Sunday, July 22, 2012

Denali Part 6: Life at Camp 4

Aaron and I moved into "14 Camp" aka Camp Four on June 6, 2012.  In large part because of its location, simply being at Camp 4 was exhilarating.  Camp 4 sits at 14,000 feet, the highest Aaron and I had ever really climbed.  Camp 4 is surrounded by notorious peaks and features--places that magazines and books always mention, and places to which I've always dreamt of going.  Now we were there.  Messner Couloir, Orient Express, West Rib, Edge of the World, Valley of Death, West Buttress, Denali, Sultana, Arch Angel, Hunter.  

Denali from Camp 4, rising above the Messner, Orient Express, and West Rib
I'm sure part of the exhilaration at being at Camp 4 stemmed from the fact that that's as high as we'd have to haul our junk.  Camp 4 was to be our home away from home.  From Camp 4 we would acclimatize by climbing to 17k once or twice, and then once acclimatized, make our summit bid.  It was a Wednesday when we got to Camp 4.  We thought we could get "it" done by Sunday.  Our level of confidence and optimism ran high.

From June 6, 2012 to June 14, 2012, it snowed every day.  To simply say "it snowed" is accurate and not-so-accurate.  Some days it snowed, other days, it nuked, full-on.  On the days that it snowed, we skied around.  On two of those days  we climbed to the top of the fixed lines, or 16k.  And then we lounged around in our tent.  On another one of those days, we climbed to Washburn's Thumb at about 16,800.  On that day, we turned around because of unstable snow and low visibility.  And then we sat in out tent.  

Climbing the fixed lines to 16k

Downclimbing the West Buttress ridge after going to Washburn's thumb.  Weather was approaching.  Photo by Aaron.
Aaron climbing the West Buttress ridge at about 16,400
On the days that it nuked, we tried to stay out of the weather.  And we pretty much just sat in our tents.  We had a cook tent under which we excavated a table and two benches.  On one nuke day, we spent nearly the entire day sitting in the cook tent and drinking tea.  On another one of the nuke days, we couldn't sit in our cook tent because of high winds.  So we laid in our Mountain Hardwear Trango 2, ate Nutella, listened to a book on tape, slept, watched our tent shake and shimmy, and did our best not to go stir crazy. 

Our camp at Camp 14.  Aaron standing in the "bathroom."
Clouds and weather coming in over Foraker
Inevitably, there were breaks in the storms, even on nuke days.  These breaks provided us a window for a variety of activities, like alternately gazing at the summit and wondering if "it" would ever happen or gazing towards Foraker and wondering if that lenticular meant that "it" would, in fact, not happen.  Like taking a sponge bath.  Like skiing lines of tight powder 8s, eighties style.  Like going to visit the weather board at the 14 Camp ranger station.  Like building snow walls around our tent.  Like hanging out with other climbers.  Like practicing our Japanese; I had never had the occasion to speak so much Japanese.  
Skiers express themselves on the local hill.  Aaron pointing at our powder 8s.  Yes, we simul-skied them.
Sponge bath at 14k--pure luxury
Suffice it to say that after 8 days of weather at Camp 4, our confidence level and optimism had waned.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Few Snapshots of My Training Week

I'm about 2500 feet above Wasatch Blvd on Grandeur Peak, a go-to training run for me.  But I'm having second thoughts about banging out the last 500 feet.  I stop and look around.  Then, I cautiously and slowly proceed.  A grasshopper jumps and, making a clicking sound, flies away.  I nearly go into cardiac arrest.  I can't take it anymore.  Mentally, I've lost it.  Without looking at the summit, I turn around and begin to walk, not run, down.  I walk as softly as I can, so I can hear.  As I pad down the mountain, I hear something rustling in the skunk cabbage to my left.  I stop.  I bend down and peer through the scrub oak and out emerges a rattlesnake--THE SECOND ONE OF THE DAY.  I scream like my 7 yr old girl, and run away.

I open the door to the warming shack on Hidden Peak, and exit into a thick mist.  It was 104 degrees in the valley yesterday.  But by the time I arrived at the top of Hidden Peak my arms were numb from my shoulders down.  It is probably about 40 degrees right now.  I descend into Mineral Basin and soon the mist is only above me.  Without a plan, I keep descending on a jeep trail,  I've never been on this trail.  At times, the road becomes the stream and the stream becomes the road.  To my right, the mountain is rusting red.  I pass an abandoned mine, and soon I'm in American Fork Canyon in a familiar place: the Speedgoat Pacific Mine aid station.  Now, I pretend that I'm racing the Speedgoat, wondering if this year I will be able to stave off the bonk that left me near-motionless the last two times I climbed this "hill."

