Climbing Denali

MAY 1993 DENALI Denali Area Panorama Contemporaneous Journal (To be followed by a daily chronicle, written at the end of the climb)…

May 24, 1993 Monday 7860′     Fear. I have a weak stomach for being in situations where I do not have control for my safety. I think most who know me wouldn’t see that way. When I read the route description, I wonder why I really wanted to do this. There are a few descriptions which bother me. One is the crevasse and avalanche danger between 11,000′ and 14,300′ and 15,000′. The next is 45º snow and ice between 15,000′ and 16,000′. The third is coming up and down above Denali Pass, 30º hard ice. I wouldn’t mind so much if my partners wanted to place protection, but Fred doesn’t seem to want to rope up and place pickets on that portion. It is above 18,000′. I’ll be tired. One slip and death is a high probability. So I’m planning to stay within my limits. I will turn back before I get too far out there. Yet the problem is, I know myself. I’ll keep going till I’m already in a situation where it makes no sense to turn back.

Flying into Base Camp, Mount Denali, 1993

Besides all these fears, I’m feeling lazy. From here we’ll have to haul our 120-130 pound loads uphill. Yesterday we started out at about 7,100′, dropped to about 6,700′, then climbed to 7,700′, the length of travel being about 5 miles. Frankly, that portion wasn’t so bad. The weather was calm and sunny. My only problem was thirst. Today on, it will be 2 weeks of fear and exhaustion. But in between those, there are grand views and the little comforts of rest and food and the warmth of my sleeping bag.

May 24, 1993 10:35 p.m. 10,830′ Breaking Camp I guess I’ve felt stronger than I would have expected. I know without a doubt eight hours of rest, plenty of fluids and the good dinners I am having play an important role in my feeling of wellbeing. The dinners I bought are great. They are not freeze-dried, but rather, they are made of cooked food (chili con carne, for e.g.) that is placed in a pouch of aluminum. It is the same principle as canned food. In addition to this, I use a pouch of instant rice and cook them both at the same time, then pour the meal over rice. It’s the best camping food I’ve found. Also, chocolate covered espresso beans give me a lift in those situations where I’d rather sleep than fix a hot meal (and that hot meal is desperately needed). So I am eating well, and I feel good. Better than yesterday, even though we traveled a lot harder today. I just kept pushing and never really felt bad or anything. I don’t feel as afraid as I did this morning. Still, I am lucky for such good weather. We left at 1:15 p.m. today after the white-out lifted and traveled about 7 ½ hours arriving here about 8:45 p.m., an altitude gain of a little less than 3,000′. Not bad considering we’re each hauling 120-130 pounds. And yet, my apprehension level is high. I suppose that is not out of character for me to feel that way and maybe it is a healthy feeling. Actually I enjoyed the hike today, my sweat being cooled by mild artic breeze, the sun insuring I would not get too cold. Breathing hard for half hours at a time, while not effortless, was nonetheless painless. I guess I am very fortunate to be so healthy. (Still many are much healthier than I.) Towards the end of the day however I did start getting cold. As the winds picked up, my hands, wrapped only in high weight fleece gloves, began to feel frozen. I yelled to stop and put on my Gortex gloves. Now, I’ve had plenty of fluid and hot food. I’m ready to bed down for the night. It’s seven minutes before midnight and I am writing by natural light inside my tent. I day-dreamed on the trail today of coming home early from a successful climb and using the saved time to go to China with Joy next month. I thought of riding to the Bell Temple on bicycles with Joy. I love my little darling. I can picture her clearly, long black hair, beautiful complexion. I can see her smiling a beautiful smile.

Advanced Base Camp 14,520′ I am feeling all sorts of “crazy” feelings, but you can bet that if I am writing at all, it means I at least feel good enough to write. The whole question is: what am I doing here? How did I end up here with one pen in my hand and another inside my undershirt so that when and if this one freezes I’ll have another one to write with? I have disturbing dreams: John Upshur, Sterling Lanier, ATS, August McCoy, Doug Williams, the whole staff at ATS. What they think of me. Have I let them down, am I only bolstering my own self-image while I go to and from work every day, only in my high dreams to have the spider web of intrigue and politics haunt me, to face the possibility of the horrible imaginings that people may have conjured up about me. My association with ATS can only in the most basic sense be motivated by some quite simple motivations. There are personal ones, the dutiful ones and the people ones. I have a duty to increase the value of the company, I seek to enrich myself and the stock holders of ATS and I want to enrich all the Employees who work there, for it is my belief that only through enriching everyone can one really have generated wealth. And lastly, the only way to achieve all of this is to provide a quality product and service to our customers. So this is all very basic, very simple, nothing revolutionary, seemingly a quite good-natured philosophy towards running a company. How could anyone object? Yet in the reality of the situation, it has become so confusing, even quite ugly at times. What is the way to “jump start” the wealth process? I believe first of all, foremost of all, it is to honor your commitments to people. How else can one achieve the desired result if one does not live it? That is, how can enrichment for everyone be possible if at first people do not get the sense that their efforts will be rewarded fairly? If there is not a basic sense of trust, there is a flaw in the system. So people must be dealt with honestly. Only time may bear this out in my situation. That is if I make it off this mountain. As I said, so many disturbing images, a kaleidoscope of uncertainty”… Upshur, crevasses, my own short comings, my own fear of the scaly heights which something is driving me on to. In the long run, overcoming fear is one of the things that pulls me up the mountain. From 7,700′, 14,300′ seems ominous, the summit seems an impossibility. But as I will reside here for a week or so, I will see and hear of all the dangers, failures, assessments, successes, and I will gain a more objective perception of the risk of the next step, and so on, until I may find myself on a glorious and seemingly benign day, perhaps a clear and calm day, getting dressed in a tent at 17,200′ and taking that treacherous walk across 30º ice fields to Denali Pass. Two steps ahead seems dangerous, one step ahead seems worth the risk. Anything can happen, or not happen. Fate can spare the risk-taker or punish someone who has taken every precaution to avoid danger. The paper I write on has a yellow and red hue, from the yellow of my tent and the red of my sleeping bag. I have the bag draped over my head so as to form a little private enclosure like my own little private, warm sunroom in which to write, a happy solace from the harsh freezing world outside. Fred and Sean are asleep in sleeping bags, the three of us stretched out parallel to one another. It is quiet, some distant murmuring gliding across the snowy white from others here to tackle the summit, the quiet breathing of my partners. Admittedly, there is a wonderful sensation of altitude. I love a feeling of quiet community at 14,000′ such as a hiker’s refuge or a Nepalese Village high in the mountains. There is a stillness which at times pervades human activity, a gravity lent by the mountains, so majestic, whose ways are unaffected by men’s trampling in their domain. Maybe I am drawn to the feeling of altitude. Yet to get here, I had to cross snow bridges with huge crevasses underneath! Is this insanity to do this, or is it experience? I have always wanted to understand mountaineering and high mountains, and finally I feel I perceive a little of it, much more so on this trip than others. I have been on many mountains, but they fell short (or at least the routes I did) of all the conditions here.In order, I have climbed these peaks.- Mt. Wilhelm PNG 14k+ a solo walk up to arrive at dawn, 1983 – Mt. Merapi, Indonesia 10k+ a volcano walk up to arrive at dawn, 1983 – Kala Patar, Nepal, not really a mountain, but a hill at 18k+, 1983 – Everest Base Camp, obviously not a mountain per se 17k+ (almost got lost on glacier) solo, 1983 – Island Peak, Nepal 20,320′ good day, roped last part, more like a hill, 1983 – Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania 19k+, 1984 – Mt. Whitney, California 14k+ solo miner’s route, 1986 – Mt. Cameroon, Cameroon 13k+, solo, last part legs locked up while climbing up volcano, 1990 – Mt.Shasta, California 14K+, with Joy, 1992 – Mt. Aconcagua, Argentina, January 22,834′ walk up cold but not much to fear but weather and altitude, 1993 Failed attempt to climb Mt. Toubkal, Morocco, stormy conditions, guides would not go beyond rest house), 1988Here I have a lot more to worry about: arctic cold/potential storm conditions, collapsing snow bridges/crevasses, ridge winds 30-100 mph, falls from ice slopes above 18,000 feet. The only thing that this route is “missing” is serious technical difficulty. Other than that, here exist all of the conditions of high mountaineering. What really bothers me is that I keep telling myself that I probably won’t attempt anything as difficult as this again, and my second thought is that this attitude may be a dangerous one “that looking beyond a task can sometimes be a benefit to getting it done” whereas to call it an end-all may thwart its achievement. I hope I make this peak and return successfully or in any event that I return alive. In my future, I can see doing a lot of mountaineering but at a much reduced level of risk … more so for (or only for) enjoyment rather than for accomplishment. I can, I think, safely say that I am abandoning the “Seven Summits” type plan that is driving Fred, mostly because Everest is such a great risk. But as I just said, I worry about the importance of that attitude. Maybe for the climb’s sake, I would be better off having the attitude that this is just a stepping stone rather than a final step.

