Thursday, June 16, 2016

Denali - Part 3: The Ascent - 14,000 feet to the Summit

Monday, June 13th: Carry to 16,200 feet - Strava - Day 7

It snowed again the the night we got to Camp III, but it wasn't too much. It snows a lot on this mountain. I think because when you get a weather report that says "cloudy" or "partly cloudly" that means we'll be in those clouds. We're so high that the clouds we have are either at our level or below us. And if we're in the clouds, then that means snow, since it's cold.

It was very cold this morning. How cold? I don't know, but we had been getting reports at 0 degrees and this was much colder. It stayed cold until the sun got high enough to hit us. Once it did hit the tent, things warmed up fast and if there wasn't any wind, it felt very balmy.

I was still feeling very strong and having no effects from the altitude. No effects besides obviously moving slower, but it didn't seem any different to me than being on top of a Colorado 14er. Our plan for today was to do a small carry to the top of the fixed lines. This time we didn't have to carry nearly as much weight as we had been doing for our caches. Now we only had to carry four days of food and some fuel. There was nothing else we could cache. I hoped that things would go well enough that we'd continue to Camp IV, just to check it out, but we already discussed the possibility of not even getting up the fixed lines if conditions weren't good or if Charlie was still feeling anything in his lungs.

I was a little concerned about how chapped my lips were becoming. I think I was wearing the buff too much over my face in an effort to avoid burning myself. I was so paranoid of being in an entirely white and reflective environment for weeks that I overcompensated. Memories of viciously burning my face while skiing just for a day in Colorado drove me. Both Derek and I kept chapstick in our chest pockets and whenever I pulled out my highly desired, cherry-flavored lip balm, I'd pass it to Derek after I used it. He didn't even have to ask. He did the same for me. But that was just to soothe my symptoms. I figured real relief wouldn't come until we got off the mountain.

We roped up, even though the initial slope isn't that steep. We roped up, even though many other climbers weren't roping up. I think it was more for solidarity and to keep us together than safety, for we just used our ski poles all the way up to the fixed lines, 1500 feet above camp. Here we left our poles and pulled out our axes and our ascenders. Each of us had a Petzl ascender with us, specifically for these fixed lines but also to aid us if we fell into a crevasse.

I encouraged Tom to set the pace because of the conflict we had the day before, and he led us up to the the lines at a great pace. Once on the lines, I thought things were easier because I could use my hands and feet to advance. Charlie and Derek felt this made things more aerobic since we were using more limbs. My confidence grew as I was feeling really strong.

We met a family from Jackson, Wyoming on the way up. I started to brag that my son was along too and he was only 18 years old. The mom responded that her daughter was 17 and her son 15. Good for them! They were being guided and ascending on skis clear to the fixed lines, which was impressive. They were just headed up to acclimatize with some lunch at Camp IV.

Just past the top of the fixed lines, we found the cache location, marked by many other wands. We dug a shallow hole and buried our gear. As it would turn out, this was maybe too shallow. We put on extra clothes while we were stopped here, but it wasn't that cold in the sun. In fact, it felt really comfortable because there was no wind.

After caching the gear, we headed back down the fixed lines, with Derek leading. There are two sets of fixed lines on the Headwall - one for ascending and one for descending, so you don't have to pass climbers going the other way. Of course, if you get behind a slower team descending, you just have to wait. Staying roped for this is a bit of a pain as the rope either runs by you if there is any slack or the person behind you pulls on you a bit if there is no slack. Once again, the main conflict is this rope and the lack of slack or excessive slack that makes moving more difficult. Yet, we didn't call to unrope.

This slope is quite steep and a fall here would need to be instantly arrested or you'd be in big trouble. We didn't use our ascenders on the way down, but all clipped into the fixed line, which was anchored to pickets every forty feet or so and we'd have to clip around them. Tom and Charlie attached to the lines with prussiks, so I felt we were quite safe. There sometimes were small gaps between the ropes where you'd need to climb a bit without being clipped into a rope, though your other three partners were. If anyone fell here, we'd likely pull the others off but would probably all be caught by Tom or Charlie's prussik. If it weren't for these we'd have been pulled down into one of the anchors. This is similar to a via ferrata fall and would shock load the anchors. On rock, where the falls would be much faster and more forceful, a fall would likely break the sling attaching us to the fixed line. One sling breaking wouldn't be fatal for us, though, as we were all tied together. I think I'd have been fine going up and down these lines unroped. Being unroped would make it easier to pass other parties, but I probably wouldn't have done that because getting off the kicked steps makes climbing much harder and slower. For me to feel completely safe while unroped on terrain this steep, I need two axes. But we didn't even discuss unroping, so it wasn't an issue.

