10 Questions with: Meredith!

As we wind our way into April (crazy!), there’s a lot on our minds and several items on our to-do lists, although each of us is focused on and working hard to address different things. Over the next few days each of us will post a “10 Questions With:” blog entry, to each answer the same 10 overall questions and ¬†share what we’re thinking, what we’re doing, and where our head is at with regards to the rapidly approaching Denali climb.
First up? Yours truly.
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1. What has been the biggest change in your day-to-day life since beginning to train for this climb? What are you doing this spring that you wouldn’t normally be doing, at this time?
Can I say “spraining my stupid ankle” without sounding like a petulant seven year old? Because spraining my stupid ankle definitely became a defining experience in this training period. It was frustrating (and somewhat agonizing) to get super amped up to really get started and put in the training time with the rest of the girls, then go out on our first all day conditioning hike, and slip on ice …while standing still looking at the view. And it sucked to stay home while they went out to train, a few of those earliest weekends. It made me feel 100 years old. 100, and seven, apparently.
My sister during a recent visit, "helping" me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little - by mimicking me, like a dork. :)

My sister during a recent visit, “helping” me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little – by mimicking me, like a dork. ūüôā

The biggest change post ankle, though, has been the addition of actual weight training (weight lifting) to my weekly workout routine, and that of ramping up that routine much earlier than usual (early January versus late February). I’m carrying 45 lbs, as of this week, and would normally be at about 35 right now.
Jenn pulling weights around back in February

Jenn pulling weights around back in February

In terms of weight-training – in early February we got together at Leigh Ann’s gym, Level 4 Crossfit, to talk about specific training movements to focus on, and pull sleds loaded with weight. Leigh Ann made a list of upper body and core workouts to focus on, and rather than keep track of them individually, I took a photo of the wipeboard, and then turned them into a checklist in my Droid’s ‘Keep’ app that I run through every single time I’m at the Y, checking them off as I go (very satisfying, psychologically). I do all the upper body and core stuff twice a week for about an hour and a half, and afterwards, I’m totally wiped – to the point where my arms tremble while I open my gym locker. Weight-lifting is hard (and a bit intellectually un-engaging) but I have the core (back and waist-area) resilience, and hunky new biceps, to prove it’s worth it!
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2. We’ve each purchased or borrowed a ton of gear for the trip – what two or three Denali-specific new items are you absolutely loving right now, and is there anything that simply didn’t work for you, and that you returned right away?
Some of my favorite gear I’m taking on this trip is old gear: circa 2011 Patagonia Expedition 4 black long underwear pants (the newer Exped 4s are¬†really thin!), and a pair of white Elita long underwear that I got way back when I first started¬†backpacking, from my parents. There’s nothing like the old standbys.
Me in my "new" Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I've ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it's fuzzy).

Me in my “new” Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I’ve ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it’s fuzzy).

In terms of new gear: I bought a new hardshell jacket (hardshell = plastic-like wind-blocking external layer) from Patagonia, sized bigger than I normally would so that it can cover all my layers, and I took it out for a test-drive this weekend and kinda love it. It’s their Patagonia Alpine Houdini, and it’s a super stripped down, super lightweight layer, complete with tiiiiny zippers! Although I admit, I wish it had pockets! (They left ’em off because it’s supposed to be super light – hence the “Houdini”). Plus, I like it because mine is purple. And that’s not because I’m a girl – it’s because I like purple!
Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive Spantiks!

Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive as all get-out Spantiks!

I also love (love, love, love) my La Sportiva Spantik (Carolyn rather adorably calls them “Sputniks”) boots, which look like moonshoes. The Spantiks are double boots (so there are two individual lace-up boots you wear on each foot – one nests inside the other), as opposed to plastics (which have a hard plastic shell, like ski boots). The Spantiks were my biggest, splurgiest purchase – they cost more than I have ever paid in monthly rent, to put it in perspective. I really wrestled with whether I should get those, or the Koflach Artis Expe plastic boots, which are about $300 cheaper (I actually bought and took home both, and then stared at the two pairs obsessively for most of February before making a decision), but I realized that most of the time when faced with a decision like this, I go for pragmatism and choose the cheaper option, and I’ve been known to suffer for that in the past. But my feet are literally what’s going to carry me up the mountain – so I went for the fancy option, this time, and haven’t regretted it whatsoever. And to quote the MountainTrip gear list¬†– what’s $750 divided by 10 toes? $75 a toe? The most expensive boots of my life, for sure, but keeping toes is worth at least that much. (Don’t worry mom and dad – losing toes is extremely unlikely!)
Other goodies I’m loving – the Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero parka I bought with a killer deal (in bright orange, no less), even though it’s sized for a dude with a barrel chest and I’m pretty sure I could fit Jenn in there with me(!), and Leigh Ann’s super sweet new Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tent! So sweet! So much internal storage! Such bright colors!
Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that's not quite what I meant. But I like it, so let's leave that here...

Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that¬†didn’t quite come out how I meant it… But, whatever. ūüėČ

Finally, can I cast a “cool gear” vote for Leigh Ann’s sweet new climbing bibs, which I can’t seem to find in my size anywhere, for the absolute life of me,¬†but¬†I’m sure she’ll tell you about?
 
3. Which logistical or planning-related decision are you feeling most thoughtful about, or has you worried?
I’m not worried about much, to be honest – I’m a pretty level-headed, logical task manager, and that trait has been very much present these last two months. I think the main thing I’m¬†worried about is what you might call the “controversial leave-behinds” – the question of how many shovels to bring, how many probes, whether to bring our avalanche beacons, and whether to bring helmets. (I’d be interested in the perspective of other people on this issue, I should note). A lot of the rescue gear we carry in the Cascades is more disproportionately useful in the Cascades, and so some climbers leave it behind for trips like Denali, but having been trained to compulsively wear one’s beacon…it’s really hard to contemplate leaving it behind, ever.
 
4. What’s your go-to snack for food on the mountain? The Denali Girls are planning for hot breakfasts and hot dinners – what will you be eating the rest of the time?
I can’t do bars or oatmeal, and I don’t eat meat, so no jerky, which pretty much makes me the most difficult mountain eater imaginable. I would rather do raw, unadulterated nuts (of almost any kind), straight up chocolate, or absolute crap candy (hello, gummy bears!) than anything else. Normally I’d carry raw almonds, dried apricots, Stretch Island, single serving fruit leather things that were all the rage a few years back, and Primal Strips –¬†pseudo-paleo vegetarian snack strips, as well as a few pieces of honest-to-god candy, around here. I also regularly steal dried mango from Trader Joe’s and peanut M&Ms from my boyfriend, here in Washington. In Alaska I’m anticipating a lot of fruit chews and some gels (consistency is a hang up of mine – I think oatmeal has the consistency of that which shall not be named, and some of those gels – don’t even get me started). So I’m experimenting a lot with what snacky foods to bring, and would very much welcome creative suggestions!
 
5. What new food or drink products have you added to your daily life since starting preparations for the climb? What do you like the best?
This is one of my favorite questions, because I’m so pleasantly surprised by my answer. Coco Libre, a company that makes coconut water fortified with added protein, agreed to sponsor us by providing product (a few boxes full of single-serving, to-go containers of coconut milk) and I felt a little gun-shy at first, because the last time I tried coconut water that wasn’t straight from a coconut, I didn’t like it. The Coco Libre stuff is¬†awesome,¬†thought, and I’m completely addicted. Current training philosophy suggests that consuming additional protein after a work out aids in muscle recovery, so for awhile my fridge was totally stocked with the squeezable containers of it, and I’d grab one and throw it in my workout bag before heading to the gym. The chocolate one and the vanilla one are particuarly awesome, and both have additional protein added.
Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I'm ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I’m ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

I’ve also added a fish oil supplement, whey protein shakes, and other healthy bits (plus more eggs for breakfast: protein source), but don’t have much more to say about that beyond – yeah – I’m doing it. Those whey protein shakes are pretty good – that BCAA-G stuff in “Lemonade” is headed back to the store as soon as I have a minute. The Omega-3 vitamins are the size of horse pills. Gulp.
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6. What’s the most interesting, most complicated, or most useful skill or technique you’ve learned or perfected over the last few months?
Working with the sleds is pretty interested, pretty challenging, and just kinda cool. Probably just that experience, of wearing a huge backpack while towing a full-loaded sled last weekend. I felt so super strong (and so super wiped out afterwards!)
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7. What’s still on your Denali to-do list? Give us a sample of the things you’re about to get to, or make decisions about, this week.
So. many. things. The most obvious are filling my gear holes (which are somehow more glaring than those of the other girls) – I still need a new pair of crampons, insulated overboots (which are like a wetsuit that covers your entire boot and lower leg), a bigger harness (sized to go over all the new clothes I’ll be wearing), an extra pair of long underwear, new glacier glasses (SO over my old ones!) and down booties. Like I said, I’m a little behind. Eeek. Other things – confirming our flight date and travel plans, ride information, etc. The biggest single thing we’re still working with as a group is our food planning – that’s a whole other challenge, with our varied diets and desire to travel light (freeze-dry allll the things…)
[Editor’s Note: writing this entry induced enough panic that as of yesterday I now have the overboots, long underwear, and down booties. I also don’t have $600 that I did yesterday…]
 
