The End of Days - Part II

Sunday May 28, 2017. Yesterday was a harrowing day for me. Today we are intent on continuing to move down the hill no matter what. We headed out from 11,000 foot camp in a nasty snowstorm having exchanged our crampons and ice axes for snowshoes, sleds and trekking poles. We climbed down to 10,600 feet where we linked up with Tyler Jones' RMI group who was burying their cache. In this way there would be safety in numbers.

We fell in behind Tyler's group. We now had a total of four guides and many guests. I felt more secure. The weather got worse and soon it was nearly white out conditions. For the first time all trip I broke out my parka while climbing. I now had all my layers on top. Some folks were wearing goggles. I stayed with my glacier glasses which were getting covered with sleet making it difficult to see at times.

We slogged down the hill to 7,800 foot camp and set up our tent beside TJ's group. We ate Mountain House meals again for dinner and crashed. Even though I was cold and my hands were frostbitten I felt we had a good hard day.

Monday, May 29, 2017. We awoke at 4:30 AM. It was clear out so we hurriedly packed up but did not take the tent down. Snow flurries ensued and it worsened by the hour. We got back in our tent and by 8 AM it was a total white out. Lucas told us to go back to sleep. We were stuck again. Too small a team with only one guide to venture out breaking new trail. Seems this mountain is mad at us. Doesn't want us to stay or go.

It is 6:00 PM and looks like we have a weather window. We pack up again and Tyler Jones hurriedly treats us to some mac & cheese. He and Lucas have devised a plan to send two guides from Tyler's group and one of their guests (who was having heart issues) 3/4 of the way to Basecamp with us. Then they can return. 

Tyler's guides have GPS coordinates from their accent which is critical because the track has been covered in fresh snow.  So now we have 5 on our rope team being led by Lucas.  One hundred yards in front of him are two guides dragging my sled and one other.  They are breaking trail - essentially paving the way for us.

My heels hurt and my hands are frozen but we are in the home stretch now and all things being equal I'm feeling good. Then of course I fall into a crevasse (swinger). See "Oh no you didn't" Essay for more details.

After getting out of the crevasse, we cranked up Heartbreak Hill and arrived at base camp about five minutes after midnight Tuesday morning. We made camp and got some rest.

We woke the next morning (Tuesday) to sunnier skies and were told we were in the queue for first pickup from K2 Aviation. We packed up our camp and hustled down to the landing area with our gear. The skies got prettier as the minutes wore on. Our taxi arrived in about an hour and soon we were flying below the clouds on our way back to Talkeetna.  This revealed a previously unseen marvelous landscape of jetting mountains, streams, rivers and green valleys. In my haste to pack our gear I forgot to grab my camera and missed all these spectacular shots. But I will not soon forget them… Or Denali.


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