Climbing and Culture in Alaska: Days 4 & 5

Day 4 Monday May 18th: We woke to another nice day, this time with the help of an alarm clock to get us going earlier than the previous mornings.  After breakfast it took us an hour to pack and rope up before we could start our carry to the 14 camp two and a half miles away.

  

   The first segment is Motorcycle Hill just outside camp which is a steep ramp of snow and ice that allows climbers to bypass the direct flow of the glacier thus avoiding its hazards.  The hill is subject to avalanches though the risk was very low as no new snow had fallen in the past week.

   Once up the hill we turned and climbed higher past the rocky ridge called Squirrel Point; so named because a red squirrel once was sighted there surviving on handouts from passing climbers.  I find this story unlikely considering the distance any squirrel would have to travel to this rock in order to panhandle.

 

Rest break below Squirrel Point.  

 

   The wind significantly increased as we climbed past Squirrel Point to the glacier plain above.  After the altitude gain from 11 camp the plain felt almost flat which allowed us to regain our energy and slowly plod forward into the headwind.  Why is it never a tailwind?  The slope increased into another hill that lead to a natural constriction between the buttress on the left and another ridge or lateral moraine.  Because of this restriction and the mountain’s topography any wind is greatly magnified in speed and frequency of the gusts.  A gentle breeze at 14 Camp could be 50 mph only a mile away.  Climbers often cache their carry load before the point if the winds are too strong.  It is wisest to carry past the point whenever possible as the weather could be worse the next visit.  It is aptly named Windy Corner.

 

Craig happy that part is over! 

 

   The 'flat' section before climbing the hill to get around Windy Corner.  Approximately 13,000 feet.

 

   Once past Windy Corner it is another mile across multiple crevasses to reach 14 camp.  That’s all you ask?  Consider with the gain in elevation of approximately 700 feet, from 13,500, and that you are carrying a 40-60 pound backpack the mile becomes eligible for a “longest time to hike a mile” award.

 

   Colin taking a well deserved rest past Windy Corner before heading on to 14 camp.

 

   Arriving at 14 camp we dug a cache hole for all the food and equipment we were leaving behind.  According to the NPS ravens digging up poorly created caches leads to a big mess as they will rip up everything in the search for food.  To prevent this any cache should be buried at least 3 feet deep.  I never saw a raven on the mountain.  We took turns digging due to the altitude and quickly had a large deep hole to burry our supplies.  Mission accomplished we returned to 11 camp tired but feeling pretty good after climbing for over seven hours on our fourth day of being our own personal mules.

 

Kiefer stuffing the gear into our cache hole at 14 camp.

 

Day 5 Tuesday May 19th: We woke even earlier at ‘dawn’ in order to maximize our climbing day.  Breakfast and breaking camp went quickly as repetition sure helps the process. 

   We took one sled per rope team with the intent to each take a section of the route with the sled.  They were packed with the light but bulky items to maximize space in our backpacks.  The wind was significantly stronger than the day before.  We were taunted with brief moments of stillness so sharp that I could hear my heartbeat only to be slammed head on by a freight train of wind.  The wind grabbed at every strap, fold of cloth and my pack as if trying to keep us from going higher.

   Arrival at 14 camp was a victory of its own.  This was the fifth day on the mountain without an easy day let alone a rest day.  Our work was far from over for the day.  Dan, Gabe and I started remodeling two tent sites, on each side of ‘Main Street’ on the right edge of town.  One of our tents, being four-person in size, seldom fit existing platforms without significant rebuilding.  The possibility that we might not go higher and that we could be stuck in this camp for a week or more was in the back of our minds as we built a kitchen, lounge area and tent platforms all surrounded by five foot walls.

 

   Missing a pole and it still works!

 

   Kiefer, Craig and Colin arrived several hours later having had some problems along the way.  When I packed the sled that morning I had lashed the tent pole stuff sack under the duffle bag on the sled.  This was a mistake.  The sled was blown over repeatedly along Squirrel Point loosening the lashing.  This allowed the pole stuff sack to break free and slide down the mountain.  To make matters more interesting the poles spilled out of the sack and scattered across the glacier.  By the time the team realize what was happening two poles were lost forever in a crevasse.  I will never pack vital equipment on the outside of a duffle again!

   Kiefer had brought an extra two man tent along as group emergency gear.  We now had an emergency where this became a brilliant move as one of the poles perfectly matched our tent allowing us to continue without needing an igloo or snow cave.

   After five days of moving uphill we were exhausted looking forward to some well needed rest.

 

 The headwall and fixed ropes to the ridge.  Our next step to get to high camp (17,200 ft).

 

 Video of the entire 14 camp.

 

Video of one tent site and the kitchen/lounge.  AKA Camp Nacho.

 

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About Haliku

Mountain climber, ultrarunner, scuba instructor, world traveler, student of life
This entry was posted in Climbing, Denali, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Climbing and Culture in Alaska: Days 4 & 5

  1. Ultra'thoner says:

    It is almost as if we were there, without the physical exertion and stuff. I can't wait to read what comes next…
    Hmmm… maybe I need to climb a mountain?

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