With than a month to go until Patrick, Brent, and I head up to Alaska to climb Denali we decided to get in one more weekend of training last weekend. With the rise of decent snow conditions here in the Sierras in March we opted to head up to the high country near Carson Pass where there would still be reliable snow.
Brent and Patrick drove up from the Bay Area on Thursday and we all worked from my house on Friday so we could get started early on Friday. However, due to work and a trip to the local gear shop where Brent got his boot liners modified to fit more snugly, we didn’t end up getting to Carson Pass until about 7:00pm. At which time I remembered that you need a Sno Park permit to park there, which none of us had.
We made the decision to drive down to Red Lake where we could try to hike in before it got too dark to set up the tent for the night. This plan hit a snag when none of us was sure if we were allowed to park overnight at the Red Lake parking lot.
Plan C: we decided we’d haul our sled uphill as far as we could before the light was completely gone, set up our brand new Mountain Hardwear Trango 4 tent, test out some of Beth’s dehydrated food, then pack it all up and hike out.
After some good steep uphill sled hauling we found a reasonably flat spot in the trees to set up the tent a little after 8:00pm. We set to work leveling a quick platform, but the real goal was to set up the tent in the snow for the first time.
We quickly found that attaching the snow stakes we had to the existing attachment points on the Trango 4 tent was not going to work, we needed to extend the stake loops so that we could bury the stakes deep enough in the snow.
After the tent was up we heated some water with Brent’s MSR XGK stove (having only used it once on his front stoop) to re-hydrate some pasta Beth had cooked. The food was good, we ate the pasta with tortillas – which we’ve decided will be a go-to source of calories for us on the mountain.
After dinner we broke down our “camp”, packed up the heavy sled and headed down. We once again employed the tactic of having a person behind the sled help control it using a tether tied to the duffle bag since we weren’t roped together which would have allowed us to attach the sled to our rope. We got drove back to my house to spend the night.
On Sunday, we woke up early and started making modifications to the tent stake loops. We added loops of 3mm cord to the tent body, footprint, and some locations on the rain fly. The only tricky part was making sure the lengths were compatible on the tent and footprint so that the metal eyelets that the poles stick into still lined up when both parts were staked down.
We decided to head back to Red Lake that morning to a small 40º slope right at the parking lot to practice using fixed lines and self arrest. Fixed lines are ropes that guides and/or rangers set up on the steepest sections of the West Buttress route on Denali. These allow an ascending climber to grip the rope with a mechanical ascender to prevent a serious fall. On the way down the climber has the option of using an ascender (a tricky ordeal as they’re designed for going up) or simply wrapping the rope around their arm and using their ice axe for support (our preferred method due to its speed/efficiency).
Self arrest is a skill practiced by all mountaineers. It involves arresting a fall on a steep snow slope by digging in the pick of your ice axe and throwing your weight into it. We got pretty wild with some of your practice falls that day, cartwheeling down the hill with our 40lb packs on. It was fun and also a good confidence boost to be able to practice such a critical skill in an area with very little consequences.
After nearly four hours climbing fixed lines, falling down the hill, and practicing running belays (clipping into snow anchors as we ascended the hill tied together on our rope) we decided to set up our tent again to test out the newly extended stake loops. To our delight these modifications worked like a dream, making the stakes much easier to attach to the tent and allowing us to stake it down much more securely. For lunch we re-hydrated some Oreo pudding with far too much water – Oreo soup!
Another successful training trip for our team. I think we all feel ready to head to Denali at this point. The focus of the next few weeks will be buying the last of our needed odds and ends and getting our menu nailed down for the entire 3+ week expedition. Stay tuned for more updates!