Saturday, May 31, 2008

PR for Elevation -- wooHOO!!

OK, no more foliage schlepped in by our local NPS buddies. Just lots of... oh, what is this white stuff all around us? sounds like... "though"... "thno"... oh, dang, must be the diminishing brain function!!

Big thrill of the day -- washed my hair for the first time since we landed on the snow!! I wonder if Pantene will give me a promo spot on some future TV ad...

We ventured ever higher today, some of us to 16,200 (my PR to that point), others to 17,200 to stash that single malt scotch. Ascending The Wall (the last 800 ft of vertical climb on fixed rope just before 16,200 camp) caught my breath more than a couple times! We all re-grouped at 14,200, and we may try to creep back up to 17,200 today to take advantage of good weather. (It was so warm today, I donned my running hat and tried to get some tan on my arms -- looks like I'm having fun, doesn't it?) The forecast looks good for the next few days, so we'll likely dig up some motivation to summit while conditions are favorable. Of course, the higher we go, the heavier the task of moving expeditiously, but we won't know the full challenge until we start up again. The final objective, of course, being to get back down safely and happy for having at least taken on the trek.

Most likely, won't be able to post again until we're back down to the NPS Oasis at 14,200. Boy, the hot springs behind the NPS tent sure will be a treat!! Sure hope we get back before Happy Hour closes...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Glad Tidings from the Glacier?

Yup, that's me at 14,200' -- we got the local NPS folks to bring in some foliage, just so we didn't feel like we were too far above treeline. Almost like being back in VT...? After the first couple days of organizing (read, re-packing) and getting our trek brief from the NPS guys in Talkeetna, we all loaded onto a single plane for Kahiltna base camp at 7800 feet. Gear? About 117 lbs average weight among the eight of us!! And not a sled dog and rig in sight -- bummer!

We had a spot of bad weather for a couple days over the weekend, further exacerbated by a finicky satellite phone that made communication with the lower 48 very frustrating. But in the last couple days, the sky has been pretty clear with temperatures ranging between 50-75 degrees. (Were that the case, the newly gaping crevasses would likely swallow us all up, or we'd have a heckuva ride sliding on our backsides off the mountain. For now, I can only long for sitting by the side of PCH soaking up the rays and feeling the ocean breeze on my cheek.)

We've moved methodically from 7800' thru camp at 10,500' and on to 14,200', which seems to serve as primary base camp for most groups. While we rested today (still acclimating), tomorrow we hope to push to 17,200 to drop off some provisions, then back here at 14,200 to camp another night or two. Then, hopefully, if Wally Weather cooperates, we could summit early next week. Maybe we'll be loving life so much we'll just want to camp on the summit and greet the next couple days' climbers with our endless stock of single malt scotch. Yes, hallucinations and brain ramblings apparently are common at altitude...

Will try to post again in a few days. Brought to you today from my Gooseberry Hyper-GPS Dual Action Coffee Brewer / Tootsie Warmer. Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but -- feel free to finish the tune for me...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


(won't see one of these in awhile...)

A quick post on the hotel computer in the lobby.

Most of our team arrived in Anchorage last night and congregated at the Long House Hotel. Looking out the airplane window for the last hour or so before landing, the mountains were stunningly, incredibly, awesomely, and spectacularly beautiful: peaks and whiteness as far as the eye could see!! Upon landing, although my watch said it was evening, that wasn't evident at all by the brightness of the sky. The sun finally went down around 11 or 12, I think, then rose again just a few hours later. After a good night's sleep, we spent the morning shopping for last-minute gear, food and spirits for our little adventure.

We are awaiting the arrival of Bob and Jeff shortly. We'll spend another night here at the Long House, then leave for Talkeetna at 8 a.m. After the mandatory NPS check-in, we are hoping to luck out and get flown onto the glacier tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon, weather dependent of course.

We are excited and ready to climb the mountain if she'll let us. :)

Monday, May 19, 2008

And we're off!!

Our "press release" written by team member Mats...

