Tuesday, June 19, 2012

May 21, 2012
We woke around 8:00 to find that the weather was not very good.  It was windy and cold outside the tent and we could not even see Denali Pass.  We decided to sleep for a bit longer and see if the weather improved.  I still  had a slight headache from the climb to high camp the day before.  
At 10:00, the weather still had not improved.  At high elevations, you tend to lose your appetite.  Neither of us really felt much like eating but we boiled water and had some soup to make sure we were still getting some calories and fluids.  At high elevations, your digestive system slows down.  There is not as much oxygen so it takes longer for your body to digest food than at a lower elevation.  
The weather did not improve until late in the afternoon.  We spent most of the day relaxing and reading in the tent.  In the afternoon, we chatted with fellow climbers about what the best plan of action would be for the following days.  We had only brought food and fuel up to high camp for approximately four days and tomorrow would be day three.  We decided that if we were unable to summit the next day, we would have to return to Basin Camp until the weather improved.  This was not something I wanted to do but I knew that it was the right decision.  
That night I prayed and prayed for the weather would improve to allow us to summit the next day. I really hoped that we would not have to do the fixed lines and the ridge to high camp more than once.  

May 22, 2012
We woke to the sound of other climbers getting ready for the day.  It was around 8:00 and when we looked outside of the tent, it was intermittent clouds and we could see Denali Pass.  This was a good sign.  I prayed that the weather would stay good for us.  We started to get ready.  Boiling water, eating and drinking.  In our bags we packed the minimal, high elevation down suit or what we were not wearing from the beginning, goggles, balaclava, neck warmer and high elevation mitts.  We also packed a few chocolate bars for energy.  
The few days before, we had met three young climbers climbing together. One summited the day before us and the other two had asked to climb with us today.  The one climber at the last minute decided not to climb that day so at around 1:00 the other climber Adam and I headed out of camp.
There is a short section that is mostly flat until you reach the base of the Autobahn.  The Autobahn is a steep climb and traverse up to Denali Pass. Many people die on the Autobahn because it is very steep and if you fall there are large crevasse looming below it. To make this a little safer, there are anchors along the way for climbers to clip the rope into for safety in case they fall. With three people, the rope was just long enough to go in between the anchors so that we were always tied into one anchor as we climbed the Autobahn.  
Part way up the Autobahn, the other climber that initially stayed behind caught up to us.  Just after we had left camp, he had decided that today was the day to climb and quickly got ready. When he caught us, we tied him in to our rope and continued up.  
As we approached Denali Pass, we started to feel the wind.  It curled down the mountains and rushed through the pass where we were coming through. We wondered if it was too windy and if we should turn around but other climbers ahead of us had continued so we decided to see if the wind improved.
Just above Denali Pass, we stopped in a shelter around some rocks.  The one climber who had started with us was not feeling good.  He had not had a rest day at high camp like the rest of us and was feeling the effects of altitude and fatigue from the long climb to high camp.  He was not sure if he should continue as he needed to go slower and if we went much slower the rest of us were at risk of frostbite.  After several minutes of looking at options, the two climbers decided to turn around and try the next day. Since we only had one rope with us, we had to cut the rope in half and both teams continue with a smaller rope.  This made for a challenge in some places as the anchors were farther apart than our rope.  To keep ourselves safe, the back person, Adam, would stay anchored.  The front person, me, would walk ahead until the rope was taut and I would use my ice axe to anchor us in.  Adam would then climb towards me until we stood next to each other.  He would then anchor and we would continue this way until we could clip into the next anchor.  It made for a longer climb but there were a few sections that were very steep and we were worried about falling if we were not anchored in.
Above Denali Pass, the weather improved. The clouds cleared and the sun came out.  It turned into a beautiful day.  We followed the south, southeast ridge to the football field.  This is a section that is fairly flat right before the last steep uphill before the summit ridge.  This is where I started to feel unwell.  I still do not know if it was from a head cold I was trying to fight off or if it was from the altitude, however just after the football field, I started coughing and could not stop.  All the coughing made me nauseated and I became sick to my stomach.  Since I had not been eating much from lack of appetite, it did not last long and then I felt much better.  
The steep climb before the summit ridge seemed to take forever.  It was getting harder and harder to move quickly and very easy to get short of breath.  Finally we were looking at the summit ridge.  
The ridge itself is quite narrow and has vertical drop offs on both sides.  A wrong move on this ridge could easily cost you your life.  Since it was so narrow, in sections you could not pass a climber and if you were coming down you had to wait at an area that was wider to pass.  Most of the way, Adam and I used our ice axes as anchors, however there were a few fixed anchors on the ridge at the most difficult areas.  
On May 22, 2012, at around 7:00 in the afternoon, we summited Mt McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.  The view was stunning.  The weather had cleared, leaving only a few clouds in the distance around us.  We were able to have another team take a quick photo of the two of us before they headed down.  It was a wonderful day.  We did not stay long at the summit.  It was very cold from the wind and it was getting late in the day.  So we carefully made our way back across the ridge down the steep slope to the football field and down the south east ridge to Denali Pass.  
From Denali Pass down the Autobahn took us some time.  We were both tired now and with a short rope, most of the anchors were too far apart so we had to use our axes most of the way down.  This took time and it was not until 1:00am in the morning when we finally made it back to camp.  Cold, tired and in the dark, we boiled a small amount of water to drink and eat before crawling into our nice warm sleeping bags and falling into a very welcoming sleep.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 18, 2012
The morning brought another beautiful day.  Few clouds and the sun shinning. After having breakfast, we set aside another cache with extra food and equipment.  What I had not realized when packing the day before is that I had not left a lot of food for Adam and I to eat for dinner and breakfast.  It was enough but Adam wanted hot Chocolate, which I had packed. Ops, looks like he will have to go without for one morning.   
With the remainder of our gear, we headed up Motorcycle hill and up to Windy Corner.  The trek was slightly easier today as we had acclimatized slightly to the higher elevation and because our bodies were coming more conditioned.  
At Windy Corner, again there was hardly any wind at all making for a nice climb to our cache.  Just before arriving at the cache is where we saw the helicopter.  It was circling around Basin Camp ahead of us and then took off into the distance.  Helicopters on mountains are not usually a good sign.  We found out later that this was the first rescue and death of the season on Mt. McKinley.  With no communication to the outside world, we knew people would be worried but there was nothing we could do.  

