Alaska Seminar: Mallory & Team Sitting in the Rain

Posted by: Linden Mallory, Pete Van Deventer | May 05, 2014
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley

Thick clouds rolled into the Alaska Range overnight and when we woke up shortly before 3am, we found ourselves in the midst of a thick fog bank. It was thick enough that we even needed our headlamps to get around camp, an uncommon occurrence in Alaska this time of year. The fog bank acted like a thick warm down comforter, keeping the temperatures hovering around freezing, even at the coldest part of the night. We caught several glimpses of breaks in the clouds above and decided to venture out of camp to see if we could find some colder temperatures and more supportable snow above the valley floor. We set out through the mist, following the track that we scouted yesterday evening, and navigating the crevasse field that guards the entrance to the side valley leading up to 747 Pass.

The scene was awe inspiring while we climbed the valley. As a flat light began to illuminate our surroundings, we passed the foot of huge rock faces that stretched vertically into the air above us until they disappeared into the clouds. At the head of the valley loomed the headwall and seracs that mark the top of the pass. The views would come and go with the clouds, occasionally spitting hail and almost rain on us. After climbing a little more than a 1,000’ up that pass we were dismayed to find that the temperatures had not cooled and we were sinking to mid thigh in the soft isothermic snow when we climbed the steeper pitches. Around us running water ran down the cliff faces, telling us that even the snow slopes high above had not frozen overnight. With more clouds blowing in and spits of rain coming down, we knew that today wasn’t our summit day as the conditions made for exceedingly slow progress and the warm temperatures and rain increased the chance for rockfall and snow sluffs above us while also weakening the snow bridges that allow us to cross the heavily-crevassed glacier.

We pulled our climbing skins from our skis and descended back down our route, making a few fun turns in the soft, punchy snow and returned to camp. We spent the rest of the morning catching up on the few missed hours of sleep from our early start, reading, and keeping a general light-hearted banter going in the tent.

By mid afternoon the clouds lifted a bit and we decided to stretch our legs with a little tour across to the east side of the Ruth Glacier before returning to camp for the evening.

We are hoping that the clouds will continue to lift and bring in some cold temperatures to provide a good freeze for the glacier. If we get a cold night and a good freeze of the snow surface, we will make another attempt on Mt. Dickey tomorrow morning. If the weather stays warm we’ll pack up camp and move back up the glacier towards Mountain House to get some ski touring in on some of the more gentle slopes in that area.

RMI Guide Linden Mallory & Team

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