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Mt. McKinley: RMI Guide Eric Frank’s Final Thoughts

June 19, 2014 - 9:34 am PT

As the wheels of our bush plane touched down in Talkeetna last night, my mind breathed a bittersweet sigh of relief. On one hand, we were back in civilization with amazing conveniences, such as flush toilets and food with expiration dates, but the trip had not turned out the way I hoped in previous months of dreaming about it. After taxiing through the airfield, we unpacked the plane and I cataloged the 36 hours of frenzied activity leading up to that point.

The weather throughout this trip was challenging. Aside from the first few days traveling up the lower Kahiltna Glacier, we battled ominous and unpredictable forecasts, and lots of marginal weather. The team did a great job of staying positive, always assuming that after the snow ended we would get our break. Day followed day, but the snow didn’t stop. It wasn’t a blizzard by any means, but just bad enough to not be able to move up high and make a summit attempt. Every morning we would get up and either watch snow fall, or see wind howling across the summit plateau. 

After nine nights at 14,200’ camp we were in a difficult position. We had managed to get a food cache up on the route, just below 16,000’, but the snow was presenting avalanche danger, the forecast hadn’t improved and the days were counting down. The group had a long discussion about schedules and desires, eventually coming to the conclusion that we would split ways. Part of the team would stay, join another RMI team for support and wait for better weather. The other half of us would pack up most of the gear and move downhill toward the runway. Family, friends and work obligations were calling our names. After a 15-hour, 14-mile walk through the night, we made it to the landing strip, caught a plane and found ourselves on terra firma Tuesday night around dinner time.

As a guide, these trips are some of the most difficult to manage. The puzzle was one piece from coming together, but it wasn’t meant to be. The frustration was not solely ours. This has been a rough year in the Alaska Range weather-wise. When we flew onto the glacier, the summit success percentage was a depressingly low 16%. It has hardly risen since then.  It would seem as though this season has been one of failure, but I prefer to view it differently. As a team, we did everything we could to be ready, the mountain simply said “no.” That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have an enjoyable trip with lots of good memories. Quite the contrary, we had several good weeks together filled with learning and bonding. I am reminded of the very applicable mountain phrase, “The summit is for the ego, but the journey is for the soul.”

Final thoughts-

To our three climbers- Andy, Jesse, and John. Thanks for arriving fit, ready to climb and with great senses of humor. You guys were a riot to hang out with in the cook tent, and on the rope. I have every confidence that given a decent weather window, you guys could tag the top.  Unfortunately, not getting a chance to summit is sometimes part of big mountain climbing. You guys handled it with class and smiles. I hope our paths in the mountains cross many times in the future.

To my fellow RMI guide, Geoff Schellens, it is always a pleasure to work with you. Good times, buddy. You are smart, patient and ridiculously strong at altitude. I felt lucky to be up there with you.

To all the family, friends, armchair mountaineers and acquaintances who followed along in the last few weeks; thank you for the support. Your comments on the blog and daily positive vibes were the fuel that pushed us along up there. We thought of you in every decision, and with each picture we took.

Until next time, keep warm and enjoy every moment of life.

RMI Guide Eric Frank

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Eric,  Thank you for taking such good care of ‘Patty’s little boy’.  The RMI blog posts that you provided were beneficial to both excited and worried family members.  We even had the reassurance of your Mom, now that is special!  Also, thank you for allowing John to continue with Team Jones, No Troubles.  I realize that restructuring teams in mid-expedition is not usual protocol and wanted to thank both you and Geoff for facilitating this.  You allowed John to fulfill a dream!  Best Regards,  Kent Stenderup

Posted by: Kent Stenderup on 6/23/2014 at 11:19 am

Eric——  Thank you for the beautifully written “final thoughts”.  It provided positive closure on the “Upper West Rib” expedition.  I have great respect for your focus on safety and appreciate the decisions that you made. I am happy for my son , John, that he was able to transition over to Tyler’s group and continue his quest and eventual summit.  I spoke with him last night after the team arrived in Talkeetna. He had nothing but praise and appreciation for your great leadership.  I would like you to thank your Mom , again for me, for her words of encouragement. It really helped me!  Thank you so very much!!!
                    Patty Stenderup
(PS—- I am still wondering where in Ohio you are from???  I am also a Buckeye.