Day 2 (to 10,500′ camp) Monday We slept late till 10 a.m. or so and lounged in our tents waiting for the white-out conditions to lift. I do not mean snowing but just a white fog that severely restricts visibility. “Do we move in this weather?” asks a voice from the other tent. “No,” I reply. We start to break camp and the sun lifts and by the time we begin we are again blessed with good weather.

Breaking Camp 1 (1993)

Our first chore is to get up ski hill which is our steepest hill yet and will bring us to about 9,000′. Fred’s sled keeps tipping over and we have to stop (because we are roped together for crevasse danger) for him to right it. There are some tents set up at the ridge. One fellow tells us they left in the white out and that it was miserable. We push on to the pass, arriving at the camps at 10,200′. There the track bends right and up a hill. I suggest we make camp in the already-built snow enclosures at 10,500′. My altimeter reads about 10,900′, but a climber coming down has an altimeter and seems sure of his 10,500′ reading. Because he says all the enclosures are taken at 11,200′, he suggests we stay there. Again we clear out the space for two tents, cook and sleep. No one else camps here tonight.

Day 3 (to 13,500′ camp and back down to 11,200′ camp) Tuesday We don’t actually start humping up the hill until 2:30 p.m. or so, and arrive at the 11,200′ campsite before too long. Up ahead is a steep hill and Fred doesn’t seem too happy about hauling sleds up it, so we ask some other climbers then rethink our plan. Finally, what we end up doing is to set up a tent, have a hot drink and haul half our stuff, leaving the sled behind. We don’t start out until about 6 p.m. and our plan is ill-conceived as we shall see. When we reach the top of the first pass, the weather is in complete white out in high winds. Whereas Sean and Fred have complete Gortex outfits on, I am only wearing my lycra tights with expedition-weight underwear on bottom and my thin poly T-shirt and expedition weight underwear on top. At first this keeps me from overheating but later it just makes me too cold. When they want to stop, I just sit there freezing. We keep on pushing, barely able to make our way. My foot sinks into a hole a foot or so. We are in the relatively flat section about 700′ above the first pass (12,100′) from the 11,200′ camp. Gradually the trail steepened. My goggles are completely fogged and I can’t see where I am walking. Consequently my footing is impaired and I keep losing my balance. Meanwhile, Fred, who has assumed the lead, is pulling on me with the rope, and it is causing me to lose balance. Every few steps I stop to catch my breath and gain my balance, slowing our party down. Fred’s initial plan, characteristically, is to “bomb” up to advanced base at 14,300′ then walk down to 11,200′ again. The trail around Windy Corner goes up to the left past the flat saddle of the rocks on the right. Finally it flattens out and leads off into the camp at 13,500′. We find an enclosure. “So what is the plan? Should we drop off our stuff and head back?” Fred asks. I say I have to set up the tent and get inside. I am too cold. In fact I’m afraid I have the beginnings of hypothermia. I hold out my hands and point out they look blue or purple. Nevertheless it seems I had to take control in setting the tent up, but in context I think we were all a bit disoriented. Once the tent gets set up I get inside, but I am without the benefit of a sleeping bag, in fact we all are. Yet I am in no condition to start the stove for making drinking water, let alone to go back. (To make matters seriously worse, all my remaining water was frozen in the bottle.) By now it is past midnight. I point out that laying on our packs will provide insulation against the snow …we don’t even have one of our sleeping pads among the six we are carrying. I tried to sleep as best I could, the only hope I felt to have a good rest; or any rest for that matter. I was concerned with my core temperature, and when I felt it dropping, and my feet becoming cold and my body start to shake, I became seriously concerned. Fortunately, I remembered I’d taken one pair of hand warmers, a small pouch that heats to 135ºF for 7 hours. I took it out and put one inside my shirt and one in one of my shoes. It helped enough to prevent severe discomfort.

At about 3:30 p.m., Fred announced he was going down by himself if he had to, but he was going to go down. He was in misery. He said his toes were starting to go numb, his body was shaking, he couldn’t stand it any more, he’d been laying there for three hours and he couldn’t wait any longer. I said I’d go if I could have a hot drink but he didn’t want to wait a minute more. Sean and I stayed awhile and Sean, to his credit, started to boil water for us. We left at 6:00 a.m., temperature 0ºF. The previous white-out had lifted and it was a gorgeous morning. Mt. Hunter looked heavenly, perfect light and celestial clouds hugging the valleys. I took a couple of photographs, but even my old Rollei didn’t function well on film advance and I got two photos on a roll of twelve. The descent took just under 2 hours. At one point one of my crampons came off which gave rise to concern of that possibility occurring at a crucial moment. Of course, the trail seemed remarkably straightforward going down, without weight in my pack, being able to see, no wind and walking on the stepped-in snow, than it did going up with a full pack in full conditions! All I could think of was getting into my sleeping bag! At the top of the last pass before the 11,200′ campsite, Sean tried to put on his wind goggles (because of his contact lenses) and his hat flew over the pass. We got to camp about 8 a.m. It was the most remarkably greatest feeling to ultimately crawl into my sleeping bag and go to sleep. I slept the soundest of sleeps for two hours.

Denali Panorama

Day 4 (to 14,300′ advanced base camp) Wednesday In keeping with Fred’s “possessed” plan to get established at advanced base camp as soon as possible, and there being no contrary opinions on the matter from Sean or myself, we had a hot meal, I rested some more (pulling my down parka over my head) …the “pasta italiana’ and coffee giving me the greatest sensations of new found energy, well-being and adjusted perceptions. Then, we broke camp and started back up the hill from whence we’d recently descended.