The cache, we dug up and after loading it on the sleigh that we had left with it the day before, we headed the short distance uphill to Basin Camp (14,200ft/4,300m).  Even though the distance was only just over a kilometer, with all our heavy equipment, it took a long time and was exhausting.  Adam pulled the sleigh and I pulled Adam and the sleigh.  By time we arrived at Basin Camp, we were tired and very glad to make camp.  
We were lucky and were able to find a sight that was partly built.  It was getting late so team work came into play. Adam started the stove while I set up the tent.  It worked well for us, we each had our part to play and helped each other out when we could to get the tasks that needed to be done done.  Before long we were curled up inside the tent and stove in the vestibule boiling water.     

May 19, 2012
It is recommended that everyone rest for at least one day at basin camp. For this reason, basin camp is the largest of the camps with people building Igloos and large walls of snow with their free time.  There was a small hike that we did called the hike to the edge of the world. It is a 15 min walk to a cliff that on a good day you can see Talkeetna. We were told that cell phones would work from here and we tried to get a message out.  Unfortunately, even though the phone detected a AT&T tower it would not connect. By the end of the day we were feeling good so we planed to go up the next day.

May 20, 2012
After our rest day in Basin Camp, we decided to do a single carry with as little as we could get by with to high camp or Camp 4 (17,200ft/5,200m).  We took only the essentials.  Tent, sleeping bag and mat, food and fuel for four days, high elevation down gear, a small first aid kit, few personal items and extra socks and whatever we were wearing to climb that day.  It was still a lot of weight but we thought that it was worth doing a single carry since we felt good and the weather was still beautiful.
The climb from Basin Camp is steep.  First a 1,200ft/370m steep climb then a 800ft/240m section known as the Headwall.  The Headwall is roped with fixed lines, making it safer and easier to scale. Using an accendor unit, we climbed the steep section to the top of the fixed lines.  Many climbers had made caches at this section however we continued on.  From the top of the fixed lines, you climb a bit before coming up onto a ridge line.  The ridge weaves in and around rocks and some section were quite intimidating.  A small ridge with drop offs on either side.  My heart pounded in a few sections and I had to focus hard to make sure I did not lose my balance or catch my crampon on a pant leg and fall.  It was a beautiful view from the ridge but I was sure glad to finally see Camp 4 and make camp.  It was a tiring, long day, the temperature was getting colder and I was starting to feel the altitude with a headache.  I was happy to set up camp and curl into my warm sleeping bag for a good nights sleep.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May 14, 2012
The days are getting longer in Alaska as the summer approaches.  There are only a few hours where the sun is totally gone making the temperatures drop at night or when the sun disappears behind the surrounding mountains.  Each morning, we tried to wait until the sun was on our tent before getting ready as it was much more comfortable.  Getting packed up, boiling 4-6 litres of water and eating takes time and with the sun out it makes it more enjoyable.  After packing and leaving a cache in base camp we headed down Heartbreak Hill towards the main Kahiltna Glacier.  In this section there are a lot of snow covered crevasses so it was important to travel roped together especially when the sun started softening the snow.  The trek to camp 1 (7,800 feet/2,400 meters at the base of Ski Hill) took us about 6 hours.  It was a long trek carrying all our gear on our backs and in a sleigh behind us.  The trek was uphill after Heartbreak Hill but not very steep, however it was long and we were glad to stop and camp for the night.
May 15, 2012
We were feeling good so we decided to try to carry all our gear up to camp 2. It ended up being a lot harder and longer than we expected. After the climb up Ski Hill, we continued up several other long hills arrived at camp 2 (11,000ft/3,400m) after a 8 hour climb.  Building our camp, we had to melt the water in the cold as the sun went behind the mountain just as we got the tent up.  