8. What does your training or conditioning schedule look like this week, for example? Is there any one part of your physical conditioning that has most noticeably changed your physique?
In a nutshell: two days outside last weekend – Saturday: sled work and snow camping, Sunday, hiking the big slope on the approach to Rock Lake. Monday: wasn’t feeling so hot – too much business travel wedged between a lot of climbing training. Tuesday: got stuck in traffic-pocalypse and missed my stair climbing plans (please see “Overturned fish truck on Viaduct ruined everyone’s day” – because, yep, thanks for that, Seattle). Tonight I’m working around social plans (with climbers – ha!) to hit up the West Seattle Y, first, and get my core and upper body workout in. Thursday I’m hoping to swim in the morning (for some active recovery and additional cardio),and then do our night hike with 45 lbs. I’m angling¬†to take Friday off from work so that Jenn and I can head to the Mountaineers, hang off the roof, and give me a chance to practice escaping the crevasse by passing a sled, which the other girls practiced back when my ankle was still too messed up to bear weight. Then Saturday we condition again (45 lbs), and Saturday night we’re doing a “sleepover” at Jenn’s down to enjoy some downtime together but also get a bunch of small to-dos done! Sunday afternoon is real downtime, and then Monday it all starts over, again. The pace, at this point, is a little bit unrelenting.
And yes, on the physique – my core feels totally strong (which I partially attribute to the swimming I did most days in February!) and my biceps and shoulders could give Popeye a run for his money. ūüėČ
 
9. What are you reading or listening to right now? Denali books, or training books, or books to give you a break from all of the above?
I’m trying to concurrently finish Steve House’s book ‘Training for the New Alpinism,’ and Colby Coombs’ ‘Denali: The West Buttress,’ which is a matter of fact treatment of what the climb entails. I had dropped both when we got really busy training, so that’s the goal for early April.
 
10. What, to you, would make for a successful climb? Is there one moment or experience you are most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to landing on the glacier – I think that’s going to be a bit mind-blowing – like whoa – we’re really doing this, we’re really here. To me a successful climb is everyone going up and coming down friends, and each woman feeling empowered to speak her mind about what we do from day to day, and feeling heard, and engaged in the decision-making. I’m less attached to the summit (to all summits, really) than a lot of people – for me it’s all about the adventure, and always has been. Even if something happens and I end up sitting down at basecamp, waiting for the other girls to come back – it will be an adventure, an experience, a great story. I just realized as I typed this that I have the perfect fortune cookie taped to my computer monitor, to sum it up:
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
I’ll take a bit of daring, please!

Denali Girls on MoveSKILL Podcast

A few weeks ago The Denali Girls had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Werner to be interviewed for the MoveSKILL podcast. We discussed everything from team building and personality differences to training and nutrition. Being a former Navy SEAL, Dave has a wealth of knowledge and experience with cold weather endurance training, so it was great to sit down and discuss Denali with him.

MoveSkillLogoPlease check out MoveSKILL episode #18 in iTunes and listen to The Denali Girls talk with Dave Werner.

To listen to the podcast, either click HERE or Open iTunes, click on the iTunes Store tab, search for MoveSKILL, and listen to episode #18. While you’re there, check out the rest of the MoveSKILL episodes!

A little background about MoveSKILL and Dave:

MoveSKILL is an online strength and conditioning program with members from all over the world. Dave, co-founder of MoveSKILL, is also a pioneer in the CrossFit community, co-founding the first CrossFit Affiliate in the world (CrossFit Seattle) with his wife, Nancy Meenen. You can think of MoveSKILL as being an online platform for programming and resources and Level 4 CrossFit Seattle as being the lab (or gym) where ideas and knowledge are shared amongst trainers and where programming is put into practice.

