Sunday, June 26, 2016

Denali - Derek's Report

Here is Derek's well-written report. I love his honesty, though it pains me a bit to read how many things I did wrong and how little I did right, in his eyes, anyway, and maybe in the eyes of Charlie and Tom as well. I have a lot to improve on. Maybe I'll convince some of my partners to join me on future adventures. Hopefully Derek will be one of them...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Denali - Part 4: Getting Back

Day 13 - Waiting for Flight at Basecamp

Friday, June 17th

The next morning the sky was still clear, but it was windy and colder. The ascent window had closed,  just after we'd gone through it. We saw one party gear up and start up by our camp, but got less than a hundred yards before rethinking their decision. They were about to enter the shade of the Autobahn and were likely already cold. We were. My hands and feet got a bit cold while packing up and then waiting for Tom to finish his packing.

Both Tom and Charlie carried smaller packs to high camp. That allowed them to go lighter on summit day but made packing up all their gear a challenge. Tom was having lots of trouble fitting the gear in his pack and had tons of gear strapped to the outside. It reminded me of one of our earliest adventures together. Tom and I, along with my girlfriend-to-be-wife Sheri, hiked into the Palisades over Memorial Day. It was way too early and the backcountry was covered in snow. Back then Tom didn't have much gear but never let that stop him from a good adventure. Hiking into camp back then he probably had more gear strapped onto the outside of his pack than he had in it. It was swinging and bounced around so that he looked like a homeless hobo scooting along to catch a ride in an open boxcar. I offered a couple of times to take some of his gear, but he wouldn't allow it. Derek and I crouched in the lee of our snow walls and tried to stay warm.

Roped, with Charlie leading, we headed down the ridge.  The winds continued to increase and our descent was tense. Charlie clipped into the fixed protection with his biners and, bringing up the rear, I cleaned them. Derek was in third position and I belayed him down the steepest sections, the ones protected by fixed lines.  We stopped once on the descent when Charlie ran out of biners. I took the lead, since I was on the other end of the rope and had all the biners, and led us down to the fixed lines.

Going down the fixed lines while roped was a bit frustrating. After reading Derek's report, I knew I wasn't the only one. In front, I tried to be careful not to pull on Derek, as no one wants to be pulled downhill. I tried to stop immediately if I felt tension in the rope. At times when I was switching to the next line the rope would pool up at my feet and drop below me as Derek kept descending. Now that rope was a danger to me tripping. I know Derek had the same problem and I assume Tom did as well. No one bitched or complained, though. We all just tried to do our best to be safe and efficient.

Once off the fixed lines, we were all thankful to unrope. I coiled the rope, put it in my pack and we switched from ice axes to ski poles.  From there we moved off at our own pace. Charlie headed down first. He was having some blister trouble. Tom and I were the last to start down. I soon caught up to Derek. Unfortunately, his knee was acting up. This is a problem that has plagued him for a couple of years. It doesn't usually bother him but has flared up a number of times. This was the first occurrence on the climb. I moved on by, letting him go at his pace. I caught Charlie and just kept plowing down eager to dump my pack at Camp III.

At Camp III we dug up our cache and took a break to melt more snow, eat, and pack our sleds, because we were determined to continue down to Camp II. We re-occupied our kitchen site and chatted with the skiers. They had made their ascent from here, at 14,200 feet. They had skinned up a lot of the climb and skied down everything but the ridge between Camp IV and the top of the headwall. I fired up my stove and started cooking pancakes for the entire team and then for anyone nearby.

While serving up pancakes to the skiers and the Argentines, I chatted with Tyler (the 6'5" ponytailed skier) and he told me that their original plan was to ski the Messner Couloir, but that it wasn't in condition and unless a lot of new snow came, they wouldn't attempt it. This was wise. I don't know if they knew it or not, but a Czech skier had already died trying to ski the Messner this season. Here's a brief report.

Charlie loaded up a sled with food and fuel that we didn't want to carry down. It was now our turn try and lighten our loads. Charlie was mostly successful, but couldn't give all the food away. We wondered if this was okay to dump into the crapvasse. I argued that food could be considered pre-poop and hence probably okay to dump.

By the time we were packed up and were ready to descend, the weather had turned. Visibility was rapidly shutting down and the wind was picking up, not what you want when headed toward something called Windy Corner.

We descended easily for a bit, all roped together and pulling our sleds, but once we hit Windy Corner everything went to hell. In the rush to get going I did a poor job securing my duffle to my sled and when we hit the sidehill section, my sled tipped over and the duffel fell off the sled. It was still clipped to the guidelines on the sled or I'd have the lost it completely, but it didn't drag well along with the overturned sled. The winds were howling as I struggled to get back to my sled and put it together. We were in a precarious spot. If I fell here I could pull the rest of the team with me. Tom realized the danger and dropped into an axe-boot belay, sinking his ice axe shaft to the hilt.

I ended up just clipping the duffel back to me and pulling it along with just my arm. This was brutally tiring, but I wanted to get us around the corner and off this dangerous slope as soon as possible. Once around the corner the weather continued to be cold, windy and miserable. Now the CMC fell off the sled and I just clipped it to my harness. I looked like a homeless guy with all my possessions either on my back, attached to my ass, or being dragged along. I'm thankful that no one took any photos here, for I'm sure I looked like I didn't know what I was doing. I was just desperate to get someplace else. Anywhere but where I was currently.

We continued this way to the top of Squirrel Hill, which was probably the hardest part of the descent. This hill is quite steep, very hard, and a constant traverse. I pushed to my limit to hold the sled in front of me, the one attached to Tom, from pulling me off my feet. Derek was under equal stress with his bag, as he was the anchor on the rope. At one point I had to call for a rest for fear that I'd fall and take the team with me. We made it, barely, and I was wasted, as was Derek.

Before descending Motorcycle Hill we rearranged the order, moving Derek to the front to give him a rest and Charlie to the back, as he hadn't been doing any work at all descending Squirrel Hill since he had been in front. Motorcycle Hill has no sidehill aspect and things went a lot easier and we were finally out of the wind. Still, we were tired and ready to rest for the night by the time we arrived at Camp II.

Derek and I moved into the same tent site we had on the way up. Tom and Charlie had to use a different site. We didn't bother with our kitchen tent here, thinking we'd just cook in our tents (or just outside them for Charlie and Tom), since we'd continue our descent in the morning. Derek and I went through our drill of erecting our tent. We also had to dig up our cache. We'd left our skis here on the way up and we'd be using them for the rest of the descent.