Posted by: Patty Stenderup on 6/23/2014 at 10:44 am

Mt. McKinley: Upper West Rib Team Weathers Another Day

June 15, 2014 - 11:26 pm PT

We awoke this morning to blue skies and our excitement spiked. Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that this was only a trap door, the forecast is still looking poor for the next few days. We decided to stay put here at 14 camp, and by early afternoon the clouds and snow were back. The team is beginning to become discouraged and there is talk of heading down hill without a better weather forecast. That’s all for now.

RMI Guide Eric Frank and the McKinley Upper West Rib Team

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

However this all plays out, we know you have done everything under your control and to the best of your abilities. Hopefully Mother Nature will have a change of heart and send some weather improvements and conditions in your favor. Keep the faith and stay strong.

Posted by: Rita and BruceWightman on 6/17/2014 at 6:06 pm

Hey guys sorry to hear that.
Although this fickle weather, I hope you have enjoyed your time. Though you haven’t been able to continue up the slope, don’t be disappointed. After all, it isn’t your fault.  At least you have explored the unknown and have met your challenge. Do only what’s safe, you’re in our thoughts and prayers.

Love you Jesse

Posted by: L. Rosales on 6/16/2014 at 9:18 pm

Mt. McKinley: Upper West Rib Team Takes Another Snowy Rest Day

June 14, 2014 - 10:55 pm PT

Well another day has come and gone, but Denali refuses to give us a decent weather window to climb.The team is all prepped to go, and we have had numerous conversations that will improve our efficiency and safety up high. At this point we are just keeping our fingers crossed and watching both the forecast and morning skies to decide when we will move upward.

Thanks for following along.

RMI Guides Eric Frank, Geoff Schellens and the UWR team

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Eric——-I read your guide BIO , and saw that your were raised in Ohio. Being a Buckeye myself, I was wondering where you grew up?  ( this is from John’s Mom)

Posted by: Patty Stenderup on 6/15/2014 at 9:23 pm

John- Your grandfather and Uncle Bruce send greetings your way, knowing that your 3P’s (preparation, patience and perseverance) will eventually pay off. We are all following these postings, so a big thank you to your fellow team members for keeping us informed.

Posted by: Rita and BruceWightman on 6/15/2014 at 3:34 pm

Mt. McKinley: Upper West Rib Team Waits for a Weather Window

June 13, 2014 - 6:45 pm PT

After caching food and gear on the ridge yesterday, we are back at our 14k camp waiting for a weather window to move up. The forecast is showing an improving trend in the next few days. For now we are waiting, passing the time by throwing the football around, playing ice axe horseshoes, and sport eating. We are, of course, anxious for the weather to improve, but spirits are high and the rest is only making us stronger. Well, that’s all for now, we are keeping our fingers crossed for good weather.

Thanks for following our progress.

RMI Guides Eric Frank, Geoff Schellens and the UWR team

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

I shall be in Arvin ,California on Monday ,June 16th….ELEVATION 449.  Someone in this family has to stay grounded and out of the clouds…...MOM….always the voice of reason!
I will stay close to my phone so I don’t miss any important calls.

Happy Fathers Day to all of you Dads out there, following the expedition!!!!!!!



Posted by: Patty Stenderup on 6/14/2014 at 6:27 pm

Hey John and UWR Team,

Monday, June 16, around noon, I should be at 14,505’ on Mt. Whitney for my annual trek.  You may be on your summit push near that time, 20,237’.  The sum is 34,742 feet. I will wave towards you! That is cruising altitude for most airliners.  What a special coincidence, that is the day the Forest Service gave me my permit.  Your Mother should have quite the day.  Good luck to the UWR Team.

Love, Dad

Posted by: Kent Stenderup on 6/14/2014 at 4:32 pm

Mt. McKinley: Upper West Rib Team Climb and Cache

June 12, 2014 10:25pm PT

After sitting watching the wind blow furiously for two days, we finally got the break we needed to climb up to the Rib and cache some gear. The trail breaking was deep, often between mid-calf and mid-thigh and required us to swap guides breaking trail every stretch. Conditions on the Rib itself were great. The wind had swept away most of the powder, leaving perfect Styrofoam snow- an ideal surface for cramponning. Eventually we found a cache location around 15,800’. The weather above us was windy and cold, but we were able to bury the gear and head downhill without getting punished by the weather. As we tuck into bed, the team has a content feeling that everything is in order and all we need is suitable weather to push for the summit.

