Denali: The Emails

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The following emails were sent by Rick Rochelle (Assistant Director, NOLS Alaska) throughout the climb to a list of friends and family members of the climbers.

They’re presented in their respective entireties, with the exception that some links to externally-hosted imagery have been replaced with the actual imagery.

Update #1

From: Rick Rochelle Date: Jun 13, 2007 3:09 PM Subject: 2007 NOLS Denali Expedition Update #1 To: NOLS Alaska

Hello,

I have been in touch with the NOLS Denali Expedition. It has been a busy few days on the mountain! Unfortunately, this has included two expedition members leaving due to minor medical issues (sore hips and a 1” long cut). Those two climbers have been in touch with their families, so if you are receiving this you can rest assured that your climber (child, spouse, or friend) is healthy!

My name is Rick Rochelle and I’m the Assistant Director of NOLS Alaska. We collected an email address or two from each participant of the expedition anticipating that we would hear from the expedition leaders occasionally. They carry a satellite phone (and walkie-talkies and a ground-to-air radio), primarily for emergency use, but also to call us for a few minutes every 7-10 days to let us know how things are going. From experience, we know that you care deeply about their progress!

They started at the Eielson Visitor Center which is here:

Eielson Visitor Center, courtesy of TopoZone

This is a great website you can use to follow their progress. You can change the scale and move around the map just by clicking on the map in the direction you want to go. If you want to download software, Google Earth is another good site.

They crossed the tundra to the south camping next to the Muldrow Glacier the first night in the field (6/3). (Their low point on the Thorofare River was 3000’ above sea level, heading towards the summit at 20,320’.) After 3.5 more days of hiking up the glacier to the south-southwest, they reached the cache of food and fuel about a mile up-valley from McGonagall Pass (6/7):

Cache of Food and Fuel, courtesy of TopoZone

The cache is a story in itself. We took it by vehicle to Wonder Lake last September and then by dogsled from Wonder Lake to the Muldrow Glacier just southwest of McGonagall Pass in March. There was a feature article in Backpacker Magazine a year ago about the Yanuchi family that does this part of the expedition. The cache was nearly intact. Apparently ravens got through the kevlar and between the seams of aluminum sheeting on one bag and got about twenty pounds of food (out of nearly a thousand). The course has plenty of food and fuel for the next 22 days or so.

On 6/8, a young woman (Erin) who was quite sore from the trip up to the cache decided it was best to leave the mountain. So instructor Patrick Mettenbrink and students Jon, Geno, and Erin left to hike to Wonder Lake–a four-day round trip. (The expedition did not start at Wonder Lake because the road was not open yet.) Here is the Wonder Lake trailhead on the map:

Wonder Lake Trailhead, courtesy of TopoZone

On 6/9, the course ferried a load of food and fuel up the mountain. On their way back to camp, a mile and a half above the cache, a young man (Seth) tripped and cut his knee as he hit a rock. He sustained a 1” wide laceration which necessitated evacuation. On the morning of 6/10, instructor Ben Krasnow and students Dan, Naomi and Seth departed for Wonder Lake. Also on 6/10, we at NOLS Alaska dispatched three instructors to the park (a 10-hour drive to Wonder Lake) to support the evacuation. On the evening of 6/10, Patrick’s team reach Wonder Lake and Erin arrived here in Palmer via NOLS vehicle on the evening of 6/11.

Patrick’s team (heading back to the mountain) and Ben’s team (heading to Wonder Lake) camped together at the confluence of Cache and Clearwater Creeks on the night of 6/11. At 11 am on 6/12, Ben’s team met with the NOLS Alaska evacuation support team near Turtle Hill (two miles south of the McKinley River) and passed Seth off to them. They made it to a medical facility at 11 pm last night (6/12). Seth received four stitches. He told me it was remarkably not painful and he is in good spirits.

By this evening, I suspect the remaining 13 expedition members will be nearly re-united. Remarkably, expedition leader Erica Lorenzen and seven students have been able to make progress up the mountain–to the point that they are on schedule. They camped at 10,500’ last night and will be traveling back down get more supplies today. Once the course is re-united, the standard pattern will be to ferry a load up the mountain and camp back down low one night, then move camp up the next day. Essentially, from 5,700’ to 17,000’ they will climb everything twice. The summit is about two maps away, but they will be measuring things more in elevation gained than in miles now.