On The Way Towards Advance Base Camp

This I could not believe I was doing, for in the so-recent past I was dreading it. The reality of it was not bad. We knew the trail and the weather was good. We arrived at the 13,500′ camp by almost 7:30 p.m. They wanted to press on, and I did not object to the idea. Fred grabbed a big load of what he had there, and Sean a smaller bag and we set forth upward in dimmer conditions as the afternoon light waned. I could tell Fred was beat. He seemed more tired than I, which was unusual. The stretch between 13,500′ and 14,300′ was obviously the most treacherously crevassed of any we’d been on. One crevasse (which it seemed painfully obvious we were crossing on a huge snow bridge) was gigantic and others in the near distance even bigger!!! This scenery evokes two polarized emotions of the same awesome landscape … both “fear and concern” and awe of its magnitude and natural beauty. I guess to have the feeling I had crossing the fields of crevasses, I must have to cross them … I cannot conjure the same emotion from reading about them. From the standpoint of experience, this could be considered a justification to doing this. We arrived at 14,300′ camp at about 9:30 p.m. or so. Fred indicated he was “spent.” With not much more than adrenalin to go on, I set up the tent with Sean’s help and I threw my belongings in, and fell promptly asleep. Sean and Fred followed suit. We all slept in the same tent. All of us went to bed without the benefit of food or water. All of us too exhausted to care, let alone actually get the stove out to make water or a meal. My sleep was restless. Eventually, I took out my frozen container of Tang and shoved it in my sleeping back, thereafter consuming a sip every hour or so from the melt off.


Day 5 Finally in the morning, my “feverish” high altitude sleep was over. (It is common at high altitude to have restless sleeps.) Then, as if breaking, I felt suddenly healthy again. There are a few things that help: food, water and rest, but sometimes “crashing” (that is sleeping, resting) is the only alterative, it being a near impossibility to force oneself to spend energy on anything else. This is all Preparation ““ Exhaustion and Rest!

Day 5 3:30 p.m. Thursday They went down to pick up 13,500′ gear. I didn’t feel up to going. It will be great of them if they haul up my stuff. I might have gone today, but I didn’t feel like leaving at 2 p.m. The weather is fine, thank God, and I am availing myself of the time to write and to do nothing. I need a rest day.Other impressions At 11,200′ camp a small group of climbers were arguing. It seemed silly, for e.g. “You never talk to me.” “You never listen to me!” It made an impression on me. It seemed inappropriate.

5/27/93 7:40 p.m.Mistakes I have made that I don’t want to make again!1) Ending up in a place I have to sleep without my sleeping bag. 2) Ending up in a place where I am dehydrated and don’t have enough energy to make water and/or my water bottles are frozen. 3) Being without my glacier glasses. 4) Being without my sun hat. 5) Not wearing my Goretex outer garments while in a high altitude windstorm. 6) Being without sunscreen. 7) Not having a clear and adequate plan with adequate back-up plan.

June 2, 1993 Talkeetna I am so tired! I cannot ever remember being this beat! In a brief summary, here is the sequence of events since the last entry.Summary That night, we had a talk and concluded that we’d split my tent up and carry up to 17,200′ and Sean and Fred would see how they felt (maybe go to the summit).Day 6 I couldn’t get up, let alone ready by 9:30 a.m. Sean & Fred left without me. I left at 4:10 p.m. and carried my tent up to 17,200′. After I got it set up Sean came down from the pass. We left at 11:15 p.m. and saw what we thought was Fred coming down. I arrived at the (Advanced Base Camp) tent at 14,300′ at about 1:45 a.m.Day 7 Fred showed up at perhaps 6 a.m. I left at about 5 p.m. for 17,200′ camp. Sean said he’d meet me tomorrow at high camp at 2 p.m. I traveled for 4 hours 47 minutes to get to high camp. I made a hot dinner and drinks and fell asleep.

Day 8 I awoke and made breakfast. Sean arrived at 12:40 p.m. saying he’d made it from 14,300′ in 2 hrs. 15 mins. He went ahead with the rope in his pack. I followed, went up across the scary traverse to Denali Pass, and climbed 6 hrs. 41 mins to the 20,320′ summit. On my return, met Sean at Denali Pass and we drove pickets in over the traverse on the way down. I stayed in my tent for the night. Sean went down to the 14,300′ tent.Day 9&10 I awoke at 6:30 a.m. and began cooking breakfast. At 9:45 a.m. I began down with a 65 pound pack, arriving at their tent at 12:15 p.m. I lulled resting in the sun until 3 p.m. while they got ready. We finally left at about 5 p.m. It took us 1 hr 35 mins to haul our overfilled packs to our cache at 11,200′. There we picked up our sleds, had lunch, and continued to our snowshoes at 10,500′. It took us 2 hrs to sort out our downward traveling techniques & positions and finally left 10,500′ at about 11 p.m. and traveled all night on the glacier till about 6 a.m., finally having arrived at the 7,300′ airfield. Sean left at about 11:30 a.m. and Fred and I got a plane ride with Buck at about 1 p.m., landing safely in Talkeetna. We spent the night at the Bunkhouse.Day 11 We went by train to Denali Nat’l Park.

Day 12 We are returning to Talkeetna and Anchorage at 12:30 p.m.June 3rd 1993 Thursday Denali Nat’l Park Waiting at the train station.Now I am waiting for the train amidst the busy traffic of the depot a landing strip outside…instead of the serene and brutal expanse of the beautiful glacier from which we’ve just come. For the last two days since we’ve come off the glacier I have been a half-zombie, spent, exhausted both physically and emotionally. The last night on the Kahiltna glacier was one of the most wonderful of my life. We walked in near silence through the arctic night, the moon crossing the sky, the valley, formed by the glacier with Mt. Hunter on our left and Mt. Foraker on our right, ever in view.I have unfortunately not had time to write or I have been too exhausted. In the last week and a half I have spent so many hours catching sleep, feeling so cold or tired, my only refuge being when I could abandon myself to my sleeping bag. I really left off in detail on “Day 5” at the 14,300′ Advanced Base camp. Sean and Fred arrived before 5 p.m., much earlier than I had expected. The trip down to get the tent and their things and my food exhausted Fred. I apologized for not doing anything for I had promised to make water and find a site for them to set up their tent. They found a camp with an arch over the snow wall “door”. Having caught up on my record of the trip thus far, I asked them to give me their water bottles and I boiled water until I had filled their (three or four) bottles. When they thanked me I kept reminding them that I owed it to them. I was feeling somewhat better for I had been much in need of rest. After I got their water, I began looking after myself, making water and food. I actually did not satisfy my thirst from the night before until this time. I’d gone over to the Ranger’s tent in the evening at about 9:30 p.m. to check on the weather and to ask questions about what we might need. They had a heavy, hanging, zippered door on their tent. “May I come in?” They said it was O.K. The first thing that struck me was that they were in the process of attending to three French men with frostbite. They sat there on cots with their hands in front of them. All of their digits, particularly the last metacarpal or joint of each finger were swollen and noticeably affected. It was kind of a shock to see, driving home to me the severity of the consequences of playing with the weather. “Will they be alright??” I asked the Ranger. “Yes.” I was surprised to hear this. One man’s skin had split because of the swelling. The men asked if they could go down themselves. The Rangers said it was OK but stressed in minimal French “No fois!” (No Cold!) I asked one Ranger about the route, the weather (good through Tuesday) and the most dangerous part of the trail. He suggested that we take six pickets, place them on the way up, leave them, then clean them up on the way back. Another Ranger indicated how you had to put your feet toe to toe. The first Ranger said when the weather is good, “You can light a lighter on top!” (“Really?” I asked.) “Yes.” I went back to Sean and Fred’s tent and relayed the information. So we settled on bringing several pickets, though not six. We agreed we’d leave at 9:30 a.m. and they’d each carry 1/3 of my tent, Sean would carry rope and I’d carry some pickets. I thought I’d try to go from 14,300 feet to 17,200 feet in 5 hrs. or less. I went back to my tent. The weather was fine but when the sun went behind the West Buttress, the air chilled considerably. I did not go to sleep until about midnight.

