Archive for June, 2009

From Mountain Man to Cyclist

Over the last couple of days here in Anchorage I have been transitioning from “mountain man” to cyclist. First I packed up all my mountain gear and cold weather clothing and shipped it back home to Florida (USPS Parcel Post, via ferry to lower 48 and then via truck down to Florida). Then I went to the Anchorage REI store to pick up my Bob Yak trailer and the Ortlieb panniers (which I had bought online several weeks ago). There was some assembly required, but after about 1 hour I was ready to roll. Here is a picture of me just outside the REI store:

With new bike trailer just outside the Anchorage REI store

The next day I went on a short test ride with the trailer to the South end of Anchorage. I wanted to see the Cook Inlet.

View towards Cook Inlet at South end of Anchorage

Riding with the trailer takes some getting used to; especially the added weight makes for very slow going uphill. And maneuvring in the city with the trailer is clumsy and difficult – not recommended for short city rides, but required for the long trip.

Since I couldn’t change the bus schedule to Fairbanks and later to Prudhoe Bay, I have a few extra days here in Anchorage. I use them to sleep, eat a lot to regain some weight, and update my Blog and emails.

Finally I take a longer test ride with nearly full weight on trailer and bike rack. I ride down South along the Seward Highway right next to the Chugach Mountains and State Park: Ocean, Railroad track, road and mountains.

Riding along the Seward Highway South of Anchorage

There is even a display of the 90 year old Seward railroad with a huge snow plow locomotive making for a good photo op:

Old Railroad locomotive with snow plow

Tomorrow I need to get up early to catch the bus to Fairbanks; then one more day of preparation, followed by the bus ride to Prudhoe Bay on Tuesday, and then the long bike journey can begin in earnest on July 1st!

Add comment June 28th, 2009

Closure after Denali

It’s been 4 days since coming down from Denali and flying off the glacier. Since then all the gear has been dried, sorted, and divvied up between mountaineering (mostly shipped back home to Florida) and cycling. I have been sleeping and eating a lot, and my waist line, lips and nose skin are quickly returning back to normal.

Of the 9 original clients and 3 original guides only 4 clients and 1 guide remain on the mountain – as I write this they are at high camp (17.000ft) after spending 12 nights (!) at the second highest camp (14.000ft). The others had to descend, either because they weren’t up for the challenge or mostly because they couldn’t extend the trip past the original deadline. Possibly today or tomorrow the remaining group will attempt a summit push. They climbed up to high camp yesterday (June 25), exactly 1 week after we had wanted to but were stopped due to the guide falling sick (June 18). Sitting for almost 2 weeks in a tent not going anywhere around camp – half of that in good weather conditions – this isn’t the mountaineering I had envisioned when signing up for the expedition…

This picture shows the fatigue of just having descended 11.5 hours from Camp 14.000 all the way down to basecamp as well as the disappointment about having invested 2+ weeks of effort and a lot of money without it ultimately paying off with Denali summit due to unfortunate circumstances.

Back at Denali basecamp after 2 unsuccessful weeks on the mountain and a marathon descent

I have uploaded several videos to Youtube and archived the SPOT tracking data for Denali. Everything is now organized and linked from the Denali page. I also added a daily journal there if you’re interested in daily observations…

This marks the end of the Denali episode, at least for now. I need to focus on the upcoming bike ride, in particular the first long stretch, the Dalton Highway from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks.

3 comments June 26th, 2009

Bad Luck On Denali

Hello again! After 16 days on the mountain we flew out from Kahiltna glacier to Talkeetna airport on Monday, June 22. It was a great trip! However, unfortunately I didn’t reach the summit of Denali (6194m). My highest point was the high camp at 17.000 feet (5300m). A combination of slow expedition team travel, sickness of a guide and finally bad weather prevented me from summitting within the originally alloted timeframe. Ironically, we had perfectly clear weather for the first 10 days, with dozens of climbers coming down and marveling about their summit experience in clear weather…

At Cache Above Fixed Ropes (4950m)

At Cache Above Fixed Ropes (4950m)

In the high mountains, that’s how it goes sometimes, and when the weather turns on you once you are up high in position for a summit bid, there is often nothing you can do but wait (if you have enough resources and time) and ultimately descend. The overall success rate this summer was around 55%, so about half of the climbers setting out don’t reach the summit. Reasons include altitude mountain sickness (when you ascend too fast), bad weather (when you ascend too slow :-), burn-out from hard work and relentless cold, or simply people realizing that they are physically and/or mentally not up to the task.

Here are a few pictures of the Denali expedition and the time spent in the various camps. The views to the two adjacent high peaks Mount Hunter (4300m) and Mount Foraker (5300m) were often spectacular.

I must also say that I am a bit burnt out at the moment from living and camping on the glacier at high altitude and low temperatures for a total of 32 days in the last 5-6 weeks with only 4 rest days in between. After 1 month up high I have lost many pounds of body weight – despite the fact that I ate much more than usual, earning me the nickname “hungry man”. It was almost scary looking in the mirror when taking my first shower after 2+ weeks on Denali and feeling the slack of my jeans around my waist! When you come down off the mountain you take in the oxygen-rich air and feel strong, but at the same time you are very hungry and sleepy. You eat three or four big meals a day and still feel hungry. Yesterday in Talkeetna I ate a huge breakfast, lunch salad and then a famously big Calzone pizza they claim feeds 2-3 people, followed by a chocolate cake and still felt like I could eat more… A few rest days and trips to all-you-can-buffets should help with that problem…

