Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Life After Denali

I was noticing that it’s been a while since I've updated people on what I have been doing. . .

After we (Jay and I) made it to the top of North America's highest point (Denali, also known as Mt. McKinley) and back, we wanted to test our acclimatization – how well we were acclimated to the reduced oxygen content in the air at higher altitudes – so after returning to Oregon in June, we climbed Mt. Hood, again, going for speed.  While it’s nothing for Jay to be able to get to the top in 3 hours, for me, getting to the top in 4 hours was a first that made me very happy, as you might be able to tell in this summit picture (with flat-topped Mt. St. Helens in the distance on the left, and Mt. Adams in the distance on the right):

One more shot from that climb:

This is of Jay, carefully traversing some of the steep terrain, with one broken crampon (right foot) [our crampons are sharp steel points jutting out of a bed of steel that we strap to the bottoms of our boots].  It made the trip more “exciting” than it needed to be, since we went through icy terrain, which makes the crampons necessary for not losing one’s footing.  This pictured bit was actually the safer part, since it was easier to make flat surfaces for foot placement.  We got down the rest of the way quite safely.

After this test of speed, we got invited to join a climb of Unicorn in the Tatoosh Range, which is south of Mt. Rainier, and in Mount Rainier National Park.  We decided to do that climb one day, and climb 3 other mountains the next day.  Here’s a shot of us at the top of Unicorn, with Mt. Rainier in the background:
It was pretty darned breezy, even though it was fairly warm.  Jay’s tougher than I am – I had to hide in my jacket.  This particular climb is a nice mix of snow and rock.  We did a rappel down from the summit block, which is what Jay is doing in this shot:

The following day, we again enjoyed wonderful views of Mt. Rainier:
See that smallish peak off the right shoulder of Mt. Rainier?  It’s almost as high (just a hundred feet lower) than Mt. Hood, but it’s absolutely dwarfed by Mt. Rainier!

Look at the top of this rock:
That is Jay up there – he went up to see if he could find an easy walk up route to the top, and he could, so he came back down and we both went up the easy route that he found, and then I took this picture:
looking back toward where we’d climbed the previous day.  The summit of the previous day’s Unicorn climb is the top of that weird block on the top left side of the left of the 2 mountains backlit by the sky.  (Hence the name “Unicorn” – that’s the “horn”.)  And that is the block that Jay was rappelling down in that rappel picture. 

After these climbs, we heard from my Mom that my Dad's health had deteriorated and we weren't sure he'd make it.  Jay hadn't met my immediate family, so we decided that we should go to Michigan and have him meet everyone and see what we could do about my Dad's health.  But before going, just one more climb. . .

This time, we were taking a friend up Mt. Hood who’d had the worst luck in getting to the top – every single climb (about 7 or more!) ended up having to turn around for one reason or another, and I’d told her that that was because she was doing it with the wrong people, she had to do it with *us*, so we all went, together.  I absolutely love the smile on her face in this morning photo of her, with the shadow of the whole of Mt. Hood behind her:

She was smiling that broadly because she knew that today was the day that she would get to the top – we still had about 600 ft to go, and we were doing a slightly more difficult route than all of the folks pictured in the background, but we were *there*, and this was going to happen!

I *love* it when we can make a climb happen for someone else.  We were successful – the mountain was so beautiful, I took a couple of pictures on the way down:
This is a shot in almost the same place as the second photo from the top, of just Jay, where it looks all steep – for some reason, the angle looks really tame in this photo.  Jay is turned around, having gotten to a pretty safe place, to check on how Lynne is doing.  We’d gone to the left of the big rock pictured in the top center of the photo.  Remember that rock, because it’s in this next shot:

Do you see that rock in the top right of this photo?  We’re all standing on the ridge of snow called “the Hogsback”, and that leads to that Bergschrund (a huge crack in the snow and ice).  You may be able to see our trail from that rock down to the right of the Bergschrund. 

With this nice little success, we flew to Michigan for what we thought was about a week and a half.  A couple days after getting there, my Dad ended up having open heart surgery.  His recovery was going really well, until about 4 days into the recovery when he had a cardiac arrest.  He was revived, but it really slowed down his recovery, and we realized that he needed to get a pacemaker/defibrillator.  Jay and I cancelled what plans we did have to stay for as long as we needed to be there.  And then my Mom had a stroke and *she* landed in the same hospital.  Fortunately, she made a dramatic recovery (with no miracle drugs), and was out even before my Dad was. 