Day 6 Friday When I woke I knew I’d not be ready by 9:30 a.m. It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to take the trouble or of being irresponsible, but because I was just wiped out and not “up” to rapid movement. Everything seemed like a big chore. If I wanted, for e.g., to start the stove, I needed to find the lighter, but I didn’t remember where it was. It might be in my purple pouch but I couldn’t find that, so instead I just laid there to collect my thoughts. After awhile it might occur to me that I should go through all of my things anyway and halfway through that process I would discover my lighter and start the stove. At 9:08 a.m. Fred came outside my tent. “Are you rarin’ to go?” “No, I don’t feel very good.” “Well you’d better get your butt in gear, Buddy-balls!” Then when I’d heard nothing more until 9:30 … 10 … 10:30, I got the impression that they were also burnt out and were resting because I could not imagine they would leave without saying anything. After I’d partially prepared myself for leaving I went over to see them. It was 12:30 p.m. They were gone!! I stood there dumbfounded. “How could they leave without saying anything?? What A——s!” “O.K.” I thought to myself. “I can’t let this stop me or ruin my plans…. I’ll just have to formulate an alternative plan. Slowly, I decided I’d just carry out my original plan only this time I’d have to carry my tent entirely by myself, as well as make sure I would have my own stove fuel, etc. I couldn’t see the rope and I assumed that Sean had carried it up. I packed up my tent and certain of my warm clothes, thinking about the other day when we’d come up in a wind storm. I was finally ready to go at 4:10 p.m. I trudged out of my camp – one step in front of the other. The weather was clear and sunny. The rangers report was for a clearing Thursday (yesterday) through Tuesday from the “cold & windy” of Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. (There’d reportedly been 100 mph on the W. Buttress. I had seen cloud wisps or “wind plumes” blowing off of the pass on the buttress from Advance Base camp Wednesday evening when we’d first arrived there.) Leaving base camp at 14,300′ the trail begins steeply, levels off somewhat then turns right to avoid a crevasse, finally turning back to the left to the foot of the fixed ropes.I plodded deliberately up the slopes, reaching the fixed ropes after about 1hr. 50 mins. The sun bore down, the snow became slushy. A couple of days before, this section seemed quite scary, but after seeing so many people going up the ropes, like with most similar situations, I lost much of my fear and was ready to follow. I had some lunch there and was ready to go up the ropes at 2:37 p.m. I waited until all the people ahead of me were attached to the ropes, partially because I wanted to observe how they did it. I carefully rigged the proper slings: a left ascender from my harness to the rope, an extra carabineer to the rope by a sling to my harness (all the loops in my harness doubled back for security). I used the kicked-in steps to aid my way up. Soon, I reached a crevasse evident by holes a foot wide. I had to wait quite a bit for the group above me, but I was happy to take the rest. Fortunately, there was no wind when I reached the top of the ropes. There was a camp there with a few tents set up, presumably those of a guided group. I rested, ate some snacks and drank, then continued on the ridge up. The West Buttress itself is described as the “most exposed portion of the route.” It is much like a knife’s edge ridge, the trail keeping right to the top, sometimes a foot of path cut in by the tramping of crampons. It really isn’t very long, maybe a mile in all, maybe even less. It climbs from about 16,200 to 17,200′. One portion has a fixed rope, not really necessary, but I used it anyway. I met a woman coming down who assured me I’d done most of the elevation gain and the rest was just a “ridge walk.” I was having a snack and a rest. Shortly after, I met a guy who’d summited from 14,300′ (in nine hours) and was coming down. I lost my left ascender when I’d leaned over and it fell out of the pouch on my mountain pants. Kept my drive going. I could see three people, previously pointed out to me by the descending man, standing on a bluff near the Crow’s Nest as I neared. I could see the last hill I had to cross. Quite barren, I leveled off, and then walked down into the camp. I think it had been about 6 hours or more to my arrival. There were a score of tents; the sun was still shining over much of the camp and all the way across the bowl up to Denali Pass. I asked one of the climbers if they knew of an available place to set up my tent. He said his friends were leaving in a few minutes and pointed out where. I had trouble setting up my tent. In fact, I set it up wrong and decided to break it back down and set it up right. After, I got all my stuff in it. I heard Sean’s voice. “So, you made it?” “Is that you Sean?” “Yeah.” “Did you summit?” “Yeah.” “Where’s Fred?” “He’s still up there. He was hurting pretty bad.” I left my large pack, my tent, stove, down jacket, Thermals, a couple of day’s food, a half bottle of fuel. I took my daypack, my goggles, my Gortex gear, etc., those items I might need should the weather turn bad descending or on the return back. I thought Fred would be dead for sure if we did not soon see him, for as of yet we could see no one between the camp and the pass. Moments before we left we saw a lone figure descending and figured it must be Fred. It was just after 11 p.m. We went over to a fellow Sean had been speaking to and we told him where the tent was and basically informed/asked him to direct Fred to it. I started down at 11:18 p.m. and Sean soon followed and passed me. I was scared of the possibility of falling on the upper reaches of the climb down. Descending is almost always worse. When I got to the top of the fixed ropes, the area was in a blue light of dusk in the snow, not completely visible, yet much dimmer than daylight. I could make Sean out 800′ or so below me. I used my an ascender, a carabineer on a sling as back up, and I even held the rope with my left forearm and with a couple of fingers of my right hand, sharing my ice axe hand. I was in essence trying to cover all bases. The down going was much easier than I’d anticipated. Soon I was down to the crevasse, over it and off the ropes. I slogged down in the half darkness, going back down over ground I’d climbed earlier in the day. I got back to camp at about 1:40 a.m., a trip of about 2 hrs. 20 minutes. Sean was already crashed out. I asked him the time. Soon I was sleeping deeply. At some point in the night, I woke up and noted Fred wasn’t in his bag. Day 7 Saturday At some point in the morning I heard him come in. When the heat of the sun came into the tent, it became stuffy and I dragged my pad and bag outside and slept in the shade of the tent. Finally even that refuge from the sun’s rays became subject to their full power, and I got up. It was about 1:18 p.m. Well, I had to prepare water and gear for my return upwards. I had wanted to fit everything in my day pack, but it proved impossible. I had to haul my 55 lb. down bag, which took up most of the daypack, two water bottles, a camera, film, my mountain jacket and pants etc. I decided to wear my mountain pants to save space and to wear my large pack for additional storage. Fred and Sean remained crashed out. I wasn’t ready to go until about 5 p.m. I decided to bring an extra half bottle because of the way I was rapidly going through fuel. I went to the tent to confirm my plan with Sean and to ask Fred if I could use his left ascender. “Hey Fred”¦ Fred”¦ can I use your left ascender?” “Huh”… uh” … oh” … uh” …. rasp.” He said I could. He could barely make an intelligible sound. “Give “˜em hell, Jeff!” Sean agreed he’d be up there at about 2 p.m., maybe 1:30 p.m., and bring a picket. After yesterday’s experience, I was a little worried that he might not show up! I recalled the rangers’ estimate that it should take about 5 hours to go from 14,300′ to 17,200′ given that we were reasonably fit. With my lighter load I headed back up the steep slopes from Advanced Base. I arrived at the fixed ropes in an hour and 50 minutes. After clipping in and having a 10 minute rest, I made my way up the steep, foot-hewn ice-steps. I arrived at top of the fixed section before three hours were up. Again, I snacked and drank water (partially due to Sean speaking of the importance of keeping up your strength through eating and drinking). I also went up the Buttress in a shorter time than before, in about an hour and a half, making my complete trip in 4 hrs. 47 minutes. I got to my tent at about 10 p.m., and I determined to make good use of my time. I cooked up and ate most of one of my dinners in a foil pouch with a cooking pouch of rice. I drank cider, chocolate, instant soup. I “turned in” about midnight. Sleep up here (17,200′) is quite a lot of fun and usually consists of an hour or so of a cat nap followed by a few minutes of waking …becoming for a few moments aware of my frozen surroundings, ice flakes drifting down from the interior of my tent, wiping my own slobber off from the side of my face or the inside of my balaclava, perhaps feeling a rather intense headache, usually being aware that I want to move as little as possible (and hopefully don’t have to get up to go to the john), usually waking to a terribly parched throat and alleviating it a bit with a sip or two from the water bottle I keep in my sleeping bag with me; maybe rubbing my head all over, touching my face with my hands or putting my hands inside my balaclava and rubbing/scratching my hair, maybe realizing that despite all the layering, I still am cold or that the Thermarest has deflated for some reason.

