Friday, May 4, 2012

Climbers Arrive: Denali Waits

The Alaska season has begun! Denali Team #1 is on the mountain, as is Kurt Hicks' Mt. Hunter expedition, run out of Kahiltna (Denali) Base Camp. I met with Team #1 climbers and guides as they were making their last preparations at the airstrip. This mostly consists of changing into mountain clothes and boots, making a last phone call to the "outside world," eating some rockin pizza, and weighing gear. Then, you load up the planes, step on, strap in, and say goodbye to dirt for three weeks. 

The transition (or lack of one, really) is always what amazes me going into the Alaska Range. You plan, prepare, and look ahead to the trip, imagining what it is going to be like. But nothing prepares you for the drastic, sudden change of stepping onto the plane and twenty minutes later stepping off onto the land of snow and ice. There's nothing quite like the feeling of watching the plane fly away, leaving you on a vast and still glacier. Twenty days to go,

I have a few days before our team (#2) goes to Denali, so I have been seeing Team 1 prep for their trip while cleaning up from a personal trip last week (blog entry to come soon). It's been nice laying low in town on a few days off, but it has been exciting seeing the first two teams head off for their trips. Good luck to both teams on their pursuit of the best that Alaska has to offer!

Below are some of the pictures that I took of the Alaska Range on the way in to Base Camp, and a few shots of BC itself. In general, the mountains look quite snowy. This has been a big snow year. It seemed that every time Colorado missed a storm and Washington was a little warm or dry, Alaska was getting pounded with another snow dump. The result is a glacier that is very filled in - which makes for easier glacier travel because many crevasses are filled in with snow. While we flew above the glacier, I could see that a well-traveled track is now in place from BC to camp one. Probably further, but I could not see that far from the plane! I'll have to wait to hear Team 1's dispatches and see for myself next week!

Photo #1: The Alaska Range. Denali is in the center of the photo, with Hunter and Foraker to its left. The Tokositna Glacier is in the foreground, which flows from Denali.

Photo #2: Denali, so close you can touch it (with your wing tips)

Photo #3: The Mooses Tooth massif. One of the premier destinations for alpine climbing in Alaska!

Photo #4: Another view of the Mooses Tooth massif. The Ruth Glacier is in the foreground on the right, and the Coffee Glacier in the back left of the photo.

Photo #5: The Great Ampitheater of the Ruth Gorge. The Mooses Tooth is in the left of the photo and the right side comprises some of the most challenging alpine terrain in the world. The peaks of Barrill, Dickey, Bradley, Wake, Johnson, Grosvenor, and Church (on our right side of the photo) rise dramatically out of the glacier. Dickey, for example, rises 5000 vertical feet above the glacier in a steep rock face.

Photo #6: Mt. Hunter. Denali Base Camp is located on the left side of the photo, right where the glacier disappears from view. 

Photo #7: AAI Team 1's Base Camp setup, with Mt. Francis on the left and Denali's summit in the background. It looks cold up there today!

Photo #8: The imposing North Buttress of Mt. Hunter. Wow! Right out of Base Camp, steep alpine terrain awaits those who dare. This creates an interesting mix of climbers on the Kahiltna Glacier - some day-craggers, some alpine hardmen, some suitors for the West Buttress, and a handful of NPS rangers all come together at the BC to put themselves to work on their climb of choice. Denali is truly a special - and beautiful - place.

--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide

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