Yesterday, May 28th, was hard for me. Way harder than anything else on the trip so far. I simply did not take care of myself — and experienced the consequences. Denali is not kind that way. You have to do it right up here, hydrating, eating, resting; or the mountain will speak. Loudly.
We left 11,000-foot (11) camp with a plan of hauling the remainder of our stuff to 14 camp in 2 sleds.
(Idea here is to make skiing down with sleds ski patrol style more manageable, with two people handling each sled. Backstory: It is never certain that sleds are even appropriate above 11,000-foot camp; the terrain is rough and the higher altitude changes the game. Neither sled is particularly heavy, but as anyone who has hauled sleds on steep inclines knows, it’s still a pain since unlike a backpack the sled essentially hangs backwards from your waist and never lets up the tension. Thus, your’e always wondering if it would be better just to double or triple carry with backpack loads. Getting the sleds down through steep crevassed terrain can even be more problematic.)
I take the sled for the first of four legs of the journey and plod my way up Motorcycle Hill with a heavy pack and skis on my back. Anton and Aaron are a bit ahead swapping sled duties while Evan and I plan to do the same. Evan is in front of me kicking in good steps to climb. After an embarrassing amount of rest breaks we finally crest out on top of a very windy Motorcycle Hill. We swap duties and Evan takes the sled for Squirrel Hill. I take the role of trying to give him a path to follow with his head down in 45 mph winds and poor visibility.
After much grunting we make it to the Polo Field “flats” below Windy Corner and it’s my turn again. At this point, I haven’t eaten enough food to maintain the output I need to get the job done. The climb simply crushes me. Day 24 of our trip and I haven’t felt this bad yet.
Despite Evan’s offerings of help, my pride brings me up and around Windy Corner to our cache, where Evan takes the sled the rest of the way to 14 Camp. I find myself having trouble skinning now with no pig behind me. Finally arriving at 14 Camp we see Aaron and Anton setting up the tent. Plan is for two people to go back to our cache 500 vertical feet down the trail and bring it all back up, so we’ll be sitting pretty at 14 Camp.
Knowing that I’m spent, I stay behind and do my best to fill every water bottle and have hot drinks and dinner ready when they return. I’m embarrassed at having to stay back and play cook, but I’m thankful my teammates are strong and didn’t give me a hard time in the least bit about it, though they probably should have.
Now we are sitting here at 14 Camp, mostly set up, save for adding a few blocks to our wind wall. We’re ready for acclimatization climbs, and wait for a good weather window for the summit, which according to Joel Gratz might come the first week of June. Oh, and it’s supposed to snow for the next 5 days. Repeat of Wildsnow Denali 2010 pow skiing anybody?
(‘Ski The Big 3 is an Alaskan ski mountaineering expedition cooked up by four deprived (or perhaps depraved?) guys who never get enough ski and snowboard alpinism. Aaron Diamond, Evan Pletcher, Anton Sponar, Jordan White. The idea is to ski Denali, Mount Foraker, and Mount Hunter all during one expedition. The crew had success on Mounts Hunter and Foraker, now they’re in position at 14,200-feet on Denali. They started the trip with 6 weeks worth of food and enough camera gear to outfit a small army. We wish them safe travels, especially on their last objective, Denali!)