Afterthought: For me personally it turned out to be a BIG mistake to have signed on with a commercial expedition on Denali. After the successful Mount Logan expedition I should have attempted Denali using a solo permit and climbing on the mountain with one of several small, private groups. That way I could have ascended much faster (since I was already very well acclimatized) and thus used the perfect weather of the first 10 days. (As an aside, it would also have saved around $5000 and 1 week of my time.) Instead, since I had signed up with the American Alpine Institute (AAI) expedition, I was literally stuck with the team. There were 3 guides and 9 clients. As you can imagine, a team of 12 people with very mixed mountaineering and winter camping experience travels much slower than a small group. There were many days when a departure time was given and I was ready 5-10 mins prior, only to stand up to 1 hour in chillingly cold morning air waiting for others to get ready and freezing bitterly in the process. Then every rope team only travels as fast as it’s slowest team member; to make things worse, our 3 rope teams were mostly staying together, forcing everyone to walk at the slowest pace. It felt like an endless backup up the glacier; walking slower than your natural pace is actually more tiring due to the permanent stop-&-go and attention not to step on the rope; most of all, it is frustrating and tough to deal with mentally if you’re not used to it. Then we were not allowed to go anywhere of interest at or near camp without a guide and being roped up due to the omnipresent risk of crevasses on glaciers or steep terrain. Once we reached a cache site up high (4950m) on a beautiful ridge with magnificent views all around and near perfect weather. While the two guides dug a small hole in the snow to bury our cached food and fuel we clients had to sit in one spot roped up and secured by a picket in the snow. When I stood up to take a few pictures looking around and untied from the rope I was immediately told by the guide that I couldn’t untie here due to the steep terrain! It was literally painful to have to sit there and not being able to walk around and enjoy the freedom of the mountains – so much so that it made me weep when writing these lines! I felt like a dog on a leash the whole time. I wanted to run around and go up much faster since I was acclimatized. I wanted a physical mountaineering challenge, not a team or mental dog-on-a-leash challenge. Early on in the trip the guide sensed and understood my pain; he told me to just be patient and stick with the team. I tried and managed for 13 days…

Then on Friday, June 19 the weather report clearly indicated that after another 2 reasonably good days a low pressure system would approach from the Bering Sea and finally bring bad weather to the mountain for several days. This happened at the second to last camps at 14.000 ft (4300m) when we were about to move up to the last camp. And just at this critical time one of our guides fell sick (altitude and respiratory infection)! He had to go down and another guide had to come up, followed by a rest day after the long marathon climb. In the meantime our team had to wait three days in perfectly good weather, while the weather window was closing. Many other teams which had arrived the same day as us initially made their successful summit bid during those three days (June 18-20). It was again painful to watch our chances for Denali slipping away, doing nothing but hanging around at camp watching others climb in good conditions…

Finally, I couldn’t take this any longer: I decided to make a 2 day dash for the summit by myself! So I silently packed my stuff and then left the group while the one guide remaining at altitude was distracted for a half hour or so. My plan was to stay at high camp (5300m) one night, then summit and come down to our camp (4300m) the next day. Unfortunately, I was both pretty tired and cold after the climb to high camp and the resident rangers there sort of “intercepted” me on the way up. The guide had radioed up that I had left the team and they were looking for me. They explained to me that I had waived my expedition permit by leaving the team and it would essentially be illegal for me to continue to climb solo! They threatened me with an “astronomical” fine and legal action if I were to continue to go up! Imagine that: I had paid all my park service entrance and climbing permit fees, invested a ton of time and money, then decided to use the weather window before it closes and do a big summit push … and here I find myself being treated like a criminal or fugitive being chased down! I admit that I was tired and it would have been hard to go to the summit the next day (June 20), but I would have tried and possibly succeeded were it not for the “illegal” aspect of it. What a nightmare! I never imagined this scenario to play out the way it did. As I write these lines, the rest of the team is still sitting at camp 14.000 waiting for the bad weather to clear and the high summit winds to abate… I wish them luck – more luck than I had up high.

Add comment June 23rd, 2009

Next up: Denali

After a 14 hr busride from Whitehorse I arrived in Anchorage late last night. Today we met with the expedition team (9 clients, 3 guides) for some introductions and a gear check. We also made a quick trip to the Anchorage REI store for some last minute climbing gear shopping.

(I also checked to see that my Bob Yak bike trailer and Ortlieb panniers had been shipped and held there; I had ordered them months ago and delivered to this store so as to avoid having to bring them all the way from Florida to Alaska…)

Here are some useful pointers for the Denali expedition:
National Weather Service forecast for the Denali mountain
AAI current news and dispatches page (we are team 6 on Denali from Jun 6-27)
General AAI Blog with mountaineering updates
My SPOT tracking page for the Denali expedition

While I would have liked a few more days to rest and eat – feels like I have lost a couple of pounds on Mount Logan – I am happy to have caught up with the original schedule. I should also bring very good acclimatization, after having slept 12 days above 4000m, 7 of which near or above 5000m. According to the AAI guides, now it’s up to good decision making, taking care of one’s body and a bit of luck. Let’s hope the weather will cooperate and the winds at altitude won’t be too strong.

Wish me luck for Denali!

Add comment June 7th, 2009

Mount Logan expedition pictures

Here is a picture of me standing on the summit of Mount Logan, highest point of Canada at 5959m, June 1, 2009:

On Summit of Mount Logan at 5959m

During one short rest-day in Whitehorse I was able to upload some more photos of our expedition using Picasa (Google). Check here for 31 pictures of the climb.

Cold Evening at Camp 2 (King Col) 4150m

Tomorrow I will hop on the bus to Anchorage to meet up with the Denali Expedition! While I would have liked to spend a few more rest-days in the warm summer weather down here, one thing is for sure: Never in my entire life have I been better acclimatized to altitude than right now: We spent the last 12 nights above 4000m, 7 nights of which near or above 5000m. This will help me on Denali…

2 comments June 5th, 2009

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