Saturday, June 18th

The next morning all our gear was buried in snow. I dug it all out and Derek and I split up our gear between each other and between our sleds and packs. All of us except Charlie decided that the first slope we had to descend was too sleep for us to control our sleds on skis. Charlie had randone ski boots while the rest of us were in our mountain boots. Even walking down was difficult with our sleds as they slid into us, slid by us, or didn't slide well in front of us. I found the easiest way to descend was by making continuous circles with my sled. When it went by me on one side and then stopped, I descend past and pull it by me. It was crazy, but seemed to work best. We were obviously unroped while doing this, figuring that was easier, though it probably wasn't.

Once down the first steep hill the rest of us put on our skis, but the going was very difficult whenever the angle got steep enough where our sleds wanted to go faster than we did. Tom and Derek eventually roped up so that Tom could put both sleds between them and not have them moving uncontrolled. The last steep hill above Camp I was particularly challenging, but we got down it.

We had been descending with our skins on our skis to control our speed a bit, but now I took off my skins so that I could get more glide. None of the others did this, perhaps wanting more control. Here I was confident and would ski as fast as the sled would allow me. Derek was struggling a bit and getting frustrated. Now on easier terrain he was no longer roped to Tom and falling back a bit. I went back at one point to help him and he wouldn't even respond to me. Maybe it was silly to expect him to accept help, as he didn't really need it, but I was hoping for a better reception to my offer. I let him be and skied back down to my sled.

I was the only one without skins on and going too far off the front because of my superior glide. This was discouraging Derek. Derek had told me about this before when we climbed Longs Peak, so I knew that was possible. From then on I stopped to regroup every third of a mile and eventually just a quarter of a mile, when I stopped at the base of Heartbreak Hill. Yet, that still wasn't right. I stopped there and looked back about an eighth of a mile to the other three taking a break. I didn't do much right on this descent...

Tom skied over to me first and took the front and I fell in behind him, slowly, feeling the load on my back and my sled, as we now had to climb more than a mile back to Basecamp. I was surprised that I was able to do this entire climb without putting skins on my skis. I expected to put my skins on at the start of Heartbreak Hill then decided to just go until I was slipping too much and it never happened.

We took frequent breaks on this final section, though no sit-down breaks. We pulled into Basecamp around 4 p.m. and after dropping our loads I immediately went to go check-in with Lisa and get us on the departure schedule. She told me we were second to fly out, behind six Koreans. That would change to third group when the Japanese climbers - the ones with the fatality - descended the next day and took rightful priority over our team. The forecast didn't look good and we wouldn't get out this day, and the next day looked bad as well.

I asked Lisa if we could pitch our tent right above her shelter, on a relatively flat spot. She asked, "Are you guys quiet?" I promised we would be and she assented. Derek was very wet and quickly getting cold, so we hurriedly stomped and shoveled out a semi-level site and threw up the tent. I had Derek get in the tent as soon as it was standing and I handled all the guy lines and the organizing of the gear. I'd pass in all the sleeping gear to Derek and he'd arrange the pads, blow them up, and get out the sleeping bags. He then did a complete change of clothes and zipped up in his bag, while I got the stove going to get him hot drinks and then made him a few pancakes for dinner.

Our roundtrip time, basecamp to basecamp, was about 11.5 days. When Killian Jornet set the speed record on Denali he did the roundtrip in 11h48m (ascent time in 9h43m). He descended entirely on skis and used them for much of the ascent as well. While we are not remotely in Jornet's class, one can't really compare the two times directly. Killian spent 7 or 8 days acclimating before setting the record. Hence, he really did the roundtrip in 8-9 days. My only point here is that no one can zip up to Denali and climb it in a weekend. It's too dangerous to ascend that quickly without acclimatizing. This is what sets really high mountains apart from the mountains in Colorado. As an aside, Killian is not merely an exceptional endurance athlete. He did the roundtrip on a single liter of water and 300 calories of food! That is a highly unusual athlete. That goes against everything I've read about athletic performance and my own experiences. Your muscles can supposedly only store two hours of glycogen - the fuel needed to go fast. After that you need to start intaking glucose or you'll bonk. How's does Killian go so hard for so long on almost zero fuel? Perhaps he does it all at a low-intensity (for him) level and just burns fat. However he does it, this allows him to go ultralight. Most people attempting Denali in a day or a push would have to bring a stove and fuel and take the time to melt snow in order to have enough to drink. Hence, even a considerably fitter athlete than Killian (this person doesn't currently exist) would not be able to break this record unless that person also had a similar physiology. Jornet is truly a one-of-a-kind athlete.

After dinner Derek and I watched a movie and went to sleep.

Sunday, June 17th

The next day we stayed in tent until after 1:30 p.m. It was snowing steadily, as it had been all night, and it was wet snow and not very inviting. We ate all the peanuts and then started in on the peanut butter. I eventually had to get out to shovel off the tent. We got 18 inches of snow over the time we spent in Basecamp.

I went over to take a tour of the Kahilton that Tom and Charlie built. This was a really cool, two-level complex they built. You walk down into the sunken kitchen area and the sleeping quarters were accessed via some snow steps up into a loft area. It was pretty incredible and kept these guys busy. We ate, drank, and just hung out.

Later that day, at 4 p.m., Lisa got everyone in basecamp to put on their skis or snowshoes and walk up and down the runway twice, This was to pack it out so that planes could take off after landing. Not much needed to be done to the landing area, as the extra snow would just serve to slow the plane down even more. Taking off was a different story, though, and they needed it as firm as we could get it.

Monday, June 17th

The next day was more of the same - time spent hanging out in the Kahilton - but then the weather started to break. Lisa had us re-packing the runway at noon. Afterwards a Korean and I built a big snowman together. He didn't speak English and my Korean was a bit rusty, but apparently the art of snowman building crosses international boundaries.

The planes came that afternoon and we lifted off the Kahiltna Glacier at 4 p.m., leaving behind Denali, Foraker, and Mt. Hunter. We were already thinking of coming back for those other two.

Back in Talkeenta, we immediately headed for the ranger station, to check back in and drop off our CMC. It felt great to walk in there and answer yes to the question, "Did you guys summit?". We went from there to the Roadhouse (where else?) for showers. We had calzones right across the street for dinner. I think Charlie had two. We went back to the Roadhouse for dessert and then walked back to TAT to crash once again at the Pavillon.


