Entries By erik nelson

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Carry to 16,200’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 09, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 16,200'

Monday, July 8, 2013
One of our better weather days of the trip.  That said, it is snowing good and hard now at our 14,200 ft camp, but that isn’t so important (yet).  It was clear and calm this morning when we were interested in starting our carry up onto the West Buttress of Denali.  By far, this was our coldest morning.  We were guessing it was -10F or thereabouts.  We started climbing at a quarter to 10 this morning in bright sunshine.  The route goes uphill in a hurry out of 14 camp and we made steady progress toward the “fixed ropes”.  This steep and intimidating section of the climb was tough, as expected.  Hard ice, 45 degree angles, unrelentingly uphill and airy feeling… but it was also spectacular when one was able to look up from the hard work for a moment to see the lower Kahiltna Glacier or Foraker across the way or the clean granite of Denali all around us.  We reached the ridge crest (16,200 ft) at 2 PM and took a welcome break, gazing down at the Peters Glacier and the Northwest Buttress on the “other” side of our perch.  Thus we broke Max’s altitude record, which was momentous.  But his was the only one to fall as our other climbers had previously topped mountains like Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua.  All noted that 16,200 on Denali felt a little different than similar heights on other mountains.  We cached our supplies and descended in gathering cloud and murk.  We’d reached 14 camp by 4:30 and took a few hours to kick back and drink water before dinner.  Tomorrow is a rest day, and a welcome one after four hard days of moving and acclimating to uncomfortable new altitudes. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Ascending the fixed lines on Mt. McKinley above 14,000ft camp.  Photo: Katy Laveck Looking down to camp at 14,000 ft on Mt. McKinley. Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Retrieve Gear

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 08, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

This morning was the first in a while that we weren’t getting up early, desperate for conditions to be favorable.  We got the stoves started around nine, which sounds late and lazy, except in these parts, the sun doesn’t get around the mountain until 9:30.  It was socked in and cloudy for our breakfast, and then snowing again, but without any wind.  We were set to do our “back carry” -dropping down to pick up our cache from the other day, but we’d also been in touch with Pete VanDeventer and knew his team was descending and would pop out of the clouds any minute.  It made sense to greet his gang and to exchange notes at 14,200 before going to get our carry done.  It was fun to see their team, flush with success and excited to nearly be done with their climb.  In the early afternoon, although it was still snowing, we set off into the murk to find our 13,600 ft cache.  The cache was undisturbed, which was a relief.  Guess we’d buried it all too deeply for the Ravens.  It took just over an hour to make it back up to camp with the cargo.  People retreated to their tents for a snooze while a few of us built a new kitchen-dining complex.  The clouds began to drop and the sun got shining brightly for dinner and the few remaining hours of the day -it ducks behind the West Buttress at 9 PM and the temperature seems to drop about fifty degrees in a few minutes at that point.  But we were treated to great views of Mounts Foraker and Hunter sticking out from the solid base of clouds spread below us.  The forecasts still call for snow, but luckily they aren’t always right in just how much snow we’ll get and at which elevation it will fall.  A calm day tomorrow for our carry to 16,200 ft would be greatly appreciated. 

Best Regards
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

An RMI Team camped at 14,200 ft on Mt. McKinley.  Mt. Foraker is in the background.  Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team On The Move

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 07, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

Saturday, July 6, 2013
14 K at last!  But we had to fight our way up here, it didn’t come easy.
Back down at 11,000 ft in the early hours of the day, it looked as though we might get decent weather.  At least, if one was looking up at the West Buttress, there was good visibility and not much sign of wind, if one turned and looked West, however, there was still a massive flow of cloud, as there had been all week, often overflowing and engulfing camp.
We ate breakfast and packed, it seemed especially difficult to get going after having become so deeply dug in for the best part of a week, but we managed.  Naturally, as we roped up and and got ready to walk, the clouds swept in and the wind came up.  We came full on into strong, steady winds as we topped motorcycle hill and it seemed we found even stronger winds at the crest of squirrel hill.  All of this was while inside a big white freezing cloud, so we were getting rimed up and frosty as we leaned straight into the storm to climb higher.  On the polo field, we still had wind but we were getting occasional sun breaks.  Windy Corner lived up to its name today.  Getting past it was the key battle of the day, but we knew if we could pass the corner we could leave the wind and cloud behind.  Sure enough, as we reached our cache from yesterday, we’d found a calm and sunny glacier.  It took another ninety minutes to get into “Genet Basin” which we reached at 3:30 PM.  We were happy to rejoin the teams we’d shared 11 camp with.  There were plenty of empty camp sites with good walls, so building our nest at 14,200 ft was made slightly easier.  The team was a little weary after pushing through such harsh conditions, but all were excited to be back in the game, to have new and awesome views and to have beat the forecasted “next storm”.  Yes, that is right, we are in for another one.  The western sky was full of wind sculpted wave clouds, as if a fleet of flying saucers were attacking Mount Foraker.  By the time we finished dinner, Denali was cloud capped as well and the snow was starting to fall at 14,200.

