came. I am not sure what pushed me up the final hill through the -30 temperatures and the howling winds however when tears came to my eyes on the summit it all became worth it. I stood on the summit for fewer than ten minuets, took some pictures, and created a memory and accomplishment that not many people have. As we finished climbing back to 17,000 camp we were greeted by one of the guides that stayed behind and had soup prepared. It was 2:30 in the morning making it just over a 15 hour round trip. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 15

I woke up at 6:30 am wide awake after having only 4 hours of sleep. Kind of funny but I figured my body was just too tired to sleep. I looked over to my new friend Brendan and he was also wide awake. We talked about what happened the day before until breakfast at 8:00. I figured because we worked for 15 hours yesterday we would be taking a rest day today. However the guides decided because the weather is clear we need to start descending. We packed up our gear and climbed down 10,000 feet taking us just over 15 hours for the second day in a row. We made camp by putting up two tents in fresh snow at 7,800 camp.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Day 16

The best night sleep ever. Even though we got up at 8:00 after 15 hours of work each day I felt fully rested. Coming down off the mountain to an oxygen rich environment allowed my body function much better and to heal from the climb. We had breakfast and finished the decent to base camp, where we organized our gear for the pending plane to pick us up. As we waited some clouds rolled in, delaying the plane’s arrival. Our nerves were calmed with a can of blue ribbon that was cached at base camp from the start of the climb. The plane flew around the mountainside and landed on the glacier beside us. At that point we knew we were going home and had the perfect expedition climbing Denali.