Friday, July 30, 2010

May 19, 2010, Mt Frances basin camp, Alaska Range, AK

Don't forget to click on pics for larger versions, and watch for links to video.

8:40 am
Camp is just stirring this bitterly cold morning. Just went outside the tent for a minute, and realized that we were still shaded by the mountains around us, and a light breeze is blowing. It's a deep, bitter, penetrating cold, probably something like 0 degrees out there.

I can hear the stoves running, and some voices in the posh house, so the guides are probably melting snow for water to be used in our morning ritual of hot drinks and tasty breakfast fixins... good deal, cuz I'm starrrving, and trying to warm up my hands and feet is altogether easier with a hot cider in hand. :-) The plan so far today is to break camp and move back down the glacier for what will probably be some ice climbing training or real-life crevasse rescue training. We'll see.

10:33 am
Just came back from breakfast in the posh house with everyone, and the decision is made: it's to be ice climbing and and fixed line trainings today... cool! I've gotta get a move on, as I'm a little behind on breaking my parts of camp for the move down the glacier.

5:50 pm - Kahiltna base camp
We packed up earlier and headed down the glacier as promised, but stopped about halfway down to Kahiltna base camp with sleds in tow. On break we were instructed to drop our packs, untether from sleds, and grab your crampons, ice axes, an extra layer and a snack or two with some water. Everything else got left there in the m iddle of the glacier, and we struck out from there back across the glacier, up and left toward some glaciated hills and made straight for a cluster of exposed vertical ice walls at the top of a steep slope.

After Tyler and the guides set up the anchor/rope system and tested it, we started into  instruction in the proper use of ice screws as anchors, basic ice climbing techniques, wall scaling, rappelling, belaying, and much more. After that, it was fixed lines--the kind one might find on Denali in the distance, or on Everest--and how to travel safely on them. All super SUPER interesting stuff, and I learned a lot. Around 2pm or so, we headed back to the gear we abandoned ont he glacier earlier, hitched up the sleds, and cruised back down to our previous campsite overlooking the south fork of the Kahiltna... it remained unoccupied, so we dug in once again.

We set up camp, and once again, having had a long day in the sun, we were advised to hole up in our tents, hide out from the sun, eat and drink a LOT to rehydrate and recover, which I did with gusto. We didn't have that many opportunities today to eat or drink, and I felt a bit out of gas and dehydrated from the blistering UV exposure on the glacier with we rolled in and set up around 4:30. I sweated buckets today, so it's good to chill out for a while and see how quickly my energy comes back.

It's been a couple of hours now, and I've downed a lot of food and water. I can hear the XGK stoves from here, and if they're running again, it means the guides are melting snow... as always. It's a constant 4-5 hour ritual each day to keep everyone hydrated. Rumor has it that we're going to be treated to another BBQ night with cheeseburgers, and the staple condiment for practically everything we eat at any meal of the day: sriracha! The spicy hot Thai/Vietnamese chili sauce with the green squeezey lid thing. I don't think scrambled eggs with hash browns, bacon and cheddar in a tortilla are never going to be the same after this without it!

As I'm writing, Denis (shown in our tent here) mentioned it's been near 70 degrees out for the last while, but he and I quite literally fellt the temperatur plummet just now--within a span of just a few minutes as we come into a little shade. 10 minutes ago, we were boiling and sweating, but now I'm heading for my down gear... BRRR!! Like Tyler says: "Welcome to the Range... freeze or fry, baby."

I can hear Jason's music--today it's reggae--drifting lazily and almost inaudibly through camp as we all chill out... it's been quite a nice afternoon here.

10:42 pm
Having all had a huge meal--complete with an exotic (for glacier food) blueberry crumble made by Jason for dessert--we sat around in the posh house and talked into the evening. Well, Tyler, as usual, did most of the talking (haha) but over the course of this trip, the topic of friends the guides have lost to climbing came up frequently. It came up again tonight when Jason mentioned one of his friends who had died attempting to climb a mountain somewhere. I was really curious how these guys, who seem to have so many friends they've lost are able to deal with it, and how (if at all) it changes the way they climb.

We all had a long and interesting chat, and Tyler filled in a lot of gaps and told may other stories about other people. Seems odd for a 30 year old like Jason to have lost over 10 friends to a sport they're all passionate about. I tried to imagine myself at 30, counting up not just friends but ANYONE I knew that had died at when I was that age, and I could only come up with two or three, tops.

I think it's that way for most people--except elite climbers, I guess. But in the end, I do understand why they do what they do... just not sure what all of it means, really. First ascent of this peak, first winter ascent of that peak on a route of Alaska Grade VI, first descent of this, this, and that route... it all seems so mastubatory, somehow. I mean, who cares, really? If you're the person doing all those (admittedly amazing) things, and you're talking about all those successes, all it gives you is bragging rights with your climbing buddies over beers, because nobody outside the climbing community even knows what that means ("how was your hike?" is something I get a lot... ugh). Perilous business, this.

But on the other hand, if you're doing it for purely personal reasons, there would be no NEED to talk about it in the first place, thus making each climb a personal journey into oneself--and nobody would ever hear about it--right? So every time I think about this, it brings me back to "who cares, REALLY?"

Anyway, all that aside, Denis and I have been laughing our asses off all night long, joking around and such. We landscaped our new tent surroundings in the snow... a curb, moveable blocks in vestibule footwell to block spindrift, cut steps in the back hill, and even cut a roundabout pathway for others to skirt our tent more easily. Circular driveway? You bet! :-)

I love Denis... he's an awesome dude.