Thanks to everyone who has followed our progress. Much love and warm thoughts.

RMI Guide Eric Frank and the UWR team

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

That’s a lot of bagels.  John, I told you that you would miss the Kings winning the Stanley Cup! It was a nail biter. Now I can fully concentrate on your team’s achievements.  I’m very excited by your march to the top and am with you every step of the way.  Everyone, continue to have fun and stay strong.  Tante

Posted by: Lisa Stenderup on 6/13/2014 at 9:46 pm

The photo of “stashin’ the cache” gives new meaning to the old fashioned term “icebox”!!!
I am loving the photos that you guys are sending us. They are really giving us a visual of all that you are experiencing. Although, the temperatures up there are beyond my comprehension!  Stay strong, stay safe!!! Lots of love to all of you!!!

Posted by: Patty Stenderup on 6/13/2014 at 9:10 pm

Mt. McKinley: Upper West Rib Team takes Weather Day at 14,000’

June 11, 2014 10:53pm PT

We awoke this morning to clear skies and the sound of howling wind thrashing the mountain above us. It was a cold day at 14 camp despite the winds easing a bit in the afternoon. We finished building our snow walls and made some snow statues- a mailbox and planter among them. At 3:00 pm the winds had let up enough that we took a walk to the Edge of the World, a vista point on the 14k bench. The forecast is looking better and we are hopeful that we can get a cache up on the Rib tomorrow.

Thanks for following along with us.

RMI Guides Eric, Geoff and The UWR Team

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Dr. Bruce Freedman, Love the beard. You guys look great. What a view you have. Stay warm and post some more pics… David

Posted by: David Hart on 6/13/2014 at 2:48 am

Good work gentlemen!

John, your fantasy baseball team is doing phenominal, the first goal of the world cup was an own-goal, and I left a basball game in the middle of the 14th inning only to hear the fireworks of a walk-off homer in the parking lot. Stay safe-ish, take lots of photos, and enjoy your time on the mountian.


Posted by: Clay Rogers on 6/12/2014 at 9:40 pm

Mt. McKinley: Upper West Rib Team Rest at 14,000’ Camp

June 9, 2014 - 10:15 pm

After two days of climbing, we took a rest day today at 14,200’ Camp on Mt. McKinley. We enjoyed a leisurely morning of coffee drinking and a breakfast of cream cheese and lox bagels as we relaxed and enjoyed some sun in Genet Basin. In the afternoon we took to the snow saws and built walls around our camp that would make Troy look like a toy castle. More relaxing followed as snow began to fall. We are hoping to make a carry up to the West Rib, around 16,200’, tomorrow but we’ll see what the weather allows. That’s all for now.

Thanks for following

RMI Guides Eric Frank & Geoff Schellens

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

John, is it too late to join you?  I’m really getting inspired although I think I would require a motel come night fall.  Snow camping and ice hotels aren’t nearly as much fun as people think.  Can’t wait for the pics, especially those of you working hard! Local news: GO KINGS GO!  One more win to go!  Keep having fun.  GO TEAM GO!  Tante

Posted by: Lisa Stenderup on 6/11/2014 at 10:41 pm

You made it!!! Can’t wait to hear all the stories!!! Congrats to all Chris ‘s!!!!

Posted by: Robin Johnson on 6/10/2014 at 4:00 pm

Mt. McKinley: Frank & Team Make Camp at 14,000’

June 8, 2014 - 10:49 pm PT

The team broke camp for the first time in three days this morning. We loaded our remaining gear into our packs and made the climb up to 14,000’. Even though the sun bore down on us for the last few stretches, we climbed strong and were in camp by mid-afternoon. As a group we are working on efficiency in building camps. So far we have had plenty of time and warms temperatures to put up tents and get organized. We are very strong and efficient when climbing, but on the upper mountain we can’t wast any additional energy setting camps. I’m confident we’ll get there.  Light snow is falling and we are all tired from a long day. Good night.

