Sunday, May 31, 2009

Still Waiting

John and crew are patiently waiting for the weather to break at 14,200' camp. They have sat through a storm that brought lots of new snow followed by high winds. The forecast is looking hopeful for Tuesday are they will be ready to move up to 17,200' as soon as the weather cooperates. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

At 14,200' Camp

The team had a successful move to the 14,200' camp yesterday. They made it into camp in the early afternoon and found a nice new home which only required small modifications to existing tent platforms. This is always nice as building a new camp from scratch at 14,200' is hard work. 

Today is a rest day for the team. The camp at 14,200' often feels like a small town. On a nice day you can wander around in down booties and socialize with other teams. The park service's medical facilities are also at this camp and this provides another social hub.  The weather is posted here daily on a white board and climbers often congregate around this point. 

The group plans to carry to 16,200' tomorrow. This is a major transition point of the trip where you switch from walking up the lower glacier dragging heavy sleds to more technical climbing involving climbing the fixed lines. The good news is the sleds get left behind at 14,200'. After the carry the team will take another rest day on Wednesday and then they will be ready to move up to 17,200 (high camp) weather permitting. 

We will keep you posted. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Moving to 14,000!

John called in last night to report that the team had successfully completed their carry to 13,500', just above Windy Corner. Nick and Ian, the assistant guides, took all of the food and fuel from 13,500' to 14,000'. This will save the team from having to back carry after their move into 14K. The weather has continued to cooperate and they are planning to move to 14,000' today. 

Now that they are off of the lower glacier the team's schedule will return to a more standard one. They do not have to worry about the warm daytime temps softening crevasse bridges anymore, instead they are moving into an elevation where staying warm is a bigger concern. On the upper mountain they will travel during the daytime hours to take advantage of the warmth of the sun. 

The team also wants Cindy to know that they all miss her. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the mountain!

Hi All,

John and the group are on the mountain and working their way up. Everyone and everything made it onto the mountain on May 18th, we will call this day 1 of the climb. The start of the trip has been very smooth in most way - weather, glacier conditions etc. Unfortunately Cindy's back was giving her trouble and after flying into basecamp she decided not to head up the mountain. I am sure this was a difficult decision to make but it sounds like she made a good call. Either way the team will miss her.

The group got up early the morning of the 19th, around 3AM, for the move to their 7800' camp. This is the only day on the way up that they will lug all of their gear with them. From now on the team will be double carrying between camps. The nice thing about early morning moves/carries is that by mid-day they are probably enjoying naps in warm tents. In the past I have measured the temperatures in a tent on the lower Kahiltna at 90-100 degrees F, prime conditions for drying socks and nap zen.

John checked in last night after completing their 1st carry. He said the weather is cooperating and the glacier is in perfect condition. Yesterday the group made their carry to 10,300' just below Kahiltna Pass. This is where they will make a right to head up to the 11,000' camp today. After the carry everyone returned to camp at 7,800' to rest up for today's move. Tomorrow they plan to back-carry from 11,200' to the cache at 10,300'. This is a relatively restful day as it only takes about 20 min to drop back down to the cache and about a hour and a half to return with all of the gear.

The group plans to check in again tonight and I will keep you posted.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17, 2009 Denali Photos

These are some photos from the start of the 2009 Northwest Mountain School Denali Expedition.  All of these shots were taken by Larry Sanford.

One of TAT's single engine Otters, the plane we will fly in on.

Denali as seen from Talkeetna, AK

The Football Field, Archdeacons Tower, and Summit Ridge as seen from the West @ 21,000

Camp at 11,200' on the West Buttress

Three climbers reaching the summit of Denali 7 pm, May 16, 2009

Another version of the same image:


Denali "The High One"

Northwest Mountain School 2009 Denali Expedition

Well, we made it to Alaska and it already has the makings of a memorable trip.  We all met yesterday at the airport in Anchorage, made the drive to the lovely, quirky town of Talkeetna , AK.  We arrived around 5 pm, dropped our equipment at Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT), and started walking back to town.  Just before we were leaving the area around the airport a very stock Alaskan man named Yukon Don Tanner pulled up in his truck and asked, "want to fly to the summit of the mountain?"  We thought he was joking, asked a few questions and quickly realized he was serious.  Yukon Don had chartered a plane, his son was about to summit, and he wanted to share the seats with anyone willing to go along.

