Denali Prep Course, Day 3 and 4. Winter Storm Reality.

If you haven’t read the story from day 1, follow this link to the beginning.

I got very little sleep over night to the morning of day 3.  The winter storm moved in later then expected, probably around 2:00 a.m., based on when I woke up.  We got up around 7:20 a.m. to about 10″ to 12″ of snow around the tent.  Remember, this is from just half a night of snow.  That’s important to remember for decisions made during the next night.

After eating breakfast we dug up our tent stakes and re-buried them.  When we initially set our tent, we buried the spikes about 10″ in the snow.  Well, now they were probably under close to 20″ and that was going to get deeper as the days wore on, so we dug them out and buried them about 6″ down this time.

Some of the Alpine Ascents guides that were living at our camp site came over to give us some pointers.  One made the comment, “This weather is worse than Denali.”  He then qualified that statement by explaining that it was worse than normal bad weather on Denali.  When a winter storm moves in on Denali, it can get worse.  But he said that was the exception and this weather was worse than the norm on Denali.

We took the Posh tent down the night before since it wasn’t going to be able to handle the overnight storm.  So the other task this morning was to dig the tent out from it’s whole.  I snapped this picture of Ben as he dug out his tent and improved his wind wall.  Note how far away from the tent the wall is and how high he has made it.  The side he is currently standing on is not finished yet, but he got it done shortly after this photo.

After getting up I took a stroll up the hillside behind our tents and took this overall photo of our camp site.

After I took this photo, I took a panorama video of the area.  One thing to take note of in the video is look at the white out conditions as the camera pans right.  That was the direction from where we came and the mountain is also in that direction.  You can see how little visibility there is right now.  Really poor.

Here’s a short video panorama of our camp site I took soon after waking up.  One thing to note in the video.  At the :20 second mark you can see my lime green sled laying on the ground.  Take note of that, as I come back to and note that sled the following morning.

After eating, doing our tent maintenance and digging out the Posh tent, it was about 10:00 a.m.  The decision was made to hunker down in our tents as the conditions just got worse and worse all morning.  There wasn’t anything we could do outside, as far as training goes.  So, Shelley and I hunkered down.  We tried playing cards, but the lack of any back support eventually started to hurt my back and I just quit and laid down.  Thank god for buying those Sierra Designs Camp Booties.  We both took off our boots (we brought them into the tent with us) and put on our camp booties.  So nice.

We stayed in the tent till about 1:30 p.m. when JP decided that a small break in the weather may allow us to get some rope team/climbing work in.  So we got out of the tents, roped up and walked out towards the mountain to work on rope team techniques.  Man, that was a mistake.  If there was a weather break, I think it lasted about 20 minutes.  Once we walked out there, away from the protection of the trees, we were hit by huge winds.  Winds to the point where we were on the verge of being knocked over.  I think the only reason no was knocked over was because of the snow shoes and ski poles.  The white-out conditions were terrible.  I could see how easily it would be to get lost out there if you didn’t know what you were doing.  With visibility just a few hundred feet, we lost sight of the camp site and trees quickly.  Needless to say, we turned around and headed back after about 30 minutes out there.

By 4:00 p.m. we were back in camp and doing more tent maintenance.  After checking the tent, we hunkered down the remainder of the day.  We ate dinner around 6:00 p.m. and sacked out by 8:45 p.m.

The storm only got worse that night.  I couldn’t sleep all night.  It was snowing all day and continued to snow all night.  Around 1:00 a.m. I started to become concerned about the amount of snow building up on the outside of the tent.  At 2:00 a.m. I heard Tyler and Grant next door come out of their tent and work on their tent.  It took me another 30 minutes to make my mind up and do the same.  I have to say, that was one of the toughest (mentally that is) decisions I’ve had to make in a long time.  There you are, in your sleeping bag all nice and warm and you have to get up, put all your gear one (including your cold boots) and go outside in 10 degree weather in a raging snow storm and shovel snow.  Yeah, that made it hard to get out of bed.  One thing that made it nice was my new cold weather mitts that I bought for this trip.  Boy, those were nice.  I didn’t need any eye protection either or a head lamp.  I was surprised by how much ambient light was present with all the snow.  Even though there was no moon or stars out, you could see pretty easily.  At least you could see what was 20′ right in front of you pretty easily.  It took about 30 minutes to dig the tent out and then I climbed back into bed.  I think the storm started to break around 4:00 a.m.  That was the last time I saw on my watch and when I woke up (the first sleep I had for some time) around 7:30 a.m., it was obvious that the storm was subsiding.  It wasn’t over, but the worst was passed us now.