Taken directly from the iTunes description: The MoveSKILL podcast is your resource for all things concerning general fitness. Our subjects include losing fat, building strength, improving flexibility, and learning to move better.

In addition to Dave and Nancy, all of the trainers at Level 4 have been incredibly supportive of The Denali Girls. Being a trainer at Level 4 has given me the opportunity to learn from some of the most knowledgable and passionate trainers in the industry. I appreciate all the time everyone has spent talking with me about nutrition and training, as well as general support in the project! Now go listen to the podcast!

What we mean when we say we’re going to climb Denali

Brrrr. Snow shelters.

Brrrr. Snow shelters. Don’t worry mom, just practicing!

A recent conversation with my parents helped illuminate the extent to which we’d jumped right into the deep end in getting this blog off the ground. My parents live on the east coast, and are still wrapping their heads around this big northwestern adventure we’re working our way into, and my dad wanted to know just one thing – was I worried about the wolves and grizzly bears that would be out there with us?

In that moment I realized for the first time that in our enthusiasm, we dove right into the part about where we are at right now (training and buying gear) and neglected to explain, especially to our non-climbing friends and family, how a Denali climb actually shapes up.

So without further ado, here’s how this whole thing works:

First. Denali is the same mountain as Mt McKinley, and is the tallest mountain in North America, and therefore one of the “7 Summits,”¬† the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. Denali or the “High One” is the original Koyukon Athabaskan (Native American) name for the mountain, and is now used both formally, for the park that surrounds it (Denali National Park & Preserve), and informally, in lieu of the name of an underwhelming president from Ohio whose name is preserved by a small and stubborn group of Ohioans who are resisting the restoration of Denali’s proper and long-standing name on official maps of the region. For more interesting history on the mountain’s name, Summitpost will fill you in here or Wikipedia will happily expand your mountain nerdiness if you click here.

There are many routes you can climb on Denali, but we’re doing one called the West Buttress, widely considered the “easiest” way to climb Denali. Interestingly, the West Buttress route was not the “first ascent” route – that early climb was made via the Muldrow Glacier Route, which has a much longer approach. (A climb’s approach is just what it sounds like – the part where you’re walking or otherwise traveling to the base of the route. The route is generally considered to begin in mountaineering when it becomes more technical than a hike, although where that occurs can be massively subjective).

Modern convention is for us low-landers to a) fly up to Anchorage, Alaska, b) pick up any last minute items; c) take a shuttle (bus or van) to Talkeetna, Alaska, d) get a pep-talk-meets-orientation from the Park Service; and then e) hop on a very expensive but very short small plane flight to get up to the West Buttress Basecamp on the Kahiltna Glacier, at 7200 feet.

Once we’re on the glacier we’ll be there for 3-4 weeks, depending on our speed and the weather, and we’ll go up, and up, and up for most of the time – the walk out to Basecamp often takes only a quick two days.

Denali’s summit is some 20,237 feet, so being dropped off at 7200 provides quite an assist, leaving us “only” 13,037 feet to climb to the summit. As a point of comparison, Washington’s iconic Mt Rainier is some 14,410 feet tall – so the actual climbing portion of our trip is in the ballpark to what it would take for us to climb from sea level (the actual level of the sea – not some parking area on the flank of Mt Rainier) to the top of Mt Rainier (give or take that last 1,250ish feet). Maybe that’s a weak point of comparison, given that last 1,250 feet, but hey, where’s Jim Nelson when you need him to just up and give you a 13,037 ft peak to which you can compare Denali?

When I first started climbing I found it annoying – almost infuriating – that we don’t start at zero and climb to the summit, before we claim that we’ve “climbed a X,000 foot peak.” How can we say we’ve climbed 14,410 foot Mt Rainier if we started at a parking area on the side of the mountain, at about 5,500 feet??

What you quickly realize, however, is that you often have to travel a long, long distance over land to climb a mountain from its base – and where that base lies is, again, somewhat subjective. The Muldrow isn’t the most popular route, despite being the first, because you have to hike a much longer distance overland (carrying all your food and gear) from Denali National Park’s Wonder Lake to even GET to the mountain (although some would say, and I would agree, that it is MUCH cooler to walk your way in and up from a low-lying lake, through the boreal forest, and up onto the glacier). Someday…when we don’t have jobs to get back to, and have copious amounts of time to explore – walking that far with all that gear is no quick trip.

