Off To Alaska

The trip we have been training and preparing for is finally here.  We’ve been training for this moment since January but we have been preparing for this trip since last summer.  Our eight days on Rainier back in 2010 and our trip to Mexico last December have all been preparations for this moment.  I can’t wait to finally get on the Kahiltna Glacier, get that first load on my back and get that first push in.  We are both wondering if we have done enough to prepare.  We have never done anything like this and have no idea how our bodies will react to the loads and altitude everyday for the three weeks.  Yeah, there is a bit of anxiety there.  We both tend to over-prepare for our trips, but can you really over-prepare for Denali?  My guess is that you can’t.  I think we are ready.  We’ve been carrying heavy loads on our training hikes and we’ve been working out 5 – 6 days a week for the last few months.  We’ll find out in a few days.

I can’t wait to get this show on the road.

We both want to thank everyone who has offered their help to watch after things back home while we are gone.  Without you’re guys’ help, we wouldn’t even be able to entertain such an adventure.  With your help we know our bills will be paid, our dogs will be safe and our house will be looked after.  Those are huge concerns that we don’t have to worry about for the next three weeks.  We’ll need that assurance so we can mentally concentrate and focus on what is ahead of us. Mountaineering is not just physically challenging.  It is mentally challenging as well.  Knowing you guys are back here looking after things really takes a load off our minds.  We can’t express our appreciation enough.

We both will probably be posting updates to both this blog and Facebook up until we leave Talkeetna.  That is if we have coverage in Talkeetna.  We probably will, but just know that we may not and once we leave Anchorage, you may not hear from us again until July when we get back.  So please bookmark this blog if you’re not on Facebook or if you’re not connected to Shelley and I both via Facebook.  If you’re just friends with Shelley and I post and update to Facebook, you may miss something.  So don’t forget to check this blog.

You will be able to follow along with our climb on Alpine Ascents’ cybercast page.  You can find that link here.  Click on the “Season on Denali 2011” link for the current cybercasts.  Sometimes the cybercasts are titled, sometimes they are not.  We are Team 10.  On that link for the cybercasts, they list out the team numbers and rosters at the bottom of the page.  So check there to be sure which team we are on.  This is the itinerary of the climb to give you an idea of the schedule, but like any good plan it pretty much goes out the window after the first day. 

Also, there may not be a cybercast everyday we are on the mountain.  Don’t worry if there isn’t one.  Sometimes the weather can be pretty bad or depending on the teams location, a signal may be hard to get.  It happens.  Also, you may want to listen to the other teams’ cybercasts too.  Sometimes other teams comment on each other and give updates as well.  We may not be able to call off the mountain, but we may be able to call to another team who may relay our status.  I’ve seen that happen in following these cybercasts for two years now.  Once we get back down, we’ll let everyone know we are down and okay.

While you listen to the cybercasts, you’re going to hear some names of various landmarks and camp terms.  So I want to explain to everyone what and where they are on the mountain.  Hopefully the pictures and these descriptions give you some idea of where we are and what we are doing.  I’m sure I am going to miss some but you’ll be able to figure it out as you listen and follow along.

Some camp terms you’re going to hear include The Posh Tent.  The Posh tent is a triangular tent that is really just a roof.  You dig a big hole in the ground and then put this tent roof over the top of the hole.  The Posh Tent is sort of like the main hub of camp.  Team meetings are held here, food is cooked and eaten here and when you are stuck or on a rest day, socializing can take place in The Posh Tent.  I wasn’t able to find any good pictures of the inside of a Posh Tent, but here’s a photo I found from outside.  The Posh Tent is the red and blue tent in the foreground.  You can see another white one to the left of it and in the back ground.

Usually there is a single entrance of stairs leading down into the tent.  The center pole is set on a “table” of snow in the middle and a trench is dug around that “table”.  The wall of the tent is made into a bench to sit on and everyone faces inward towards the “table” in the middle.  If the winds get real strong, you can dig a deeper hole so the roof is laying flatter with the surface of the snow.  This helps protect the tent as it really isn’t that strong.

Wind walls are blocks of snow/ice that are cut out and built around our tents to help protect them from the high winds.  You may remember we built small versions of these during our Denali Prep course last year.  Well, the real ones are quite a bit higher.  I’ve seen pictures of them being two rows deep as well.  But normally they are single rows, stacked high and circle your tent.

There is the potential that as we move into each camp on the mountain, we can move into someone elses site and use their windwalls.  That would make camp building easier.  We would probably still need to reinforcement the walls and maybe make repairs.  There is also the chance that when we move in, we have to build them from new.  But either way, we have some minor experience at this.

This photo is an overview of the route.  There is a camp at 16,200 feet, but we don’t plan on stopping there.  I have seen it used on occasion, but not too often by our guides.

Base Camp, 7,200 feet.

This is the airfield that we will fly into on Sunday, June 12.

Heartbreak Hill.

Heartbreak Hill gets its name because on your descent off the mountain, you actually have to climb up Heartbreak Hill to reach base camp.  So when you leave base camp, you move down Heartbreak Hill before climbing slightly back up to Camp 1.

Half Camp.

Half Camp is a camp somewhere between Base Camp and Camp 1.  Early in the season I never saw it used, but recently I’ve seen two teams stop there on the way to Camp 1.  Not sure why.  So we may do so as well.

Camp 1, 7,800 feet.

Camp 1 is still on Kahiltna Glacier.  It’s about a 5 1/2 mile hike from base camp to Camp 1, but it will be a heavy load as it is usually done in one move.

Camp 2, 9,600 feet.

Motorcycle Hill

Motorcycle Hill is a steep grade outside of Camp 2 on the way to Camp 3.

Here is a close up of Camp 3 and the route up to Camp 4.

Camp 3, 11,200 feet.

Windy Corner

A bottle neck in the terrain gives this area its name as high winds can be present here during storms.  Teams try to place their cache at about 13,500 feet, which is just on the other side of Windy Corner.

Here is an overview of Camp 4.

Camp 4, 14,200 feet.

Camp 4 is situated out on a plain, so to speak.  You can see how it is surrounded by slopes.  Those slopes have some avalanche danger associated with them, so Camp 4 is well away from those slopes.

The Edge of the World

The Edge of the World is located at Camp 4.  It gets its name due to the extreme cliff the drops off below the edge.  If the weather holds, we’ll get to walk out to this cliff and look out over The Edge of the World.

The Fixed Lines or The Headwall.

These are a set of lines anchored into the side of the mountain to protect climbers from falls.  The fixed lines are on that section of the slope called The Headwall.

Washburn’s Thumb

This is at appx 16,600 feet.  Teams moving from Camp 4 to Camp 5 may cache their food and gear here prior to the move to Camp 5.

Here is a picture of Camp 5.

Camp 5, 17,200 feet.  High Camp.

The Autobahn

This is another steep grade outside of Camp 5 on the way to the summit.

Denali Pass

Denali Pass is at the top of The Autobahn.

Finally, the route to the summit from Camp 5.

That’s all for now.  We are pretty excited and anxious at the same time.  We hope to get to see all of these things I have discussed here.  We feel strong.  We’re healthy.  We’re rested from all our training and ready to go.  Let’s hope the weather cooperates on summit day.  And let’s hope the mountain allows us to stand on top of North America.

We’ll see you all in a few weeks.


One Response to “Off To Alaska”

  1. The Great One: Our arrival in Talkeetna « News From Summit Ridge Says:

    […] recapping the landmarks on the mountain.  If you’re not familiar with them please refer to our pre-trip post for those details.  I don’t really have any idea how long each post will be.  I’ll […]


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