Saturday, April 30, 2011

Foraker 2011: Saturday, April 30 – Move up to Camp 1 (Day 5)

Watch for links to video below, and click pics for larger versions.

8 AM

The weather isn't perfect this morning... it's showing patchy fog and overcast skies, but we didn't get much snow in the night either, so I think we're climbing.

According to the report, it will likely be light snow on and off, which is actually good for a day like today, where really heavy packs are in the plan; cloudy skies, colder temps, and a little wind mean firmer snow and cramponing conditions—and cooler climbing.

If we were heading out today under bright sun and clear skies, we'd be baking (and later, perhaps sinking in slush), so the cold and clouds are a good thing.

9 PM 

The climb to Camp 1 was a tough one, and (according to Nate) would be our heaviest day of the trip. We went up through a steep, narrow gully of ice and rock pitched at about 50 to 55 degrees, with fully loaded packs on our backs.

Wow... quite a view of the Pizza Slice down on the glacier below Camp 1

As I feared, mine was up near 90 lbs. Ouch. I have to figure out a way to drop some weight from this thing, or it's gonna tip me over. I could barely get the damn thing on this morning, or at breaks.

The lesson, though, was definitely learned today of all days about lightness: strip everything you can. And thanks to people like Nate and Joey and Craig, with all these the lessons I'm learning (the hard way) here, I feel like next time I go anywhere, I'll be much better at packing smarter and lighter.

Upward, into the murky fog on the ridge

Interestingly, Kirk has managed to fit everything he needs into something like a 60 liter BD pack, weighing in around 45 or 50 lbs, I think... amazing. I dunno how he does it. My 115 (!!!) liter pack is LOADED.

Packing light is something of an art, and it takes discipline and practice, and Craig seems to be really good at identifying what he can strip, and choosing interesting ways of keeping things he might need, too. And he often does it with alternatives that perform the same function (or multiple functions) but are lighter.

Anyway, I was on a rope with Joey leading, me in the middle, and Bob bringing up the rear. Man, I have to say... if I was wondering about Bob's fitness and general aptitidue for this kind of climbing yesterday, today those concerns were confirmed true, in my mind. He really shouldn't be here.
It's dangerous for both him and us. I basically hauled him up most of the route today, yarding very hard on the rope every other step or so just to keep pace with Joey—which meant I was also carrying at least 20-40 of Bob's pounds on my chest harness with just about every step—in addition to my own ludicrously heavy load.

Keeping tension on the rope for Bob (as Joey asked me to do at the bottom of the couloir) was one thing, but Bob just wasn't moving at anything that resembled a reasonable pace, and was unsurprisingly oblivious to the rhythm that Joey--and therefore I--were trying to stick to. (Evidence of the snail-slow pace was shown later by the fact that by the time my rope team pulled into the Camp 1 site on the ridge, Nate's team had already been there for over an hour, and had most of the wind walls built. Ouch.)

The drop beneath us

Just about the entire way up the gully, Bob would take a step (maybe two), teeter precariously a bit, and then stop, looking about to collapse and barely able to breathe, and only continuing with another step or two when he felt serious tension on the rope from me—basically ignoring the movements of the rope in front of him and not keeping pace.

Yes, today was super tough for me, too, and I don't begrudge ANYONE struggling with it in places like this. Lord knows I've had my share of hard days, too. But I'm thinking that while I've trained my ass off and I'm totally ready for this kind of exertion, Bob isn't in any shape for this sort of climbing right now—or ever again at his age, if he's let himself go too far this time.

Add that he seems a little hard of hearing, and you've got a recipe for something potentially scary on steep slopes--and for getting yanked around in the middle of a rope team, with Joey moving up, and me keeping pace, but not being able to move easily without putting serious tension on the rope behind me.

I was relaying all sorts of information to him from Joey above (very loudly), but again, he acted like he was startled out of a half-sleep sometimes when you yelled his name 2, 3, or even 4 times to get him to acknowledge.

Nate and Joey climbing to fix a line in the gully yesterday
He stumbled and fell once on a steep rock section just above the main couloir that leads to the ridge (connected to me—scary). By sheer luck, I happened to be looking at him when he started to go down, so I preemptively held his fall with even more tension on the rope.

Joey was another story. Although I admit we moving slowly because of Bob, he still seemed a little impatient with even what I would consider a more reasonable pace, and seems to frequently ignore the primary mountaineering axiom of being efficient. Again, I'm no expert, but for example, he had me struggle wide out of the track at one spot into deep untracked snow to free a stuck rope from a rock, instead of just giving me an extra foot of slack to free it with a quick flick.

