Summitpost.com tells me that St. Mary’s Glacier isn’t a glacier any longer. Oh well. It certainly hasn’t hurt it’s popularity any. I thought there were a lot of cars in the parking lot when we arrived at 7:45 a.m. but that was nothing compared to the lot when we got back down. It was a beautiful, warm day…down low. My new Mars mountaineering boots hadn’t been in my skis yet and I had a new pair of skins that needed a test run, so I opted for the gentle slopes of James Peak. I figured we could ski clear to the summit and get in a good test. We’d also get another weekend above 13,000 feet as James tops out at 13,300.
|Beautiful in the parking lot.|
As we booted up (well, Derek booted up) and strapped on our skis to the packs I listened to a Sierra Club outing leader talking to his charges. He asked them to each name their favorite mountain which they’d climbed. The leader said his favorite was the Maroon Bells. Nice choice. The next guy said…Denali! He immediately added that he didn’t summit, but just “hiked on it.” I thought calling the lower parts of Denali “hiking” was pretty modest of this guy. He also mentioned that he’d climbed Hallet Peak recently and did lots of “off trail” stuff. Needless to say I was anxious to chat with him and when we caught their group I asked him about it. It was immediately apparent that he had just hiked a bit in Denali National Park, but, heck, if you’re heading uphill in that park, you probably are hiking on the lower slopes of that beast. Now that we’re on the verge of heading there, we seem to run into so many Denali climbers. I view that as a good sign.
|Skinning up the glacier|
On the plus side, we’ve had two back-to-back weekends of complete white-out conditions. We’ll get more tired on Denali. Experience colder temperatures and higher winds. But I guarantee you we will not find more pure white-out conditions. As that would be impossible. These conditions, coupled with being on skis and unfamiliar with the area, caused Derek a lot of stress. He had been motoring up the mountain, with me trailing behind, but now he was concerned. He stopped. I urged him on, telling him I was confident I could get us to the summit and back down just using my GPS watch. I did exactly that.
|On the summit...we think.|
|Skiing down the lower section, where we can see.|
|Olympus Mons seem to ski just fine.|
|Hiking back to the car by noon.|
The boots worked well. The skins held fast. That’s it. We’re done with training. The hay is in the barn. It’s time to start packing our gear. Game on, Denali.