Here are the links to the first four parts of our Denali Prep Course story.
Between the two trips we’ve made to Mt Rainier, we had perfect climbing weather. We had good snow conditions in 2009, and terrible rain and sleet. This year, we had beautiful sunny days, with unstable snow. Now, if we can just get the two to meet in August for our next climb we’ll be very happy.
The morning of day 7 started out clear and sunny with enough visibility that we could see Mt Hood to the south. Shelley and I heated up some hot chocolate and tea and sat outside and just enjoyed the view for a little while. The guides weren’t in much of a hurry since we weren’t going to the summit. So we had some time in the morning to take in the views.
Although the day started lazily, we actually did quite a bit. After breakfast Ben gave us a few hours on self-arrest techniques. These are drills you use if you fall or are hit by an avalanche while climbing. It really is a last resort drill. A lot of things have probably gone wrong, or failed, if you come to have to use any of these techniques. Remember I mentioned a few weeks after our course, an avalanche hit a group of climbers at about 12,000 feet on the Ingraham Glacier. One of those climbers who lived (one was killed) talked about how when he saw the wall of snow coming, he dropped and attempted to self-arrest to keep himself on the mountain. It failed. He said he was just blown right off the glacier and tossed a couple hundred feet in the wave of snow. He ended up buried under just a few feet of snow and was able to dig himself out. So, self-arrest is a good thing to know and practice, but one must be realistic about it. The goal is not to let a situation come to this point.
Here are a couple videos we took of each other doing the self arrest. The first is Shelley going down the hill on her back, head first.
After doing self-arrest techniques for a few hours, we roped up into two teams and went for a real climb. The idea was to take everything we had been practicing and apply it to the mountain. We left Camp Muir and hiked up to about 11,100 feet to an overlook where we had lunch and took a break. JP and Ben talked about glacier travel, how glaciers and crevasses form and what to look for when choosing a route over a glacier. While we were on this overlook, the weather turned on us and began to sock us in so we had to hussel back down. JP set some pickets and fixed lines while we climbed up so we could simulate moving along fixed lines and over pickets as well. It was nice to actually be doing some climbing.
Our rope team was led by JP with Shelley, me, Jennifer and Corey in that order. This picture is slightly blurry, but it shows our team ascending. Jennifer is in the blue jacket closest to the camera with Corey in the dark blue jacket behind her. Ben, the guide for the other team is right behind Corey in the maroon jacket.
Here are a couple of shots of Shelley as we ascended. Gives you a bit more of a look at the slope we were climbing. JP is at the front of the rope ahead of Shelley.
Once we came back down from our short hike, our training moved back into the public shelter where JP and Ben strung up some rope over a beam in the shelter so we could practice prussiking up a rope. This also gave us a chance to make sure all our ropes and prussiks were the correct length. It was also a bit of a bull session. JP and Ben gave us more tips and exchanged stories about their trips to Denali. We all just hung out and relaxed. It was our last night and we knew we had a pretty easy day coming up. It might be a long day, but it was all down hill (so to speak).
The next morning, day 8, we packed up our gear and headed back down. But not before getting a group photo with our guides. Ben is on the left, JP is on the right. You’ll notice that Ben has his sled still. He wasn’t going to pull it down the mountain though. He actually had quite an interesting, and fun, use for that sled on the way down.
There was a lot of people coming up as we were heading down. On the night of day 7, no one was at Camp Muir. When we were prussiking in the public shelter, there was no one in there. When we started down, there must have been hundreds of people coming up. The weather was perfect. We could have hiked in shorts if we had them. I hung back after everyone left to get a shot of the group moving off Camp Muir. This first photo is taken just as we left.
I would just like to point out something significant in the photo on the right. Shelley is on the far left of that photo, with JP next to her. This is the front of our group heading down the mountain and Shelley is right there hanging with these three guys. Look at that pack she has on her back. Not only did she hang going up the mountain (she never brought up the rear…..hell, she never brought up the middle!) but she stuck right with everyone. My wife was such a stud on this course. I love that picture.
On the way down, before we reached Pan Point, Ben showed off his technique for getting down the mountain fast. You can’t do this on Denali. From the moment you walk off the airstrip till the time you get back, you are roped up. Since you’re glaciers most of the time, you don’t the chance to sled down the mountain. Would make for some fun times though.
We took the same route down as we took up. We had to stop by our original camp site to dig up our cache we left behind. But first we got to stop at the top of Pan Point and see just exactly why it is called Panoramic Point.
Since I was busy taking lots of photos, I got a little behind the group and Ben caught up with me and offered to take a couple of shots of me. These were both taken at the top of Pan Point.
Here Shelley getting ready to sit down in a glacading path. The top of Pan Point is above her. Glacading was absolutely the easiest way down this slope. It was very steep.
After taking that photo, I switched over to video mode and got her going by on down the slope. This gives you a pretty good look at the Pan Point slope too.
After I took that photo of Shelley, I took this next one looking down the rest of the slope and towards our original camp site. You can see the spot between the trees where the snow has been disturbed. We had to walk over there to get our cache.
It didn’t take long to dig out the cache and once that was done, we hooked up our sleds again and made our way down to Paradise. The sleds were no where near as heavy as the start, so that wasn’t much of an issue at all. It was more fun to use them as sleds, like what Ben had been doing. That was actually really fun. In the photo on the left, you can see Pan Point on the right hand side of the image. Paradise is to the left.
Once we got out into open terrain, away from trees and such, we were able to use our sleds as well. Here’s Shelley on her sled heading down the mountain.
Here’s Shelley taking one last glance up at the summit before we left for Paradise.
Once back at Paradise, we changed out of our hiking clothes and into some street clothes we had left in the van in the parking lot. We still couldn’t take a shower, but we could wash our faces, hands and feet. Put on clean clothes and shorts too. It was so warm compared to our first day when we arrived. And it was really crowded. People everywhere. In fact, a lot of people wouldn’t even move out of the way as we came down the mountain. They weren’t watching where they were walking and would just stand in your way. Tourists. Anyway, back in the bathroom after I got cleaned up a little and changed, I took this self-portrait shot of myself.
We loaded up the van and trailer and headed home. We stopped for lunch in XXX and got back to Seattle around 6:00 pm. After turning in our rental gear and helping clean up the group gear, we took a taxi back to the house. I had to lather my hair four times to get it clean. We both took showers, put on newer clothes and then took the lap top up to the Maple Leaf Grill to go through our pictures. We had not yet reviewed them except for the little screen on the camera. That was fun sitting in the bar and going through all the photos. And what did we have while we checked out the photos?
Need you ask?