Doin’ The Kahiltna Hang

Post by blogger | June 16, 2010      

Yesterday and last night I felt like Nansen doing the first crossing of Greenland. Or at least that’s what I imagined as a legend in my own mind. Louie and I woke late at the 11,000 foot camp below Motorcycle Hill, where we’d had an epic the day before in high winds and drifts that made 100 yards seem like a mile when we rounded Squirrel Point.

The thought of Nansen didn’t occur to me above Motorcycle Hill, but after we began the downhill low-angled slog from 11,000 down to Kahiltna Base at 7,000 feet, we were ‘in the egg’ of a whiteout the whole way, with a nice spicy finish through a few miles of crevasse fields where thawing snow bridges disguised by a few inches of wind skimmed fresh snow created what was honestly one of the more scary crevasse situations I’ve been in. Of course, there were still folks walking through on foot unroped. Weird.

At one point, I tripped when a ski punched through and landed in a sort of kneeling position, punched a hand and arm in the snow — and all I felt when I wriggled my fingers was air. “Tighten the rope!” I yelled to Louie, luckily we were minding our business and the cord was already firm, but still…

Joe (left) and Jordan adjust to life where you're on hold for a 50 minute departure time, but have to do Alaskan snow camping in the meantime. The key? Commodious duffel bags such as the gigantic Black Diamond ones we all covet. WildSnow readers, please spot the customized and specially padded crevasse rescue gear in the photo. They're heavy, but incredibly important for any Denali expedition

Joe (left) and Jordan adjust to life where you're on hold for a 50 minute departure time, but have to do Alaskan snow camping in the meantime. The key? Commodious duffel bags such as the gigantic Black Diamond ones we all covet. WildSnow readers, please spot the customized and specially padded crevasse rescue gear in the photo. They're heavy, but incredibly important for any Denali expedition

We’re here at the airstrip. No planes are flying because of the weather, and we may not get out of here till Saturday. I’m busy with blog posts and photo editing, and the boys are trying to finish out our list of sponsor shots. We’ve already got good pics of most gear, but have a few detail shots we feel the need for.

Looking up-glacier at our tent and the staff tents here on the East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.

Looking up-glacier at our tent and the staff tents here on the East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.

As most of you following this blog know, we’ve not had the best weather on this trip. Starting with our drive from Colorado, it seems like we’ve been following by clouds and storms. Thus, progressing our crew of seven from here to an exciting ski off the summit, and using the one safe weather day we had once acclimated, feels like a solid accomplishment. Only regret is not skiing one of the big lines because of avalanche danger, but life is precious and mountains are patient — and these guys will probably be back.

More soon folks, I’m listening to some mighty intriguing chatter coming from the photographers outside. Men in Patagonia tights? Stay tuned.

Oh, one other thing:
When we got to camp yesterday, alpinists Colin and Bjorn were two days overdue from getting a new route done on Mount Foraker. Base camp manager had watched them summit, then after that, no news. Thank God they stumbled in early this morning after battling their way through the storm. Colin got fairly severe frostbite on his toes, Bjorn looks a bit skeleton-like, but the two are alive. I can’t imagine getting down Sultana in that storm — like I said above, Louie and I even had trouble getting 100 yards around Squirrel Point above Motorcycle Hill.


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13 Responses to “Doin’ The Kahiltna Hang”

  1. Mark June 16th, 2010 10:48 pm

    You guys are all amazing, especially Colin and Bjorn for doing a new route on Foraker! Nuts! Glad they made it back safely.

  2. Ken Reiche June 17th, 2010 7:13 am

    Hey Lou,
    I’m happy to hear you are all safely back at Kahiltna Base. Once again congratulations on your well deserved success.
    Have a safe flight out, God bless and be well.

  3. Shawn Murry June 17th, 2010 9:29 am

    Great work Lou and crew! I’ve been hanging on every word.
    I’m slated for Denali next year– would love to know what your “must have” gear list is, especially when it comes to soft goods and cooking/food kit.
    Safe trip home!

  4. Sheila June 17th, 2010 10:14 am

    Congrat’s to all ! This has been a wonderful way of viewing an experience of a life time. Have a safe trip home!

  5. Bill June 17th, 2010 3:18 pm

    Thanks for taking us all along on your incredible adventure. I eagerly awaited each post. Your reports made it seem so exciting that I’ve decide to climb Denali next year. I haven’t been camping since I was 12 when I went to a state park in Indiana, but I figure if I read up and buy the right clothes I’ll have fun. If there’s anyone out there who wants to come with, let me know as it may be lonely in my tent all alone. I think your blog is excellent and know that this storyline will bring you much deserved accolades, and perhaps a movie deal like that woman who wrote the Julia Childs cookbook blog.