I usually send an update when folks first get to the cache near McGonagall Pass, but with so much in flux we focused on supporting the evacuations rather than sending confusing emails mid-evacuation! We average about one evacuation per two expeditions, so to have two on one course is unusual. Since Denali is in a wilderness area, the park only allows helicopter evacuation for the most serious injuries.

The course leader said everyone else is healthy with only the normal soreness as folks get used to heavy loads and double-layered plastic boots. I’ll update you regularly from now on (about once a week).

Here are two final links: Denali National Park mountaineering site: http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/mountaineering.htm Weather forecast for the mountain: http://pafg.arh.noaa.gov/wmofcst.php?wmo=SXAK49PAFG&type=public

Let me know if you have questions!

Rick

Rick Rochelle National Outdoor Leadership School Alaska Assistant Director http://alaska.nols.edu/ (907) 746-4047 ext. 344

Update #2

From: Rick Rochelle Date: Jun 14, 2007 7:21 PM Subject: 2007 NOLS Denali Expedition Update #2 To: NOLS Alasks

Greetings,

News from the evacuees: Erin’s crew saw a fox den with kits on the hike out. Seth’s group saw a couple of grizzly bears 100-200 yards away while in the vehicle on the drive out. Erin flew home last night and Seth flew home this morning. They got to spend time sharing stories. It was sad to see them go.

I heard from the expedition again this morning (6/14) and I have a correction: Last time I heard from Erica and crew, she was at 7,300 feet, not 10,500’. They were about to back-ferry down through the Lower Icefall to the cache at 5,700’ yesterday, then go back up to camp at 7,300’. I misunderstood their elevation over a garbled satellite connection, which is why I was astonished at their progress.

The whole group of 13 reunited at 7,300 feet on the Muldrow Glacier at 7 pm last night approximately here:

The Muldrow Glacier at 7,300 Camp, courtesy of TopoZone

This was quite a push for the evacuation teams, so they are taking a rest day today. Erica and all the folks who originally stayed on the mountain are working on putting in a route through the Great Icefall to 10,000’ at the base of Karsten’s Ridge today. Everyone plans to camp together at 7,300’ tonight and hopefully move to 10,000’ tomorrow.

One of you asked about the weather. Erin and Seth tell me it was quite nice (aside from the clouds of mosquitos). I put a link to the weather in the previous email. Here is a webcam the park just announced this morning! [Click the image to visit the National Park webcam page]

Denali Webcam

If you click on landmarks, you will see where the mountain is in perfect weather.

This shows where the webcam is and in what direction it is photograhing [click the image to see the Denali National Park page from which it was taken]: Map of Denali National Park and Preserve Digital Camera View

Finally, below is a photo of the group! This is from June 2nd just before leaving NOLS Alaska.

The Denali 2007 Expedition just minutes before leaving for the Great One

Back Row: Seth, Jon, Dan, Ben (Instructor), Mark Middle Row: Lanie, Naomi, Erin, Robbie, Geno Front Row: Geoff, Szu-Ting, Patrick (Instructor), Erica (Lead Instructor), John All three instructors have been on Denali before–two of them while working and the other reaching the summit on a personal trip.

Best wishes,

Rick

Rick Rochelle National Outdoor Leadership School Alaska Assistant Director http://alaska.nols.edu/ (907) 746-4047 ext. 344

Update #3

From: Rick Rochelle Date: Jun 23, 2007 8:23 PM Subject: 2007 NOLS Denali Expedition Update #3 To: NOLS Alaska

Greetings,

We heard from the Denali expedition. On the evening of 6/21, they reached Browne’s Tower at 14,000’. Thus, they have climbed what is probably technically most difficult part–Karsten’s Ridge. Though now the altitude will play a larger role.

14,000 Camp above Karsten’s Ridge, courtesy of TopoZone

Yesterday was a rest day. Today, given decent weather they may be ferrying loads to high camp at approximately 17,000’ on the Harper Glacier. Then tomorrow they could move to that high camp. Often courses take a rest day before attempting to go for the top. Much depends on the weather now. It was a brief exchange, but one thing they said was, “All students and instructor are doing well–strong and healthy.” They said they had a week of good weather (for Denali). They plan call again around 6/28.

Many of you have written asking that we pass on greetings of various individuals. Unfortunatly, we’ve received too many of these requests to try to relay them all. These phone calls are very concise. The most recent exchange was less than two minutes and the phone dropped coverage during that. The purpose of these calls is to get their location so that we can report it to you. The primary purpose of the batteries for the phones is to power communication during a potential emergency. Thanks for understanding.