Now about that glacier. Climbers pick up a lot of new knowledge in pursuit of their hobby: exercise physiology, first aid, geography, navigation, avalanche study, botany, geology, and glaciology all come quickly to mind, and there are surely other fields. Climbers are, if I do say it myself, pretty knowledgeable, well-educated people when it comes to the country they’re moving through – they have to be, because knowledge lays the foundation for safe travel in the outdoors.

So we know a bit about those glaciers. To keep this post manageable I won’t go too far into it, but suffice to say that when I say we’re going to land (or at least, the pilot will land) on a glacier, understand that there will be snow ALL AROUND. Snow on top of ice on top of rock, the latter of which we’ll almost never see. These aren’t those cute little glacial tongues you see lapping at the water’s edge on big corporate Alaskan cruiseline tours, but in this case, glacier = the ground, for all intensive purposes. The only ground for the weeks we’ll be on the glacier will be snow or ice. No trees in sight, no dirt, a minimal amount of rock. Just snow on top of ice, and us on top of snow.

The environment being so, well, alpine, means that we will have very little wildlife around us – we many not see any at all. There are no bears or wolves because there’s nowhere for the bears or wolves to rest, nothing for them to eat. The animal we’re most likely to see on the mountain is migratory birds that have been blown off course while traversing the high mountain ranges – and most of those won’t survive the experience (no worms of the kind birds eat, no seeds, no trees). So to my dad’s question – yes – I am entirely unconcerned about the bears!

But I am concerned about getting us and all our gear up the mountain.

To get up those great big glaciers with enough equipment and food for all those weeks on snow, we’ll climb it expedition style – which is to say, we’ll effectively climb the mountain twice(!)

Here’s how we get started:

We land at basecamp, unpack our gear to put it into its proper order in our backpacks and on the sleds we tow, and take a moment to dig a great big hole and leave some food well-buried in it, for when we get back to basecamp. We mark that hole with a long bamboo stick with some brightly colored tape on the end (these are called wands, and there will be a vocab quiz at the end of this blog post), and it becomes our first food cache. Then we get the hell out of dodge.

Our first trip is in some ways the longest, because we are wearing full backpacks, and pulling sleds laden with every single bit of our food and equipment except that which we’ve left in that first cache. We will hike over to Camp I (of six), and we’ll do two things there – set up our campsite, and then carry a load of our nonessential gear (at the first camp this might include our non-camping clothing that is for very high up on the mountain, and a lot of extra food and other more technical gear), and stash it (another cache) at Camp II. We can spread these activities out in many different ways, but the core principle is that of leapfrogging your gear up so you’re not carrying over 100 lbs of equipment and food on every leg of the climb. The critical step that makes this expedition-style is that as soon as we safely stow our stuff at Camp II, we turn around and walk back down to Camp I, to sleep.

Doing so helps us acclimatize – get used to the higher pressure and thinner air at elevation, and avoid worst-case-scenario medical complications that come with climbing too high, too fast. Climb high, sleep low, is the high elevation climber’s mantra.

The morning after we’ve gone back down to Camp I we’ll get up, pack up everything left at our camp, and carry our remaining equipment up to Camp II – and then the whole process repeats again. Carry nonessential load up, stash it, turn around and go back down to sleep. Pack up Camp II, carry it up to Camp III, set it all up again.

There can be variations in how this gets done (if we’re feeling strong and the weather is good we might skip a camp, for example, since Alaska has almost 24 hours of sunlight to work with by May), but the idea is everything gets moved over two loads, and you effectively climb the mountain twice. Here’s a terrific link to a photo of the mountain, with each camp numbered.

Sounds like a lot of hard work, but pretty straightforward, right?

We leapfrog our way up the mountain over the days we’re there, building elaborate campsites along the way – our tents will be on snow platform – flat areas of snow that we’ve flattened down and dug out, and surrounded with igloo style snow blocks built up into a wall to block the wind – and we do this over and over again, while intermittently caching food for the way down as we head up the mountain.

When climbers think about the kinds of obstacles that could get in their way while on a climb, they think of two things: objective hazards, and subjective hazards. Objective hazards are what I think of as neutral hazards – they don’t mean you any harm, but they’re out there – an overhanging snow cornice is a classic objective hazard -something that could fall down and hit you and it would just be bad luck. Avalanches are, in a vacuum, objective hazards (your decision to go out in avalanche prone terrain would be considered a subjective hazard).