A co-worker looked at my photos as asked, "Were any parts of that climb technical?" My immediate reaction was of defense. I thought he was belittling our climb as a mere hike. He told me that he had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, which actually is just a hike and now I felt my climb was being belittled by someone who isn't even a climber. But he wasn't belittling it, he was just ignorant about climbing, though he didn't know it. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing...

But I tempered my reaction and said, "It depends on what you call 'technical'". And it does. Does it require ropes to be technical? If so, we used them, but Colin Haley did not. Alex Honnold has climbed El Cap without a rope. Does that make El Cap non-technical?

In the happy path (a software-development term), climbing Denali doesn't require any technical skills at all. Zero. You do need one single piece of technical gear, one piece that every single climber uses: crampons. Crampons are just spikes that you strap onto your boots. Once on, you just walk. That's it. There are steep sections, but you just walk up steeply and most use an ice axe to help them ascend, though it is mainly there to arrest a fall. You don't even need to be super fit, though that helps greatly. On no day do you never need to cover a lot of miles or a lot of vertical feet. If you go slow enough, you'll acclimate to the altitude and be able to perform well enough to summit. There is a lot of work involved to carry all the gear and food, but you can take multiple trips and you have plenty of time to rest and recover.

What it mostly comes down to is winter camping and taking care of yourself. It doesn't sound very heroic that way, but it's true. I don't mean to unnecessarily diminish the accomplishment. In fact, climbing Everest in a guided team, with fixed ropes and fixed camps, is exactly the same: a long, high walk. That is, if everything goes right...

If things go wrong, Denali can be deadly and a lot of things can go wrong. And that's the difference between a hike and climbing Denali. Unless you are willing to roll the dice on a perfect ascent, you need technicals skills to get yourself out of trouble and you need technical gear and the knowledge of their use to keep you alive.

All that said, if you have the desire to climb Denali, any reasonably fit person can do it. The key is having the desire. That's true of most things in life.

Another co-worker said to me, "I'll bet the view of the stars up there was really something!" My immediate reaction was to think, "Yeah, that far from any city lights it should have been...yet I don't recall that at all. How could I fail to marvel at this?" But after just a moment or two I remember and said, "Nope. You can't see any stars at all because it's never remotely dark. You can't see any stars at all in the middle of the most remote desert on earth either...during the day. We were in Alaska for 2.5 weeks and never once experienced a night.

Many people have asked me "What's next?" I'm surprised how quickly that comes up. I've got lots of ideas and am even making some preliminary plans. I have a long bucket list and am currently working off the assumption that I won't live forever. I don't want to leave this world with too many regrets...

22,488-foot Ama Dablam - near Mt. Everest

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.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Denali - Part 2: The Ascent - Basecamp to 14,000 feet

Tuesday, June 7th: Ski to Camp I (7,800 feet)Strava - Day 1

The Kahiltna Glacier is the longest in Denali National Park, or at least in the running. Some sources call the Muldrow Glacier (route of the first ascent) the longest. Either way, the Kahiltna is a big glacier, stretching 44 miles or so from Kahiltna Pass at 10,300 feet all the way down to an elevation of 1,000 feet where it gives rise to the Kahiltna River. It runs almost directly south, so as we climbed up it, we were headed due north.

But before we could turn north, we had to descend a mile west, down Heartbreak Hill. With our heavily loaded sleds attached to us with flexible cord, this proved quite a challenge. The sleds had minds of their own and would run up against our bindings and sometimes release them. Or they'd hit us in the boots or try to run on by us along our flanks. Derek had some peculiar trouble as the biners connecting him to the sled kept coming unclipped. We solved that problem with locking carabiners. I have sleds with rigid PVC poles and they work great. Derek and I trained with them. I didn't bring my sleds because of the bulk of packing them, but I think this was a mistake and I'd bring them if I went up there again. These poles completely eliminate most of the problems we had with sleds.

Despite being on a glacier and Derek just reading Minus 148, where a member of the team died in a crevasse fall on the exact terrain, we did not rope up. Colin Haley does the entire mountain unroped and just assumes that "heavier people than me, carrying heavier loads have not fallen into a crevasse, so I think my chances are pretty low." Of course, as the season goes on snow bridges over hidden crevasses weaken and more crevasses open. Most other climbers were proceeding unroped and we did likewise, which makes moving with the sleds easier, especially when Tom and Charlie are carrying the ropes.

Once down the challenging Heartbreak Hill, we turned north and bent to the task of pulling 125 pounds of gear per person up the gentle but relentless slopes of the Kahiltna. We only had to go 5.5 miles to Camp I, but miles and vertical don't tell the whole story when you are dealing with this much weight. It was a serious chore. I was in front and just kept chugging along, hoping to get most of it done before we took a break, when the others told me it was break time. I tend to go too long between breaks. I just like to get the work done, but you don't want to go so long that you're fading. There is no point to that, especially here, where daylight is never an issue.

We bought 100 wands from TAT so that we could mark the route and our caches. This proved to be about 90 more than we needed. Inexperienced we were and wanted to be prepared to mark the climbing route if we needed. The rangers told us in our orientation that we are responsible for removing any wands we place on our way down. Yet, the entire route seems pretty well wanded and we never placed a wand to mark the route and used them only to mark our caches.

Before leaving Colorado I ordered Colorado BUFFs for the entire team. We wore them religiously, everyday, to protect ourselves from the brutal sunshine. Derek and I wore these in a variety of configurations, but mostly around our necks and over the lower parts of our faces. Before Derek made us duct-tape nose guards for our glacier glasses, I wore them up over my nose as much as I could bear. It was harder to breathe like this and it made the BUFF damp, which in turn chapped my lips pretty severely, but I avoided sunburn. In general, we did a very good job of protecting ourselves from the sun. Other teams on the mountain would get to know us because of these BUFFs and we'd frequently hear, "Hey, Colorado!"

Our kitchen at Camp I
After our break we moved on up the glacier at a slower pace and soon arrived at Camp I. The jaw-dropping views as we proceeded up the glacier caused Tom to ask, "Who put up the movie set?" Indeed the mountains are so extraordinary, so humbling, and so beyond anything that I'd ever seen, in person, before. Somewhat surprising, though, was that Denali wasn't the dominating mountain. It was too big to dominate. Sort of like the Earth is way, way bigger than Mt. Everest, but when you look at Everest you are awed and don't even notice the Earth. Denali is so much bigger that we can't see much of it since we're on it. But Mt. Crosson, Mt. Foraker, and Mt. Hunter were 5-10,000 feet above us and dominated our views.