Once back in camp it wasn't long before another food sled came by, and it had such enticing delicacies that we couldn't resist. We'd have to climb the mountain two or three times now that we had so much food. While lounging around nibbling on our culinary riches, we watched a helicopter land near the ranger tent and then take off and go up to Camp IV at 17,200 feet. Then it went back to the ranger's tents before taking off and flying away. We later asked the rangers about this and were told they were bringing rescue gear up to Camp IV and bringing down trash. At the time I believed that, but it should have sounded fishy to me. That wasn't what was going on.

They were attempting to rescue a Japanese climber that was seriously ill. In fact, he died before they could get him to Basecamp. Later in the week we'd hear about this and think that it occurred on our summit day, but that wasn't right either. At that time we heard the climber had HAPE. This article here, written on June 15th, indicates they didn't know at the time. I don't know of any other information.

Tuesday, June 14th: Rest Day at Camp III (14,200 feet)

Strava - Day 8, part 1 - Strava - Day 8, part 2

Today was a planned rest day, but it was so beautiful out and I was feeling so good that I just had to get in some exercise. I really wanted to see the ridge above the fixed lines and hoped to go clear to Camp IV at 17,200 feet. I asked if anyone was interested and, at first, they were not. I forget the details, but this evolved into a planning session. We walked over and checked the weather report posted by the rangers' tents and it looked good - winds up high were supposed to die down by tomorrow morning. After much debate and discussion, we decided to go for the summit the next day, from our camp at 14,200 feet. This was not decided lightly, as the rangers told us that there is only a 10% success rate in going for the summit from 14,000 feet. We figured that it would save us the work of hauling big packs up so high and of establishing camp and then tearing it all down again. But it's a long, long way down if you get too tired. It was a risk but so early in our trip we felt we could take the risk and if it didn't work out, we'd have time to recover and try again, possibly by moving camp.

With that settled, Charlie and Tom thought their time was best spent resting up for a very long, hard summit attempt. I still needed to go uphill, and when we got back, Derek decided to join me. He got dressed, and we went off towards the fixed lines with nothing in our packs but some food and water and we only carried poles and not ice axes or harnesses. Our plan was to take an easy run up to the base of the fixed lines at 15,700 feet and then come down.

Derek and I made it up to the lines in 1h18m. There we sat down and drank a liter of water and ate some food. The return trip only took us twenty minutes. It was a very pleasant two hours.

The temperatures reported to us by the ranger board in Camp III would say that the high at 14,200 feet was going to be 5 degrees. It didn't seem like it could be right. Five degrees in Colorado is very cold. Here, with the bright sun hitting us from every angle, in our glacier clothes, it felt warm. Seriously. I guess it might have been this temperature in the shade, but we didn't have any real shade. Or at least, we didn't wander into it. Inside the tent, with the sun on it, the temperatures could be uncomfortably hot. Mind you, this is with a high reading of five degrees! The only way to tell it was that cold was that bottles would freeze, and if you weren't in your boots, your feet would get cold from heat loss to the ground.

As already discussed, the heat would cause more problems for us than the cold. Well, the heat actually didn't really cause me any problems, save for one time. It was mostly the bright sunshine. We were very wary about burning ourselves to the point of skin cancer.

We packed our gear for the next day, including a stove, which we'd use to melt snow and refill our water bottles. Our plan was to wake up at 6:30 a.m. and get moving by 7 a.m. We went to bed with high hopes and quite a bit of excitement and anxiety over the monstrous day to come.

Wednesday, June 15th: Move to Camp IV (17,200 feet) - Strava - Day 9

During the night before our scheduled attempt, the winds ripped through Camp III, buffeting our tent and tossing gear around. Tom and Charlie got up in the middle of the night to take down the cook tent and stow away all the kitchen gear. They also secured our sleds. Thanks, guys! The winds continued into the morning and when 6:30 a.m. came around we had a quick meeting in our vestibule and called off the one-day ascent. It was going to be right at our limit in good weather, and we couldn't attempt it in winds like this. We went back to bed for more rest.

We had resigned ourselves to taking a full rest day, but when the winds died down and the weather improved, lots of climbers were on the move, headed for Camp IV. We had another conference and decided that we didn't want to waste the day doing nothing. The weather report for the next day looked good, so our new plan was to move camp up to 17,200 feet and go for the summit the next day.