  6. kevin killilea June 17th, 2010 9:12 pm

    Hey Lou,

    Not sure why you picked what I think is a relatively late in the season time to do the mountain. When I solo skied the West Butte in ’81, I started the 3rd week of April, got to 18’500′, ran outta time and energy, but skied up to the bottom of the headwall and back down. Off the mountain mid May. Not really too cold, and great snow conditions the whole trip. Pulled 2 sleds, wearing only a day pack at most, to bottom of the headwall, to keep the ground pressure down. Other climbers coming up around Windy Corner on crampons, broke through to their knees.
    Regardless, on the Muldrow in April in ’83, while skiing down through the lower icefall after setting out survey instruments, while a volunteer on a glacial movement survey program for Washburn, while roped skiing, skiied right into a slot while only wearing a light pack. But that’s another story!!
    Presently, I’m in a field camp near McGrath, to the west of Denali Park and we’ve had a damp weather for the last week. A low parked out in the Gulf has been pumping moisture this way and hopefully will mellow out soon, letting you guys get off the mountain and back to the fleshpots of Talkeetna.
    Hey, I’ll be back in Anchorage 19 June-24 June. If you’re around Anchorage, I can show you some local late season ski spots and buy you a beer for Dad’s day. Phone is (303)834-5393 if you want to connect.
    Enjoy you blog and hope the kids aren’t driving you crazy. We”ll be flying in a small plane charter on the north side of the Alaska Range tommorrow, so we’ll get a side view of your weather.
    I skied Sanford in May ’83 in a 2 person party. We were the only ones on the mountain. Get it on your list!
    Pray for sun!!!

    Kevin Killilea

  7. Halsted June 17th, 2010 9:37 pm

    I’d be interested in hearing your comments about doing the Big Mac again for a second time. But, this time around having all the satellite/blog communications.

    Did you feel it increased the “adventure,” or took away from it?


  8. pioletski June 18th, 2010 11:42 pm

    Once again, congrats and well done to the whole crew. When someone gets a chance, I’d be curious to hear about the “padded and customized crevasse rescue gear.” Safe travels…

  9. Jordan June 21st, 2010 1:07 am

    Look closer.

    Interesting thoughts there on the time of year. Everyone we have talked to including Davenport, and the rangers say that the true ski season on the upper mountain begins in mid june.

  10. Lou June 22nd, 2010 7:35 pm

    The padded crevasse rescue gear is in the photo. It’s supposed to be a chuckle. Find it.

    Hal, the blog gear actually made it tougher as I spent a huge amount of time working on that instead of working with the group or doing self-care.

    How much feeling of “adventure” one expects or wants is a rather open concept. Most people up there use sat-phones, and they seem plenty happy with the amount of risk and adventure. That said, in 1973 we opted to carry NO comm equipment and I have to say that felt pretty out there. As a 20-something back then I didn’t mind the level of risk, but presently I prefer more of a safety buffer.

  11. Halsted June 22nd, 2010 10:10 pm

    Intresting Lou.

    I guess, I’m still very old school. In 79′, 81′ & 83 on the Ruth Gl. I was happy to get someone to take a postcard out and mail it to my girlfriend (she dumped me any way) and parents.

    My father did a lot of off-shore sailing during his life, and his feeling about radios was that their great when they work. But, when they suddenly don’t work everyone on shore freeks out. So, in his opion it was better to do without. I followed that thinking on all my Alaska trips. Every time we took a CB radio with us it didn’t work (unless the pilot was right overhead), so it didn’t matter.

    I have not and I don’t think I will be buying a SPOT unit. With the recent climbing accident on Little Bear Peak, where the two SPOT units didn’t work has sort of confirmed my thoughts on the SPOT units.

    As for bloging for sponsors I guess that is a part of the new world sponsored expedition gig. Bonington was the first guy to really set the standard on keeping the sponsors happy. The one “lucky” thing is that mountainerring as not reached the level of sponsorship that NASCAR has gone to. All those sponsor logo patchs on jackets and tents will add a lot of weight. But, its a trade-off…

    Congrats on you a Louie getting to do a VERY special ski run!! :biggrin:


  12. pioletski June 23rd, 2010 11:31 am

    OK, got it. Alaska, where men are men…

  13. Lou June 23rd, 2010 4:22 pm

    It took a whole tank of diesel in Anchorage to find that special equipment. But it came in very handy.

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