We passed up the first few sites and found a great place to camp with pre-built walls around two sites and the start of a "kitchen". A kitchen is an area built with benches to sit and a counter top for cooking, all made out of snow, of course. Then we'd pitch Charlie's Megamid over the top of the kitchen as our roof. This was a great place for all of us to hang out, cook, and eat together. We'd use this at every camp except Camp IV.

Once in camp, both teams swung into action to prepare our sites and pitch our tents. Derek and I would get into a regular routine of doing this. Derek was our primary tent man and he'd direct the pitching of the tent. First, we'd shovel for 15 or more minutes to smooth and level the area. Then we'd stake it, put in the poles and get it up. We had a 3-person Hilleberg tent and found it to be very bomber. This tent uses four stakes and eight additional guy lines and we used snow stakes for each one. These stakes require digging a small trench in order to place them. We did this fastidiously at each site. It takes some time, much longer than Charlie and Tom took setting up their VE-25 dome tent, but we thought it was worth it for complete confidence.
Moving north on the Kahiltna Glacier on day one, with 125 pounds each.
After resting a bit, we gathered in the kitchen. I researched what was good food to bring on Denali and read about a team that brought a skillet and pancake batter. That sounded delicious to Derek and me, so I bought a lightweight skillet with a folding handle and we brought tons of "just add water" pancake batter. I meant to try this out on one of our overnight training trips, but we only did three overnight trips in our training and I got the skillet too late. So, this was our first test. I wondered how our blowtorch MSR XGK stove would work cooking pancakes. The first thing I cooked on Denali was a pancake and it was perfect! These turned out to be a huge hit and we had them often and it was the only item of food that we completely consumed on the climb.

After our pancake appetizer, I cooked up the first of our Mountain House freeze-dried meals. Before leaving town, Derek had carefully packaged up a daily ration of food for both of us in 2-gallon Ziplock bags. This made picking food to cache easy and selecting a bag had us set for an entire day. Derek tried to make the bag contain 3500-4500 calories per person. Charlie I think planned for 5000-6000 calories per day. Climbing days on Denali are not that long, at least for most climbers. If you only go from camp to camp or up to a higher camp and back, you are only moving 4-6 hours per day. Sure, there is some work in camp, digging platforms, repairing snow walls, erecting your tent, etc., but the total caloric output isn't huge. If you were climbing the Cassin Ridge, alpine style, and climbing for 12+ hours per day or longer then you'd need 6-8,000 calories per day. I don't think Derek and I ever ate all the food that was in a bag in one day. That said, we were here to climb the mountain, even if it took us three weeks or longer. We weren't going to go home with any excuses about running out of food or fuel.

After some dessert, Derek and I retired to our tent to watch a movie on our iPad. I carried a number of USB power bricks and Charlie had a solar panel, so we had plenty of power. Derek and I had selected a number of movies to watch on the trip, including the Hobbit, the Social Network, and Steve Jobs. We didn't have a good way to hold the iPad though. I tried to find something that would suspend it in the tent, but our fancy tent has absolutely no rigging at all along the top. The manufacturer claims that will hurt the integrity of the tent. That's a drawback to our tent, but the only one we found. We loved how bomber and spacious it was. Derek would mostly just hold the iPad, but this could get quite cold, as the iPod is metal and, well, we were on Denali. After the movie, we'd listen to our audible book (Lord of the Rings) on our iPhone. We set the book to go off in 15 minutes and we'd usually be asleep before then, despite the bright sun.

Wednesday, June 8th: Carry to Camp II (11,000 feet)Strava - Day 2

It's so light out all the time that is doesn't give you a very good indication of the time of day. Normally, if I ever wake up and it's light out, I immediately think I've overslept. For at least the past ten years and maybe the past twenty years, I've never slept until it is light out. Except here. If I was always awake in the light here, I'd never sleep. That first night I awoke and saw how bright it was and figured it was time to get up. Thankfully before I moved too much I checked my watch: 1:30 a.m. Since the climbing that needs to be done each day is short, there isn't much of an incentive to get up early. The earliest I got out of my bag on this trip was 6:30 a.m. For an alpinist, that just seems fundamentally wrong. But this is no ordinary mountain. At least this route, in this style, was so very different from any other mountain I'd climbed before.

I got up around 7 a.m. and was usually the first one up, though Tom sometimes beat me. I'd immediately start the stove and make a cup hot chocolate, with a shot of coffee in it. A half hour later Charlie would join us and we'd have another cup. Around 8 a.m. I'd take a hot cup of chocolate over to Derek to try and get him moving. He'd say that, while that was nice of me, the cocoa just trapped him in the tent, since he couldn't get out until he had finished it and it was so hot that it took a while to consume. I figured it would at least ensure that he was doing something, even if it was just holding the mug and sipping occasionally.

After a breakfast of pancakes, we decided to take Colin Haley's advice and immediately start in with the double carries. This meant that we'd be spending another night at Camp I and not have to break down our tents. The steep slope right above camp was an added incentive. We took roughly half our weight up to Camp II and stashed it. Seeing some other climbers go by, hauling all their gear on a sled that was clipped to their climbing harnesses, we elected to try that. This seemed good at first, but it didn't work out well for me, as my harness dug too deeply into my hips.
We flew the CU Buffs flag at each campsite

Bringing a skillet and pancake mix was a great decision. It was our favorite food on the mountain.

Taking a break on the carry up to Camp II

Skiing back down to Camp I in white-out conditions with the empty sleds on our back.
It was 4.5 miles to Camp II and gained 3200 feet (Charlie clocked it as 3500 total for the roundtrip). It would be our first real climbing and it started right outside of camp with something known as the Ski Hill. Early on I began to worry how Derek would do skiing back down. He was moving along fine and didn't seem concerned, but it continued to weigh on my mind. Before coming up here Tom and Charlie voiced concern to me about Derek's skiing skills and wondered if we should go on snowshoes instead. I assured them that Derek would be okay. I just couldn't stomach taking snowshoes on Denali, but I now wondered if I over committed Derek.

We took some turns leading and took some breaks. Derek started leading and then Tom took over. There wasn't any trail to break and the path was easy to follow, but the leader's job was to set a good pace that kept us all together. We took a break every 30-45 minutes to get a drink and a few calories and change leaders. We stayed unroped. Around halfway to Camp II Charlie's skins started to pick up tons of snow. He stopped to scrape them off, but it was no use. Then my skins started having the same trouble. Charlie had a spare set of skins (showing his Grand Traverse experience), but the rest of us did not. He stopped to switch skins and I kept going, quickly giving up on my futile attempts to try and clear the snow off. I did the last mile or so with two inches or more of snow stuck to the bottom of my skins. It was grueling.