May 16, 2012
Camp 2 is located at the base of Motorcycle hill. It received its name because there are motorcycle competitions to climb hills of a similar angle. We were tired after the climb to camp 2 so decided to rest for a day.  It was fun to have a rest day. We built a snug campsite surrounded walls of snow blocks and a small cooking area.
May 17, 2012
We woke with the sun hitting our tent around 0900.  After our rest day, we were feeling good.  Since we had a lot of equipment, we decided to carrie half of it to just past windy corner. We packed everything that we would need for Basin Camp and high camp (mostly our big down clothing, food for about a week and fuel).  We took one sleigh and packed our bags full.  
The first part of the climb was up motorcycle hill.  It was steep and tiring but we made it to the apex.  From there the trail turns north and continues up to Squirrel Point.  This is where in 1993 there was a sighting of a red squirrel.  There was small bits of crumbs from climber eating chocolate bars or other energy items that the squirrel must have been able to survive.  The climb continues up to a plateau at Windy Corner.  It was icy in places along the way as the wind can get up to 100-160km/hr at times at Windy Corner.  Thankfully, the weather was beautiful and there was hardly any wind at all when we arrived at the Corner.  Around the corner is a traverse where the path is at times only a boot wide.  Thankfully it is not a long section and after crossing several small crevasses, we arrived at the cache location (13,500ft/4,100m).  
After digging a hole large enough to hold our bag, we covered it with snow and marked it with wands.  Then, we headed back to camp 2 for the night.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sorry to have kept everyone waiting.  Adam and I have had a busy couple of days trying to recover from exhaustion and sore muscles.    
I would first like to thank Joe and Evelyn.  They have gone above and beyond helping us out during this expedition.  Opening their home up to us, letting us use their car and driving us to Talkeetna is just scratching the surface of how wonderful and helpful they have been.  This trip would have been a lot more hectic if it was not for them.  Thank you both very much!
Adam and I had hoped to have more communication while we were on the mountain.  We were told that there was a possibility of cell service at a few different points of the mountain.  Unfortunately, at none of these points did our phones want to work or to connect to the network that was available.  We had given our parents a tentative schedule which we were planning of following, however, due to feeling strong, acclimatizing well and great weather, we were able to move up the mountain more quickly than we had originally thought. 
Over the next few days, Adam and I will give you a more in depth look on our climb to let you know how it went. 
May 12, 2012
We had our meeting with the rangers at the Talkeetna Rangers satiation.  They showed us a slide show presentation about the route up the mountain and intimidate you to no end about where lots of people had fallen or died along the way.  It was a little nerve racking however we had done our research and we were prepared.  They also gave us a green pale with a bunch of plastic bags.  This was our new toilet.  Luxury!! J We were also instructed that we had to carry the full plastic bags until we found a deep crevasse to throw it in.   However, it is very important to keep the mountain clean which we found was very true. 
May 13, 2012
We woke early to a beautiful day with clear skies for flying.  We took Sheldon Air into base camp.  Sheldon Air was very friendly and helpful and even made us delicious homemade cookies.  A great treat as we were not going to have any home cooked meals for awhile. 
We took a Cessna 185 plane toward the Alaska mountain range on a 45 min flight.  Surrounded by snow covered peaks, we weaved our way towards base camp elevation 7,200 feet/2,200 meters. 
Base Camp is a small community with climbers coming and leaving. It is located on the southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.  There is a base camp manager making sure each team has fuel, wands for marking the trail and caches (cache is a bag of supplies that we buried to retrieve later) and sleigh for pulling gear.  We spent our first night here to start our acclimatization. 