While I had to cancel a planned trip to Italy, and duck out of a climb that I was supposed to lead, I was sooooooo thankful that I was retired and didn’t have to worry about my job at the same time that I was worrying about my folks.  We stayed until my parents had recovered sufficiently to fend for themselves, and then we returned to Portland long enough for Jay to replace the roof on his house and make other needed repairs and then we headed back to Michigan. This time, we decided to drive. 

After climbing Denali, Jay casually mentioned that we’d done the most difficult of the 50 states’ highest points, so maybe we should try the rest?  In Jay’s working years, he’d met someone who had successfully been to each state’s highest point after he’d retired.  Jay thought that that was a neat idea, and so that is our plan, now, as well.  Since we were driving to Michigan, I thought that this would be a great time to hit a bunch of the high points and show Jay some of the pretty parts of Michigan (and prove that there really *are* pretty parts of Michigan).   

The following is a collage of all of the high points we’ve been able to get to so far.  My parents even got to join us for a few of the high points when we went down to visit my Dad’s brother and family in Virginia:

The trip to Michigan was in October, which turned out to be perfect for the changing colors in the tree foliage.  Here’s a picture that shows a little of the brilliance that we experienced along the way, complete with an old lighthouse that is on Grand Island (Grand Island National Recreation Area, just north of Munising in the upper peninsula of Michigan):

Much of the time that we were there, the winds were blowing, and Lake Superior looked like an ocean:

We took a boat out to see the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore so that we could see this:
And this:
I don’t know if you can see the tree roots that extend back from the tree that dominates that one rock outcropping to the rest of the trees?  Pretty impressive.

And we saw a lot of what looked like paint spilled all over the cliff sides:
all natural and due to different minerals and metals in the rock.

While my immediate family was gathered in Virginia, my aunt was kind enough to take a picture:
Standing (left to right): Sherri (my brother’s wife), Leslie (my brother), me, Jay, and then sitting: my Mom and Dad.

Now, we’re back in Oregon for a month or two, trying to get back into tiptop shape for the winter climbing season, which we're expecting to punctuate by a few more state high points (California’s Mt. Whitney, and Nevada’s Boundary Peak) on a trip to Death Valley in March.  We’re also looking at going to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico in April, courtesy of a friend, and one of those places that it seems everyone but me has been to. . .  During the summer, we’re hoping to knock off the rest of the tall state high points (like Utah, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana), and since Illinois’ high point is on private property, and they only open it up in the summer, we’ll have to do that, and since we’ll be there, we might as well visit everyone in Michigan, before taking off for Australia in September/October time frame.  So, we're looking at another packed year, and if we can include you in it, we shall.  Give a shout out if we'll be heading your way!

May your 2015 be packed with good health and fine experiences,


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Denali (Mt. McKinley) 2014 expedition slideshow

I’ve created an online slideshow of our successful 2014 Denali (Mt. McKinley) Expedition (missing the 6 months of planning, organizing, and training pre-amble), with captions.  The pictures that I took only on my iPhone, are lost, having lost the iPhone while on the summit, but, fortunately, we still had pictures on both of our cameras, and it is from those that I’ve created this show.  Even though this is long (I keep chopping it!), it still leaves out so much.  I hope that you find it worthwhile. 

The best way to view this is to go here , (if it shows “Google+” in the  upper left corner, then wait until the yellow bar comes up with a notice "Click here to return to picasa web albums”, and click on that “here” link.)  Then, in the upper left, select “slideshow”, and hit F11 (for true full screen).  If you move your mouse near the bottom of the screen, you should be able to hit the pause button, and then be able to advance using the arrow keys so that you can read the captions and look at the pictures at your own pace. 

Feel free to let me know of improvements that I can make to it!


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley)

There are tons of stories to tell, as one might expect, from an adventure that started from an idea on November 5, 2013 to getting on the glacier on May 1, 2014, to getting to the summit on May 23, 2014, to getting off of the glacier on June 1, 2014, and, finally, to returning to home, to Portland, on June 7, 2014.  So, for 6 months, my focus was on planning the climb, including all of the logistics associated with the climb, all of the training necessary, and all of the gear and food needed to accomplish the climb.  And then, of course, we spent another month actually *doing* the climb.   In this write-up, I’ll zero in on the summit day.