Before we could depart, we had to completely break camp and cache all the gear we weren't carrying up. We didn't head up until 1:30 p.m., this time with heavy packs. We didn't arrive at Camp IV until 8 p.m.! Why? Crowds. We thought we'd time our start just perfectly with no parties directly in front of us. In fact, the next party was nearly to the fixed lines when we started out. Unfortunately, that party took such a long break that they were still there when we arrived. We should have kept moving to get by them, but we needed a break. We should have taken a shorter break, but we didn't, and started up just behind the slowest party on the mountain: three guys from New Mexico.

While ascending the lines behind these guys, Derek made up these funny quips to describe their pace:

* We felt he could have built a snow cave at each kicked step.
* Derek nearly contracted skin cancer and then died of it before they made the top.

These guys actually didn't move that slowly when they were moving, but they were stopped most of the time. It was very frustrating.

While ascending, Carl came by descending, and he told us that our cache was uncovered up there and we might have lost some gear. My theory is that another team dug into it by mistake. Also while ascending two skiers came down to our right. They were doing jump turns and occasionally scraped off the snow down to bare ice. It was sketchy going for them and we were getting hit with their debris. They were nice guys, though. They had camped next to us and we'd chatted briefly with them.

Going up the fixed lines after the New Mexicans was painful. We'd have lots more waiting on the ridge above. This greatly diminished the experience for me. I picked the easiest, most popular route on Denali so that I could gain experience in this radically new environment without difficult climbing as a further complication. I knew 90% of the climbers that do Denali follow this route. Yet, I didn't expect it to be so clogged up so much of the time. Moving only at the whim of another team isn't fun. It isn't even safe. And it doesn't feel like real climbing. Yes, yes, you say, then go climb a different route. I will now. In fact, I would only do the West Buttress again if I did it Colin-Haley style: unroped. Then you could pass other parties much more easily.

This experience also made me sure that I'd never want to queue for the fixed lines on Everest, where you could lose your life waiting on others. The 2015 Hollywood movie Everest, about the tragedy of the 1996 season (documented by Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air) is actually pretty good and there is a scene where Beck Weathers complains about freezing his hands while waiting in line for an hour to get across an aluminum ladder while descending the Khumbu Icefall. What a nightmare. I couldn't handle it. Actually, that isn't true. I could probably handle it, but I couldn't handle it and pay $50,000 at the same time. Derek and I experienced this same frustration while waiting on a team of four complete Bozos on the Owen-Spaulding route on the Grand Teton last summer. I think we need a new etiquette for passing on popular routes with monstrous approaches. In the book Minus 148, Dave Johnston, one of the first winter ascenders of Denali and the strongest member of the team, when he found that the rest of his team wasn't moving very quickly, wrote in his journal: "If we ever run into a situation where speed is a requirement -- and man, it often is -- why, we'll all be screwed." Slow groups that don't allow other parties to pass endanger everyone they hold up.

When we got to the cache, it was indeed lying bare, with our trash bag of gear torn open. I was still feeling really strong, partly due to the very slow pace on the Headwall, so I loaded all of Derek's and my food into my pack and then most of Tom's food as well. Tom was actually having a bit of trouble because he was overheating again and feeling a bit drained. My pack was now overloaded. I'd eventually feel this weight before we got to camp.

The climbing up the ridge was really cool and was protected with fixed anchors and even a short, fifty-foot fixed line at one crux section. Most of the fixed anchors didn't have carabiners on them, but we had enough. The leader, Charlie on this section, would clip into the anchors and the last guy, me, would remove the carabiners, with Tom and Derek clipping around the anchor. These anchors are funny - just slings emerging from the snow. I assumed they were attached to pickets underneath, but it could have been screws for all we knew.

We wove between rock outcroppings most of the way up the ridge. This was one of the only sections on the climb where we were next to rock regularly. We took a break when we got clogged up behind the conga line at the fixed line but couldn't stop too long as the temperature was dropping and it was a bit breezy.

I think we were all feeling pretty tired by the time we got to Camp IV. This was nothing like the congested tent city of Camp III. Here isolated sites were scattered across a large area. There didn't seem to be any existing sites open, but we then found a great site at the far end of camp. Derek and I immediately went to the work of shoveling out a level platform and setting up the tent. It wasn't until 9:30 p.m. before Derek started to eat dinner, and I ate after him. I kept the stove going until 11:30 p.m. to make sure we both had two hot bottles to put into our tent. I was expecting the night to be very cold, as it frequently is, and spent the necessary time to make enough hot water.