Day 8   I continued this on-again-off-again type of sleep for 7 or 8 hours into the morning, then would fall back into my bag amidst “˜starts and stops’ into the morning ““ starting the stove. I might find again I couldn’t readily find my lighter, so I would slump back in my bag. The thing I noticed was how slowly time passed. I would “reawake” “˜some time’ later only to see six or thirteen minutes had passed. So, through the morning I tended most of my “chores” from the warmth of my sleeping bag. I had told Sean I’d have my tent disassembled, but on second thought I had changed my mind. It would be a good thing to have a tent and bag and stove ready for me on my descent, for I knew I’d be tired … and besides we were going to start at 2 p.m. which meant it was likely I would not get back to the Crow’s Nest until after 10 p.m. When I had to go to the toilet, I gathered my plastic freezer bag, my toilet paper and went to a suitable spot just outside my snow/ice enclosure. As I crouched down (after unzipping my mountain pants in back) my rear alighted on a ‘wand’ (or stick) that stuck up bluntly out of the snow. “Arrrrghhhh! At 12:40 p.m. I heard “Are you ready?” “Sean?” I looked outside. He was ready to go, wanting to go. The only water in the pan was a whitish murky “rice water” left over from my cooking. I explained it to him and, while he was drinking it down in one long gulp, I was telling him I thought it was even better (more nutritious) than regular water and I’d been drinking it myself. By 1 p.m. Sean was off and I was not far behind him. Our plan was he would stash (cache) the rope up at Denali Pass for the return and he would wait for me there on the way down. Before he’d left he told me it had taken him (only) 2 hrs. 15 minutes to come from 14,300′ to 17,200′. He was trying to see how quickly he could climb the peak. (Sean was in the top twenty of the world’s ultra-marathon runners.) There was a group crossing the traverse ahead of Sean as he started up. I was on my own as far as crossing it on the way up. As I began to climb, the crevasses became visible like giant “jaws” (as the ranger had put it  “they’re jaws waiting for you”) waiting to catch you if you slipped. The huge crevasse was only a few hundred feet from the trail and it was likely one could not self-arrest before reaching the gaping hole. At some point Sean passed the party of three ahead of us. Meanwhile I put one foot after another upward. With each step my crampons bit the snow/ice with a definite crunch. My crampons had come off at least once before on previous days, seemingly because I had attached them incorrectly. Still, I trusted them since I’d made sure they were properly fitted. At first I crossed a slightly treacherous section and said to myself “that’s not too bad” and had hoped that I was over the worst of it. Then I came to a worse section after a few feet of climbing this very thin, boot-wide slice into the steep angle. I considered going back and abandoning it altogether. Suddenly it occurred to me that I had already committed myself and that it would be just as easy (if not much easier) to go forward (and up); so I moved upward, probably faster than I would have normally, in a determined push to “get it over with.” I tried digging in with the head of my ice ax to ‘self-belay’ and give myself an added assurance I would be O.K. if my foot slipped. However, the ice pack seemed a little slushy and when I pulled on the ice axe, it really seemed to slide through the snow pack rather than hold. Instead, I took to utilizing the holes already there from previous climbers and thrust the shaft of my ice ax into them as deeply as possible, at least giving some type of point about which to pivot my weight when changing feet. I moved fairly rapidly, breathing harder and ignoring my rising pulse. After five minutes, I’d cleared the worst part. Still I continued up the slope, still using kicked-in steps, still in danger if I fell. At one point at one step, my body moved slightly away from the angle of the slope. I caught myself off balance for a fraction of a second and pulled my body close to the slope again in a jarring motion. Thereafter I tried to lean into the slope sufficiently to prevent a reoccurrence of nearly losing my equilibrium. As I neared the top of the pass, the trail became more gradual, and thus safer. I came up to where the three climbers ahead of me sat and had a snack. Whereas before I’d thought that the smaller climber in the middle was a woman, here I changed my mind, having the impression it was another male climber, though I did not really look, even now, to make sure. These three had a strange appearance as they had climbed upward, almost something out of a fairy tale, almost something strange. In the beginning of my climb, looking up at them, I’d thought it was parents with their child. They moved slowly and carefully. Now at the pass, one of them, a young man with a strong bright face, greeted me. When I asked if they were going up the (south) summit he answered, “If we have the energy!” I soon was continuing up towards the right to the south summit. (The south summit is higher than the north summit. The south summit is 20,320′, and the north summit is 19,470′.) I saw a type of electrical or radio tower on a hillock near the trail. After awhile I came to a man and woman coming down. I tried to ask them about the “football field” (the flat area near the top) but they, seemingly foreign, were not good sources of information for me. One foot in front of the other”¦. So often it seems you are not making real progress physically. But intellectually, you deduce that there is significant progress. Still, it seems hard to believe that even hours of this will lead one to the top. Looking up, the highest, farthest ridges seem so far, so high. Yet I rounded one ridge and then another, passed a cache of a pack, rope and ice axe. I could see up a slightly steeper ridge. I’d stop for a moment and take a drink and a miniature box of raisins. Sean had said that once you’re thirsty or hungry, it is too late …that it is very important to keep feeding and drinking. Before long I came over a rounded hill and knew I was at ‘the football field’. I could see a group of climbers on a steep section on the far side of the “field.” I worked my way down, then flat, then up the other side until I too was making the “final” climb. I saw Sean descending. Soon he was with me. He said he’d made the summit in about 5 1/2 hours (from 14,300′) and then had done some other walking around. “Should I go for it?” I said, not really that I was planning on turning back. “Yeah, of course, don’t stop until you get to the top.” Sean reconfirmed he’d wait for me at the Pass. He said I had a little over an hour to go. I continued steadily up and to the right, finishing off the hardest remaining portion. There, the slope leveled off and turned to the left and followed the ridge. The ridge walk would be hairy (scary) if there had been high winds, but as it was, there was almost no wind at all. Although the sun was out, it felt quite cold. I followed the ridge for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, moving quite slowly. A lot of this time I was counting: “1,2,3,4, /5,6,7,8 / 9,10,11, 12/” in a sing song manner to myself just in order to break the boredom and take my mind off my tiredness. Finally, after a few climbers had passed me on the way down, I could see a guy (who’d passed me when I had stopped to speak to Sean) sitting, and I deduced that must be the summit. When I got there we greeted each other. We took pictures of one another with our respective cameras. His name was Charles Cearley from Seattle, Washington. After awhile, he left and I was sitting/standing up on top myself.

