Showing posts from July, 2011

Denali: Common Knowledge

Common Knowledge? More rest days followed. More bad weather, too, though not as bad as forecast. Had our trip ended right now, we would not have been unhappy. However, we would not have completely satisfied, either. The Cassin gave us a great day out on a beautiful big-mountain route, it pushed us physically as few ascents ever had, but it did not push us as climbers. Now I love days like the one on the Cassin, when I get to run up miles of easy ground. But once in a while I also need to get on routes where my reality is reduced to the circle of vertical ice and rock within reach of my tools and crampons, routes that keep me oscillating between desperation and elation, all within the span of a single move. We thought about having a go at the Denali Diamond, which after all had been our original objective. The lower, technical part of the route looked great; however, slogging up the upper Cassin for a second time did not appeal. Between that and simply wanting to see another aspect of

Denali: The Cassin

Rest days Our acclimatization complete, we hung out at 14k and rested. A snowstorm blew though, dropping enough snow to set off numerous sloughs out of steeper terrain, and to build up windslabs on lower-angled slopes. While we were not thrilled with that particular turn of events, the storm did provide a perfect excuse for guilt-free eating, reading and sleeping. When we could stand festering in camp no longer, we stepped into our skis and skinned up to the crest of the West Rib. It felt good to stretch our legs, plus we wanted to check out the West-Rib cutoff descent into the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, rather melodramatically dubbed the “Valley of Death.” We had originally planned to attempt the Denali Diamond on the southwest face, but between a forecast that could not quite commit to more than one clear day, and me having just started a course of antibiotics, we decided to do something easier instead. The ultra-classic Cassin Ridge it would be. Denali seen from Talk

Denali: On The Butt

Alaska? Every spring robins, ducks and geese, driven by an evolutionary imperative, fly north to mate, nest and breed. Alpinists might not be subject to the same reproductive urge. All the same, as days get longer and ice climbs in their home mountain ranges once again become waterfalls, they too feel the pull of the vast boreal tundra, and of the great white peaks rising above it. I seem to go up north every other year or so: I have made trips to the Alaska Range in 2005 , 2007 , 2010 , and again this year. What is it about the place that keeps drawing me back? Is it the huge faces of perfect granite laced with ice, rising above immense glaciers? Is it the 24-hour daylight that throws off your internal clock and lets you – if you are masochistically inclined – to climb for as long as your body and mind will let you? Is it the thin, cold air high on Denali that forces you to tread a fine line, too cold to stop and rest, too exhausted to warm up through movement? I expect it is probabl