Tom and Charlie's site was right next to ours and down a deep well. Wind was not going to be an issue for them, but if snowed a lot, they'd be buried! We didn't lack for good walls either, but we weren't dug down into the snow. Our northern side didn't have a wall at all, but the other three sides had walls five feet high or taller.

We weren't concerned about the late hour, since we didn't expect to start up until 10 a.m. the next morning due to the cold. And it wasn't even dark, so it didn't feel as late as it was. Suffice to say, though, it had been a tiring ten hours from our start to finally lying down. We were definitely excited about going for the summit the next day after only ten days on the mountain. I felt strong and very confident when I closed my eyes.

Thursday, June 16th: Climb to Summit (20,310 feet) - Strava - Day 10

I had a rough night, not sleeping very well and waking up all the time. I think this was partially due to the relatively warm temperatures and the complete lack of wind. I thought we might be wasting a golden opportunity, but it was 2 a.m. Then it was 4 a.m. Then 6 a.m. I got up at 7 a.m. Derek actually had one of his best nights of sleep and I could tell, since I heard him snoring while I was still awake. Normally I fall asleep first, and he has to listen to me snore.

Tom was up manning his stove and I mentioned that we should get going. He immediately agreed, and said, "Moving at 9 a.m.?" I nodded. We didn't get moving until 9:30 and by then there were 22 climbers in front of us, almost all in guided groups. I watched with some frustration as they moved by our tent. Here, on flat ground, they all moved so slowly, like geriatrics. They'd take one step, pause slightly, and then take another. And this was on nearly flat terrain. I'd soon join that train and find myself moving in a similar fashion. I was rapidly feeling the effects of the altitude.

Our tent was in the sun, but a hundred yards along the route would put us into the frigid shade of the infamous traverse to Denali Pass. The thousand-foot gain from Camp IV to Denali pass was well known as the coldest part of the mountain. We didn't want to move into the shade and have to almost immediately stop for the slow climbers ahead of us, so we got into the track and then waited in the sun. Another party queued behind us, also waiting in the sun. Another group threatened to pass if we didn't move up and close ranks, so we moved on up into the cold. When we looked back, we saw the nasty party stop in the sun behind us. Uncool. Charlie, who never gets riled, said, "What an asshole."

This was indeed the coldest part of the ascent. I had on my Olympus Mons super boots that I wore the entire trip, but the other three wore their neoprene overboots for the first time. Despite this, everyone's feet got cold.

I was leading and following an RMI group led by a junior female guide that we met at the crater rim on Mt. Rainier. Jake was the head guide and their group of ten was divided into three roped teams. Jake was really cool and remembered us from Rainier. The female guide said she didn't remember us at all, at least until we met her again coming down off the summit when she said she did remember us after all. Anyway, the last guy on her rope was a guy named Doug, and I was right behind him when he fell and swung across the face a bit. Luckily I was a bit below him and he didn't hit me, but the female guide yelled down to me to not follow so closely and I backed off a bit. I wasn't trying to be a dick about it. I was climbing close so that I could chat it up with Doug. He was pretty inexperienced but a nice guy.

We took a break two thirds of the way across the Autobahn. This was 90 minutes into our day and longer than we like to go between breaks, but no other team was taking a break and if you stopped you'd be clogging up the route. Yet, it made sense for us, since we were backed up behind the RMI group and had a big gap on the trailing climbers. We stopped to eat and drink but didn't regroup so that we'd be clipped into multiple pieces of protection. While resting I was able to count the number of climbers behind us: 24. With our four, that was fifty climbers going for the summit by 11 a.m. At least fifty that we could see. There were more below us and some even coming from 14,000-foot camp.

I noticed that Derek didn't bother taking off his pack at this break and I wanted to make sure he was fueled. I invited him to join me and drink from my bottle. In order for him to do this, Charlie and Tom would have to move up as well. They all moved up, Derek drank his fill, and then we moved on. We caught the RMI group once again, but I didn't feel their pace was the detriment as I was expecting it to be. They were moving along at a decent pace and if they weren't there, I'd have only been going marginally faster.

It took us 2h20m to complete the traverse to Denali Pass, including the waiting in the sun and the break we took. I kept going above the pass to move by other parties, surmounting a number of steep sections with some fixed anchors. When we passed Jake above Denali Pass and he said, "We'll be moving back and forth with your team and it's important that we can all keep moving. We're all on the same team here." I loved his attitude and strategy. He's an excellent people person and, from all appearances, an excellent guide, and a really nice guy.