The last mile was steep and really wore us down, wore me down, anyway. The last half mile into camp is a rather brutal hill that is steeper than you expect. Derek had been leading and continued doing a great job, when we were all starting to feel the effort. I was impressed how strong he was. He eventually called "uncle" and Tom took over for the final quarter mile into Camp II at 11,000 feet.

When we arrived at the camp, I was too tired to immediately start digging a cache. Tom and Charlie weren't, though, and bent to the task immediately. We seemed to naturally trade off the work to be done each day based on who was feeling strongest. I think each of us had days when we were the strongest and days when we were the weakest. Except for Charlie...who was always the strongest...

One curious thing about this trip was the lack of any need to secure our food at night. While we were warned about burying our food more than a meter deep to protect against ravens marauding our food, I only saw one raven the entire trip. And ravens will not go into a tent or even dig up food near a tent. The only other animals I saw on the mountain were two small birds at Basecamp. No animals live up here. None. (Actually, this isn't technically true. There are such things as ice worms that live in the glacial ice.) Small animals do visit, though, and Squirrel Point is named after a squirrel that apparently survived up there by eating food from caches. Nothing really lives here - it's too cold, too snowy, and there is no running water. So, with no animals, we left our food out in our kitchen. No need to pack it up or hang it from non-existent trees. There are no plants here either. It is entirely a land of snow, ice, and rock. Mostly snow and ice. The only colors we'd see for the next two weeks would be the fabric around us - our clothes and tents. The natural colors were limited to blue (sky), white (snow, ice, clouds), and black (rock). Throw out white and black and the only natural color is blue.

At Camp II there was a huge cluster of tents, many more than at Camp I. The advantage of climbing the West Buttress in June is that all the tent sites have been dug and most of the walls have been built. We took advantage of this at every camp. We buried our supplies, mostly food and fuel, and marked it with our wands. Each cache wand must have a sticker attached to it that identifies the team that owns the cache and a date, after which the cache can be dug up and used by others and brought down by the park service. Not that it is legal to abandon your cache. This is considered littering and I'm sure any team doing this would hear from the rangers at some point. We found a cache by rangers that had a sticker saying it was good until June 9th and then another sticker attached to the same wand that said June 26th. It was obviously one ranger team leaving some of their supplies for the next team. Rangers do 30-day tours on the mountain, meaning they stay on the mountain for 30 days, regardless. They will usually summit during their stay, but they are there for 30 days whether they do or not. That sounds like a pretty cool job. I imagine you'd get pretty acclimated after three weeks on this mountain. I suspect some rangers might summit multiple times on their tour.

Once the gear was buried, we strapped our empty sleds onto our empty backpacks to make skiing down easier. Charlie and I stripped off our skins for the descent. Charlie because he had full-on AT gear and I because I had to remove my skins with their two inches of snow. Besides Charlie, the rest of us used mountaineering boots for skiing and special mountaineering bindings on our skis. This meant that we didn't have to carry a second pair of boots, like Charlie did, but it meant we had to ski in our mountaineering boots, which is much harder than skiing in a ski boot. Derek and Tom kept their skins on in order to control their speed a bit better on the way down.

The upper part of the descent was a lot easier than I expected with soft enough snow to snow plow down the track. To make things even more exciting, we had white-out conditions for this descent. Derek experienced skiing in a complete white-out on James Peak the weekend before we came to Alaska. He did not enjoy that experience. Yet, Derek did really well. The combination of the soft snow and the skins controlled his speed so nicely that he could just stand there and glide. Charlie and I were moving much faster and were forced to make turns. Normally this is one of the great joys of skiing, but I was reluctant to go too fast and too far off our nicely wanded track. All the rationalizations that Colin Haley had mentioned to us were null and void once you ventured off the track, especially if you really craved a turn and put more pressure on the snow. Maybe it was solid glacier under that snow, but maybe you were above a hidden crevasse and the snow would give way, plunging you to your death. So, I made short, tight turns as close to the track as possible and snowplowed as much as I could. Charlie was ripping along a lot faster and was treating the wands like a slalom course.

On the flatter sections I'd come along with a lot of speed and give Derek a push on the back. I couldn't help him much on the final steep Ski Hill just above Camp I. Normally, in our training, we'd handle something like that with massive traverses and kick turns. Here, we didn't dare take a massive traverse for fear of crevasses. It was quite stressful on Derek, but he's a tough kid and got it done. Tom was having a tough time as well and he's skied a lot more than Derek. In fact, Tom is a very good telemark skier, but hasn't done really any skiing in mountaineering boots. This experience caused Tom to speak up and recommend that we don't take skis higher than Camp II. This was absolutely the right decision as the slopes get considerably steeper above Camp II and harder, making not only for much more difficult skiing but much more dangerous skiing. We all immediately agreed, even Charlie, who was the one guy with the gear to ski those slopes. This is just another instance of how much Charlie is a team player. There doesn't exist a better partner than Charlie. Or Tom for that matter.

Back at Camp I, Derek appeared emotionally down and frustrated, but later he wouldn't remember it this way, saying that he was just completely, physically and mentally, drained. He was wet with the sweat of the effort as well. Once he got changed into a fresh set of underwear he was a new kid, not that he was ever grumpy, but he was now lying down, warm, resting, and happy to have a tough day behind him. The days where we descended on skis were much tougher for Derek than the rest of us and I'd have been a better partner to have thought about this more.

Derek rested just a bit in the tent before joining us in the cook tent for dinner, despite it being just 3:30 p.m. We'd generally eat a really early dinner as that's what time we'd return to camp and be really hungry. At dinner we discussed the need to take more breaks and try not to ever get into a state where we were that tired. Derek and I ate some pancakes again. We'd put a generous amount of Nutella on our pancakes. We did this until we ran out and then switched over to peanut butter. Both of these had to be heated in water before they were soft enough to spread.

In our cook tent Derek and I had our duffle bag containing all our food. We'd sift through it each night to select the meal that sounded best. We'd also sit on it, carefully and not directly on the food, in order to insulate us from the snowy bench. Generally, we'd want to be out of our mountaineering boots, but just your liner, and even your overboots on them, wouldn't be enough to insulate your feet from the ground. Hence, we used other items to put underneath our feet when hanging out in the tent. The rest of our bodies stayed toasty warm with our huge down jackets and big mitts. My hands would get cold whenever I had to manipulate the stove, but I'd quickly stuff them into my down pockets or down mitts and they'd soon warm up.