We walked over to Talkeetna Aero Services, signed in, gave Don some small contributions to his charter cost and climbed aboard a small twin-engine plane and took off.  Our pilot quickly headed for the mountain, and climbed to over 21,000 on an nearly windless, cloudless Alaskan evening.  Within a few minutes of reaching the summit (now 30 minutes from taking off and an hour after arriving in Talkeetna) we spotted three climbers just hitting the summit ridge.  

We spent a good 30-40 minutes waiting for the climbers to summit, and made an aerial reconnaissance of the entire West Buttress Route.  Things looked really good.  There are still just small camps at 7800, few camps at 9,700 and 10,200, a big camp at 11,200 and 14,200, and a small camp at 17,200.  Eventually the three climbers hit the top, we shot some amazing photos and we flew back to Talkeetna.  

Our deep thanks to Yukon Dave for generously sharing his flight with myself, Vance, Phil, Ian, and Larry.

This will be my 19th expedition to climb Denali and is a second attempt for Larry Sanford and Cindy Outlaw, as both were stopped short of the summit in 2007 during high winds up high.  Joining us will be Phil Nicoletti, and Vance Checketts.  This trip will be run under the excellent direction of Mountain Trip, who has provided two great guides, Nick Shepherd, and Ian Nicholson.  This will be Nick's 3rd Denali trip and Ian's 1st.  Both are great climbers, and will be providing additional horse power to our group.  

Our plan for our May 18 fly-on is to have breakfast, meet with the National Park Service and then fly onto the mountain around 11 am.  We will spend the day getting organized at Kahiltna Basecamp (7200') on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna, and then getting an early start to move camp to our next camp at 7800'.  This first move will take us a bit over five miles up the 40+ mile long Kahiltna Glacier and involves a short descent to the main glacier before a long slog up to the camp located near the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.  We will be moving with about 120 lbs. of gear per person and will split the weight between our sleds and our packs.  The glacier looks to be in very good condition (few open crevasses, nice smooth surface, reasonably direct trail) and we hope the trip runs smoothly.

Our tentative plan looks like this:

May 18 Fly onto mountain
May 19 Move from Kahilitna Base (7200') to Camp 1 (7800')
May 20  Carry to Kahiltna Pass (10,300') and return to Camp 1
May 21 Move to either 10,300' or 11,200'
May 22 Back carry from 10,300' or rest at 11,200'
May 23 Carry to 13,600' and return to 11,200'
May 24 Move from 11,200 to 14,200'
May 25 Back carry from 13,600'
May 26 Carry to 16,200' or rest at 14,200'
May 27 Carry to 16,200 or rest at 14,200'
May 28 Move to 17,200 or rest at 14,200'
May 29 Summit or Move to 17,200' or rest at 17,200'
May 30 Possible summit day
May 31 Possible summit day
June 1 Extra Day
June 2 Extra Day
June 3 Extra Day
June 4 Extra Day
June 5 Extra Day
June 6 Descend from 17,200' to 14,200'
June 7 Descend to Kahiltna Basecamp
June 8 Fly back to Takeetna

Things rarely go according to plan up here, so the trip could take even longer than this and will depend primarily on the weather we receive this year.  We have a great group, all the food and fuel we need, and everyone is ready to go.  Now we just need to go do it.

Posts will be here, but will be subject to Olivia's guiding schedule (BUSY), so we will also be posting on the Mountain Trip website at: http://www.mountaintrip.com/Expedition_Dispatches.htm