MT. DENALI – WEEK 2: 16 – 22 May 2014

May 16:  8:00am pancakes and bacon for breakfast.  Later in the morning we went down to 10,600 feet and got our cached items.  It was a 10 minute hike down and an hour back up.  We worked on the camp and bathroom area for a while and had grilled PB&J on pita bread for lunch.  The afternoon turned sunny and breezy and it was very warm in the tent.  I hung out in my long underwear on my sleeping pad mostly as we had 4-5 hours to relax before pesto pasta for dinner with custard for desert.  Tomorrow will be a long tough day as we will climb to cache food and gear at around 13,600 feet and return to Camp 2.
Another look at our tents facing the other direction from Motorcycle Hill.
This is a big crevasse that was located in Camp 2.  Mikkel is trying to take a selfie without falling in!
May 17:  7:00am breakfast of granola and pop tarts.  Started climbing around 8:30am.  Finally switched from snowshoes to crampons.  We climbed to 13,600 feet to cache gear and food and returned to Camp 2 for the night.  4.5 miles roundtrip and 2,400 feet elevation gain and loss.  The girls used the sleds but all the guys just used backpacks.  With all the food and gear they were very heavy and the climbs up Motorcycle Hill and Windy Corner were much steeper than anything we had attempted yet.  It was approximately 4+ hours up and 1 hour 20 minutes down.  This was the toughest day yet due to steepness and a heavy pack.  I had many thoughts of “Why do I do this to myself!!”  I also seriously thought about talking to the guides and telling them I was not sure I could do this again.  However, in retrospect, every day we went to a new altitude, I struggled, or at least felt I was struggling and the next day when we did a section again, I was always stronger and better off.  Essentially, I think this was part of the acclimatization process.
The temps were cool and perfect for climbing as the snow did not soften up much until we headed down.  The last 40 minutes down were very warm and we got back to Camp 2 around 1:45pm.  It was a relaxing afternoon in the tent drying gear and resting.  The sun was very warm until I was about to leave the net around 5:45pm.  Clouds came in and it started snowing.  Dinner was burritos.  I am not looking forward to tomorrow as we will be breaking camp (a 2-3 hour process) and re-climbing everything we did today to take all the food/gear to Camp 3 at 14,200 feet where we have to spend 2-3 hours setting up a new camp.  6-8 inches of snow is predicted for tonight.
The only other issue during the day was I fell into two crevasses.  Luckily they were small crevasses and in both cases, my left leg broke through and I went in to my thigh.  The first was near the top third of Motorcycle Hill and the second was going around Windy Corner.  They were very minor falls into very small crevasses and it only took a minute or so to get out and moving on.  However, it did highlight the danger of crevasses in a more personal way…
This is a photo from the top of Motorcycle Hill looking up Squirrel Hill.  Further up by the rocks it is a lot steeper than it looks in the photo.  If you follow the rocks in the middle to the farthest left and lowest point, you can see another climber.  At the top behind the middle rocks it flattens out somewhat into the Polo Fields.  Photo by Selina.
This is a great photo Guide Andrew took looking up towards Windy Corner from the Polo Fields.  Photo by Andrew.

May 18:  7:00am granola for breakfast.  Broke camp and packed sleds and backpacks.  Started climbing around 9:15am.   Cool temps for 1-2 hours until we got high enough for the sun to hit us.  I did much, much better than yesterday.  We climbed for about 5.5 hours to Camp 3 at 14,200 feet.  2.75 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain.  Sunny day with slight breezes.  We took about 3 hours to set up camp and stared building some snow walls to protect the tents from the wind.

This picture was taken looking out from Camp 2 around 8:30am on May 18th.
I am not sure where this picture was taken, possibly the top of Motorcycle Hill, but I liked it.
Looking at Mt. Foraker from Camp 3.
Initial setup of Camp 3.  Notice we haven’t put up any snow walls yet.  You will see later pictures showing the site with snow walls up.

May 19:  The night was very cold and I had to put on more gear to sleep comfortably.  Mikkel looked at his temperature gauge in the morning and it was -30 degrees Centigrade which converts to -22 degrees Fahrenheit!  We had breakfast at 9:30am…bacon and home fries which was excellent.  The wind was blowing pretty good and we started building more snow walls right after breakfast for about 2 hours.  The wind was very unpredictable and we estimated gusts at 40-50 MPH.  At one point, the wind knocked over the small snow wall we built the day before.  We finally stopped because of the wind and had a lunch break for 30 minutes.  We then worked another 3+ hours building snow walls around the whole camp.  Because the weather was bad we did not drop down and pick up our cached items at 13,600 feet.  We decided to do that tomorrow.  The sun came out later in the afternoon and the winds died down so late in the day was pretty nice.