After dinner Derek and I retired to our usual tent activities of a movie, audiobook and sleep.

Thursday, June 9th: Move to Camp II (11,000 feet) - Strava - Day 3

Flying our flag at Camp II with part of the upper mountain looming (that is not even close to the real summit)
The next morning we went about our standard morning procedure with Tom, Charlie, and I gathering in the kitchen and then me bringing Derek his wake-up hot chocolate. After breakfast (no pancakes this morning), we broke down camp and packed it all up. This takes quite awhile, especially for Derek and I because our tent has 12 guy lines and we do a very thorough job of setting anchors for those lines. The entire contents of our tent and the cook tent had to be broken down completely and packed into our packs and onto our sleds. We were caching no supplies here at Camp I. I generally handled the outside of the tent, pulling down the guy lines, while Derek would handle the final packing inside and pass gear out to me. We distributed about 60% of the weight in the sleds and 40% on our backs, since the terrain wasn't that steep.
Securing our tent's guy lines at Camp II
Derek had a tough start to the day and he'd later say that he was a bit nervous about moving up, as the day before had been so tough. Plus, he didn't get his pancakes, which were especially important to him since he has a tough time eating in the morning. He got 500 calories down before we started and was slow at the start, feeling the weight of all gear. At each break, every half-mile now, he'd make sure to eat and drink and after 1.5 miles he was back up to full strength.

Charlie and I were listening to tunes on the way up and this really helped me, but the drawback is that you can't hear other people that well. I mean, you can hear if people talk to you, but you don't pick up on the noise of their skis and sleds. I'd listen to about seven songs before we'd get a half-mile done and then it would be time for a break and to switch leaders. We were rotating like in a cycling pace line. I led the first half-mile and then went to the back. Derek led the next half-mile and then went to the back behind me. When Charlie was leading the third half-mile, Derek fell far behind. He fell back because he was tired but also because he was super hot, being overdressed, and took time to strip down.

Charlie went well off the front. Tom was dropping me a bit as well, though not so much because I couldn't keep the pace. I didn't want to get too wet with sweat. Derek and I were both wearing our super comfy Merino wool long underwear, and this stuff, as nice as it feels, takes forever to dry. We kept it in our sleeping bags, but after three days it still wasn't completely dry. In fact, we didn't get it to dry until we could drape it over our tent in the sun. I know it keeps you warm when it's wet, but it feels terrible. I don't think I'll use it again on such a mountain, except purely to change into for the night but then back out of it before climbing again.

Once I knew Derek was having a tougher time, I'd check on him every song and make sure we closed ranks. When Tom took over the lead the conditions deteriorated considerably with snow, wind, and white-out conditions. Derek did this entire half mile with just a single shirt on. At the end of that half mile I forced Derek to put on a shell. It just was too windy and too snowy. He did that on purpose, somewhat to dry his shirt, but, heck, we're on Denali and it's snowing. Put on some clothes, kid!

The closer we got to Camp II the worse the weather became. Our white-out training on Mt. Rainier and on James Peak served us well, though here the route was marked better. Still, it was a struggle for the lead person to see the next flag. When I was in front I could barely see the next wand. In fact, sometimes I couldn't see the next wand and just looked straight down (like we had to do on Rainier) and try to follow the track, which was difficult to see, until I could spot the next wand.

Today I had put some wax on my skins so that the snow would not stick to it. I was in the lead on the final steep section, breaking trail in 6-7" of snow. I tried to push on to camp, but eventually turned over the lead to Derek, who took us into camp. I was feeling much stronger at camp this time, since I didn't have the snow problem as the day before. We immediately found a great site for our tent and then Tom and Charlie found their site a bit further away, near a pre-dug kitchen site. We immediately dug up our cache and set about erecting camp. This is a considerable amount of work, especially for Charlie and Tom at this site, since they had to build some walls from snow blocks. This was the only time we used our snow saw.

Moving camp is always a bit stressful as you don't have a ready shelter to which you can bolt. The white-out conditions into camp didn't help matters, but once there we set about our work in reasonable conditions. It was snowing but not real hard and we were warm enough. Once the tents were up, we stationed our CMC down by our pee hole and our bathroom was set up. These pee holes are unique things. They are six to eight inches across and seem to be bottomless. Each time I visited one, I feared I'd drop a glove into it. Each team has their own CMC, of course, and mostly their own pee hole. Anyone can use any pee hole, but you cannot poop in another team's CMC, as that makes them your janitor. One guy mistakenly did this to us at Camp II. Only at basecamp is there one community pee hole and, generally, if you need to do number two, you'd carry your CMC to that spot. On this entire climb I was never really aware of Derek using the CMC, though I know he must have. When it's really cold out, dropping your bibs isn't a fun chore. My regular bibs, the ones I used every day save the summit day, did not have a drop seat. So, I had to take off my jacket, take my bibs off my shoulders, and put my jacket back on before I could do my business. Luckily I only had to do this a couple of times in very cold weather.

At Camp II we met one team of Navy Seals and another of Air Force guys. I figured that Denali would be a piece of cake for a Seal, but they weren't immune from the rigors of the climb either. At each camp we'd see our Argentinian friends. Even with their lighter loads, they were moving up the mountain at the same pace as ourselves. The need to acclimate is really the driving factor in the speed of your ascent.

Part of our routine, whenever moving camp, was to immediately hop into the tent and rest a bit. We might change clothes, read or nap. After a rest we'd meet in the cook tent to eat and hang out. We brought a ridiculous amount of Gatorade with us but wanted to drink those calories each day and stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is a key part in acclimatizing and the high altitude makes for very dry air, which means just breathing up here dehydrates you. Our freeze-dried meals were working out real well also. We fine-tuned the amount of water to put in them and they were quite tasty. We'd also toast up a tortilla and put a little cheese on it for a Denali Quesadilla.
Moving up to Camp II in tough weather conditions

In the Camp II kitchen tent, warm and dry in our giant down jackets

Friday, June 10th: Carry to Camp III (14,200 feet) - Strava - Day 4

We were quite excited to see the upper mountain. So, the next morning we decided to immediately do a carry up to Camp III. We took our time getting going, though, as this was our first really cold morning. Cooking breakfast was a chore and my hands and feet got cold. Here we ditched the skis and switched to crampons for the rest of the climb. By the time we got started, it was warmer and I was in my smaller gloves though Derek was in his down mitts.

