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.

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