I would say we started the day at first light, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. This time of year, there’s no darkness.
We grubbed and broke down camp. For an expedition of this nature, it requires more gear and food than can be stored in just a backpack. Our team of 8 started out with just shy of 1000 pounds of gear. To carry all that gear, we each dragged a loaded sled behind us.
Roped up and lookin’ good
From base camp (7,200′) we descended “Heartbreak Hill” to about 6,800′ and climbed gradually to our next camp at the base of Ski Hill (7,800). Just as we started setting up tents and digging our kitchen area, the clouds descended and engulfed the camp in a snowy, low visibility embrace.
Uwe helping dig the kitchen
The embrace of stormy weather continued and we decided to sit tight for the day. Even though we weren’t moving, the camp required continual shoveling to keep tents and gear in good order.
Larry, Parker, Uwe, and Frank hanging out in the kitchen
The weather didn’t get any better, but we made our next move. We loaded up extra gear and food in our packs and sleds and headed up Ski Hill to make a cache in between our camp and the next camp at 11,200′.
The whiteout conditions and fresh snowfall made the climb interesting as we had to break trail though foot deep powder. Even with the snowshoes, there was quite a bit of postholing. This is exhausting work!
We dug our cache (~9,900′) and buried our extra supplies to be recovered later. The way back to our camp was much quicker as we were now heading down hill with empty packs.
Our whiteout continued. Undeterred, we packed up camp and set off to move to the next camp at 11,200′. Again, we were breaking trail most of the way as the snow had not let up and the previous day’s trail was completely gone except for some well placed wands from the day before.
We saw a number of dead birds at 7,800′ camp and up to 11 camp. Small birds get blown of course and die in this harsh terrain. This group was getting tossed around by the high winds. A similar fate for these birds if they stick around too long.
Even though we had cached a fair amount of supplies the previous day, the gear load was not light. Our team pushed hard for 7.5 hours to make the 3,400′ climb to ’11 camp,’ passing our cache along the way.
11 camp in the not so lovely weather we were enjoying
Exhausted from a long day of climbing, it was time to set up camp again. We found a previously camped spot and did some shoveling to spruce it up a bit. It was getting late, so we put off digging a formal kitchen until the next day. The guides cooked up dinner in the tent vestibule and we ate in our tents that night. This was a taste of what life is like at high camp. (You like that pun?)
We slept in until mid-morning to fully rest from the late finish the day before. As we were all now accustomed to the bad weather, it was just expected that morning activities included shoveling the snow from the night before. The team then got together to dig our kitchen and raise the kitchen tent.
Again, we decided to rope up and move in the less than ideal conditions. The task for today was to descend approximately 1300’ to retrieve our cache we deposited on day 4. The trip down to the cache was very quick. It was nice to move downhill with nothing in our packs.
Once at the cache, we dug it up and loaded our gear and headed back up the hill. It was only a few minutes from enjoying the stroll down the hill to slowly grinding our way back up. About 30 minutes outside of camp and we got caught behind a slow moving team. While the slow pace was easy to maintain, it was difficult to stay warm in the windy/snowy conditions.
We finally saw the sun today! Along with that were some gorgeous views we had all come to see.
A view up Motorcycle Hill from 11 camp
Even though the weather was better, the wind further up the mountain did not make the next cache day look like an appetizing endeavor. We would have been looking to move gear up around Windy Corner at about 13,700’.
A lovely casual day for the team!
Another clear day and the wind appeared to have died down so we got ready to cache some gear. The path was not very long in distance, but a climb of about 2,500’ up steeper trail still dragging our sleds let everyone know that today was not a gimmie.
Climb Motorcycle Hill
Veer to the right up Squirrel Hill
Cross the Polo Fields
Go around Windy Corner
Looking at Windy Corner from the edge of the Polo Fields
The guides had been telling us about keeping a manageable pace and making sure you don’t burn yourself out. While I had listened to the words, I didn’t follow their advice. The pace up Squirrel Hill had taken its toll on my and I was struggling to keep pace across the fairly flat Polo Fields. We took a break here (which I was absolutely dying for). The next leg was to climb up and around Windy Corner. This section is notorious for rock fall, so it’s important to minimize your exposure and move quickly. It was a difficult section for me as I was digging down to find the legs I needed to keep up.
Just in case you were wondering. This is what our bathroom looked like. Pee hole with the infamous CMC beside it. CMC stands for clean mountain can. Ironic.
We all got around the corner in one piece and dug the cache. The next leg was to retrace our steps back to 11 camp. Even though I was worn out, the downhill move with no pack weight was quite easy and even a good recovery activity from the climb.
Keeping in mind the wake-up call I got the day before, we packed up and got ready to move. The route was the same, but we would continue on past our cache along a mellow rise into 14 camp (14,200’).
Kyle putting on his jacket during a break. Awesome view behind him!
This day went very well for me compared to the day before. I was actually feeling good enough to want to pick up the cache gear as we went by. We did not do this and by the time we reached 14 camp I was pretty tired and thankful we had not.
At 14 camp we found a large walled in campsite that had been abandoned with a lovely walled in bathroom (aka – pee hole). A little bit of shoveling to spruce up the site and we pitched our tents. Another team effort to dig a kitchen and we were sitting pretty at 14,200’!
View of Mt. Foraker from 14 camp
From here we had gorgeous views of Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker. We also had a view of what lay ahead when it was time to move up the mountain.
A quick (18 minute) stroll down the mountain and we were back at the cache set on day 8. We loaded up and leisurely made our way back to camp. It was a quick and easy back carry. The team looked great, especially considering the difficult move the day before.
Kinda artsy, ain’t it?
That night at dinner we talked about the go forward plan. The next move would be to carry gear to the top of the fixed lines for a cache. Since there was only group gear for four people to carry, we drew straws to see who had to carry it. I drew a long straw. No group gear for me!