Thanks for following our progress,
RMI Guides Eric Frank, Geoff Schellens the UWR team

Andy sends love and hugs to his lovely wife Vivian and kids Jessika, Milli, Jayden, Jaylyn and Devon

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Well,here I am again… 2 blogs in one day.. But I have actually checked for updates about 10 times today!  Mom Frank, I just read your message to me, and needed to immediately respond. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!  You can’t imagine how much your words of encouragement mean to me!  John has great respect for the guides and their expertise. He has reassured me numerous times that they are very skilled and safety minded. However, no one but another Mom could ever understand or imagine just how much we worry about our children… Be they big or small!  You made me feel so much better!!!! I will try to relax! THANK YOU!

Posted by: Patty Stenderup on 6/9/2014 at 9:52 pm

Praying for safety as you head for the high country.  It sounds like you have an awesome team!  I don’t normally comment on the blog but it has been fun watching the Stenderup family follow this trip. I just couldn’t resist sending Mom Stenderup some encouragement.  Mom Stenderup - I remember the first time my,as you put it, “baby boy” headed up this 20,000+ mountain.  I checked the blog what seemed like a million times a day for 26 days.  Now I am watching this climb with a little different perspective.  You see my “baby boy” has grown into the young man who is the senior guide leading this expedition.  From one mountain climber’s mom to another… it’s OK to relax a bit, breathe and enjoy the journey.  Your boys are in good hands.  Eric and Geoff are both incredibly skilled, smart, mountain savvy, safety conscious, Senior RMI Guides. They are good at what they do.  So be encouraged.  Like you, I will continue to pray for the team’s safety. GO TEAM!  Summit this mountain with style.  Mom Frank

Posted by: Kathy Frank on 6/9/2014 at 8:01 pm

Mt. McKinley: Frank & Team Cache Gear at 14K Camp

June 7, 2014 - 7:33 pm PT

The team got busy today by hauling a load of food and personal gear up to the next camp at 14,000’.  Everyone performed well and we were able to cover the distance in just over four hours- a great pace.

All along the trail, we passed groups who were either hauling gear up to cache or moving camp from 11,000’ to 14,000’. It was fun to say “hi” and encourage groups we have met along the way. The small tent city that has surrounded us for the last few days will reassemble up higher as groups ready for a summit bid.

Sitting at 14,000’ this afternoon, the team got our first good look at the route. We talked through the flow of the climb and got excited. Hopefully, a few more short days will bring us the time to see if all of our preparations are sufficient to get to the top.

Thanks for following our journey.

RMI Guides Eric Frank, Geoff Schellens and the UWR team

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

41John, love from Farmor and also Farfar:  You can do it, You can do it.

Posted by: Farmor on 6/9/2014 at 9:46 am

Miss you!!!  Hope that you are making good progress!

Posted by: Patty Stenderup on 6/9/2014 at 7:55 am

Mt. McKinley: Frank & Team Take a Rest Day at 11K Camp

June 6, 2014 - 9:55 pm PT

Today was a very productive day building red blood cells. We rested at 11,000 camp.  After sleeping in, we spent the morning eating eggs, hash browns, and bacon and drinking coffee. We got to know some of our neighbors and packed for our carry to 13,400’ tomorrow. Everyone is feeling strong and ready to keep working up hill.

Thanks all for following along with us.
RMI Guides Eric, Geoff and the UWR Team

Jesse says:
Family- John and I have hardly gotten into any trouble. The guides are great and like us. Today we played football and built snow thrones. I’m having such a blast.
Kelly- I’ve been thinking about you. We should check out that cliff house restaurant when I get back. Or maybe that white door place on filmore. I’ve been thinking a lot about food too. Miss you babe!

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

  John—good luck on the climb to the summit.  We are all rooting for you down below in the low lands. Tyler left your truck at my house and I might use it a little bit to haul some garbage but don’t worry I’ll take good care of it. 
Mark Crossgrove

Posted by: Mark Crossgrove on 6/8/2014 at 7:44 am

John - We are thinking about you every day my good man.  We have been reading the daily posts as a family and I showed the kids where you are at on the map.  Looking forward to seeing your cheery face soon.

The York Family

Posted by: Gary York on 6/7/2014 at 7:05 pm

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