Friday, April 22, 2011

Foraker: 4 days and counting

Watch for links below, and click pics for larger versions!

Mt. Crosson (foreground), Peak 12,472 (bump on
the right), Foraker towering behind
It's odd... in the last few days leading up to my departure for the heavily glaciated and shattered flanks of Mt. Foraker, Crosson, and Peak 12,472, I've caught myself absentmindedly reflecting upon the complex web of training, planning, circumstance, drive, and need that has led me to this point. It's as though I'm drawn back to memories of the process subconsciously, automatically--almost inexorably.

Perhaps it's just the final manifestations--the death throes of the near-obsession mentality I've had as my mantra over the course of the past 12 months.

That laser-focus has been a necessary part of the journey, too, to keep me focused on doing what's required day in and day out to be physically and mentally prepared for a climb of this magnitude. But it's as though that deep rumbling in my spirit is finally ready to stop making quakes and at last relinquish my mind to the actual experience, instead of just far-off imaginings of what the reality *might* be.

Day by day, week after week, month after month, I've struggled against gravity in the gym, hurled myself into the street for long runs down neverending dark roads, leapt, pushed, squatted, pulled, grunted, screamed, and sworn my way to the condition in which I now find myself... prepared.

Punctuated by the weekly rituals of long miles in steep upward slogs under outrageous pack weights to the tops of local peaks, I now stand fully ready to perform in the manner of my training, and to now do it in one of the world's most unforgiving and inhospitable environments: the Central Alaska Range.

But here I am, 4 days from embarcation and, like last year, I again find myself put upon by the same strange paradoxical emotions. It's a dizzying cocktail of exhilaration, trepidation, confidence, disbelief, conflict, fear, and certainty that always seems to be fueled by a latent, ill-mannered guest in my head: a quiet but nevertheless nagging worry.

Worry that I didn't train hard enough, didn't practice the right skills, didn't weight my packs heavy enough, didn't train on the right kinds of terrain or with enough variety... but I know in my heart and in my conscious mind during daylight hours that I did all those things--and more.

I'm absolutely ready... but at times like these, I can never quite seem to shake that quiet doubt, as if a slippery worm were turning over and over inside my head, boring tiny pinholes in my otherwise iron resolve. It's fascinating to uncover such strange and conflicting feelings.

A few days ago, I was tooling around on the web looking for climbing statistics for 2010 on both Denali and Foraker, and I was struck by some of the facts I found.

For example, I ran across this image of a 2010 expedition on the Sultana Ridge of Foraker, the same route I will attempt this year. It came from their expedition blog. The weather looks great in the photo, and they definitely found a nice window of opportunity here. As alpine climbers, we all hope for such opportunities, for they often lead to summits.

Interestingly, though, a glance at the stats revealed that just 9 climbers in all of 2010 attempted it, and that a team of 3 climbers were the only ones to summit Foraker via the Sultana Ridge... which tells me this photo may not be that team (because there's a fourth man taking the picture). Glancing through previous years' numbers showed similarly low attempt numbers. By contrast, in 2010, Denali (across the Kahiltna glacier from mighty Foraker) had 1,222 climbers registered to attempt it.

The 2011 Foraker numbers, though, showed just 6 registered! ... and then it hit me: one of those 6 was ME, and the other 5 were the rest of my climbing party. We will have the entire mountain to ourselves. 

The ferocious subarctic weather of the region will determine our every move on the mountain. But while there are other factors that can cause an expedition to fail, if everyone remains healthy and in good spirits, I, too, hope to be approaching the base of the Sultana Ridge in the next few weeks.

But even if waiting out storms and running out of time high on the mountain means "defeat" and turning around without a summit, I have always believed in drinking from any experience as much knowledge and learning as I possibly can. This mountain is beautiful to behold... but she is a rare and fickle creature, and does not allow many to conquer her. With uncooperative weather, there's indeed a good chance I won't summit. She's that kind of mountain; but there is no defeat if you walk away with lessons learned.

See you when I return.

On the summit of the Radio Control Tower - May, 2010. The tail of Mt. Hunter's west ridge
is on the left, Foraker in the distance.

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