All of that planning and training and preparation resulted in successfully getting to the summit of Denali, referred to as Mt. McKinley on the USGS maps, on May 23, 2014:

I’m waving my hand toward the little summit disk that is on a big stake, in the snow.  In Jay’s summit photo, he has his hand on that disk.  For some reason (lack of oxygen, perhaps?), I didn’t take a picture looking down on that disk.  In both of these pictures, you can see a shadow of the mountain, itself, on the land below.
We started our summit day around 11am.  It took us about 12 hours to get to the summit from our high camp at 17,200ft.  The weather forecast had not been promising, but it sounded as though it would be the last chance for a couple of weeks, so we decided to go for it.  It took about 2.5 hours to get to Denali Pass, around 18,200ft.

Here’s a shot just as we were starting up the steep part toward Denali Pass:

 You can see a rope team in front of us.  We have no idea if they made it or not, as we lost track of them.  I turned around and took a shot looking back at Mt. Foraker and where we’d come from (you can just see a rope team of 3 heading out of camp) – our camp is just out of the picture on the right:

That team of 3 did turn around.  At this point, the weather was still pretty clear.  However, it started to change as we got closer to Denali Pass.  You can see the weather that we were headed into, in my last shot that actually has Denali Pass in it:

and by the time that we got to the pass, the wind was blowing, furiously, and the clouds had moved in.  Notice that in the above picture, Jay still had his glacier glasses on – he had to change them to goggles at Denali Pass (I assume that I did, as well). We were soon enveloped by a whiteout, unable to see very far at all.  This was not how I’d envisioned our summit day *at all.*  We decided to press on.  After a while, we saw a wand (a garden stake, sometimes with a little flag on it), and then decided that as long as we were seeing things like wands, and felt that we would be able to return to our high camp, safely, we’d press on.  At one point, we got a little turned around as to which way we should be going, but we solved the issue by agreeing to go up.  We knew that there was a dip (where we would lose some elevation) in the route at some point, but that dip would happen many hours away from where we were, so up was the way to go. 

We started seeing folks coming down who’d been successful.  One of them told us that we had about 6 hours to go.  We’d already spent about 6 hours climbing, so we hoped that he would not turn out to be correct, but, alas, he was very correct.  On our return, I wondered how in the heck he’d been able to estimate that, since, on our descent, it only took about an hour to get to that point!

After several hours, magically, we were able to start seeing farther, and after some more time passed, the clouds lifted, entirely!  However, it never got warmer.  On my feet I wore two thick pair of wool socks, my Scarpa double plastic boots, overboots, and crampons.  On my legs I wore Columbia expedition long johns with Mountain Hardware hiking pants over that, heavy fleece pants over those, and finally, down pants over those.  On my top, I wore a thermal t-shirt, the Columbia expedition long john top, a nylon running top with a hood, an expedition fleece long john top, a synthetic “down” jacket (with hood), a “soft shell” jacket (with hood), and the huge parka with a hood.  I think that I was also wearing my ball cap for shade from the sun, and I’m pretty sure that I was wearing my helmet.  On my hands, I had on liner gloves and my Alti-mitts that have a mitten liner, and a lot of down in an outer mitten.  I don’t remember being cold that day, but I also know that I was never tempted to take anything off.  All of our water froze, even though we carried it in bottle parkas, and each of us had a liter in our packs as well as a liter on the outside of our packs (in a bottle parka).

Here is our only picture of the final ridge from below the ridge (and from behind yet another hill).  Pig Hill, the rightmost face of that distant ridge, represents most of the last 600 ft of the climb.  The white ghosty-looking stuff is snow blowing off that hill:

Once at the top of Pig Hill, we “just” had to go along the top of the ridge:

Since we didn’t know where, exactly, the summit was, we just had to keep going until we got there (fortunately, it was obvious when we were there!).

I don’t remember how many breaths per step I was taking at various times, but I know that when we were going up Pig Hill, I was up to 4 breaths per step.  So it was taking about 7 seconds for every step that we made.  If you were to try that, now, in your living room, I’m sure that it would feel as slow as molasses, and you’d wonder how anyone could accomplish anything at that slow pace.  The fast guys that everyone reads about in the papers can do it a heck of a lot faster (so could Jay, for that matter, but he was being nice and sticking with me, and helping me to go at a pace that I could sustain).  