Luxury Toilet

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Throw out the itinerary - they summited

I have been publishing this blog according to Adam's itinerary.  Earlier today, Adam and Laura phoned their dad at his office and me twice on my cell phone.  The first cell phone call all Adam said was "We are alive!"  Laura mumbled something I could not make out and then they hung up.  On the second cell phone call I got the info I was hoping for.  They summited Mt. McKinley 2 days ago and were now back in Talkeetna.  They should be at our friends in Anchorage later today and we will get more details of their climb when we call them.  Laura said they will update the blog and let everyone in on some of the particulars of the climb.  Interestingly, I had emailed the national parks service the day they summited  to inquire about them.  Dan now knows what it feels like to wait and not know what is happening. 
A relieved mom.

Rest day

The kids have been climbing up and down for the past few days securing supplies for the final ascent and acclimatizing.  This is a very interesting part of the mountain with some great names for the various hills and corners.  motorcycle hill, squirrel hill and windy corner.  This is one of the most dangerous sections on the mountain.  Today is a day of rest.  Tomorrow, according to Adam`s itinerary if the weather is good they will be climbing to Basin Camp.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Deaths on Mt McKinley & Mt. Evererst

Monday, we were contacted by the media to comment on the death of a Canadian woman and several other people on Mt Everest.  Yesterday, there was news of the death of a German male on Mt. McKinley.  My heart skips a beat whenever I read or hear about these things.  I know my children are smart and capable but still the maternal instinct to protect comes into play even at this time in their lives.  I think as I age death becomes more of a reality.  No news is good news so I will just continue to pray for their safety.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Camp 3

On May 21, Adam and Laura did a carry to 4,100m /13,500'.  They planned to bury a cache at this altitude for pick up at a later date.  It is always wise to have a back up plan.  Today, they will ascend 200m /700'  and return to Camp 3 for the night.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pen Pals