We took a break at a rock outcropping and switched leaders. I know Tom, Charlie, and Derek all led sections and eventually we unroped, as the angle was pretty gentle. Strongman Charlie carried the rope for the team. Everyone experienced some tough going along this section and points where they were the weakest, even Charlie, I think. Derek got off to his typical slow start, and he thinks this is because the calories he eats takes awhile to kick in. On many of our training climbs, Derek would be dragging behind me until 13,000 feet and then become stronger and stronger until he was dropping me.

I started getting noticeably weaker around 19,000 feet. At that point Derek and I were in the lead and Tom and Charlie were a little ways behind us. Derek was clearly stronger than me at this point, but we were all feeling the altitude and moving slowly. I was counting the number of steps before I could let myself take a break. We took a sit-down break when we got to the Football Field - a large flat stretch where we actually descended fifty vertical feet. Before us was Pig Hill - the last major obstacle before the summit.

As we started up Pig Hill, at around 19,600 feet, I really started to fade. I went from being slow, like the rest of the team, to be really slow - slower than anyone else. The start of this hill is only 1% grade, though it would build to a 40-degree slope. On that nearly flat lower stretches, moving was way, way, way harder than climbing Boulder's famously steep Mt. Sanitas, and our pace reflected it. Why? Altitude and lack of acclimatization. I felt like Art Davidson, who wrote in Minus 148: "I felt unusually tired; I was forever losing my breath; my legs didn't seem to have any energy in them. Why was the altitude affecting me so much? It hadn't bothered me like this when I climbed higher on Mt. Logan or on the volcanoes of Mexico." Exactly. And I think the reason was not only the high altitude but the quick ascent to this height.

I've read many times that the altitude on top of Denali is equivalent to around 23,000 feet in the Himalayas or on other mountains closer to the equator. Wanting to believe this prevented me from asking why. Remembering my high school chemistry and the ideal gas law of:

PV = nrT

Where P is pressure, V is volume, n is the amount of the gas (in moles), r is the ideal gas constant and T is the temperature. I was going to write my analysis of the equation, but it occurred to me that most readers wouldn't be interested. Plus, I'm no expert. I did a bit more research on this and according to this article, the key factor for climbers is the pressure altitude, as the air pressure determines how much oxygen is forced into the lungs. The overriding factor here is not latitude, per se, but temperature. Denali feels higher than other mountains of equivalent altitude because it is colder than other mountains. And, unfortunately, for our egos, Denali shouldn't feel any higher if you climb it in June.

When Davidson hit Pig Hill he was "breathing four or five times each step; after fifteen steps, I'd have to pause for half a minute." I wasn't quite this bad, but I was close. Pig Hill is a serious beast and by far the hardest obstacle on the climb, much worse than the headwall, with its kicked steps and fixed lines. There were fixed anchors on Pig Hill, as it so steep and quite hard. Of course, these weren't of any use to us, as we'd left the rope behind at the start of the Football Field.

There were fixed anchors on the final ridge, which is "no fall" territory, and we were without a rope. The guide told us it was 30 minutes to the summit, "forty minutes if you are moving slow." Derek responded, "We are definitely moving slow!" It looked so close. I was hoping it was more like ten minutes. The guide was right, though. We did the ridge in twenty minutes.

Charlie was worried about this ridge probably because of Derek's inexperience and my fatigue. I appreciated that. Charlie might have suggested going back down to get the rope, but in my state of fatigue that seemed impossible. I could wait up here for Charlie to go get it, but I'd probably get cold. Tom even mentioned turning back and trying another day. Despite being a lot stronger than me, Derek really didn't want to do this, but he remained silent.

Both Charlie and Tom were so safety conscious, all the time. They kept the team doing the right things. I wasn't that worried about this ridge, as it was technically easy, but you couldn't make a mistake. You couldn't trip. You couldn't stumble. You couldn't fall, because the snow was too hard and self-arresting was unlikely. I was confident with Derek, as I had trained with him and I knew he would appreciate the situation and climb carefully. We'd been in similar situations, and I have watched him closely. He isn't cavalier and doesn't try to be overly casual. He is solid and moves at a speed where he will not make mistakes. He exhibited this trait nicely on the more exposed, more difficult climbing on the summit ridge of Maroon Peak this past winter, when he was at least as tired as he was here on Denali. Our training had prepared him for this.