I’d not had much sleep the prior night, because the wind was howling most or all of the night, so I was tired to begin with on that summit day climb.  When we got to that last bit, going up Pig Hill, I was nearly falling asleep while walking.  I told Jay that I really needed a little rest, and I sat down and lay my head down on his lap.  Someone coming down asked him if he had been able to notify the National Park Service.  He told the guy that he hadn’t tried, and was wondering why he should do so.  The person gestured toward me.  No, no problem – she just needed a little rest, he told the guy.  And, at that point, I was able to continue on, and didn’t need to rest, anymore.  I guess that the guy thought that I was in some deep dark trouble. . .
Here’s a shot toward the North Peak from the summit:

While planning the trip, I had definitely wanted to scale the North Peak as well, but we were pretty worn out after the South Peak, and we knew that the weather was going to get bad for a while, and we’d already used up most of our weather days, so we decided to just take a pass on it.

We couldn’t seem to get the lighting right on the above picture – mostly, I was trying to show off my wind burned cheek – I looked like a burn victim (I guess that I was!) after the skin peeled from my cheeks and side of my face.  I still have a trace of that burn scar on my left cheek, but it’s nowhere near as noticeable as before.  Also present in the above picture are my puffy eyes.  Jay didn’t seem to suffer from that particular affliction, but I sure did – almost every morning my eyes were all puffy.   It’s due to the altitude, although I confess to not actually understanding exactly why it happens. . .

On the summit, one of the first things I did was take out Wim’s SPOT device, turn it on, and push on the “custom message” that would send out the “We made the summit” message to an email list, and post it to facebook.  I had no way of knowing if any of these messages were actually making it through, and this one was no exception, but I’d gotten used to how the device behaved, and assumed that when it stopped blinking the little message light, that the message had been sent.  Unfortunately, even though it appeared to be sent, it was never received, so I found out when we returned from the mountain, that people hadn’t realized that we’d made the summit!  And here I thought that everyone would be cheering from the sidelines.  Poo! (as Jay would say!)

We arrived at the summit at around 11pm.  Look at where the sun is above the horizon on this first picture that I took from the summit, looking back at Denali Pass:

I should point out that at the bottom left of the picture, there are a couple of wands lying on the ground, and at the very bottom of the picture, are the tips of my feet, with my crampon points sticking out.

We had a lot to do on the summit – summit kiss and hug, pictures of each other (at the beginning of this piece!), blowing kisses to our friend, Linda, taking a picture with the CureJM (Cure Juvenile Myositis) banner:

And saying a final good-bye to my friend, Monty:

I noticed that I’d lost my iphone while I was on the summit, but I looked all around and couldn’t find it, anywhere – I even took off my jackets, thinking that it must have slid into my pants or gotten lost on an inside layer of a jacket.  No such luck.  I couldn’t find it, anywhere, so lost all of the photos that I’d taken on that device, as opposed to the photos I’d taken on my camera.

Jay was worried about us having to get down in the dark.  HAH!  I wasn’t so worried, as I’d not noticed real darkness in at least a week or so.  However, old habits die hard, and when midnight approaches, some of us innately expect darkness to arrive soon.  So, after spending a pretty full 40 minutes on the summit, with no one else in sight, we turned around and headed back.  There were some parts of the ridge that were very narrow, where a fall would likely have been fatal, so Jay slowed us down so that we’d stay focused on making sure that we weren’t reckless in our descent on the parts where there was a lot of exposure.  Much of the descent was fairly benign, so we were able to go pretty quickly on quite a bit of it.  And, by the time we got close to Denali Pass, it looked as though the sun was really setting.

I’d not been particularly careful on the wide places where falls were not a problem, and so fell a couple of times.  It turned out that Jay saw this, and concluded that we were getting tired, so he was extra careful going from Denali Pass toward our camp, which was good, since this is where many people do fall on their return, and not a small number of those falls have been fatal.  We spent probably about an hour and a half on this section of the climb, and when we got to the base, with just the long stretch to our camp to go, we were able to see the horizon, again.  Dang if the sun didn’t look as though it were in the same position we’d seen it in just a few hours ago, only this time, we realized that it was now rising, when before, it had been setting – all in the northern sky. . .

By the time we got back to camp, it was either 3:30 or 4:30am on the 24th – so we’d been climbing some 16 or 17 hours.  We decided to just sleep that day (as opposed to packing up and heading down).  While some part of us was very happy about the accomplishment, another part was very tired, and yet another part knew that we still had a lot more to go before we could say that we were “done” and truly successful on the climb.

May all your summits be bright!