The End of Days - Part I

We arrived at 14,000' camp on May 21, 2017.  Since making the proclamation that I'm not summiting, there are a series of rest days at 14,000 feet. Endless hours of lying around in the tent. Restless nights gasping for air, enduring howling winds and very cold temperatures dipping to -20F at times.  The sun never completely sets on Denali this time of year. So hours roll into hours and days roll into days.

There is a lot of storytelling in the posh over breakfast and dinner. The team does some fixed rope training and we make a few improvements to the camp. But more than anything we are waiting for a weather window. I presume that means my team will move up and I will move down, but the plan has not yet been divulged to me. I just need to keep my mouth shut and endure with a positive attitude.  I do not want to bring anyone or the team down in any way by complaining or with negativity.

On May 27, 2017 I got the word I am moving down. Another RMI guided team, who had been at 14,000' camp for several more days then we had been, needed to get a couple of guests down the hill and back to work. So they released their guide (junior) Lucas to escort the three of us back to base camp.

Generally, there are always at least two guides with guests for safety reasons. But the weather appeared to be clearing and it looked like we had a straight shot down the hill. We all got packed up in a huge hurry, roped up, said emotional goodbyes to our comrades and set off. My pack was full to the brim and heavy. I had the CMC (Clean Mountain Can) strapped to one side of my pack and my sleeping pad on the other. We were carrying one three-person tent and a small amount of food including a couple of Mountain House dinners for each of us.

Shortly after we left camp the weather changed for the worse and we found ourselves in a snow and wind storm. I was roped in behind Lucas in the lead and we had a sled tied between us. My job was to hold the sled back from hitting Lucas on the downhill sections. My two fellow climbers were roped in behind me.

The very steep treacherous downhill section of the track had been frozen over by several consecutive days of cold bad weather. This made it very hard to get my crampons to engage the ice. When we moved off of the frozen track we found ourselves in 2 feet of fluffy snow which required plunge stepping. Further exasperating my efforts was Lucas being in a hurry to get down the hill which meant pulling on my rope and at the same time as I was having to hold back the sled in front of me.

Even though my quads were firing, Lucas and the sled were pulling me down the hill faster than I could adjust my balance. I fell several times. My teammates had to arrest at least twice to stop my slide. Getting back to my feet took every ounce of energy I had and willpower and then some. I was totally gassed. I begged Lucas to slow down and he shouted back we have to keep going - now. The snow and wind continued to pummel us.

My boots became untied and my right crampon fell off completely. I somehow managed to hobble my way down to a flat spot on the hill with the encouragement of my team.  My fingers were frozen and Lucas helped sort me out. We finally managed to make it down to 11,000 foot camp (I don't know how). We set up next to another RMI group, and the four of us slept in the tent where previously three of us had been.  We ate Mountain House for dinner and tried to get some rest.  I put hand warmers in my mittens in an effort to rewarm my frostbitten fingers and thumbs which by now were completely numb, starting to swell and turning color.

What a fucking day!!


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