Team Dom:
Bob Williams, MA
Garret Oswald, ME
Lloyd Graves, MA
Armand Turcotte, NH
Sue Johnston, CA by way of VT
Jeff Stone, MA
Rob Kettels, Australia
Mats Roing, MA by way of Sweden

The team name is chosen in memory of friend Neil's son Dominic who's life was tragically shortened by an avalanche in Lake Louise, Canada, in January 2008. We will be attempting to carry Dominic's ice axe to the summit. Though Dom can't be with us physically, we will be bringing him along in both spirit and in memory... We are going unguided, which caused us to spend the past 6 months planning out every little detail from what air service to use to how many wands to bring, but we are ready to go.

We were originally ten members but Charles Steele from Michigan had to undergo surgery and cannot participate. And recently Thom Davis (Dr. D) had to withdraw due to a hip injury. The West Buttress Route is our choice of route and it's the "normal route" up the mountain.

Training has been going well through the winter and spring with both technical and physical training. The White Mountains and Baxter State Park in winter make for some excellent Denali training. Several members of the team also spent 3 days training on Mt. Shasta in April. Rob Kettels have been training a lot in the New Zealand Alps in the last year including a summit of Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in NZ. Rob Kettels is the only team member without White Mountain experience. He and Mats summited Aconcagua in 2006. He has also Elbrus and Mont Blanc under his belt among other peaks.

We will have a satellite phone so our loved ones will be periodically updated with our progress. Looking forward to the see you all again when we’ll get back and the goal is to celebrate that everyone gets back alive and well. Summiting is a subordinate goal.

Team Dom

(Note: Chris plans to post updates to my blog periodically in my absence. I am scheduled to return to the land of fruit and nuts on June 11.)

"Nobody climbs mountains for scientific really climb for the hell of it."
Sir Edmund Hillary

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Neighbor & Chickety

My hiking buds from back East, Neighbor and Chickety, are 400+ miles and a month into their PCT thru-hike and having a blast. Saturday afternoon we drove over to the hiker hostel in Agua Dulce to see them as well as a bunch of their fellow PCT'ers, this group being the beginning of the main 2008 wave. The temperature hovered around the 100 degree mark, and these guys get to traverse the Mojave desert next. Gosh, what fun! I brought them some Nuun and Saltstick caps--heehee--and we drank frozen margaritas. What a contrast that in a few short days I will be playing in the snow on the Kahiltna Glacier. :-)

Chickety is keeping a blog of their trek here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the subject of COLD...

It probably comes as no surprise that Denali has occupied my thoughts of late(!). I've come to realize that as much of the preparation involves getting one's head in the right place as it does going through and procuring gear, checking and rechecking lists, buying and organizing food, etc.

During my run this morning, I spent some time thinking about cold -- that is, the times in my life I've been coldest. Certain very cold hikes come to mind. When I lived in Northern Vermont, I'd spend the majority of winter weekends climbing peaks in the White Mtns. of New Hampshire, eventually climbing all 48 of the 4000 footers in every month of the year as well as the New England 100 highest peaks in calendar winter (12/21 to 3/21 +/- a day).

I remember one particular 15-mile hike when the temperature was in the minus 25 to 30 degree range and my partner and I wore face masks nearly the entire day. (Were we stupid or what?!) On a hike to Mt. Isolation which is a spur ridge off Mt. Washington, another 15 miler, the high for the day was minus 15. Stopping to eat or drink was difficult at best. At one point my hands were so cold that my best friend had to zip up my hood for me. The other very cold hiking experience that came to mind this morning was my first winter trip to Baxter State Park in Maine. Instead of opting for the heated (wood stoves) cabins, our group decided to tent camp. We knew it was very cold when the trees started popping and cracking. My thermometer read 18 below. On future trips, we stayed in the warm cabins!

While these experiences were cold ones, they weren't scary because we were prepared with multiple layers of clothing, chemical hand warmers, etc. Interestingly, two of three times I was so cold to the point of being very afraid were during long runs.

