Friday, April 29, 2011

Foraker, 2011: Friday, April 29 – Crosson base camp (Day 4)

For once, the weather report was right… we got 4 to 6 inches of snow in the night, and awoke to slate gray skies, low visibility, and disappointment. I could see none of the surrounding majestic peaks.

I strained my eyes against the morning's rolling white-fog cloak to see if I could catch a glimpse of Foraker's immense and bristling bulk and its Eastern face—chock full of wicked ice falls and terrifying ridges.

But she seemed content to wrap herself in white and vanish before my eyes, as though she possessed mystical powers of invisibility. Damn. 
The view out the tent this morning

It seemed when I woke that today was destined to be a rest day from the get-go, and Nate confirmed it during breakfast.

He wasn't comfortable taking on the steep rock and ice gully that would get us up to Camp 1 on Crosson's ridge. And as one of the only places on the entire route that was threatened by avalanche hazard, he and Joey discussed it and decided we'd wait it out in camp today.

Bored... but happy

That was a good call, I think. But the decision banished us to our tents, where I spent a long and boring day, mostly writing in my journal and sleeping, punctuated by a lot of farting by Bob. Gross.

In retrospect, the two of us made quite a pair, though, since I can only start off sleeping on my left side, and apparently, he can only sleep on his right side – which put our faces just inches away from one another about half the time in the cramped tent. Good thing I brought a toothbrush. HAHA
Although I do like Bob, he nevertheless seems profoundly oblivious to most things happening around him. He's only 62, but he kinda behaves a little like someone closer to 80.

My obsession during downtime
 My dad is 84, but I noticed some of my elderly father's mannerisms in Bob: things like startling out of whatever he's doing after someone yells his name loudly the second or third time… it worries me, honestly.
I've noticed his hands shake like those of an older man, too. Seems like he really shouldn't be here, but maybe he's a stronger climber than tent mate. He and Craig have done many major peaks together including Denali, Aconcagua, I think Ixtapa in Mexico, but strangely, Bob exudes none of Craig's stamina, strength, or savvy.
I can't decide whether it's because Bob is lost his own world and completely tuned out, or because he's a little hard of hearing… maybe both. Either way, though, it seems like that's a potential safety problem on a rope.
I'm hardly an expert, as Bob has climbed far more big hills than I ever have… so he gets the benefit of the doubt from me, but we'll just have to see what happens when things get a little more vertical.
Craig, reading a book

From Craig, on the other hand, I've learned quite a lot so far, and I continue to enjoy his simultaneously genial good nature, and his gruff-and-rough personality. He's an engaging fellow to talk to, and he's full of compassion and good advice, along with many interesting stories.
Craig and Bob and the rest of a group of their close friends go back about 45 years, where they met in high school as football teammates. (Craig is the only one that went on to do anything in football. He made it to the NFL in the 70s, a golden age… which I think is pretty damn cool.)
Kirk is just as talkative as ever, and he and Joey are a constant source of entertainment with their discussions back and forth.

Looking futilely for a break in the weather
 I shot a few pictures today, and some video, but nothing too inspiring, since the whiteout lasted most of the day—which brings me to my camera situation.
For this trip, I brought two cameras: a big (but light) Canon DSLR with a light wide-angle zoom, and a backup camera – a small AA-powered Canon point-and-shoot. (My camera rig for this trip has been a key focus of my preparations, because I very much want to take the photos I shoot on this trip to a new level of quality and awesomeness.)
But a chat with Colby back at AMS has changed my thinking on it. He's an excellent mountain photographer, and a masterful climber, having done the Sultana before, and many other serious and technical routes in the Range (also having had his own epic on another aspect of Foraker some years ago), but I was still surprised to hear his suggestion: Don't take the big camera on this route.
He went on to point out the fact that although the views from the Sultana Ridge route are some of the best in the Range, the nature of the climb itself makes it not easily photographed, while still staying safe on the rope. This route, he said, "is not a photography route."
He clearly appreciated the time I'd put into engineering a camera carrying system that would allow me to shoot quickly and with one gloved hand in a variety of conditions, but nevertheless recommended I take JUST my backup camera up the mountain.

New snow in the Crosson access gully

I think he could see that I was disappointed… not because my small camera doesn't take great pictures, but because it doesn't take DSLR-quality pictures. But as we talked it over a bit more, I knew that I would heed his advice.
He took me downstairs in the AMS shop to show me the amazing set of cameras and lenses he uses as a way of saying "I'm not anti-photography, as you can plainly see…", and I appreciated that.
He then took a look at my rig and removed lots of extra batteries and stuff I wouldn't need… and then we hit on an idea that might give something of a compromise: take the big camera from Kahiltna Base Camp across the glacier to the base of Crosson and see how that feels… maybe even to Camp 1 up the gully, and then either make the decision to carry it higher, OR if it's not feeling safe, just cache it down below and pick it up on the way back. 

Some other big stuff around us on the approach into Crosson Base yesterday
Excellent advice. So yesterday's walk across the glacier was, in part, spent evaluating the efficacy of taking the big camera higher became my plan. But yesterday's "easy" work across the glacier was indeed made harder by the fact that I brought that big camera with me. It felt like a boat anchor in places.
The whole rig with bag and lens and body and batteries and backup camera was something on the order of an extra 5 lbs, and when 80 or 90 lbs is already in store, that extra 5 is a killer.
So while here at the base of Crosson, I've taken the opportunity to shoot as many pics (and HD video) as I can, because I'm afraid this is as high as it will go.

Our next leg of the journey will be with very heavy packs—as in no sleds—and everything that was in the sled will now go in the pack, too. Brutal.

Hummus and pita bread... mmm
 Even leaving it behind, if I'm lucky enough to have a pack under 90 pounds, I'll be pleasantly surprised.

I've spent part of today trying to reach that goal, sorting out the heaviest food items and other gear I can leave behind here in a cache hole—with some helpful hints from Craig and Nate, too.
9 pm
We'll recover all the stuff we cached on the way back down, and between the big camera rig and other gear/food, I've saved myself 10 pounds or so. I'm still worried, but it's a little better. Now if only Bob would stop breathing on me, I wouldn't have to hibernate with my head inside my sleeping bag. Ugh.
Weather report came in, crackling over the radio at 8 PM, as usual. The forecast was for light snow on and off tomorrow, but with no accumulation for the next few days. They're saying we'll get a big snow on Monday, so if that all holds, we'll certainly climb tomorrow—and it'll be our heaviest pack day.
Looking forward to it… and a little worried about the pack weight. We'll see how it goes.

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