I get where he's coming from… slack in the rope on this kind of terrain is probably a bad thing, but I wasted a bunch of energy unnecessarily on that. Other times, his chosen line took us straight up the steep fall line instead of using what seemed to me like obvious rising traverses to keep energy level outputs more efficient.

On the ridge of Crosson at last

He was getting very impatient with me, too, while he was yelling back down the hill to me, explaining what I should do as I approached the first anchor. I can understand that it's frustrating having to explain it a couple of times to get me to understand what he meant, and to yell hard to get his voice over the wind to do it, but part of his frustration came, I think, from my apparent lack of comprehension of what he was saying.

I say "apparent" because while he was very slowly and with an annoyed tone enunciating instructions about "theeee purrrrrpllllle rooooooope!...", apparently, he didn't realize that both ropes we were connected to were quite obviously purple (though very different shades).

Now, again, I'm sure he knows things I don't about climbing in this scenario, but it made no sense to me at all. Precision, it seems to me—in language, in descriptions, in body movements, in routefinding— are all so very important in mountaineering, that it's a pervasive skill.

Since we were on two ropes, the more precise way of saying it seems to me should have been using terms like "the climbing rope" and "the fixed line" to differentiate them, instead of "the purple rope".

Me, enjoying our comfy Camp 1
That said, I guess I'm willing to accept that Joey's approach to communication on the mountain might differ from mine, and our differences might just boil down to me being a writer whose job it is every day to be extremely precise in the way I write things. But I digress.

Human frustrations aside, the bottom line is that it was a tough 2 to 3 hour climb up 50 to 55° slopes under a very, very heavy pack. (The funny part is that I only began to worry when I could barely even get the damn thing up to shoulder level in camp without nearly toppling over.)

It just felt stupid heavy, despite having trained up to 90 pounds leading up to the actual trip. Interesting how soft snow and uneven terrain will do that, even if you're accustomed to heavier stuff on smoother, firmer terrain.

Nate at Camp 1, enjoying the hard work from the day
There's no end to the workout during expedition climbs, it, seems. Once we pulled into Camp 1, I unclipped, flopped my pack on the ground, grabbed a snow saw and started cutting 2-foot square blocks of very hard snow, while Nate, Bob, Joey, and Craig hauled them over to the ridge line we were on to block the howling winds that sometimes blasts across it.

Sawing is hard work!! I was surprised just how tough it is. You wouldn't think cutting igloo blocks is all that difficult, but before long, I was sweating just as hard as if I'd just barely rolled into camp with that heavy pack still on me.

When that was done, it was onto shoveling and using spades to chop and level the bed of ice and snow on which we planned to put our tents. That process results in a lot of loose snow (especially when it's Alaska-cold out), and that, in turn, requires moving snow from the higher spots to the lower spots to level the 10' x 20' space.
But before we could set up the tents, all that now-loose snow requires stomping to solidify it again, so the tent floors are stable and level.

It's quite a lot of work. Then we had tents and rainflys to set up, guy out, and dig many holes to anchor them down. The work just goes on and on, but we finally started moving our crap into the tents.

Getting ready to climb back down to the cache with Nate

About that time, I was milling around getting ready to move into the tent when Nate said "Bryan, what's your energy level like?" Honestly, even after today's work, I felt totally fine and had plenty in reserve, and that's exactly what I told him, knowing what he was going to ask.

"Do you want to come with me back down the mountain a ways to pick up the cache Joey and I put in yesterday?", he asked. Me: "Sure! Just let me just get moved into the tent the rest of the way and we can head out."

The descent to the cache covered about 500 vertical feet, about a third of the total climb we did already today. We made the descent with me on lead and Nate belaying from behind, and covered the distance in about 20 min. with mostly empty packs.

Nate dug up the cache, and handed me to group food bags and a gallon of fuel, which aI loaded into my pack. After he loaded up a ton of wands and some more food bags in his pack, we headed back up to Camp 1.
Light snow begins to fall

Having spent time on rope with Joey earlier, it seemed like Nate kept a slightly more even pace, and I found my rhythm quickly. It was still some work, though, especially after the days exertion and over-the-top climb and camp-setting expenditure, but it was fine.

We had a great dinner—spinach and cheese tortellinis with sun dried tomatoes and ham that reminded me of prosciutto. Super tasty, and I ate a ton of it. I spent the rest of the day chilling out, resting, hydrating, and staying warm in my sleeping bag while trying not to be totally grossed out by Bob's farting.

Now that I think about it, Kirk has been pretty quiet today, but I just heard him talking to the guides about the fact that he's had stomach pains since he arrived at AMS in Talkeetna, and they've been getting worse ever since. That sucks for him.

Tiiiired... but happy and warm in bed at Camp 1

No comments:

Post a Comment