Daryl Miller called last month and asked if I would join him on his last patrol on Denali as the South District Ranger. What are friends for? Of course; and since it's one of my favorite places on earth, the answer was obvious and instant.
6/4/08, Wednesday. I trove to Talkeetna early in the morning, arriving at 8 am and met the rangers working at the station: John Leonard, Roger Robinson, Davey Kreutzer, Pam Robinson, Miriam Valentine, Maureen McLaughlin, Missy Smothers, and Al Gallo at the front desk. Buck Tilton from Lander, Wyoming, was another member of Dary's patrol. Buck is the author of many books on wilderness medicine and the outdoors, and creator of the Wilderness Medicine Institute. John Evans, a former ranger in Talkeetna, but now a guide and teacher for Alaska Mountaineering School.
After arranging the gear, we drove to Talkeetna Air Taxi, and flew up to the base camp with Tom(?). We set up the tent, arranged our gear, and settled in for the patrol.
6/5/08 Thursday. Next door to the Ranger tent is the Air Taxi tent, staffed by Lisa Roderick and Mark Westman. I had met Mark 11 years ago on Mount Rainier while investigating a mountaineering accident there. In the meantime, Mark has gone on to climb a tremendous list of difficult mountaineering routes in the Denali area.
In front of the ranger tent is a cache and some lawn chairs, so we hung out there regularly. This evening I was enjoying the evening sun when a very tall Norwegian skied up Heartbreak Hill and into camp. His name was Steinar... Without taking off his harness or pack, he asked when the next plane left. Lisa told him it was just a few minutes out and asked how many in the party and where they were. I heard one member was Finnish, so I went to meet her. Her name was Urpu, but she was not interested in flying out yet and wanted to wait until the next day. Urpu and Steinar had made the summit, but only he wanted to leave. So I spoke Finnish to her for several hours in the ranger kitchen area while she made a fish stew from a "mountain-house-like" packet of freeze dried food. I made her a salad while she talked. They were both glacier guides in Northern Norway. She was originally from Finland, but had lived in Norway for 10 years.
6/06/08 Friday. At noon, John Evans and I hiked/skied to the base of the Control Tower to take a look at the possibilities for John to teach a group of students on the rock and ice there. John stepped into a crevasse right near the rock, there was a lot of potential for rockfall and for icefall, so we gave up and skied back to camp. In the afternoon the 17-thousand foot patrol skied into camp. Tom Schaefer, Shelly Higgins, Zah Springer, and Brandon Latham. The members of Brandon's patrol were all from Crested Butte and knew each other. Shelly has been a nurse for 5 years in Gunnison and called herself a "powder princess"; some ski patrol; and all had cool, state-of-the-art skiis. Shelly had Karhu "Liz" skiis with 100mm under foot, with Dynafit bindings...a great set-up. Brandon had BD "Vroom" skiis with G3 Telemark bindings. This was the crew who rescued the climber from the Peters Glacier who had fallen unobstructed for 800 meters. He was completed bruised, but managed to call out on a satellite phone. Ranger crews responded and raised him from the Peters to the top of the 16K ridge, then lowered down the fixed lines to 14K. It was an incredible raising and lowering job. Brent Okita, a guide, helped enormously according to the crew. Everyone had been very concerned looking for two missing Japanese climbers on the Cassin Ridge the previous week. No sign was found and their fate is unknown. They were climbing at the same time with another group of three Japanese. Here's the link to a story of the second Japanese team who climbed the hard routes on Denali.
6/07/08 John Leonard patrol arrived, with Paul Nelson, John Leonard, Brandon, Rocco, Skeet Glatterer, M.D., and Ian, an NPCA photographer.
Got up at 6am, climbed the Control Tower with John Evans. Stepped in a crevasse on the way down; we were roped up and John was belaying as I crossed it. Met several expeditions and schools around the camp. There was a big party in the evening with Paul Roderick at Lisa and Mark's place. He flew in his sister-in-law, mom, 2 kids and wife Whitney. The weather was warm, clear, and calm. John Evans departed on the plane in the evening.
6/08/08 Sunday. Several groups amass at Base Camp, including Merrick Johnson and her fiance Steven. They wanted to climb the Cassin Ridge, but no dice. They were planning an engagement party the next Sunday in Anchorage at her parents' Alan and Jennifer's home, and they couldn't miss it. Talked with Steve House who was on Denali with a client. They tried the Cassin, and did the Upper West Rib. John Leonard cooked chicken on the grill for dinner. The planes finally made it in in the late afternoon and hauled out all the waiting climbers.