The air was still when I was on the summit of Denali. You could light a match!

The sky was clear in all directions. I could see everywhere as far as my sight would let me. I changed from color positive film to black & white negative film and took photographs in several directions. I had some more to eat and drink. The air was almost perfectly still. Jeff Shea on Top of Mt. Denali, May 30. 1993 I had arrived on top at about 7:40 p.m. after 6 hrs. 41 mins. (I’d left at about 1 p.m.) I stayed on the summit about a half hour. I started down. There were many opportunities for more photographs, and I availed myself of some of them. As I got to the end of the ridge, I started down the steeper section. The group of three I’d seen at the beginning we’re now going up the steep section. This time I could see it was two young men with a much older woman in between. What I didn’t know then was that the woman was blind. Even though I did not know that, the sight of them with the hooded woman with a drawn face still invoked feelings of something ghostly, something fanciful, fairytale-like. I said some encouragement to them as I passed. It took a few moments for me to say anything to myself in realization that I’d actually achieved the mountain’s summit, but after awhile I said out loud to myself, emotionally, “I did it!” I felt a surge of happiness knowing “it was all downhill from here” and knowing I had done what I had set out to do. At the bottom of the “football field”, Charles was waiting for his friends, boiling some water. “I hope they hurry.” Walking up the far side of the field was noticeably more difficult. Soon I was going downward again. I tried to move quickly, for I knew that Sean would be waiting for me and I figured it would be cold for him just to sit. Every so often I’d look around at the mountains in the distance, trying to “take it all in.” The weather remained clear and calm. What a summit day! When I got to the pass Sean had the rope all laid out. He suggested we didn’t need the pickets at first; he seemed to be in quite a rush to leave, which was understandable. “How long did you stay on the summit?” “Maybe 15 or 20 minutes.” I answered as best as I could, as I recall. He indicated he’d seen me heading for the summit. (Meanwhile, he had climbed the north summit!) We roped up to each other and started down the “˜trail’ from Denali Pass. At first it did not really seem very dangerous. In fact, I felt pretty secure up until Sean suggested maybe we should start using pickets at a particular point. I agreed with him. He drove a picket in and clipped the rope through a carabineer slung to the picket. After he’d gone 1/2 the rope length (which is how far we’d roped apart), he drove in another picket and I lifted mine out. Then, the next 1/2 rope length, I lifted out the picket and by holding the rope taught and wiggling it we were able to work the picket down to him. The next time we ran out of pickets I suggested to him that I walk it down to him. Sean belayed me using an ice axe. Then, I belayed him using the same method as he walked down from our protection. We very slowly worked our way over the trouble spot. At one point, while waiting for him, my foot became quite tired staying in exactly the same spot. We worked our way down until he felt we didn’t need any more protection. We stayed roped and walked carefully until we could unrope completely. I was making a mental note to verify that I was actually over the worst of it! Actually safe!! Previously I had three fears. 1) to go up the traverse 2) to make it to the top 3) to go down over the traverse. These fears were now over. Sean and I now unroped, we moved quickly back to (high) camp now in the “late afternoon” shadow. Sean got there first and I came shortly afterwards. He was looking for things to take down. I asked him what he might need in the way of snacks. I’d indicated that I would spend the night and promised to be down by noon next day to the 14,300′ camp. After he left I got ice for cooking, urinated, then crawled into my sleeping bag to stay and cook for the night. I fixed a few hot drinks, but what I ended up doing was every time I started the water, I fell back to rest and wait for the water to finish and fell asleep instead, using too much fuel, awaking abruptly again later, only to repeat the mistake. Finally, I turned off the stove and used what water there was for a hot drink and to help to refill my water bottles. In the night I coughed and I drooled on my own face and balaclava. The coughing seemed only to be phlegm brought up from the depths of my lungs from the heavy exertion. I woke time and again (1:15 a.m., 2 a.m., 3:08 a.m., 3:24 a.m., 4:13 a.m. as an example.) Each time I coughed, wiped off the drool, felt happy to be alive, resituated myself and the water bottles in my pack, took a small drink to quell the rasp in my throat, and tried to pull the sleeping bag onto the Thermarest, even though each time I did I’d notice that air would let out from the Thermarest, indicating it was either broken or the valve was open. Every time I would see I had more time to sleep, I’d be relieved.

