The weather is beautiful and everyone is eager to get going. We check all of our gear and load up the van. So far the team seems like a great group of people, we all get along nicely and conversation is mainly based on learning about each other. My tent partner, Chase, is a doctor from northern California and I'm eager to hear his stories from Aconcagua. We drive to the mountain, climb about 1k feet to the base of Panorama Point and set up base camp. I experience shin bang right off the bat and have to stop and loosen my left boot. Pulling sleds in the slush is an interesting experience. Stomping out a tent site and digging pits for the kitchen 'posh' tents is all new for me as well. We all enjoy the high temperatures and calm weather knowing it isn't going to last long...
4/13/2008: Day 2
The weather is still holding for now. We take advantage of the warm and calm weather to learn knots and tie up our prussiks. In the afternoon we practice rope team travel and take a short hike to the nearby ridge overlooking the Nisqually valley. From here we can see the storms moving in quickly.
4/14/2008: Day 3
We wake up to cold, wind, and a light covering of hoar on the snow, the trees, the tents...everything! This sets the stage for the remainder of the week's weather. Today we quarry snow blocks and fortify camp for the impending storms. We also take advantage of the re-frozen snow to practice ice axe arrest and snow climbing on the nearby steeps. The snow stakes for our vestibule end up under the snow wall - little do Chase and I know how much of a pain in the ass this is going to be later.
4/15/2008: Day 4
Snowing and blowing hard when we woke up today. After digging out camp we eat breakfast and discuss map and compass in the big posh. In the afternoon we learn and practice making SEReNE anchors in the snow. By the afternoon it's blowing about 30mph sustained and gusty with a couple gusts of 50-60mph...NO SKIN EXPOSED! Check out this quick video showing the weather this day. This is basically how it was this week with the exception of a few hours on Day 5 where we day-hiked to camp Muir.
Weather reports had predicted a brief high-pressure system and now it's finally here - there is a break in the clouds. We eat breakfast, pack up, button down camp, and start our day-trek to camp Muir. Our snowshoes are breaking loose so we ditch them. We kick steps up to Panorama Point and continue trekking up to the snowfield. After a couple of hours we break through the clouds and everybody is in awe as the mountain opens up in front of us. We take a break where Eric and Stewart (our guides) explain the landmarks and glacier features higher up. Unfortunately after this point, my rental boots begin to break through my shins as well. The pain in my left shin is so intense that I'm walking slower now, unable to maintain a good pace, and getting cold from sweat. Continuing on, we hit a particularly steep section of the snowfield and I break down, emotionally, from the pain and self-disappointment. The team takes a final break about 30 minutes from Muir where I doctor up my leg. At Muir we practice prussiking, 'unload' in the facilities, and refill our water. After this brief visit, we head back down to camp just as another storm smacks us hard.
4/17/2008: Day 6
My immediate reaction to stepping out of the tent is that my leg is still very, very sore...so much so that I now need to have my boot completely untied to make it tolerable. Luckily we don't plan to take any hikes today and spend the majority of the day on anchors, belaying, rappelling, and fixed line ascent. It's a whiteout all day as usual with high winds. My tent buddy, Chase, loses one of his mitts in the wind despite it being leashed to his wrist. Stewart, who is downhill, sees Chase's glove fly overhead and into the abyss!
4/18/2008: Day 7
Leg is still sore. Weather is still crappy. In the posh we talk more about navigation in the morning to escape the weather. Then we go back outside and practice fixed line descent. After this, we pack up, button up camp, and get roped up in full glacier rigs for rope team practice. We hike through the whiteout, placing wands, back to Paradise. At Paradise there is some crusty and steep ice and snow to practice cramponing. While we're there we dig out the van, head inside briefly to talk more about avalanche safety, use the toilets, and then head back up to camp.
4/19/2008: Day 8
We wake up, pack up, break camp, pack the sleds, and head down the mountain. Chopping out the snow stakes for the vestibule, that are now under the ice wall, is quite a chore and takes Chase and I nearly an hour. When we get back to the van, putting on real shoes was the greatest feeling in the world! We drive back to Seattle, taking a pit stop to enjoy a wonderful bacon cheeseburger and beer in Ashford.
Well, I'm not necessarily going on to Denali. I actually did this trip to learn all the winter skills and to understand how my body reacts to persistent cold.
I am planning to go on to Aconcagua, though, and it looks like the La Sportiva Nuptse boots are going to work out for my narrow feet. I got a pair of 46.5s used but they may be a tad small. I'm also going to get a pair of 47s and see which size I decide to keep.