The Great One: Feeling the Altitude

Previous posts on our trip, in order:

1, Our arrival in Talkeetna                  2, Basecamp Opens

3, The Lower Kahiltna                        4, Move’n On Up

5, Goodbye to the Kahiltna                6, Now We Start to Climb

Denali, at 63 degrees north latitude, is the northern most peak of the Seven Summits.  As this NOVA article discuss, the air is simply thinner at Camp 4 at 14,200 than it would be at another mountain, say Rainier, at 14,200 feet.  I had a hard time finding any articles giving me just how big this difference was, but suffice it to say that we both felt the altitude when we moved into Camp 4.

June 22.  Day 8 on the mountain.

After breakfast this morning we started to break down camp for our biggest day so far on Denali.  We also took the time to bury a cache here at Camp 3 of all the items we would not be needing the rest of the trip up the mountain.  I changed some of my clothes this day as well and buried my dirty clothes in this cache.  I figured seven days in the same socks and underwear was enough.  Others didn’t think so.  And actually, it doesn’t really make much difference at this point.  I brought three changes of under clothes, but probably could have gotten away with just two.

The weather cleared up nicely for us this morning too.  The sun was out and it was warm around camp.  It would make for spectacular views as we climbed up to Camp 4.

The wind wasn’t all that great as we moved out of camp and up Motorcycle Hill.  But once we got to the top and took a break, we had the chance to look up to the top of Squirrel Hill and see the spin drift blowing off the ridge.  While we took our snack break, we layered up for what would turn out to be a windy climb up to Windy Corner.  Here we are moving up Squirrel Hill and below that a picture of Shelley all buttoned up for the wind.

Paul took this photo of the Purple Team and Lauren just cresting the top of Squirrel Hill as they moved into this break stop where the Orange Team was just stopping.

On this day, Windy Corner lived up to its reputation.  I should qualify that a bit.  It didn’t turn us back, so maybe it didn’t live up to its reputation, but it was far windier on this trip then it was the day before.  We had somewhere between 35 – 40 mph winds this time compared to the calm trip we made around it the day before.  I’ve heard of it being far worse.  In fact Team 11 was the next AAI team to move around Windy Corner and they had to spend the night at the corner because they couldn’t get around it.  So, in that context, we got lucky once again.  Once we got around Windy Corner, the wind disappeared.  It was nice and calm for the remaining climb up to Camp 4.

We stopped by our cache and picked up some food items, took a short break and then continued our move to Camp 4.  Paul took some really great shots of the views from our cache.  In this first one, you are looking up the trail towards camp 4 and you can see a passenger plane flying over the mountain.  The next one is looking back down the trail with our cache site in the foreground, Windy Corner and Mt Foraker in the back ground.

There were some giant crevasses in this area that caused us to zig zag around a bit.  I took this first photo looking back at the end of my rope team where Paul was bring up the rear.  At nearly the same time, he took the second photo looking up at me.

We had one break between the cache and Camp 4.  I stopped alongside Shelley and took this panorama of our view.  It was really incredible.

After about 7 hours of climbing we pulled into Camp 4 with Vern leading.

We scouted out our new camp site and got camp established.  Roger took that second photo of his tent and Camp 4.  Dinner this day was cheeseburger again.  Oh man, that was good.  Everyone was starving and we had seconds and thirds before going to bed.  The ridges around Camp 4 begin to block the sun around 8:30 pm and once the sun goes behind that ridge, the temperature plummets.  Pretty remarkable.  We finally crawled into bed around 9:30 pm.

This night, our first night, at Camp 4 was my first night that I started feeling the altitude as I developed a headache over night that kept me from sleeping well.  Shelley felt the altitude as we moved into camp and this made her a bit lethargic.  She was able to function well and helped get camp established, but she could tell there were changes going on with her body due to the altitude.  Both of us were moving a bit slower and we took more frequent breaks while we shoveled out our tent platform.  By dinner, she was feeling better.  My headache didn’t develop till after I laid down to sleep.  My guess is this was partially due to being awake and being able to control my breathing.

June 22 was easily the most difficult day on the mountain to this point.  Our loads were fairly heavy, the climb was a good 3,000 feet and it took a while to complete the move.  We really needed a rest and we would get it that night as we would have the chance to sleep-in the next day.  June 23 would also be a short climbing day.  Kind of like a half rest day.

June 23.  Day 9 on the mountain.

Our ninth day on Denali would be our back carry day back down to 13,500 to pick up our cache.  This would be a very light day of climbing to give us more time to acclimate to the altitude at Camp 4 and get a chance to recover from the big move on June 22.  The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies.  We were able to sleep in this morning and got a real lazy start to the day.  We also watched teams moving up and down the Headwall towards the Fixed Lines up to 16,200.  In the following photo I marked the beginning and ending points of the Fixed Lines to give you some idea of where they were.  That entire slope, or Headwall, in the photo is about 2,000 feet high and would take us about 2 1/2 hours to climb.  But for now, we had to go back to Windy Corner and get our cache.

Paul took a series of photos during our decent to our cache.  We didn’t out to our cache till around 1:00 pm.  It was a real short stroll down, maybe 45 minutes, but then a 2 hour climb back.

After we got back to camp, Vern made us banana ice cream out of the snow.  That was a real nice treat.

After our snack we worked on climbing skills using our ascender.  We would need the ascender to go up and come back down the fixed lines tomorrow.  Vern and Lauren set up a climbing rope in a circle with carabiners in the snow and we practiced walking in circles.  We worked on clipping in and out of the rope with our ascender as well as practicing clipping in and out of protection.  We would need both skills up on the buttress itself.  We practiced both techniques while in Talkeetna, but it had been over a week so we worked on them a bit more to make sure we knew what we were doing.

This day was a very light day.  I used this half-rest day to try to recover from my poor sleep the night before.  Upon waking up I decided to start taking Diamox for the first time on the climb.  Usually you take it before going to bed, but I just couldn’t get my headache to go away with pressure breathing around camp so I took 1/4 tablet after breakfast.  It worked.  I felt much better by that afternoon.  Maybe the descent down to our cache and moving around helped as well.  I would take another 1/4 tablet that night before going to sleep and slept great.  I would be feeling much stronger the next morning for our first trip up the Headwall and the Fixed Lines.


4 Responses to “The Great One: Feeling the Altitude”

  1. The Great One: 20,320 « News From Summit Ridge Says:

    […] 7, Feeling the Altitude                        8, Rest and Weather                             9, The Most Spectacular of Days […]


  2. The Great One: Coming Down « News From Summit Ridge Says:

    […] 7, Feeling the Altitude                        8, Rest and Weather                             9, The Most Spectacular of Days […]


  3. The Great One: Going Home « News From Summit Ridge Says:

    […] 7, Feeling the Altitude                        8, Rest and Weather                             9, The Most Spectacular of Days […]


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