Day 9  …a long day…  In order to be down at 14,300′ I figured I’d have to leave this camp by about 9:30 a.m., which meant I’d have to be awake by about 7:30 a.m. I started boiling water by about 6:15-6:30 a.m. Very slowly I got hot drinks together, spending considerable time on my back in a resting mode. (In the earlier morning, before I’d gotten “up”, I’d heard a helicopter coming to this camp here. At that time, I didn’t even look out of my tent to find out what it was doing here.) Eventually, after I’d gotten a minimum of fluids made, the stove shut off, indicating it was very low on fuel. I had lukewarm oatmeal mixed with cream of wheat. By the time I packed everything, I found my pack weighed, to my surprise, about 60 pounds. By this time, my equipment had been suffering from my misuse (especially thanks to my crampon points). I’d spiked my tent’s mosquito netting, my mountain pants, ripped the vestibule on the tent fly, spiked my tent stuff bag, developed a hole in my sleeping bag interior, etc. I finally was ready to go at 9:46 a.m. At first, climbing out of the camp was torturously slow. Rounding the hill crest I began to move more quickly. Walking down the buttress went smoothly. It was still rather cold, though again today, the weather was clear and sunny. I held on to the first set of fixed ropes only with my hands to stabilize myself (only a very short stretch). When I reached the top of the fixed ropes I started down a few feet when I realized one of my slings was too short. I climbed back out a few feet – quite a chore – re-fixed a longer sling, and then I began descending this steepest stretch of the trail with my pack. I considered that even with my pack I probably weighed about 240 pounds altogether, still lighter than a lot of taller, bigger climbers fully loaded down. It was nearing 11 a.m. now and sunshine swathed the entire side of the West Buttress and the West Rib down to the flats of the Ice Bowl of (advanced) base camp. The crevasse near the bottom of the fixed ropes seemed to have opened up. Once I’d come to the end of the ropes, my security level increased even more and I felt I was out of the greatest danger zones. Twice on the way from the 16,200′ pass to the 14,300′ base camp, people asked me what went on up at the 17,200′ camp in relationship to the helicopters. Apparently there had been some real problem. I’d assumed they were only doing drills. I clipped along, trudged down the hill, most of which is steep on the way to the base camp, trying to make it before noon, almost achieving this end but not quite, arriving about 20 seconds past noon. As I pulled into the snow enclosure of my partners, Fred was laying out in the sun. “Congratulations,” said he. “Congratulations to you too!” I responded. And so began the most pleasant part of the journey. For now, our mission accomplished, I felt more relaxed, and what’s more, Fred mentioned how beat he was, giving me the opportunity to tell him not to rush on my account. For the next three hours. I took full advantage of their slowness, and I spent much of the time on my back laying in the soothing warmth of the sun on top of my pad. Meanwhile, they cooked their own food and water and painstakingly dissembled their tent and packed their possessions. Sean went over to speak to the Rangers. It turned out that the year’s first tragedy had occurred. Someone, an American, fell off of the “Orient Express” on the West Rib. Apparently he was unroped and descending, having already made it to the top. Another person was apparently hauled away from the 17,200′ camp with a broken rib. It turned out that a blind woman, accompanied by her two twin sons, had summited successfully yesterday. Fred, it turns out, was bedridden for two days. He was spitting blood during that time, evidenced by blood all over the ice of the ice enclosure, including some on the tent. I was a little surprised, but not much, by his reaction to his overexertion. He felt he was lucky to be alive. After a few hours of luxurious sun bathing, with almost no effort applied to anything, I saw it was time to get my things together. I had my bare toes in the sun (drying out my putrid”“smelling socks). Very gradually I got my equipment sorted out. We left almost all our food at the Rangers’ tent. Fred and Sean seemed surprised at the quantity of food I had. They raided the food I was planning on leaving behind ““ for things like Snickers bars and Cheese & crackers. Finally we were ready to go. I had, we all had, very heavy packs, and we dreamt of getting down to the 11,200′ camp so we could unload most of our weight into the sleds which we had cached there. Amidst our normal chatter and mutual kidding and joking around we started downward roped together. The weather was beautiful, hot. The first section of our descent was crevasse-ridden. Some of the crevasses were so large, with gigantic snow bridges crossing them! We are like ants in a giant field of danger-ridden snow. I don’t ever even remember passing the 13,500′ camp. It was not until we got to 12,600′ that I realized we’d already passed Windy Corner and were on the flat fields below it!! On our way we passed several “small” crevasses, openings over which we had to, or felt compelled to, jump or take wide steps. The weather was remarkably good. We passed several campers on the way down, but everything seemed to have a different aspect than it had had previously and I barely recognized the route until, as I say, I noticed we were at 12,600′. From there, the trail seemed quite recognizable and we seemed to travel quite rapidly. We came to the col above the 11,200′ campsite and proceeded down the steep, now slushy, hill from there. At the bottom, there was a crevasse. Once we passed it, Sean stopped for some reason. Fred something like, “Keep going.” Sean felt (he had been) ordered (by Fred) and wouldn’t go. I tried to mediate, but Sean ended up disconnecting himself from the rope and saying something about “you guys whining back there,” sloughed off the final hundred yards to our cache/old campsite. The ski poles barely visible in the center mark a cache of our gear. Since abandoned skis once we started climbing, they were not needed until the return. Fred started digging our stuff out even though I believe that he was the one with the least energy, and I felt a little guilty about it as I sat there and tried to enjoy a drink of water and a rest. Soon Sean & I were helping to dig it out. After we’d recovered our sleds and bags, we sat around eating and packing. I found even more food in the black bag I’d left behind. As I’d mentioned, up at the 14,300′ camp we’d left a lot of food behind at the Ranger’s tent. Sean & Fred mostly had freeze-dried. I had a lot of snack food. When I had unloaded plastic bag after plastic bag full of snack food it aroused their curiosity, and Fred & Sean asked if they could take a look. They were like neophyte vultures: “˜Hey this cheese & crackers looks pretty good!’ “˜Do you mind if I take these Snickers Bars?’ Now once again they were curious what I had. I was the last one ready. We started down to our cache at 10,500′. The lines were tugging at me from both directions, me being in the middle. I stopped and complained. The sled hit me from behind. Finally, Sean unclipped form our caravan and he rode his sled, best as he could, down to the camp. He lost his ice ax on the way. There were some people camped at the 10,500′ camp, and they were trying to sleep (apparently). Fred dug up the snow shoes. (Fred usually is the first person ready wherever we were going.) Fred waited. I walked around, now in a picture-taking mode on the return trip home. The bergschrunds and seracs on all sides of this fork of the glacier were picturesque, most of them in the light. One mountain of falling ice in particular reminded me of a giant sand dune in the Sahara (that I’d seen in 1988). Although I’d been reunited with my Nikon since 11,200′, I couldn’t readily find my film, so I still exclusively use my Rolleicord. The expedition name “The Three Stooges” was really apt when covering this two hour period. We started off and I was an awful complainer. We really didn’t go anywhere. I was unhappy in the middle and I was trying to refix my ropes: at first I was trying to make it work with my sled in front and later I decided I would re-rig it in back. In the meantime, Sean (Larry) had asked Fred (Curly) to replace me (Moe) in the middle to try out a new arrangement to see if we could get going. (Did I mention that back at the Talkeetna Ranger Station they actually typed out our expedition name The Three Stooges with my name (Jeff Shea) below it as Sean & Fred had (in the same joking manner I might add) appointed me official expedition leader? Having an expedition name and appointing a leader were requirements.) I was reluctant. Fred said “I don’t know why you’re being unreasonable about it.” I said, “Well I wouldn’t want you to think I was unreasonable.” And, I assumed the place in front. I had actually been looking forward to leading, and in fact, things worked out fine from there out. We rounded down to the left. Now the sun was just setting over the pass in front & to our right. It must’ve been nearing midnight now. We Walked All Night On The Way Back We turned left onto the main body of the Kahiltna glacier. More of a heaven I have scarcely beheld. I get excited writing about it now. Off to the right was a small encampment, of a single tent at 10,200′ in the midnight shade of the buttress on the far end of the valley. Whereas a while earlier the scenery was picturesque, for me the main part of the glacier brought magic to my eyes. The trail flattened out considerably once on the main body of the Kahiltna. One important result of this is that it made for much less work, allowing me to focus on the scene and appreciate the beauty. I cannot say precisely how far down the glacier I could see, but I would say I could see peaks 40 miles away. Off to my left was Mt. Hunter, a real beauty of a peak, and off to my right in the distance was Mt. Foraker. (Both Hunter & Foraker are more challenging peaks by their easiest routes than Mt. Denali.) Lining either wall of the valley we were walking in/on were ridges and folds of other mountains. Also due to the fact that I was leading gave me a clear view, no ropes, packs or others to block my vista. My breathing and my step created an unbroken rhythm. I often find that walking sets up a “music” in me. It can create an ecstasy of its own kind. Now was certainly no exception. I felt dazzled, entranced by the “night sky”, the seemingly endless glacial floor, soft and folding like an immense white carpet, the rifts and folds of mountains …some almost rolling and folding. Others jut headlong to the sky – 50º, 60º, 70º, 80º, 90º ““even overhangs! ““ ice and rock ready to obey gravity once the elements had worked them loose sufficiently. Sun melting ice, the seasons loosening rock, the hue of the midnight sky ““ an illuminated dark blue, an azure, a soft endless blue/gray ““ and the moon crossing the sky, the occasional encampment, the sound and rhythm of my own breathing and footsteps, the thrill of the crisp air (and my own warmth in my fleece clothing, giving me both the fresh feeling of the cold and the security of being protected from it). I thought about my life, about work, about my wife Joy. My mind seemed as clear as the scene I walked in, pristine, invigorated. I felt so many solutions and no befuddlement. My thoughts wandered to business. I thought of people and problems and felt some resolution. My thoughts drifted to Joy and I felt so excited! I felt she was the most wonderful girl in the world. A song came into my mind. It was very rhythmic (according to my breathing). Words eventually escaped out: “Extraordinary Girl”. I saw her in all her potential, vibrant, happy, and brilliant. Fred, Sean and I stopped every so often. One of us might need to adjust a rope, a prusik knot, or I might want to shoot a picture. I shot photo after photo! As the daylight increased, the crevasse fields became more noticeable. In the final stretches we passed over what seemed a field of huge crevasses and (at least once) we passed over a mammoth snow bridge. I reflected that should one of us go in, all of us would go in. If one of these things broke, there would not be a chance for one to hold the other back. I guess sometimes that happens. We continued losing elevation until we were at about 6,690′, the very lowest point in the route. We stopped. I finished the last bit of fluid (fruit punch Kool-aid) I had. I was now quite thirsty. And so we pushed on up Heartbreak Hill. I counted my steps. With Fred and Sean behind me, I could not stop. It would be an admission I was tired! Nevertheless, once near the camp, Sean disengaged from the rope and came running up to me (pulling his sled). (This guy is in good shape.) We marched into the camp three abreast. I stopped when I got to the little Quonset hut. I threw down my stuff. It was about 5:45 a.m. We’d walked through the night!

