Saturday, June 7, 2008

Post Denali ponderings

Home again safe & sound with all digits intact after a fab 17 days in Alaska with Team Dom, pictured below at the 14,000 foot camp! That's top row Bob aka Frodo, Lloyd, Garrett, and bottom row moi, Rob, Jeff, and Mats (he's not an albino--that's sunscreen on his face). Team member #8, Arm, is missing because he took the photo.

Having landed at LAX just this morning after a red eye from ANC, I'm still processing all the fun--and it WAS fun in an extreme, masochistic (read: I-can-go-two-whole-weeks-without-a-shower!!) sense (and yes, I did actually "wash" my hair with Arm's hand sanitizer and a liter of water one day). I'm contemplating whether to write up a sort of sole-female, novice day-by-day account or whether to leave it in executive summary form. For now, will opt for the latter.

BTW, for those who were fooled, the previous two posts were ghostwritten by a certain jokester we'll call "Chris," but the facts are almost completely accurate. We did have a marginally functioning sat phone complete with 3 lb. (?) solar panel but no Blackberry, Gooseberry, or Dingleberry... two plus weeks without internet--oh my!

Our team public affairs director and eternal optimist, Mats the Swede, is in the process of posting a day-by-day summary on the northeastern US hiking website Views From the Top. (Click on Trip Reports, then "Team Dom Denali Attempt Day by Day.")

As previously mentioned by my ghostwriter, we lucked out and were able to fly onto the Kahiltna glacier late on Thursday, May 22, and over the next week and a half gradually made our way up the mountain to a high camp of 17,200 ft., where we spent three restless nights, punctuated by the panic-provoking sensation of trying to breathe with plastic bags over our heads. This lovely piece of real estate was preceded by 10,000 vertical feet of sled hauling, fixed rope ascending, eye-popping/leg-vibrating, multi-thousand foot sure death-inducing dropoffs, subzero temps, waaay too many hours in the tents, mastering the pee bottle, and getting to answer the call of nature with the aid of Clean Mountain Cans. Damn, but THAT was fun! The guys were chivalrous enough to never demand that *I* carry the contents to the nearest crevasse. Eww. (Why yes, as a matter of fact, I CAN "be" female when it is of personal benefit.)

On Monday, June 2, all eight of us started for the summit. One of our unfortunate compatriots who was suffering from altitude sickness turned back at 18,200 feet as did our fearless team leader who opted to accompany him. (He'd already summitted in 2004.) Another of our members decided to take off solo; he did summit. The remaining five, of whom finishing as a team was paramount, stuck together, maintaining the pace of the slowest member. Alas, the weather turned on us before we could achieve our goal--it was nasty indeed, w/~30-40 mph (?) blowing snow and subzero temps--necessitating our turning back at the 19,900 foot level, approximately 400 feet below the summit. The trek back "home" bordered on Epic, with none less than five self/group roped arrests on the infamous Denali Pass/Autobahn/most deadly section of the route requiring about three hours to traverse a mile. Needless to say, it was a night *I* will not soon forget.


Although we still had a few days to spare, we unanimously agreed to get the flog off the mountain and retreat to the outpost of Talkeetna to eat real food, drink beer, and hang out with like-minded fringe elements of society. If you are ever in the neighborhood, don't miss the historic Fairview!! :-) With heavy hearts, our Alaskan escape from reality was over all too soon as we retired to Anchorage and our respective flights home.

Here are a couple of shots, with more to follow...

My tentmates-turned-bros, team leader Frodo and snow melter extraordinaire (and soon-to-be new dad!) Lloyd:

Steep section of trail heading up the West Buttress headwall. Just above this point it gets really steep, necessitating the use of fixed ropes and ascenders.
Gotta go... for my first run in 3 weeks!


Doug McKeever said...

Sue, glad to see you made it back safely. You showed good judgment, the mark of a superior mountaineer. People have run into major problems too often on Denali when summit fever takes over. Teh team spirit is more important than individual achievement.

The mountain will still be there if you should care to go back. The second time can be the charm (was for me....)

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

Glad you made it back safely. I can't wait to hear all the details of your adventure.

Mark Wieneke

Bruce Grant said...

Glad you are back safely, with another adventurous experience to your credit. Sounds like you had a bunch of fun and learned a lot in the process. OK, I don't know how much fun one of those cans is....but then again I can't imagine squatting when it is -20 and blowing in the first place...

So, summit shmummit, it just makes an excuse to go back to try again one day (kinda like me and Ojai, but on a different scale ;-)

Glad you had a good time!


Olga said...

Sue, happy to hear you're back and safe and sound! 400 feet, 400m...I prefer to live another day for another adventure! And I love your attitude, darling, way to go!

Anonymous said...

so,what happened to the single malt scotch?

Steve Pero said...

Welcome back to the real world, Sue! Sounds you like were with a very wise team.
Hope to see you in Silverton in a few weeks,

Anonymous said...

Wow Sue what a adventure. Glad to have you back home safely with all your digits. It soulds so brutal to climb mountains of this magnitude, I'll stick to running hundreds, it sounds much easier and safer.
Bravo, well done! Thanks for the great reports.

Unknown said...

Hi Sue,

Wow what an adventure. I have been reading and waiting to see what happened. Sorry you didn't get to summit but you one very adventurous girl!

Anonymous said...

Congrats girl happy to hear your safe and sound. You'll get that summit one day. Just keep on keeping on. Take Care.

RunSueRun said...

Much thanks for the nice comments. Getting to 400 vertical feet from the summit was close enough, however - my dad said so!! :)

Seriously, it was a great adventure and a very different experience with a wicked awesome gang, but camping on snow x 2 weeks and covering a total of only ~40 miles (!) was not really my cup of tea. I have no intention of returning to walk the last few hundred feet or to climb anymore really big mountains.

I'm happy to have stuck with my remaining teammates so that we could attempt to summit together rather than forge ahead solo which would've felt sort of like an empty victory for me.

As for the single-malt scotch... aah, if only I had some of that up there! Best I could do was some Bailey's Irish Cream waiting at base camp. Mmmm...

Billy said...


I'm sooo glad you are home safe and sound. What an epic. You are a total inspiration to me. Your courage and love of the "great adventure" are what it's all about. I wish I was there right now to sit with you and take in all the great stories you have to tell about the big mountain. I flew some prayer flags in the back yard for you to remind me to send good karma. I really hope to see you soon. When you're all rested up from this one and you're ready for another, let's do something fun. Your buddy.... Billy