Base Camp to 14200 Camp- Picasso's of Painting the Town

Base Camp to 14200 Camp -  Picasso's of Painting the Town

Before we left for Denali, Dane and I developed a soundtrack of sorts for the journey, and that playlist continued on the mountain.  It didn’t hurt that he and I both enjoy country music of the 90s genre, as well as classic rock and roll from the 60s – 80s.  He would also tolerate my interest in hip-hop and rap, and I enjoyed some of his stuff as well.  Bands and artists that ruled the roost included- George Straight, Trace Adkins, John Michael Montgomery, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Quiet Riot, E-40, Elton John, and any one hit wonder that would randomly come to mind.  I find it personally enjoyable to torment your climbing partner by sharing an annoying song that popped into your head, so you need not suffer alone.  Like “Wake me up, before you go go, don’t leave me hanging on like a yo-yo,” and other mind numbing tunes.  I think Quiet Riot’s “Were not gonna take it” and John Michael Montgomery “Letters from home” and Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” were the repeat tracks for preparation, and on the mountain. 

We landed on a glacier, a memorable experience in and of itself, and disembarked, and put our tent down at the base camp.   As you touch down, you are confronted by massive peaks directly in front of you, with huge ice sheets somehow sticking to vertical surfaces.  You look at them and wonder how they simply don’t fall off.  They do!  We saw it happen during our trip.  Still, not in the volume that you would expect. 

There was light on the horizon for the entire time, and the weather was pleasant.  Thus began the first of 13 days inside the Northface Mountain 35 - 3 person tent I had borrowed from my friend Dana.  Dane and I lived out of that piece of protection, quite comfortably, and it had a number of pockets and two vestibules.  For our food, we had provisioned oatmeal, cheap coffee, espresso, powdered creamer, walnuts and cocoa for breakfast.  We had salami, cheese, tortillas, nuts, fruit, candies, and chocolate for lunch.  For dinner we had ramen, salmon, and chocolate.  We also had an abundance of tobacco, and some good whiskey.  When we left Los Angeles, we were able to cut down our food rations to just under 40 pounds, and in Anchorage we picked up another 8 pounds or so.  We provisioned well, as we would leave with approximately 20% of that with which we had started.  This also included Dane’s efforts in accepting extra provisions as they were offered to us.  I was apprehensive about accepting those provisions, but Dane was correct in getting them.

As you entered the tent, I slept on climber’s right, and Dane on climber’s left.  Up until close to the date we left, Dane concerned me about his gear, or lack thereof.  However, just before we disembarked he procured appropriate boots and a solid sleeping bag.  I had my Millet boots gifted to me from my sister.  I had all the other gear needed for an expedition of this nature.   With respect to selection of a location to sleep, like everything else we did, climbing and laying siege to a mountain becomes about systems.  Simplify everything, make consistent as much as possible.  This cuts down on over thinking, loss of time associated with decision making, and loss of energy in having to make critical decisions.  This is also why being a minimalist is helpful.  It is less weight, but more importantly, it requires less mental energy on a day to day basis. 

Our first night foreshadowed the numerous deviations from our itinerary (we called them “audibles”) we would make over the course of our journey.  We had planned to work on skills practice (avalanche rescue, anchor building, rope management, and sled management) our first day, Saturday, but instead we elected to pack up our camp, cashe a bag of food and my running shoes (which would become saturated by melt water), and do a “single carry” to Camp 7800.  A single carry consists of carrying all expedition weight in one movement to a location; a double carry is where you transport a portion one day, and then on a subsequent day move the remainder of your gear.  

We were so cocky about the weather that we naively though we could “bivvy” at that camp, which was foolish.  A bivvy is where you elect not to deploy your tent, and instead sleep under the stars, with minimal protection from the elements.  To arrive at 7800 camp the route is long, not involving much elevation gain, actually a net loss.  The vistas are unparalleled.  We took around 9 hours to relocate our 225 lbs of gear, food, and water, and pitched our Camp at the “beginning” of the camp. 