I told the team that I was okay and Derek would be as well. We moved on. Tom stayed close to me on the final ridge, making sure I was okay. He's such a great friend and partner. He was much stronger than me at this point and could have been up front with Charlie and Derek, but he refused to leave me behind by even a tiny bit. The summit was important to him, but it was clear to me that I was more important. I had to really ask myself, "Are you solid?" and to answer honestly. I had to make sure I was just tired and not dizzy. I had to make sure I was there 100% mentally. And I was. We continued albeit slowly.

A hundred feet or so from the top, Charlie, who was in the lead, stopped to re-group. Derek was right behind him and they waited for Tom and I to close up ranks. Charlie asked, "I think the summit is just beyond. Who should be the first to summit?" Before I even left Colorado I had thought about this and was planning to ask Charlie and Tom if Derek could lead the last bit to the top, as he was the genesis behind the entire trip. So out of breath, I couldn't respond right away, but Charlie barely paused before saying, "I think it should be the father-son team." In my extreme state of fatigue, this statement of exactly what I wanted, struck me hard. Recovered enough to speak physically, I now could not speak because of my emotions, tears welling in my eyes. I just put my hand on Derek's back and pushed him forward. While I pushed, he did not budge. He just said, "No way." I had not the ability to respond to this. In my mind I had many arguments why it should not be me but so overwhelmed with emotion, I could not voice them. Nor could I physically resist his hand now upon my back. I took the lead and in a minute or two was standing on top of North America. I turned to Derek and we embraced, both in tears, telling each other how much we loved each other and I how proud I was of him and what a great son he was. Tom and Charlie stood together thirty feet away and let us have that moment for at least a full minute. Charlie thankfully captured that moment on camera.

Then Charlie joined us and we unfurled our CU banner while Tom took the photo. Then the guided group arrived and we asked Tom, always very reluctant to have his photo taken, to join us. He assented only because he knew this was a very rare, very special occasion.

The weather was absolutely perfect with completely clear skies and hardly a breath of wind. We were warm. We soaked up the expansive views of the Alaskan Range. Foraker dominated our attention, as usual. It's quite interesting that all the time we spent climbing Denali, we admired and were in awe of Mt. Foraker. It's the mountain we saw the clearest. We were too close to Denali to really see it that well. Sort of like an ant crawling over an elephant, we couldn't get a good look at the beast we were on. I imagine to really appreciate the awesome nature of Denali one should climb Mt. Hunter and spend days looking at the 10,000-foot south face of Denali. Hmmm, I'll add it to my list.

We were tired, but were fine for descending. Charlie reminded us that most accidents happen on the descent and we took great care descending the ridge. After twenty minutes, we started our descent, conscious that we didn't want to get stuck on the summit while the tens of climbers behind us clogged the ridge making passing impossible without much greater risk. This would turn out to be one of the most successful summit days in Denali history. We heard speculation that nearly 100 climbers made the summit this day. I don't know the actual number, but I do know that we were the first four on top.

We saw the two skiers on the way down and they told us how inspiring we were with our planning meetings which they overheard. They were coming from Camp III themselves and would ski everything but the final ridge and the section between Camp IV and the fixed lines. The round trip took them 16 hours, but they had great weather the entire time.

As we passed by team after team on the descent they would congratulate us and we'd encourage them. Many teams call out, "Alright, Team Colorado!" It sure felt great to finally work with gravity and every climber knows that descending from a success seems so much easier than a failure. The fifty foot rise out of the Football Field daunted us all. I was thankful I wasn't the only one who wanted to take a breathing break at every wand on this climb. I think we paused three or four times to climb just fifty feet. Once over that, the descent went a lot faster. I didn't feel like jogging down, as I did descending from Camp III four days ago, but we moved well.

Reversing the traverse from Denali Pass back to camp seemed endless and, ironically for the coldest part of the climb, we all overheated here. I was dressed for...well, climbing Denali. It was the only day where I wore my down bibs and I was suffering in the sun. We stopped once to drink, but we were mostly out of liquids and really wanted to get back to camp so that we could rest, so we pushed on.

Down at camp, we dropped our packs, stripped off our harnesses and crampons and sat down. Derek continued to strip down to just his long underwear, so hot was he. I immediately started to fade and became very cold. I got into the tent and my sleeping bag and just shivered. I've had this happen to me a couple of times in the past where I've gone so deep that once the work is done, my body just completely shuts down. That night Derek took care of me. While I'd been in charge of the stove every night of the trip, he manned it on this night. He got fresh snow. He started the stove. He melted the snow. He get feeding me hot drinks and hot food and just took care of me. We were a team and he was our leader.

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