6/09/08 Monday. Took a tour of camp with Daryl. Met the Japanese party who put up the weather station at 14K in 1990. Met the man who took over lowering when our party brought down the 4 Japanese who had endured a terrible night on the Football Field and lost one companion. Met Richard, a guide for American Alpine Institute on a 6-day course. Met Peter Inglis with Mountain Trip, a friend of Charlotte Fox from Telluride. Met Valeria Orioli, Christina, and two friends who had tried the West Buttress. Zack Schlosar led a Mountain Trip expedition. Renny Jackson called with jack Tackle and Ron Johnson from the Tetons. Great to hear from them. Called Suzy Wooliver. Judy Alderson got the Lowell Thomas WAward. Met Mark Postal, a guide for AMS, coming off Denali. Met Todd Passy, guiiding off Denali. He's married to Winslow Passey, and they are both guides on Denali, coming from Salt Lake City, live at the mouth of the canyons there. There was a bit of excitement when a false alarm went off from a "Spot" transmitter on the 16K ridge. Two teams went to check it out: one from 14K camp, and Mik Shain and crew from the summit of Denali. Turns out the gizmo must have been bumped. Joe Reichert was at home having dinner with Dexter Hale and his family. Colby Combs and Rob Geller were supposed to come in with steaks, but didn't make it. John leonard sent salmon with Ruth, the SCA on a Beaver garbage flight. Bill, the TAT pilot got fogged in, so he had dinner with us, then got a break in the clouds and got out. Lisa Roderick gave me a Kahiltna Slush. It was 32 degrees at 9:30pm, beautiful, foggy evening.
Overcast, foggy, and no plane until evening. Johnathan of TAT flew his "Pacer" out. He and friends had come in a week ago and parked the plane next to the fuel tent, headed out for Kahiltna Dome, and were now back at midnight, digging all night to uncover the plane's skiis and wheels from the frozen snow. He just sneaked out, then returned for a second load. Paul flew in with the breen Beaver, then Bill with the Otter. I went around camp and visited with the returning climbers. Todd Passey and his crew were sitting on the runway, so I had a chance to talk with them about SLC, and climbing. Kevin Kopack had returned with his group including three Swedish climbers who erected a large Swedish flag at the camp, and a cou;le from Boston. I talked with Paul ? of Alpine Ascents. He had two Czec climbers, Monique, an investment banker from L.A., Lori, a vet from Denver. A couple from Saint Louis returned; they seemed real happy to have summited and returned. I met Viren, a guide who had descended with three clients: one with a bad achilles heel, and two with altitude problems. He's a really nice guy. Melis Coady came in the evening, but two clients didn't make it before the weather closed in. Gren, Seth, and Francesco were to attempt the Czec Direct.
6/11/08 Wednesday. Fabrizio Zangrelli went out today. He left a small amount of Scotch and some ham for us. Gren had an argument with Daryl over rescue just before flying out. Andy Hall came in. He was writing a story for Alaska Magazine. Melis Coady and a Danish woman came over. Then the big flurry started; John Race and his wife Olivia, guiding for Rainier Mountaineering brought in a film crew for "America's Toughest Job" reality TV show. It was a group of 26. Ten extra folks couldn't get out in the evening because of weather, so they spent the night in camp.
6/12/08 Thursday. Lots of action with the TV series. They are climbing the "Control Tower" today with five contestants to see who will be the best guide. By evening we expect them home, but they are late at 4:00, so only a few of the crew take off in the planes. Tony Martin came to camp and described his climb of Denali in exquisite detail to me and Daryl. Then, he had a difficult time persuading the crew to actually get on the plane; if they didn't he was taking off, because a lot of thunderheads had built up in Talkeetna and the base of the mountains. Finally, at 6:30 pm, as the planes were supposed to leave, the crew descended the mountain and began the slow process of boarding. Only the guides were left; small celebration. Later, the final plane arrived and carried off the five guides and the remaining gear. All is quiet.
6/13/08 Friday. Can't remember what I did...
6/14/08 Saturday. Mik Shain's crew arrives. Mik, Dr. Jennifer Dow, Todd and Christine Anthony, and Tom. They had been at 14K, 17K, and the summit on patrol. They were dressed in a variety of polyester dresses and Hawaiian shirts for the warm lowlands. Tons of fun and talk.
6/15/08 Sunday. We pack up in the morning, because our flight is scheduled for 11am. However it's not flyable in Talkeetna, so we don't completely pack. At breakfast one of the RMI students comes in with a sore arm. Dr. Dow checks it out: tendinitis, most likely, but the woman flies out. In the afternoon, the weather clears and we fly out to Talkeetna in Paul Roderick's Otter. Great flight. Talkeetna is green, the air is warm. It's great to be back in the valley.
To see the photos, check: http://picasaweb.google.com/ralph.tingey/DenaliPatrol2008