We sacked out and the next day proceeded up Ski Hill to Camp 11000.  We elected to go into the Camp 11000 all the way for our cache, as opposed to making a cache at the bottom of the hill below camp, at approximately 10000 feet.  That hill was steep and punishing, and crevassed out, but overall all manageable.  It was around this time we encountered Pete, Ben, and Ryan.  They had learned how to summit Denali on a You Tube Video, so we started by calling them “DIY Denali Boys,” or “the Denali Boys,” or “the DIY Boys” though we eventually we called them “Benny and the Jets.” And “Pistol Pete.”   There was a bit of a rivalry with us, whether they would acknowledge that I don’t know.  Regardless, we ended up bonding with them.  Pete is a firefighter from Bakersfield (who is now one of my rock climbing partners); Ben is a paramedic, who used to live in San Diego, but who now lives in Sacramento.  Ryan is Ben’s friend, more the nature loving less suffering type, but also a business man, who works for a marketing component of United Airlines.

We humped our cache load to 11000 feet on Sunday, and then returned. The DIY boys did the same thing, but they skiid back, so they did a much faster job.  Our return to 7800 camp was tiring, after such a long day, and at the end of the day we hopped in the sled and sled out the last bit, a bit of reckless fun.  Basically, I was bitching about my feet hurting, and Dane, I think to cheer me up or at least to put a cherry on top of the day, suggested we load up in the sled and sled down the last 500 feet or so.  There is risk involved; you could sled into a crevasse.  Of course, that made it appealing! 

The next day we broke camp and went to 11000 feet.  It seemed every day it took us 3 hours from the time we woke up to when we left camp.  That involved a lot of time to get out of our comfortable bags- one is not motivated to leave the comfort of goose down into a hostile and cold environment, very readily.  Plus, the reward of leaving the bag is not a reward, it’s really a punishment.  You are starting another hard work day, with an uncertain future, a feeling of exhaustion, and few rewards, save for beautiful views and ideally the summit.  Ironically, once we were moving, at lower elevations, the sun was actually punishing.  It has the odd effect of reflecting and radiating heat into your face, as well as on to your back.  If you stop moving, you freeze, if you move, you sweat.  Why do we do this again? 

We built our first original campsite at 11000 camp.  Dane discovered cutting snow blocks, and we discovered a partial foundation campsite, and then shored it up with blocks.  He actually had a huge boner for the endeavor, which I shunned because it seemed like a shit ton more work.  But, to his credit, he persevered, and I ended up finding cutting snow blocks to be pretty sweet.  It’s like being a kid again, you build a fort.  I suppose in many ways that is climbing-  an adventure back to the soul of every adventurous kid, before life slows you down, beats you back, or forces you to miss those simple things in life. 

On Tuesday, May 29, we cached a load up to the cache sight just below the 14000 foot campsite.  That saw us go up Motorcycle Hill, and around Windy Corner.  It was a pleasant day, Windy Corner was manageable, and we dropped the load.  Despite the relative comfort of Windy Corner, that was an area of true snow bridges.  These are small bridges that magically form over crevasses; you can see the drop into the abyss as you walk over them.  Also, the crevasses are like magnets for the sleds to get sucked into.  The sleds are fixed loosely to the back of your pack, and if there is an angle in the snow, or a hole into the depths of hell, whichever the case may be, the sleds Tokyo drift and whipsaw you, so be prepared. 

We returned to 110000 camp, and all was good up to that point.  The weather was clear and the vistas incredible.  The next day, Wednesday May 30, we woke, broke down our camp, and moved to 14000 camp.  We deposited the contents of a CMC can to retrieve later.  Oh the joy of digging out our poop awaited our return!  On the way up, we stopped and picked up our cache load at 13000 feet, and so really did a single carry (all 200 lbs or so) from 13000 feet to 14000 feet.  We arrived at 14000 camp and found a very private, high walled fortress with a private john and CMC area.  We spent a good deal of time building that out, shoring it up, and burying our sleds, which we would not need for a while again.   This camp location was hands down the best we would have on the entire journey.  All and all, this day was indeed a hard day. 

The DIY boys had moved a day in front of us at that point.  I applaud their movement, but it ended up making Ben have High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and he coughed up blood.  We took a day off on Thursday May 31.  We slept in, then made water and sorted our gear.  That took most of our time.  We decided we would make an acclimation run the following Day, Friday June 1, but in our minds thought we might make a push from 14000 camp to summit and back to 14000 camp.   To do something, we walked over to the “End of the World” which is this amazing drop down from 14000 feet to 10000 feet, maybe more of a drop.  You have incredible views of Hunter and Foraker as you make your way over there.  I danced over in my snow slippers, ill advised.  Dane had on proper overboots, so he was able to take more chances. 

By this time, we were feeling like nothing could stop us.  Nothing could stop us, but we were a bit overconfident as well.

Anthony McClaren