The first was during my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail back in the mid 90s. It was early August in Maine (heat, humidity, and bugs come to mind, right?), and I'd sent much of my warm layers home. On the day my trail friend and I crossed the spectacular above-treeline-for-many-miles Saddleback Mtn., there was a steady drizzle, winds probably in the 20 mph range, and a temperature drop to the high 40s. Again, stopping to eat was out of the question. We wore all our clothing, walked as fast as we could (being conditioned thru-hikers, that was pretty fast) and arrived at Spaulding Mtn. Leanto in late afternoon chilled to the bone. I'll never forget my friend's kindness in taking care of me that night (hi NM!!), providing hot drinks and my trail staple, Lipton noodles!, until my hands worked again.

The second incident was during the March 2000 version of the then annual Horton & Co. one-day ~70-mile run of the AT through Smoky Mtn. National Park. Being runners, the six of us wanted to go fast and light. David was unable to cajole anyone into crewing for us that year (there is exactly ONE road crossing where crewing is possible), so we were completely on our own for the entire 20+ hours. Although bailing out was an option at the road crossing, it would have involved a very long, convoluted hitchhike back to our vehicle at the north end of the park boundary. About a third of the way into the run it started to rain. As we approached Clingman's Dome, the rain had turned to snow and the wind picked up. We were wearing all the clothing we'd brought and trying to move faster to generate body heat. It was a scary situation, one where if someone had broken a leg, they probably would've died. As with any story, there is, of course, a little more to the story, but what happens on the trail, stays on the trail... :) The snow and rain eventually stopped and we warmed up, but the adventure was not yet over: about 5 miles from the end, I tripped and broke two ribs on sharp rock! The stupidness here is that I returned the following March to do it all again...

The final OhMyGodIMightDieOfHypothermia story was when Steve & Deb Pero, Greg "Loomdog" Loomis, and I ran the 54-mile Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway in New Hampshire one April day. We were doing great, moving along fine, talking, laughing, and having a great time when, about two thirds of the way through the run, it started to rain, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and the rock ledges (of which there were many) were encased in a layer of ice. Once again wearing every item of clothing we'd brought and getting VERY cold, we struggled to move quickly so as to generate body heat. When Steve stopped talking, I got very scared. Our margin of error was zero. Long story short, we made it to my VW Golf parked at Sunapee Ski Area amazed (at least I was) to be alive. Thereafter this run became known as "The Death Run."

Now you know why I moved to Southern California. :) Gotta run..............!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Denali links

Doug sent me some cool links today -- thanks Doug! :)

This photo is of the West Buttress route up Denali. The West Butt is the easiest and the most climbed route on the mountain. Still, the success rate is only about 50 percent. Talkeetna Air will drop us off on the glacier near Base Camp. Our team leader, my friend Bob who summitted Denali in 2004, reports the flight through One-Shot Pass to be one of the scariest aspects of the whole endeavor.

A couple of inspirational photos here and here. Here are the upper route and the final push to the summit. This weather link may be scariest of all. (O_O)

For an idea of our basic itinerary and a list of ALL the stuff (yikes) each of us needs to carry, check out the Mountain Madness site. (As mentioned in a previous post, however, we are on our own, not with a guide company.) Too bad there are no Sherpas in Alaska...

Friday, May 2, 2008


I joined Chris on a two-day business gig in Seattle and was able to get my last few things for Denali, checking out Second Ascent (drool, drool...), Feathered Friends, cracking up the sales clerk by asking where the 75% off corner was, and of course THE Seattle REI store.

I picked up a "Fair Share" mug w/screw on lid (don't think Ziplock bowls are sturdy enough for AK), a pair each of heavy duty gloves and mits (since the ~20 pair I already have at home are just not enough; what can I say - I have Raynauds), some chemical hand warmers (what can I say - I have Raynauds), a groovy red-and-black leopard print (think Dirty Girl gaiters) Beko nose guard, and the best deal of all - a great deal on a very slightly used Feathered Friends Volant Jacket at Second Ascent. It has the Event shell and provides pretty impressive instant warmth. Ooooh! Perhaps best of all, it's made here in the USA! How often do you see that anymore?

Getting all of the stuff into my pack will be interesting...