Here is another picture of Camp 3 with snow walls built.
We also built a nice restroom with two stalls and a window.
Stall 1.
Stall 2 with the Clean Mountain Can (CMC) ready for use.
Sitting on the throne with a view!
May 20:  A very cold night again.  Around 10 degrees below zero.  Slept in and had a late breakfast around 9:30am so the sun could hit the camp and warm us up.  Late in the morning we hiked down to 13,600 feet to retrieve our cache from a couple days before.  30 minutes down and 1 hour 20 minutes back up.  1 mile roundtrip and 600 feet of elevation loss and gain.  It was a fantastic sunny day.  In the afternoon we practiced fixed line travel and took it easy the rest of the day.
Another great view of Mt. Foraker.
Here are three views of the climb we will have tomorrow to 16,200 feet to cache some food for a possible summit attempt in the next few days.  You will notice a trail and a bunch of people that look like ants heading up.  Near the top, you should notice a very steep section of blue ice by the rocks.  This is where the fixed lines are located which protect about 800+ vertical feet of the slope.  I knew there were fixed lines from what I had read about Denali and I was looking forward to them, but, what I did not notice was the 2+ hour straight up climb just to get to the fixed lines!  I was not looking forward to this climb.  For those who live near me and know Mt. Washington, the fixed line portion is very similar to Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mount Washington, NH except it is all solid ice instead of corn snow.  The Fixed lines and Tuckerman’s Ravine are both around a 50-55 degree climb.

May 21:  A cold morning of minus 1 degree F.  Raisin Bran with warm milk for breakfast.  Packed up 2 days of food to cache at 16,200 feet.  I have been dreading this day because the climb is steep and long.  3 hours 15 minutes up but we had very light packs and not many other people on the fixed lines.  The fixed lines up and down were not fun at all.  Approximately a 55 degree slope and solid ice that had been tramped on by hundreds of crampons.  Very painful although it was also my first time at this altitude.  At the top there was no real flat area – the guides tied us into anchors to take a break while they dug a cache for our summit food.  If you slipped and fell you would fall for a few thousand feet to almost assured death.  Hmmmm, maybe I should have scheduled more beach time this summer…  After a short break we went down the fixed lines which was not fun either.  I kept thinking all day, how am I supposed to do this with a fully loaded 50+ pound pack?!  Arriving back at 14,200 foot camp 3 most of us just laid down and relaxed for a couple hours.

Most of the following pictures were taken on the 24th but they give a pretty good view of the fixed lines and 16,200 feet. The following photo is Guide Geoff climbing the fixed lines.  Photo by Amy.
Climbing the fixed lines.  Photos by Andrew.
Resting at 16,200 feet at the top of the fixed lines.  Photo by Amy.
Amy and Mark at the top of the fixed lines. Photo by Andrew.
The view from 16,200 feet.  The people in the bottom middle of the photo are just coming to the top of the fixed lines.  Photo by Myself.
Mikkel and Selina heading down to the top of the fixed lines to descend.  You can see the lines laying on the snow to the left of Mikkel.  Photo by Amy.
Mikkel and Selina starting down the fixed lines.  If you look just above Mikkel’s red backpack, you can see the concentration of tents at Camp 3 (14,200 feet).  To the left of the main camp is the ranger campsite.  Photo by Amy.
Mark and Amy starting down the fixed lines.  Photo by Andrew.
The following two photos are near the bottom of the fixed lines.  Mikkel and Selina progressing down.  Photo by Amy.
May 22:  Another cool morning but not excessively cold.  We spent a few hours building snow walls around the campsite.  I finished a book in the afternoon. We had freeze-dried dinners and off to bed.  Temps to -5 degrees F and wind gusts to 25 MPH predicted for the night.  I can’t remember doing anything worthwhile this day…I think most of us just relaxed and walked to the ranger station and around the other campsites.
Most of the trip we played a lot of UNO and another card game that Mikkel taught us from Norway.  I can’t remember the name of it since it was in Norwegian!

May 22:  OK, now I remember what we did on the 22nd.  Adam and Mikkel built a stick figure out of snow and Amy decided to look hot next to it.  We walked to the ranger station to check it out.  A pretty relaxing day overall.

All photos by myself.
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