We started roping up here as well. I took the food up in my pack, but Derek pulled a sled, where he put most of his weight. He still wore a pack, as it is more comfortable to pull a sled from a cushy pack's waist belt compared to a harness. Charlie carried up two thirds of his weight but we carried probably less than half. Tom led the way, then Derek, then Charlie, and I took up the rear. Being last on a roped team is an easy position. All I need to do was to make sure I didn't step on the rope in front of me. Yet, I even screwed this up. I'd climb too close to Charlie, allowing too much slack between us. I had this tendency to allow me to move more at my preferred pace and to allow for longer breaks if I "banked" some rope. But this isn't safe. If either of us were to fall into a crevasse we'd free fall until the rope came tight and then shock loaded the other, likely pulling him into the crevasse as well. Charlie admonished me for moving up on him and I behaved better for the rest of the carry, though still not perfectly.

Right out of camp is a very steep 750-foot slope called Motorcycle Hill. Near the bottom of this hill is a crevasse that we had to step right over. The Seals told us that they attempted a carry to Camp III the day before and had to turn around at the top of this hill because of brutal winds. The snow was so hard up there that they couldn't even dig a cache and had to carry their supplies back to camp. I sure didn't want to carry the tremendous load on my back back down to Camp II and hence was already scoping out spots to cache the gear.

At the top of Motorcycle Hill we took a break to eat and drink and steel ourselves for the even tougher Squirrel Hill. What makes this next hill so hard is that it traverses, but it's also longer and more serious, as a fall here would plunge you down a huge face, instead of right back to camp. We struggled up this slope and the weather deteriorated. We were all hoping for a break at the top of the hill, but the weather was so nasty that Tom continued on, probably because we'd get too cold if we stopped. Thinking of the Seals experience and that our chances of making it clear to Camp III were slim and dropping, I began looking around for other places to cache. Thankfully, I saw the wands of other caches, meaning the snow was soft enough to dig a cache.

I had contemplated switching to my down mitts at the top of Motorcycle Hill and should have. Derek started in his mitts, but I figured I'd switch at the top of Squirrel Hill. Then we didn't stop at the top. The wind was only getting stronger and my hands were rapidly freezing. I called ahead for a quick stop and switched into my mitts before my hands got into too much trouble. Fifteen minutes after switching into the mitts, my hands were okay again. Another fifteen minutes and Tom was forced to take a break. The wind hadn't relented, but we needed food and liquids.

Above us was the crux of the lower part of the West Buttress: Windy Corner. This point is aptly named and frequently becomes impassable, up or down, when it's really blowing. I doubted we'd get by it unless conditions changed. We continued, nonetheless. We were now crossing a section called the Polo Fields - gently angled terrain before things gradually got steeper up to the corner itself. We noticed that no one was retreating yet, so things must still go. Or maybe the conditions, ironically, were better higher up.

At one point Derek found himself struggling mightily to make it up the hill to Windy Corner. His head was bent over to avoid the wind, as everyone's head was. He felt he was getting really sapped and when he looked back, he discovered that his sled had tipped over and he was dragging it along upside down. Charlie turned it rightside up and he continued a bit easier.

Conditions around Windy Corner were tough, but not any worse than conditions below it, so we continued right around it, finally gaining flatter terrain around the corner. The sun came out and we stopped to rest. My pack was killing me, as I didn't pack it well. I had a gallon can of gas biting me in the back. I should have stopped to repack but didn't. I could only get relief by bending completely over so that my back was parallel to the ground. Other than that, I felt really strong.

It was an endless trudge up to Camp III and we couldn't see it until we were practically in it. Once there, we didn't bother to venture very far and instead just dug a cache. This time I had plenty of energy and immediately bent to the task. We quickly had things stowed and headed down. This time I led, Tom second, Derek third, and Charlie on the end. We headed down with empty packs and I felt like I could have jogged on down. Tom called out that we should pull out our axes, because if anyone fell, how were we going to self-arrest? Especially all roped together. We'd come up with just our poles, but it was probably more likely to fall on the descent. Tom was right here and I was encouraged that we had such a safe team - one that wouldn't allow me to cut corners and make things more dangerous than they needed to be.

It had taken us four and a half hours to get up to Camp III, where we spent about 30 minutes stashing our gear. The descent only took us an hour and twenty minutes, but it was now 5 p.m., which was late for us. We still took our tent break before dinner and we almost didn't get out of the tent for dinner. I set an alarm for us to get out of the tent at 7:30 to make sure. That night Derek and I had spaghetti, Charlie probably had some of us special gulash and Tom had some vegetarian thing.

Each night at 8 p.m. there is a radio broadcast about the weather conditions. For this reason we brought a couple of radios. We never actually used them to communicate between ourselves. At the end of the weather report there was always a trivia question and our team did very well answering these. Derek got this one: "What St. Elias mountain was seen and ironically named by Captain Cook?" He had just been reading about it in Minus 148: Mt. Fairweather. One that I got wrong was the elevation of Talkeetna. I knew that you could hike into Denali from a trailhead at 2000 feet and figured the surrounding area was near that. I think guessed 1500 feet. The real answer is 347 feet! Yet you can see Denali (on a clear day) from there.

Saturday, June 11th: Rest Day at Camp II (11,000 feet)

I awoke this morning thinking that we'd be moving up to Camp III, but at breakfast Tom told me that Charlie wasn't feeling well and thought he had some fluid in his lungs. It was immediately decided to take a rest day and I informed Derek when I brought him his hot chocolate. Charlie said he didn't want to let down the team, but we quickly squelched those thoughts. We were a team and we wouldn't be leaving anyone behind. Certainly not this early in our climb. Instead we relaxed and rested and read our books.

Each morning before setting out, we'd turn on our SPOT locator beacons. Charlie, Tom, and I all carried one and, with the tracking service, it allows others to track your location via a website. I knew that Sheri was avidly watching the SPOT page each day and I often wondered what she was thinking about our movements. I wondered what she'd think when today we didn't turn them on at all. I figured she'd assume that we were taking the rest day that we did. Sheri was posting updates on her Facebook account every day and these were avidly followed by all my friends and family. Sheri did an amazing job of coming up with some sort of narrative for every day, even though she had no contact with us besides our SPOT readout. She'd scan the web for an appropriate photo to post and talk about where we were and what was next for us and what we likely did each day. I read all this when I got home and I was quite impressed. My work colleagues were also watching the SPOT page and they were a bit more confused about our up and down movement, as they weren't as versed in our plans.