In our case, the major objective hazard is probably the weather. Denali is famous for its epic storms – the mountain is said to “have its own weather system,” and although we can predict when they’re coming in, we may not have a ton of advanced warning on when they’ll arrive, or how severe they’ll be. The Kahiltna Basecamp crew radios out a forecast to everyone on the mountain before bed each evening, but it’s fairly likely that at some point during our trip we’ll end up snowed into our tents, getting out only long enough to shovel off the tent itself (so the snow doesn’t get too heavy!) or pee, and just waiting out a storm. So that’s part of why we need all those extra days (for those who were doing the math…)

We’re going to the mountain a little bit earlier than most groups do – the climbing season runs from April or May through late June or July, depending on the snowpack, and we’re going early in that window, which means it will likely be colder and clearer than it might otherwise be if we waited until later in the season. We didn’t do this because we like to suffer (ok ok – Leigh Ann does!) but because there are fewer other parties on the mountain, we feel good about our training and fitness (so don’t mind being a little bit ahead of the pack) and because we committed to each other that we’d make sure to have -40 gear (yes, clothing, sleeping bag, and mittens all ready for -40F!) so that the cold won’t become a problem. The advantage to going early, besides clearer days (and therefore what will hopefully be a nicer summit day on top of North America!) is that we avoid the crowds. Denali doesn’t have the kinds of epic crowds that other mountains ::cough:: Everest ::cough:: has had in recent years, but there are lots of guiding companies that lead paid trips (we call these climbs guided, for short), and may have bigger groups, and while we’re looking forward to seeing them – we wouldn’t entirely mind if it turned out we were slightly ahead of them on our way up the mountain.

The only particularly technical climbing we’ll do is ascend fixed lines. Once we leave the 14,200 ft camp, we’ll need to walk up a section that’s pretty steep, to get to the last camp, known as High Camp (you can see this in the image I linked to earlier, with all the camps labeled). Fixed lines are climbing ropes that are “permanently” attached to the mountain – they are anchored at each end by burying something in the snow, and you ascend the lines by placing a device called an ascender on the lines. An ascender is a small metal device that fits in your hand, and clasps the rope between metal teeth. Those teeth will slide up the rope smoothly if moved in one direction, but will catch and hold at their place on the rope if there is sudden movement in the opposite direction. The ascendar is attached to your harness, and you slide it up the fixed line (rope) as you climb up the steep part of the hill, with the ascender as a back-up, to catch you in case you slip. There are some great images of this part of the climb here – I recommend a scroll!

So we go all the way up to 17,200 ft Camp 5, storms and leap-frogging and caching behind us – and then we go for the summit! The summit day is a single day push – we get up early, take only what we need for the day and an emergency overnight (plus our 10 Essentials, which includes a med kit), and hustle up that mountain! Once on the summit we’ll take some pictures, high five, have a sip of something to drink, maybe stick some kind of an energy block in our mouths, and head on down, back to Camp 5 to rest up before the remainder of the descent. It’s kind of a quick affair, for all the work it took to get up there.

Another point of note for the folks who haven’t done much climbing – at altitude climbers move very…very…slowly. So slowly that if you walked past us on the street and we were going at our high elevation pace, you’d probably mock us, or stop to ask if we’re ok. The effect of elevation is that it makes it harder to breath, and therefore, to exercise. Not impossible, but hard enough that you take it slow, plant your feet deliberately, and look a bit like an old VHS tape on slo-mo.

This is partially why we are doing so much cardio in our day-to-day lives now – so that we’ll be as fit as possible for the elevation, which will help us cope, and help maximize our (relative) speed of movement up the mountain.

The good news is, it only gets easier as you get down. Most groups take only one or two days to get down from Camp 5, once they’re in motion – you have all your gear packed and with you, you’ve been on the mountain for weeks so you’re well acclimated to the elevation, each step is bringing you to a lower elevation, and, perhaps more motivating, closer to a shower/your dog/more breathing room/dirt/a change of clothes/your boyfriend. Most climbers we know who have already done Denali descended the mountain VERY quickly, motivated by a pizza, a beer, and that shower!

Once we get back to Basecamp the airline we’re flying will radio their pilot for a flight out, and as soon as they’re able to land (depending on the weather again) we’ll be on our way back to Talkeetna, and some serious hot shower and pizza time!

And that’s what we mean when we say we’re “going to climb Denali.” ūüôā