Monday, June 23, 2008

Big Expedition Ends Attempt 500 Feet from Summit

AAI got the following email this afternoon from Dawn Glanc's expedition for cancer research:
  • The metaphor for cancer research is complete. There are more unclimbed mountains to challenge.

  • Late on Saturday, our team of Farmer, Dawn, Kevin and Bayard on the Big Expedition for Cancer Research determined that they had reached the safe limits of their attempt to climb one of Alaska’s unclimbed peaks. For 9 hours, they battled unstable snow, ice and rock to move within 500 vertical feet of the summit of Peak 8290 in Glacier Bay’s Fairweather Range. The two rope teams huddled at the high point and called an end to their attempt of the unclimbed mountain in the inaugural Big Expedition for Cancer Research.

  • Lee Hartwell, president and director of the Hutchinson Center, when receiving the news said “"The climbers are to be congratulated for going so far under trying conditions but especially for putting safety first. It is a true reflection of a principle that governs the research we do in each of our clinical trials. We are proud of the team for their successful challenge of this unclimbed mountain."

  • “Extremely hazardous” were the first two words out of Farmer’s mouth when he made the sat phone call back from base camp to Seattle. "We gave this mountain everything we had within the boundaries of safe, rational mountaineering standards. Sometimes the mountain sets the limits and we have to accept them,” he said.

  • The team had been battling deteriorating weather conditions for three days. After establishing their 5100-foot base camp at the end of the week, they spent a day carrying a cache of climbing equipment top of a saddle at an elevation of 5500 feet for better access to their proposed route. They returned and began to plan their ascent of the Northeast Ridge of Peak 8290.

  • It was determined that leaving early in the evening would help mitigate the daytime warming temperatures that were making the snow and ice very unstable. The National Park Service in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was very supportive and helpful throughout the expedition relaying weather conditions to the team on a regular basis. The team left base camp on skis at 9:15 pm on Friday evening.

  • They reached their cache in less than an hour and changed into climbing boots for the ascent. The team then traversed the flank of the ridge, working slowly and meticulously to avoid crevasses and other objective danger. They again took stock of the route in front of them and then moved up onto the Northeast Ridge as a group in two rope teams. Farmer and Dawn n one team and Kevin and Bayard on the other. Progress was slow. The snow was very soft and mushy and there was avalanche danger to avoid as they progressed.

  • Above the 6000 foot level, they encountered unstable rock under the snow as they slowly ascended closer to the rock pyramid at the top of the mountain. What they realized as they crossed the 7000 foot level was that this mountain was “a big pile of rocks”. The Northeast ridge and it summit pyramid had looked majestic from a distance, but in reality “it was like stacks of china teetering in the wind”. Every step was a balancing act.

  • At approximately 7800 feet, the rope team of Mahoney and Russell looked hard at the treacherous traverse over to the summit pyramid. It was a 70 degree slope covered with crusty, “sugary” snow. The area was unsupported and there was no protection if it broke away and slid down the mountain. The danger was greater to those below the lead climber because anything (ice or rock) that was punched out by a foot or an ice axe would fall on those following behind.

  • After evaluating the treacherous situation, the two teams made the decision together that the summit was not to be. This was not a mountain that was ready to be conquered. After accepting that fact, “We were comfortable that this was the right decision. We had met the challenge and found it to be too daunting for us to return safely, if we advanced any further,” Farmer said.

  • The descent to base camp was arduous as a new weather front moved in and it began to snow. The team reached base camp late Saturday afternoon and took stock of their encounter with the mountain. Two other less attractive unclimbed peaks nearby were discussed among the team members and it was determined that the same rock and ice conditions would be encountered there. Putting that option to rest, the group made the call back to headquarters in Seattle to say that the Big Expedition was coming home.

  • Thousands of interested citizens have followed this journey for cancer research in the media and online. Success is in the advancement of the cause. The Big Expedition for Cancer Research is a concerted effort to draw the public closer to the enormity of this task. As the team returns, the quest for more unclimbed mountains continues.

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