It's pouring rain.  Yet a warm feeling of satisfaction engulfs me as I trot down the mountain.  I've met my training goals for the week.  My watch, set to buzz each mile, buzzed for the 21st time today.  The rain falls harder.  Where the roads converge I meet, nearly collide with another runner.  Our eyes meet as we now share the same trail.  The strides lengthen.  And lengthen.  I feel the soreness and the fatigue in my legs and feet melt away.  At times, loose rocks cobble a runnable path.  Other times my feet disappear into rivulets.  I hope I don't turn an ankle.  Mud flies over my head.  Water courses down my face.  I taste salt and grit.  My feet are squishy.  Running is raw.  I am running flat out.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Lone Peak and Summer Binge Training

I got back from Alaska about three weeks ago.  The first week after I was back, I didn't do much in the way of physical activity, except for eat.  I kicked the second week off with a race (Wahsatch Steeplechase).  It didn't go so well.  My body had forgotten that it was Born to Run and I walked the last 5 or 6 miles (total 16 miles), which were all downhill.  During the second week, I eeked out a few miles, but they didn't feel so good.  The third week (this last week), I felt a quite a bit better and logged some good time and a bit over 20k vertical.  I'm starting to believe that I might be able to at least finish the Speedgoat, which happens at the end of the month, and which has become an annual tradition for me.  I will binge train one or two more weeks, rest, and then throw my hail Mary at the Speedgoat.

These goats were roaming around Lone Peak this morning.  Me: "Why do goats go to the summit of Lone Peak?"  Chad: "Why do you go to the summit of Lone Peak?"
This week I was able to get out on some mountain runs with friends Brian Harder (now from Alaska), Kim Young (from Jackson), Andy Dorais, and Chad Ambrose.  I didn't take pictures of the first three, but today, running with Chad (check out his newly-started blog here), I got some keepers.

Chad and I started on Wasatch Blvd., went up Big Willow to the "Notch," ascended the ridge to the top of Lone, tagged both summits, continued along the ridge to Bighorn, and then to South Thunder and North Thunder.  We then descended Thunder Bowl, had an epic bushwhack in Bells, and once we found the trail, ran out Bells.  It was a fun adventure. Here are some pics:
Chad nearing the North Summit of Lone Peak.  He was there in just under 2:15.  I waited to take this picture and topped out in 2:16.  
Look at those nice shiny, un-bloody legs. . . . This was before the Bells 'schwack.

Bighorn Peak
All of the peaks on the Bells Canyon Rim play hard to get. 
Chad on summit of Bighorn.

I found Snap Dragon!
The ridge leading to South Thunder and North Thunder.  Chad actually considered climbing that thumb.  I didn't.  We went under it.
Approaching the thumb.
A little spice below South Thunder.
Photo by Chad

Photo by Chad

Photo by Chad

Photo by Chad

. . . . Sadly, no pictures of the bushwhack, or the blood.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Denali Part 5: Friends and Faces

One of the most memorable aspects of my Denali trip will be the people I spent several days with along the trail and at camp.  I feel fortunate to have been able to spend some 'bro time with my partner and brother, Aaron.  And I enjoyed hanging out with fellow climbers and skiers along the way.  Thanks for making the trip fun and memorable.  Here are a few photos of people I crossed paths with on Denali (and I wished I would have taken more):

Eli Potter of the St. Elias range just having throttled it to the base of the fixed lines
Ranger and Brendan from Jackson checking on the camp to make sure no one blew away during the night
Euro guy we encountered several times.  He was solo and on skis.  And had a sweet hat and mittens.
Masked man from ???
Macedonian climber checking out Sportiva gear.  She wanted to be the first Macedonian woman to summit Denali.  She hiked to 14 camp in shoes that were 3 sizes too big. 
Our friend Shun, the Soloist from Japan.  We spend several hours hanging out in our cook tent, drinking mugi-cha (wheat tea) and dreaming about eating gyoza (Japanese dumplings).  Our first encounter with Shun was at the airstrip; he left and traveled across the lower glacier with two long poles under his arms--crevasse safety gear.
Hiroki from Durango on telemark gear.
Nick on an acclimatization mission at about 16,500 feet.
Colin, pretending he is pinned and climbing Everest when he really is not.  One of the Tahoe boys in the background.
Mark Smiley smiling after soloing up the fixed lines.
Janelle Smiley at 16,000.  The Smileys made it to 18,000 on this day and then skied across the Autobahn.
Brian from Jackson on patrol at 13,000 ft.
Our guide friends from New Zealand and Portland at 11,200
A Colorado duo at Windy Corner
Aaron displaying his peeling face
Self portrait on the summit
Aaron on the summit
Hanging out at basecamp