Mount Rainier/Winter Denali Seminar - Days 3-4

Day 3:  A Warm Meal

Rising at 6:30am, there was no question in my mind what I wanted to do.  There was talk of only proceeding up to the next camp up, but that would keep us on a schedule that is a day behind the original itinerary for the trip.  I wanted to go all the way to Camp Muir and get back on track.  Having lobbied for it the prior night, I offered to carry some of Ben’s weight and turned his hesitance into agreement.

The 4000-foot gain in elevation to Camp Muir, while carrying sixty pound packs and dragging another forty in sleds behind us was good physical training for Denali.  We still have not covered crevasse rescue—a refresher for me, or rope travel and rigging with sleds, something very new to me.  Nor have we covered building snow caves, something I would hope we would not need but inevitably will at some point.  Nor wall-building for tents.  

Disappointment again. This is the “suck” I came to experience, but not within a protected stone hut.

Right now, I am writing from the public shelter at Camp Muir.  Outside, 50mph gusts blow through the mountain chutes and saddles and bring with them a predicted foot of snowfall.  Disappointment again.  This is the “suck” I came to experience, but not within a protected stone hut.  It was nice to get rid of our blue bags and the feces within, however.  There's always a bright side.

The last thousand feet of gain had me chilled, and while I was sweating in my base layer and soft shell jacket, any break turned that sweat into ice.  The temperature is in the lower 20s/higher 10s at 10000’, but the 30-40mph winds brought the wind chill down to zero.  It took a warm meal to bring my body temperature back up, something that cuddling in my sleeping bag with my wet clothes failed to do.  A warm meal helps.  

The night ended with a long conversation about politics and religion and everything in between.  None of them were “solved”, so I guess in the end it was no better than endless superficial banter about climbers and alpinists that were “badasses”, but having the deeper conversation sure felt more meaningful.  I wonder if those badasses carry on about who summited what and how quickly they did it…I hope not.

Day 4:  Crevasse Rescue

What’s the next best thing to climbing the mountain?  Pretending to unsuccessfully climb the mountain, apparently.  Well, it is a seminar after all.  Crevasse rescue is more interesting in severe weather (sort of—it was in the teens with the wind gusting to 30mph).  What better way to spend the day than outside in the snow that was carried from the clouds and down the mountain to where we were simulating a fall into a crevasse by one of our ropemates!  So we are learning the skills we came to learn.  But not being able to summit has been the most disappointing thing.  

I like to practice success, and while NOT proceeding up the mountain when a winter storm brings a foot and a half of snow with it could be considered success given the increased avalanche danger, the bothersome thing was more that the seminar started with the instructor giving us a “less than 1% chance of summiting.”  The fact is we had two days that we could have spent summiting the mountain.  Instead, we spent one of them learning how to travel on snow, self-arrest, and search for an avalanche victim.  Sure, those are necessary skills, but at this point I am growing impatient with the things I must learn to go up the mountain where I will actually practice them.  I am yet disappointed.  Alas, the weather does not always cooperate, and it is not today. 

I suppose with a Goretex bivy bag one could stay dry, but sleeping on a block of ice sounds like a cold night.

After four repetitions of 3-to-1 crevasse direct haul system, I did have the opportunity to try my hand at digging a snow cave.  I was only able to get a third of the way finished before dinner was served.  I received some good pointers to improve it—digging cathedral ceilings with a hole in them to allow for ventilation will prevent a rain storm of melting snow on the inside of one's snow cave.  I suppose with a Goretex bivy bag one could stay dry, but sleeping on a block of ice sounds like a cold night.  

Dinner was nice and while with breakfast, we had a knot-tying lesson, with dinner we had a brief mountain medicine overview.  I guess I am still lacking procardia, the pill to treat High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). 

So far, I have not been happy with my hard shell pants, or my tent.  I am thinking about replacing both with more solid variants.  I am running out of money for this Denali trip...