Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mountain Romance

I’ve done it.  I’ve fallen hopelessly, and madly, in love.  And it’s not just with the mountains (which would be nothing new), but it did happen in the mountains, or, more specifically, on a mountain, and yes, it happened during a storm. 

Last year, I’d met another climber, Jay, who was also retired, and we started doing a lot of climbing together.  After more than a ½ dozen climbs, together, we started talking about climbing Denali in May of 2014.  Jay had climbed the tallest mountain of the Americas, Aconcagua, in January of 2013, and was set to climb Africa’s tallest (Kilimanjaro) in January, 2014.  He’d been wanting to also climb Denali, but couldn’t find a team who was going, so when I mentioned doing it, together, he was very interested.  We tried to get some others interested in the climb, but with less than ½ a year to get ready, we finally realized that we were going to have to do it as a two-person climb team.  It’s just too difficult to make sure that the dynamics would work when there isn’t much time to gel as a team.  Two person climb teams are very common, and very efficient, but, while making logistics and communications easier, can make self-rescue, if needed, less easy, should something untoward happen.

First, though, we had to make sure that we were compatible for longer than a day climb.  Jay didn’t like sharing tents, and that worried me.  On Denali (also known as Mt. McKinley), one has to build a camp around each tent, so sharing a tent is a must, in my mind, so I suggested that we test out whether we could survive a night with each other in a tent, before the Denali idea went any further. 

So, late in November, we did a trial run, on Mt. Hood, after taking a couple of people on a climb up the south side.  On the way down, I had some extra work to do with the rope and other equipment, so I asked Jay to get the others down to the top of the Palmer, where they would be able to go the rest of the way, safely, while I finished up.  We met at the top of Palmer where we’d cached our overnight gear, earlier in the day.  The sun had already set and the wind had picked up.  Jay suggested that maybe we could put off our trial run.  No way!!!!  I couldn’t see giving up this opportunity where we already had all of our gear on the mountain.  We put up the tent.  It worked out well.  We survived.  Denali planning could proceed.  Here is a shot of all of our gear and Jay and the tent the next day before packing up and going down:

Jay had climbed a ton of mountains – in fact, he was the first, on record, to climb the 100 tallest peaks in Oregon.  But, he didn’t have a lot of snow camping experience, or, more specifically, snow storm camping experience.  While one doesn’t usually choose to go camping in a storm, while climbing Denali, one is almost guaranteed to have to go through some sort of storm, so it’s better to get out all of the kinks in the equipment and set up before heading out there.  There was one storm, in particular, where there was no snow around us to build a wall, so we just put up the tent, and the wind then blew a 5 ft. (1.5meter) drift of snow around our tent.  The tent collapsed under the weight of the snow as soon as I stuck the shovel in the snow, breaking all of the bonds that kept the snow in place.  Jay admitted to me later that for about ½ hour after that happened, he didn’t want to go up Denali, because he realized that he would have been dead, had he still been in the tent when that happened.   Fortunately, he got over that, and I now have some better plans for tent and tent pole repair while we’re on the mountain, should we experience anything similar, and Jay grew a deep appreciation of walls around the tent. . .

In December, Jay left to climb Orizaba, and when he returned he, another climbing partner, Rita, and I had a fabulous climb in central Oregon on Middle Sister (Rita’s animoto video slideshow of that is here -> Winter Ascent - Middle Sister).  There were more storms forecast on Mt. Hood, so before Jay took off to climb Kilimanjaro in January, we did some more storm training, getting practice using a saw, cutting snow blocks, and watching what the 88mph winds would do to the walls, the space around the tent, and the tent.

Here are a couple of photos of the tent and the wall around it, before some of it collapsed, but after we had some serious winds and rime ice build up (all of that frosty stuff on the tent and guys):

We didn’t frequently have a view that week, but when we did, it was fabulous.  Here’s a picture with a close-up of the tree that we camped near, with all of the rime ice it had amassed:

And here’s one more photo of the tent, after the ravages of the storm:
We’d placed one of the sleds in front of the tent to protect the vestibule, because I’d shredded it in the earlier storm, and the tape that I’d used for repairs didn’t hold.  This next picture shows how we were using the vestibule for our cooking:
If you look closely, you can see the dark, make-shift repairs I’d made.  They were holding the panel together, early on, but it didn’t last.

