Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Foraker 2011: Wednesday, April 27-Talkeetna (Day 1)

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

I arrived at 8 AM at AMS—once again deprived of another Talkeetna delicacy, the epic cinnamon rolls from The Roadhouse. They're not open til 9! WTF. I want!!

I mean, come on... besides climbing, there just aren't THAT many things that make a trip to Talkeetna worthwhile foodwise, and I've so far missed out on two of the three I was looking forward to!! GAH!

Anyway, we did introductions, ran through a swift gear check (where I shaved at least 10 pounds from my pack… overpacked!! Did I mention? Ha ha). Awesome.

Before we took off, we harnessed up and did some crevasse self rescue training out back, hanging from the rafters on ropes. It was a new twist (for me) on the familiar prusik method... just basically getting everybody on the same page using a partial "Texas pre-rig" system for glacier travel. I found it educational, since I've never done glaciers pre-rigged with prusiks in case of falls.

Kevin Wright. With a brother Brian. Weird.
When that was done, we finished packing our gear into backpacks and sled duffels, loaded it all up in the van, and headed over to the Ranger station to sign in and pay our climbing fees... $210 for Foraker. Ouch!

Oh yeah, one weird thing: we were required to do a briefing on the dangers of Foraker at the NPS station, and it was basically just a presentation from one of the rangers... who was named Kevin Wright (same as my bro).

I noticed it right on his nametag and interrupted him mid-sentence.Turns out he has a brother named Brian, too. Bizarro.

Just like always, it's a whirlwind of "hurry up and wait" activity and deadlines getting out of Talkeetna and onto the glacier.

We rushed over to the airstrip... where we promptly sat down and waited for our TAT pilot to figure out whether there was an air leak in his left tire or not.

They got it sorted, though, and we loaded the gear up, boarded the plane and flew directly onto the glacier.

How awesome is that? There have been people stuck in town burning time for three days waiting for weather to get good enough to fly onto the glacier, but the instant I show up, the weather clears, and on we fly, with not a single minute lost. Haha Sweet!

All the other climbers in town should thank me for showing up haha. Anyway I got tons of epic shots of the Alaska Range on the way in,we dumped gear on the snow, and set up camp.

It's a very eerie feeling at Kahiltna Base Camp this year. There's almost nobody here, and much more than last year, it's now scarily evident just how remote a location this truly is.

Last year, climb season was in full swing with tons of Denali traffic, bustle, tents, noise, and everything else.

Today, though, the NPS tents aren't even set up yet, there's barely even a runway, and we're making first tracks in the snow almost everywhere we go.

A high glacier that pours its ice off an immense cliff 
It's a deathly silent and beautiful experience , standing amid these giant spires, towers and buttresses... one that requires, if you're even the slightest bit of a thinking person, serious consideration of what one is about to undertake. I was awed once again by their very presence, and knowing that I was to climb what lay before me in short order gave me a reason to consider my quest even more seriously than I had up to this point.

And there, across the glacier once more, looms Foraker, silent and vast. I'd forgotten just how massive it is, the way it forces you to look, the way it draws your gaze and fills the field of view of even the unwilling.

Crosson is utterly vision-filling, too, lying under nearly perfect blue azure skies.

Today, it's touched occasionally by drifting fingers of cloud that caress its slopes, as though the mountain were the immense pet of an even larger, colder, and less corporeal being whose stroking hand is manifested only in wisps as they cross the dimensional boundaries that divide us from the deep, ancient souls of the mountains.

The whole area is exhilarating—and terrifying. I can see nearly our entire route from here. Crosson, the dirty and imposing dirtpile; Foraker, icy and forbidding, guarded by gargoyles, corniced ridges, insane hanging glaciers, titanic ice falls, and other immobile-yet-raging menaces.

Foraker looms
It's always been a mountain to me that fairly bristles with benevolent (and yes, even malevolent) attitude, a mountain that dares one to climb it.

Sitting this close to such a towering monster—one that was once only an idea, a concept, an intention to climb—I can now feel in the reality of the actions I set in motion the icy breath of the mountain.

And I can hear the distant deep booming of its heart, as the mighty seracs on its flanks collapse in cataclysmic explosions of neon blue ice.

Crosson in the mist
There's a power beyond description in these great peaks.
A shot of the Crosson start
That I underestimated even the size of Crosson (not to mention Foraker) as I sat home in my little world, studying picture after picture of it on a tiny screen was painfully obvious the instant I stepped off the plane and into the pillowy snows of the Kahiltna.

I realized that I had been lulled by the sense of tranquility that photos of these mountains can sometimes portray. My sensitivity to being dwarfed by these great beings was dulled by the time spent in proximity to them as I stood in this same spot last year.

But I know in my heart that I'm absolutely up to the task. I've prepared hard, and with great discipline and forethought... no more thinking. It's time for doing. Tomorrow, we climb.

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