Best Regards
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Camp walls at 14,200' on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection An RMI Team ascending Squirrel Hill on Mt.McKinley.  Photo: Brent Okita

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Carry to 13,600’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | July 06, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 11,200'

Friday, July 5th, 2013 10:57 p.m. PST
Finally a break in the weather.  Things calmed down during the night and the upper layer of clouds began to dissipate.  As we watched for an hour or two beginning at 5 AM, the weather went back and forth for a while, but once we committed to getting the team up and getting going, it all began to go our way.  We dealt with slightly cooler temperatures and steady breezes as we left camp at 9 AM for our carry, but we had big blue skies overhead which was great for everybody’s morale.  Snow conditions were perfect for walking, which was a little surprising after so many days of falling snow.  It seems that it had been such a long dry spell previously, that the surface had gotten firm from wind and sun.  When new snow landed on that surface, it just blew clean.  At any rate, it was perfect for our crampons today.  We got up Motorcycle Hill and halfway up Squirrel Hill in the first hour, which entitled us to enjoy grand views of The Northwest Buttress and the Peter’s Glacier.  The second hour took us into the “Polo Field” as folks now call the basin which the end of the West Buttress towers over.  We moved through this area without much visibility as another cloud had found us.  By the time we reached Windy Corner, we were walking out of the cloud and getting big views again.  Windy Corner has been a concern for several weeks now as the June heat wave had produced a rockfall hazard in the area.  But there had to be some benefit to the storm that was keeping us down, it froze things up nicely above the corner and our passage was fast and safe.  We cached food and fuel at 13,600’, just past the corner.  It had taken four and a half hours to reach our destination.  We buried things deep to thwart the cache robbing ravens, and then began an easy descent with light packs.  By 3:45, we were back in camp, basking in sunshine.  There is still plenty of cloud around, but for the moment it is below us.  We hope it stays that way as we want to move to 14,200’ tomorrow.  All were excited and energized to finally see beyond the corner.  Denali’s South Peak was no longer far away or on some horizon, it was front and center… and gigantic. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Motorcycle Hill on Mt. McKinley. Photo: RMI Collection An RMI team traveling across the Polo Fields back to 11K Camp. Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Train at 11,200’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 04, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 11,200'

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
We hear that there was better weather in other places on Denali today, but not so much here at 11,000 ft.  Different day, same weather.  It was snow, blowing snow, cloud and blowing cloud.  We made good use of an afternoon sun break to put on harnesses and crampons and go for a short walk on the lower half of “motorcycle hill” which is just above camp.  It was a nice opportunity to stretch legs and review climbing techniques as well as a chance to see some cool blue crevasses.  After a fine Mexican dinner, we chatted to pass the time and listened to radio traffic from around the mountain.  It seems that we might have slightly better weather for a few days, at least according to our radio.  We’ll be ready to take advantage.  There are four other guided parties waiting things out with us at 11 K and I’m certain they are ready to get moving again as well.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

An RMI Team ascending Motorcycle Hill on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Hunker Down at 11,200’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Mike King, Zeb Blais | July 02, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 11,200'

Monday, July 1, 2013
Our storm got real in the night, with cannon-like broadsides of wind and ice particles assaulting the tents.  It was serious enough that the guides were out stumbling around from midnight to 2 AM, cutting snow blocks and building walls, but not serious enough that the whole team needed to be in on the fun.  It snowed and blew for much of the night, with the wind changing direction every now and then in order to keep things interesting.  Although the alarm had been set early for climbing, it was obvious as the morning progressed that we’d simply have to hunker down and ride out the storm.  Around mid-morning we rallied the whole crew to eat breakfast, dig out tents and build more walls.  Then it was back into the tents for a few hours.  We finished the day with some avalanche transceiver training by Zeb Blais, a fine dinner by Erik Nelson and Mike King, and some tall tales by yours truly.