All in all, a successful outing.  We managed all of the issues well, together, and even had a whole lot of fun doing it.  But, we were just climbing partners.  Really.

Jay went away to climb Kilimanjaro and take in a safari or two, while in Tanzania, and I continued to prepare for Denali, letting him know how I was proceeding, via email, even though I knew that he would rarely have access to email, since I didn’t want to have to have a whole long list of stuff to remember to tell him when he returned.  Everything was shaping up for the trip really well.

Jay returned, but there was a ton of rain, so we couldn’t go for more climbing, but we still had crevasse rescue to practice, and we could run, so we did that, mostly at my place.  Somewhere in here, Jay discovered that I was only budgeting 1 pound (.45kg) of food per day.  He started to panic.  He was sure that he would have to have 2 pounds (.9kg) per day.  The difference is huge – because, for the 30 days that we want to be able to stay on the mountain – it’s the difference of 30 pounds (13.6kg) per person. That’s a lot of extra weight that we, personally, have to drag/carry around.  That meant more time on a mountain checking this out as well as doing in-the-snow practice of crevasse rescue.

We also wanted to try out a couple of different tents, to see if we should, perhaps, take a smaller, lighter weight tent for the days at high camp, or should an emergency arise (like the first tent gets shredded, somehow).  When I’d gone to Denali two years ago, we had a 4-person tent for Candi and Oleg, and a 3 person tent for Ron and me.  If either team had a problem with a tent, we could make do with the other tent for all 4 of us.  It might not be comfortable, but we could survive.  With only two of us, we had to decide if we should take a spare tent.  Trying out the tent that we might take as a secondary tent seemed wise.  This time, during several gorgeous days, we tried out a tent, did some crevasse rescue practice, and attempted to test out the food needed.  We met a kite skier.  I got these shots of her:

And she got this shot of us and the top of Mt. Hood:

We decided that we’d not use the tent we were trying out, but maybe we should try my 2 person bibler, an even smaller, lighter weight tent, next time.  We did some practice of 2-person crevasse rescue, but managed to fail to adequately test the food needs, since we didn’t do anything strenuous.  We needed yet another run at it.

As luck would have it, there was yet another storm forecast, so in early March, we went up, again, this time trying out my Bibler tent with a newly purchased vestibule for it.  It was coldish.  Putting up the tent, and building the wall caused us to get absolutely soaked.  We decided to go down to the lodge (it was only a mile (1.6km) and 1000ft (305m) elevation down the mountain), to see if we could dry out our clothes, and maybe grab a nice dinner at the lodge.  We accomplished both, and headed back to the tent.   The next day, the storm continued to rage, and I went out to deal with the snow, and came back soaking wet, again, and freezing.

It was some time in here when, as Jay put it the next week when warning others of our potential tiredness before heading out on a rigorous hike, we “had a mishap, and both of us fell in love with each other”.  Listening to him tell that story a week later, I wondered what “mishap” he was talking about, and when I heard him say that we “fell” – I was wondering how I could have forgotten a fall, and then finally, I heard the next couple of words and realized what he was saying to the group gathered round. . .

We nixed that particular tent, as well, by the way. 

A couple weeks later, we were joined by our friends Rita and Linda for a climb up Mt. Shasta.  Jay and I didn’t take sleds up this one, but we did have heavy packs (we will carry packs and drag sleds, with additional gear, behind us when going up Denali).  That climb was captured in another of Rita’s animoto videos, Early Season Climb of Mt. Shasta.

We’ve continued the romance, and are still working toward our April 30th flight to Anchorage, and expected May 1st start of the actual climb.  It feels too soon – we only just this week figured out that yes, Jay does need 2 pounds (.9kg) of food a day, while I could make it on 1 pound (.45kg) a day, but 1-1/3 pounds (.6kg) would be nicer.

Since we only had climbing pictures of us, I requested that our friends, Wim and Anna-Maria take a picture of us wearing “street” attire.  Here is the result:
May the storms bring special things for you, as well,

1 comment:

Pat said...

Yay! So happy to hear about your new love Leora!