We were up and about by 8:00 a.m. and we had to dig the tent out again.  Remember that part of the video where you could see my lime-green sled?  When I got up this morning that sled was under 8″ of snow.  Even after digging the tent out at 2:30 a.m., it was buried yet again.  That decision to get up was tough, but it was the right thing to do and had to be done.  I had two motivating factors to getting up and digging.  One was the consequences of not getting up and having the vestibule collapse on our kitchen and the other was I didn’t want the first time I had to get up in the middle of the night and dig out the tent to be on Denali.  Better to experience it now on Mt. Rainier.

After performing our tent maintenance, it was time for breakfast.  Here’s a shot of me prepping breakfast in our vestibule.  No, you can’t see out that window in front of me.

Although the storm was breaking down, the weather was still bad.  Just not bad enough not to do some training.  Ben came up an asked me how things were going and I told him, “It’s good training weather.”  Yes, it was.  That’s what we were here for, training.

Day 4 consisted of a lot of training.  We started out with belay instruction.  As you can see, the weather is still pretty bad.  The important factor was that the wind had died down.  Visibility improved, slightly, and the snow fall began to decrease.  But we still needed our Gortex hard-shell on all day while we were outside.

After a few hours of belay instructions, we moved on to rappelling instruction.

We were using a 205′ rope and the rappel was double roped, so the entire length was about 90′.  Next to the rappel line was another fixed line we used to climb back up.

Here’s Shelley ascending up the fixed line while Jenn is rappelling down beside her.  This photo was taken before the ascender training.

After each of us did a few rappels, it was time to learn how to ascend a fixed line using our ascender.  On Denali, at around the 16,000′ mark, there is a section of climb where you have to use a fixed line to ascend and then you have to descend down that same fixed line.  So, using your ascender is an important skill.  JP had installed some protection (pickets with carabiners) on that fixed line that Shelley is seen ascending by hand.  The task was to use your ascender to descend down the rappelling line, then come up the fixed line with your ascender while negotiating around the protection.  Here are two good YouTube videos of climbers ascending and then descending the fixed lines I’m talking about.  Check them out.  Both videos have good images of the protection that I’m talking about too.

We moved on from this to anchor instruction.  JP and Ben went over how to install the protection he used for this rappelling.  In the photo on the left, you can see the pickets stacked in front of JP (on the right in the baseball cap).  Ben is kneeling down in the background.  JP dug a couple of anchors for demonstration, the photo on the right.

We then broke into groups and dug our own anchors.  Here, Shelley is testing the strength of our anchors.  They passed.  There were some improvements we could have made to them, but the system would work.

After anchor instruction we broke up for dinner and our own time.  While I was out performing tent maintenance, Shelley was making dinner.  Then came our worst accident of the trip.  She spilled our spaghetti inside the tent.  Which, I guess, is nice since that was the worst accident we had over the eight days on the mountain.  Luckily, it didn’t spill on much clothing.  Her harness got some (I cleaned that up in the snow outside) and she cleaned up the tent floor.  All in all, it wasn’t a terrible incident.  Just a little demoralizing since the spaghetti turned out really good once we got to eat the half that didn’t spill.

With the weather break the local fox came out too.  He (she?) was spotted on the outskirts of our camp site around 8:00 p.m.  We never saw him, but the word was out so we double checked that our food was inside the tent with us.

With the weather so bad, I neglected to maintain my sunscreen protection on my face.  And even in the conditions you can see in the photos, my face got burned.  Again, another learning experience.  Good thing it happened here on Mt. Rainier and not on Denali.  The weather really started to break up all afternoon.  The temperature began to drop too as the clouds began to clear.  It was still snowing lightly but the wind was all but gone by bedtime.  Going to bed on day 4 was kind of eerie since it was so quiet.


2 Responses to “Denali Prep Course, Day 3 and 4. Winter Storm Reality.”

  1. Denali Prep Course, Day 4. Crevasse Rescue. « News From Summit Ridge Says:

    […] Prep Course, Day 4. Crevasse Rescue. May 26, 2010 — rich Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 if you need to catch […]


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