Denali, Day 4: 7700' to 9450'

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Tuesday, May 12

Day 1 Travel to Talkeetna, AK
Day 2 Fly to Base on glacier, ski to 7700'
Day 3 Tent bound
Day 4 7700 to 9450'
Day 5 Place cache at 11,200'
Day 6 Move to 11,200'
Day 7 Place cache at 13,500'
Day 8 Move to Genet basin, 14.000'
Day 9 Back-carry cache to 14,000'
Day 10 Summit attempt
Day 11 Return to Base
Day 12 Fly out

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Stats:

  • Ski 3 miles, 1850', 4.5 hours
  • Camp at 9450'

Plan was:

  • Ski 3 miles, 2000', 4-6 hours
  • One day and 250' behind plan

 

Airport

When we got up at 6:30, it was about 20° in the tent (probably 10-20° cooler outside), but the wind was still blowing. Despite the ongoing gale, we did a great job breaking camp efficiently and were moving by 9:30.

Today we would single-carry up Ski Hill, the bump in the middle of the picture. The route goes to the right of the small ice fall.

"Single carry" means you take all your gear at once. Many people double-carry, where you take part of your gear up and bury it, then return to camp. The next day you cover the same terrain a second time, taking your remaining gear up to set up a new camp.

Airport

But Ski Hill didn't look that bad, so we set off with our huge single loads.

Between us and the hill, it looks like a slight depression. But it is actually uphill the entire way, and the "depression" is just less steep.

Airport
In that section is where the 'standard' camp is, and there were several teams camped there when we passed by (the camp in the normal location is just above my head; click for bigger version).
Lunch stop looking toward Mackay
Although Kahiltna Pass was full of blue sky, there were clouds boiling up the lower glacier. We watched them all day, racing to stay ahead of the fog as it slowly creeped up behind us.
Lunch stop looking toward MackayTom Lopez photo

Ski Hill was deceiving; it was steep. Plus, it had enough side hill to flip our sleds, and the snow was icy enough to make our ski skins slip. Additionally, in our struggles Tom managed to kick out of his Silvretta bindings several times. When you kick out of the bindings, they have to be reassembled, reattached to the skis, then you have to re-engage your boot to the binding. All this is done while wearing your 50+pound pack and your 80+pound sled is trying to pull you back down the hill.

Until that little episode, I had never heard Tom's "other" vocabulary. When the binding released a second time, I heard it repeated such that I learned all the voice inflections that go along with the vocabulary.

Meanwhile, Bro and Tommy were having similar issues in front of us. Tommy broke a heel lifter, which didn't help his achilles problem. And I think everyone considered ditching the skis and simply walking.

Lunch stop looking toward Mackay

As the day progressed, it got nicer, and the wind did die down some. That's Tommy and Bro coming over the rise.

But the single carry up that hill had been really tiring, even injurious, so once again we stopped slightly short of our goal for the day. We were hurting when we saw a camp come into view (the one in the picture), but it already contained 4 or 5 tents. Just past there, we found a snow wall at about 9450'. It was again short of our goal for the day of 9800', but we called it good.

Note that you can still see the wind scouring the snow walls downhill from our campsite.

Lunch stop looking toward Mackay Tom Lopez photo

Our experience at 7700' had taught us how to protect the tents, and you'll note that the walls here are higher than the top of our tents.

When the sun dipped behind the ridge at about 7:30, the temperature plummeted and we dove in the tents. The 8pm weather report for down low from the park service, heard on our handheld radio, predicted the next day would bring more wind to 50mph. We lay in our tents and talked about a positive mental attitude.

With some sleep we would feel stronger tomorrow.

Lunch stop looking toward MackayTom Lopez photo

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