We walked through the night on the return (1993)

As there was no indication that there was any person awake who could help us, Sean & Fred went off to find a flat place to sleep, and I slept right there. I thought I’d be the sentinel but actually I slept right through everything. I crawled into my sleeping bag ““ Heaven!!! Some time later (an hour or two), the next thing I knew, I was looking up at an official looking man asking me questions. It was just Fred. He walked to the hut, turned around as I yelled “Water!!” I was immensely thirsty. Next thing, he comes out and yells “If you want water, come in here.” When I got in the hut, I met Annie, the woman from the East Coast that stays three months a year there as an air trafficker/coordinator for all the airplane companies. “Would you like some watermelon?” I could scarcely believe it. When great need meets great satisfaction! She handed us each a healthy piece! I cannot describe how intensely I enjoyed it. And she gave us seconds to boot. I was thirsty for cold water and drank a large glass …funny. I did not care for a hot drink. While we conversed, as it would be awhile for the plane, a tall German man entered dressed in red fleece. He seemed to know Annie well. As it was, I made his acquaintance. He goes by the name of Rudiger. He was an unusual guy. He had been on the glacier, as I recall, for about two months, one of the purposes of which was to see if he could do it. That is, to see if his preparations could properly see things through. Annie had offered us some bagels with lunch meat taken from a big bag of them. It was kind of dry and also yet too moist ““ and when I was almost finished it came to my attention that they were two months old!! Rudiger made them before he came to the glacier! He explained he liked a bagel with his coffee in the morning, so he’d boil one in a freezer bag. He declares people around smell them and are attracted to the smell. “Hmm, what smells so good?” And for lunch he puts one in the top of his pack so the sun heats it. He also dehydrates he’s own food. He wants to climb Mt. Foraker but turned back this year due to chancy snow/ice conditions. Last year he weathered the terrible 11-day storm at base camp. (I’d heard reports of wind chills of -140ºF!!) He explained how he’d learned all about how to survive (mostly from one other man) in those kind of conditions. He related how to “dig in” in preparation for an oncoming storm. Preferably this is done on a slope (it makes it easier) Rudiger related how a friend of his wouldn’t let him into a two-person bivy bag. “There’s no room!” the guy whined. Rudiger said he wouldn’t expedition with this fellow again! He showed me his camera… a beautiful old Leica M-4. He had two lenses, one a 90mm. He also carried another camera body with a 16mm lens. Attached to it was a light meter, which he modified with another device. The general idea was that you could switch from a 15º to a 30º arc, from which you would measure light. You would use one or the other depending on what lens you were using. Rudiger seemed very happy with his camera gear. He also showed me an article describing how a guy who lost two friends on Mt. Foraker in a surprise avalanche. Sean went out on a plane before Fred and I. Eventually another K-2 plane arrived. They land on skis on an uphill incline and turn to face downhill for take off, spewing out snow to the side, much as skier does when he turns. When the plane came to a stop, out jumped a man. “Hi! I’m from Ogden, Utah! Hey, you guys mountain climbers? Tell me what it’s like to climb up that mountain! You guys carry all that gear up the mountain? Boy, I’ve got to tell my wife about this!” He wanted a picture of Fred and himself! He apologized to me for choosing Fred, saying he was brighter! (He had on a red fleece top.) “I don’t mountain climb. I hunt! I’ve got five boys and they just love to hunt”… He was a Mormon. Our pilot’s name was Butch. He was the fellow that had kept passing us up the first day we’d attempted to fly in. He was a good pilot and an interesting and likeable chap. The ride back to Talkeetna was beautiful, as visibility was good. From the moment I got back, I felt like a zombie. This lasted about 5 or 6 days. I thought I’d lost a lot of weight ¬”“ about 7 pounds I estimated ““ but when I got home, I weighed about the same …164! I was looking forward to call Joy, but then I considered what if there were problems of some sort … it was like a premonition. We got dropped off at the K-2 bunkhouse. I lay out on the porch. Some fellow passed a comment as Fred was walking back in the door, something to the effect it was obvious, though Fred had climbed the mountain that I had not! I asked him why he said that and he commented that I looked too clean-shaven and all. My reply was: ” B U L L S H I T”! Sean and I went out to get a meal. I went to call Joy. I got the message machine. I left a message that I was off the mountain. I felt kind of disappointed that she wasn’t there. It had always made me so happy to have her around when I’d call. Later, I called and she was there. I gushed out my love for her. I told her how much I loved her! To my surprise she cried and sobbed. She said she needed to hear that for she had felt that I didn’t really love and that I didn’t really care about her! She seemed pitifully sad. After awhile I said that I would call her later, explaining Sean & I were eating. Later I called back. I spent a long time trying to reassure her, for she was full of doubt, and sad thoughts. It was an unfortunate thing but I began to feel sorry for myself as she heaped complaints on me about our life together. Finally, just when I thought she was coming back into being more her cheerful self, just when we were getting off the phone, even though I’d spent much of the conversation dead tired and even at times sobbing my love to her, she began sort of interrogating me about something and I didn’t like it. She began raising her voice and soon I was downright angry! So much so that I blurted out “I don’t love you anymore!” And hung up! I was miserably tired and I was miserable to boot! I lumbered to the K-2 bunkhouse, found my bunk and dozed off. In retrospect this episode was so telling. I had gone from somebody so in love to someone saying “I don’t love you.” It hardly makes sense to believe that I engineered this change solely on my own!! Undoubtedly I was almost like a mirror to Joy’s own state of mind. The next day, Fred, Sean and I went by train to Denali National Park. The ride was enjoyable. I love trains. (Fred hates them.) I thought we’d arrive at a lodge in the woods, but instead, it was like a small town, and a destination for scores of tour buses. After having been on the mountain and seen such fantastic scenery, the land surrounding the “lodge” (hotel) seemed rather non-descript and uninteresting. It was a disappointment. We had a mediocre dinner and slept in a cramped room. (I slept on a cot between the beds.) I didn’t enjoy the experience. The train ride back, however, was quite nice.

From a distance, Denali juts above the clouds (1993)

When we arrived in Talkeetna, a three-row station wagon (“˜Oriental Express’) took us to Anchorage. In the middle seat sat the two friends of the guy who fell down the Orient Express. They hardly said a word the whole way back. An older woman from New Zealand sat to my right in the front seat. She talked with me for a while and then, seeing I wanted to read, she talked to the driver. Only my right ear had to endure the clear, strong enunciation of her words. When we got back to Anchorage we got a room in the Sheraton Hotel ““ which, again, had an atmosphere I found distasteful. We went to dinner and then to the “Great Alaskan Bush Club.” We spent a couple of hours watching the girls and returned home to our rooms. I felt tired. The next day I flew home. I had two memorable “lattes” at Starbucks Coffee in Seattle airport. When I got home. Joy and I made sweet love.