Tom had been getting up a couple of times each night to pee. This is a royal pain the butt. You have to get our of your cozy bag, put on enough clothes to stay warm, get some footwear on, and wander over to the pee hole. Because this can be so unpleasant in nasty conditions, each tent had a pee bottle.  This is a specially marked bottle that we can pee into inside the tent and just empty the next morning. No one had used one as yet though. I'd just hold my pee for a ridiculously long time. This certainly contributed to me getting up the earliest in the morning, as I really had to pee. I don't know how Derek can stay in the tent so long without peeing. Maybe he's ideally suited for mountaineering with an unusually big bladder.

At 6 a.m. that morning I heard the terrifying crash of a monstrous avalanche. I hurried to unzip the tent and the vestibule to catch a glimpse of the destruction. I caught the tail end of a huge serac falling down the slope directly across from camp. It didn't threaten to come into camp, though avalanches have struck Camp II before. I'd notice these seracs the day before and knew they couldn't stay up there indefinitely. It was a sobering reminder of the dangers all around us.

This day we decided on what we'd be leaving behind. As already discussed, we'd be leaving our skis behind. We also decided to leave our helmets behind. We decided that keeping our heads warm was more important. There isn't much chance of rock or ice fall on this route, besides the one short section going around Windy Corner, so we felt it was a reasonable decision. We also cached two more days of food and left behind our Merino wool clothes and our third pair of socks.

It snowed most of the day, though not very hard. I dug out our steps to the bathroom and around our tent. I explored Camp II a bit and found the crapvasse where we'd dump our CMC the next morning before moving up to Camp III. I visited Julian and Juan - our friends from Argentina and chatted with them a bit. They seem to always be a half an hour behind us. We'd get to a camp and then 30 minutes later they'd arrive. Many of the groups up here are guided groups. Carl was the leader of one of these groups and he was a cool guy, though it was a member of his group that I caught taking a dump into our CMC. The Seals and Air Force guys were being guided. I thanked them for their service and they responded by thanking me for paying (tax payer) for their climb up Denali.

Then we went through our usual dinner and tent entertainment actives that night.

Sunday, June 12th: Move to Camp III (14,200 feet) - Strava - Day 6

The next morning we made the move to Camp III. We had great weather all the way up, with no wind, even at Windy Corner. Derek led most of the way and was going a bit too fast for Tom, who had to tell Derek to slow down. Tom was dressed heavily and overheating massively. This put him into difficulty and was the main reason he had Derek slow down.

It wasn't that Derek was trying to go so fast, but we caught another team with a strange cadence of going fast and then stopping to rest and then going fast and stopping. Getting by them I think caused Derek to up the pace a bit and it wasn't to Tom's liking. I defended Derek's pace here, since it was consistent with what we had been doing before. We didn't know until Tom spoke up how much trouble he was having. Tom isn't one to complain and maybe that was why it took him too long to speak up and when he did it wasn't as friendly as it could have been. It was quickly resolved and soon forgotten.

When roped together, pace is the overriding issue. No one wants to hold up the team, but no one wants to be tugged on either. No one wants the rope pooling up at their feet. Your pace and your teammates' pace nearly completely occupy your thoughts and this pace is the source of all tension in the team.

Once into Camp III we wandered around a bit. At one point we moved all our gear into a large area, thinking it was going to be our camp, but then Tom or Charlie found a better spot, near a partially made kitchen and hence we moved. Finding the kitchen is the key to a good tent location, as making one of these from scratch would involve a tremendous amount of work. Right next to the kitchen were two nice spots for our tents, one that seemed to be tailor made for our Hillelberg tent, with a pre-dug footwell. Our tent was a very popular model on Denali. Digging a footwell, inside the vestibule and just outside the inner tent was key. This made putting on boots much easier and cooking in the vestibule much easier, though we only cooked in the tent at Camp IV and at Basecamp. Another advantage of the footwell is that the cold air descends into there, making the rest of the tent a bit warmer.

Shortly after we set up camp, two girls came by towing a sled full of food and fuel behind them. They were part of a guided group that was headed down. Since you can't abandon any gear or food on the mountain, this food had to either be carried back down the mountain (a difficult job as we'd find out later) or given away. We poured over the contents and despite having more than enough food still found some delicacies that we didn't bring, like chips, cheese, Oreos, maple syrup for our pancakes (frozen solid). We also took a gallon of fuel from a Russian team, even though we didn't need that. I didn't want to conserve fuel at all, since heating up one-liter water bottles with boiling water and putting them in your sleeping bag was one of the greatest joys on this mountain. They stayed warm in your bag for hours and provided you with unfrozen drinking water in the morning. I wanted to be able to do this each night.

We heard a lot of success stories here. It looked like the weather had turned for the better and people were starting to climb this mountain in increasing numbers. We wandered over to the ranger tents which are put a ways off from the other tents so that their radio chatter doesn't bother other climbers. They had the weather report posted on a small whiteboard just before their tents. I was surprised how cold the board reported. 5 degrees on Denali seemed so much warmer than 5 degrees in Colorado, but that had to be due to all the clothes were were wearing, right? Or the constant sun? But even when we weren't clothed that heavily, I felt pretty warm. Sometimes I'd feel hot. Yet, we never saw melting snow. It had to constantly be below freezing, yet it felt warm. I was encouraged by this, as my greatest fear in coming to this mountain was the cold. My hands and feet do not handle the cold very well.

While it was gorgeous this day, and we suspected that many climbers summitted that day, the weather report wasn't great for next three days. Starting the next night the projection was for 50 mph winds at 17,000 feet and higher above for next couple of days. With the current report we figured the earliest we could move up the mountain was going to be Wednesday. We knew that getting to 14,000-foot camp was really about staging yourself for a 2-day summit push. Here we'd have to wait for a weather window, but we had tons of food and fuel and were prepared to hang out for as long as necessary.

Above us was the upper crux of the mountain: the Headwall. This is a 1000-foot wall that is 50 degrees. The upper part is fixed with 600-feet of rope. Since the winds weren't projected until the evening, our plan was to carry four days of food up the lines and cache it. We were just excited to check out the lines. Also, Derek would be setting a personal altitude record the following day, as the highest he'd ever been was the top of Mt. Elbert in Colorado at 14,439 feet. I wouldn't set personal altitude records until the summit day and Tom and Charlie had already been higher than the summit.

We relaxed that night, knowing that tomorrow should be short day and we'd likely be getting a couple more rest days after it.