Our friends Joe and Evelyn in Alaska have been greatly supportive of this climb and the climb Dan and Alan made of Mt McKinley several years ago.  The story of how the two families originally met is an interesting one.
At age 60, Adam, Alan and Laura's grandparents were on a motorcycle trip across Canada and up the Alaska highway.  When in Anchorage they stopped to look at all the small air planes at an airstrip.  Grandpa was looking through a chain link fence and called a gentleman over to ask a few questions about the airstrip and the planes.  (Alaska has more small aircraft / capita than any place else in the world).  It ended up the gentleman he spoke to, Joe, was in charge of the airport and he invited grandpa and grandma to his home.  An immediate friendship developed between Joe and grandpa and they wrote letters to each other for over 20 years.  Grandpa recently passed away and among his belongings were all the letters he received from Joe over the years.  When I mentioned this to Joe he commented that he still had all the letters grandpa wrote him.
A long distance relationship built on respect and mutual interest.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Upcoming weather

Today was a rest day for Adam and Laura after doing single carry to camp 3 at 3.400 m/11.000' yesterday.  According to the weatherman there is light snow for the next few days with a heavy snowfall on Wednesday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Camp 2

Yesterday, Adam and Laura did a carry to camp 2 at 3,000 m/9,700'.  They would have returned to camp 1 to sleep and will move to camp 2 today.  The general rule in climbing is to climb high and sleep low.  This stimulates the body to produce extra red blood cells needed at higher altitudes where there is less oxygen.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Camp 1

The kids have been very fortunate to have great weather for the past few days.   Yesterday they left very early in the morning to climb to their first camp at 2,400m/7,800'.  On this mountain their are no sherpas or porters like on some of the other mountains and they are not being supported by a climbing company so they have to be completely self sufficient.  They carry a large pack, pull a toboggan and set up caches en route.
The following picture is from the Talkeena Air Taxi webcam.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

current statistics

The chart below shows the current numbers of registered climbers for Mt. McKinley as of Monday, May 14, 2012 the day Adam and Laura arrived at Base Camp.
Climbing Statistics the 2012 Season
Mt. McKinley

Number of Registered Climbers

Climbers Currently On Mountain

Completed Climbs

Number of Summits

Summit Percentage

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kahiltna Base camp

The National Parks Service seems very organized.  At  base camp Adam and Laura register with the Kahiltna base camp manager and collect their cooking fuel.
Today, they will spend the day practising crevasse rescue techniques at a nearby crevasse before going to bed early since they will leave camp tomorrow in the wee hours of the morning.  Laura was concerned she might have difficulty rescuing Adam from a crevasse if he fell into one and was injured so this practise is very important.  Lucky for her Adam lost some weight tripping around southeast Asia recently.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Adam and Laura at Base Camp

Adam and Laura with some of their gear
Adam and Laura with their plane in the background
 Evelyn, Joe, Laura and Adam in Talkeetna

Joe and Evelyn took Adam and Laura to Talkeetna.  The weather is perfect for flying since Joe commented that they could see Mt. McKinley from their home 144 miles away.  As a result, Adam and Laura should be at base camp now.  The weather for the next few days looks very good.

Mother's Day

Yesterday, Adam and Laura did their orientation at Talkeetna Ranger Station in Denali National Park.   This is where you check in to begin your climb.  You are required to bring a photo, all the necessary paper work and money.  A ranger ensures you have read the Denali Mountaineering Guide which reviews search and rescue, clean climbing requirements, high altitude medical problems, glacier hazards and self sufficiency.
Today, Mother's Day, they will fly to Kahiltna Glacier to begin their adventure.  It will be easy for me to remember the day!

Friday, May 11, 2012


Adam and Laura have arrived safely in Anchorage Alaska with all their luggage.  That is a feat in itself since Laura and Adam have been separated from their luggage on numerous trips.  On a trip like this with so much specialized gear it would have been a real problem.
Friends of the family, Joe and Evelyn, have offered them their home and Cadillac for a few days so they are comfortable and able to get any extra supplies. Their support and generosity is greatly appreciated especially in today's lock and key society.
Laura commented that the weather was quite cold and she saw a moose coming from the airport.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mt. McKinley

Laura and I are currently in transit on our way to Alaska. We are going to attempt Mt. McKinley the highest mountain in North America. We are flying most of today and will be shopping for food tomorrow in Anchorage.