Best Regards
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

An RMI Team hunkered down during a snow storm at 11,200 ft Camp on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection Stormy weather at 11,200 ft Camp on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Move to 11,000’ Camp

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 01, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 11,000'

Sunday, June 30, 2013
Another Denali day, another camp built.  We slept in until three this morning and then sprang into action.  It doesn’t get dark in this part of Alaska in late June, but it gets shadowy, which can be a beautiful thing, even with a storm moving in.  It was pretty plain, as we ate breakfast and then knocked down our tents at 9500 ft, that the forecasts were correct and that it wouldn’t be long before weather deteriorated.  But we felt we still had a little time.  As we were getting ready, we enjoyed seeing Mike Haugen’s victorious climbing team passing through on their descent.  We exchanged handshakes, hugs, route information and then wished each other well.  We were out of the old camp and on the site of our new one at 11,000 ft in just over three hours, which meant that we were sitting pretty a few hours after that when things began to get nasty.  It rained a bit through the afternoon, which is not so typical this high up Denali, but by evening it was the more typical onslaught of wind and snow.  By then we were well dug in and ready for it.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

An RMI Team moving up to 11,000 ft on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: Lindsay Mann An RMI Team camped at 11,000 ft camp on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Slightly Elevated at 9,600’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | June 30, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 9,600'

Saturday, June 29th, 2013
Conditions at 4:45 AM were perfect for moving from 8,000’ on the Kahiltna Glacier to 9,600 ft.  So we did.  We’d gotten up at 2:00 a.m. to have a hot breakfast and we could see scattered clouds overhead and a cap above Denali’s summit but there was no wind.  Our route up Ski Hill was blissfully free of dicey crevasse crossings and the snow surface had frozen up enough to make walking and sled pulling a bit easier than yesterday.  Even so, Ski Hill was long, slow, and uphill.  We were up to 9,600’ in just over three and a half hours.  Already by this point, digging in and building a new camp in a beautiful place was becoming routine.  Clouds cleared down valley so that we had unobstructed views of nearly the entire length of the Kahiltna while we worked.  The sun became brutally intense by midday, but by then we were sheltered in the tents, napping, drinking water and reading.

We got together for dinner in the evening as things cooled down.  We talked strategy for our move to 11,000’, secured camp for the night and turned in early once again. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Ski Hill with Mt. Hunter in the background. Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Getting Started

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | June 28, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 8,000'

Friday, June 28th, 2013
As planned, we fired up the stoves shortly after our 1 AM wake up.  The plan in getting up so early, was to be moving during the coldest part of the day when we could hope that the glacial surface would be frozen solid.  That would make sled hauling and walking in general a lot easier than pulling through slush, but more importantly, a freeze would make things safer, bridging the crevasses we’d need to cross.  It was apparent this morning, as we ate breakfast and took down tents, that we weren’t going to get a hard freeze.  Temperatures hadn’t dipped low enough, and there was cloud overhead that seemed to act as a warm, damp blanket, insulating the glacier and messing with our plans.  But things had firmed up a little anyway, and by 4:15 AM when we hit the trail, snowshoes were doing the job in preventing “post-holing”.  Rigging up properly for such travel is far more complicated when sleds are in the mix, so the fact that it took some time to get organized was not unexpected.  That extra time paid off when we were able to move good and steady without any gear glitches or malfunctions.  The first hour took us down about 500 feet in elevation to the main Kahiltna Glacier where we turned North.  We began to meet a few rope teams on their way out and it was great to meet an old friend or two in passing and to hear of their adventures on the mountain.  Our second and third hour-long pulls took us past Mount Francis (hiding in cloud) and the junction with the East Fork of the Kahiltna.  By the fourth and fifth sections of the climb we passed the Kahiltna Peaks and made it to the NE Fork junction… about where we wanted to be at the base of Ski Hill.  By this point we were thankful to have cloud cover giving us relief from the sun as we built camp and crawled into tents for an afternoon snooze. 

After a quiet and easy afternoon in the tents, we met for dinner in the deluxe POSH dining complex dug by Zeb, Erik and Mike King.  We turned in early once again anticipating another early start tomorrow. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

An RMI climbing team heads for Camp 1. Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Fly onto the Kahiltna Glacier

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | June 27, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 7,300'

Thursday, June 28th, 2013
We enjoyed a final, but ample breakfast at the Roadhouse and then hurried out to the airstrip to get ready for flying.  Sure enough, conditions were favorable and so we loaded up in two big and beautiful K2 Aviation ski-equipped Otters.  There was some smoke in the skies from forest fires and a little cloud as well, but we had magnificent views of forests, rivers, lakes… and then eventually of nothing but gargantuan mountains and glaciers.  Our pilots, Randy and Jeff, had us into the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier and safely landed by 9:00 AM.  After unloading and a few handshakes, they were off and we were left in our breathtakingly beautiful new home.  We set to building camp and then spent a lazy afternoon reviewing rope techniques and getting set for glacier travel.  We ate an early dinner under the intense Alaskan summer sun, did a few more last chores and then turned in.  It was good to touch base, via radio, with the other RMI teams on the mountain and to feel like we’ll soon be joining in the fun.  The plan is to be up at 1 AM if the weather stays fine and we’ll hope to be on the march a few hours later.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Mt. McKinley's June 25th, 2013, team ready for the climb. Photo: Dave Hahn

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