One thing I can say for certain is that folks on the mountain know their families and friends are thinking of them and vice versa. The expedition members specifically said to say “Happy Fathers Day!”

Rick

P.S. Below this message is a link to Erin’s photo gallery. Incidentally, Both Seth and Erin are healing well and receiving these email updates now. These photos are a look back in time covering the expedition’s trip into the Muldrow Glacier to just beyond McGonagall Pass where she had to turn back. Then there are pictures of her escorted hike out to Wonder Lake, which the rest of the expedition will do in approximately the first couple days of July. THANKS Erin!

View Erin’s Gallery Message from Erin: Please share this with your email list from Denali 6/1/07. I wrote captions and they are in order so people can watch the slide show or flip through them. The denali gallery is labeled as such. I hope it is helpful.

thanks, Erin People can email me if they want a cd or a copy of any picture. I’d be happy to help. If you are having problems viewing this email, copy and paste the following into your browser: http://picasaweb.google.com/ErinFMurphy To share your photos or receive notification when your friends share photos, get your own free Picasa Web Albums account.

Rick

Rick Rochelle National Outdoor Leadership School Alaska Assistant Director http://alaska.nols.edu/ (907) 746-4047 ext. 344

Update #4

From: Rick Rochelle Date: Jun 27, 2007 3:56 PM Subject: NOLS Denali Expedition Update #4-The summit! To: Rick Rochelle

Hello,

We just got a satellite phone call from high camp (17,000’).

Eight students (Geoff, Geno, Jon, Naomi, Mark, John, Dan and Lane) reached the summit yesterday afternoon with instructors Erica and Ben! Patrick turned back at 19,400’ with Szu-ting and Robby who were both slowed significantly by the altitude. Erica said both of them agreed it was a good decision and that they were healthy and in good spirits. She said the weather was beautifully clear, but cold: “-15 degrees F with mild to moderate winds.” With weather like that, the view was probably a couple of hundred miles. You can see Denali from Anchorage on a clear day. They said they had the summit to themselves, which is unusual. Often there are folks from the more popular West Buttress route going for the summit as well. Ben broke trail up the summit ridge to 20,320’–the highest point in North America.

Right now they are breaking camp to move down to 14,600’ today. They will check in as a group there and decide whether to continue to push down to the 12,000’ camp. At this time of year it never really gets dark on Denali, so they have plenty of time. As they descend the increased partial pressure of oxygen will allow their bodies to relax and recuperate. Given good weather they will proceed to an even lower elevation tomorrow. We expect to hear from them in three days or so when they reach the cache. Erica said they were looking forward to getting back to 7,500’ where the bulk of their food is cached.

It is still a long trip back down the Harper and Muldrow Glaciers, across the McKinley River and tundra to Wonder Lake. So it is not a time for them to relax, but the complexion of the trip changes significantly on the descent.

Best wishes to you.

Rick

P.S. Here are two pictures Seth Kingery wanted me to send to you with his captions:

On the Rope Team - here we are coming up to the lower icefall. This is a great Alaska Factor image, because the icefall is still two miles away, but you would never guess to look.

Denali 2007, On the Rope Team

Perfect Mountain - it is almost the Platonic Ideal of a mountain, isn’t it? I’m coming back - trust me.

Denali 2007, Perfect Mountain

Rick Rochelle National Outdoor Leadership School Alaska Assistant Director http://alaska.nols.edu/ (907) 746-4047 ext. 344

Update #5

From: Rick Rochelle Date: Jun 29, 2007 10:27 PM Subject: 2007 NOLS Denali Expedition Update #5 To: Rick Rochelle

Greetings,

As expected, it has been a quick trip down the hill for the NOLS Denali expedition. The day after they summitted they slept in and still moved from 17,000’ all the way down to 12,000.’ Yesterday they dropped to 8,100’ just above the Hill of Cracks. And just now, they checked in from the cache at 5,700’–nearly three miles vertically below the summit. They are now below snow-line, but still have one mile of bare glacier to walk across to get to McGonagall Pass. They probably don’t have mosquitoes to deal with yet They’ll have swarms of them tomorrow night!

Tomorrow they plan to re-group and figure out how to split up the weight of the cache to carry it all out. Their next big obstacle is fording the McKinley River. If all goes well, they will cross the river–a mile of braided streams– on July 1st and return to NOLS Alaska here in Palmer on the night of the 2nd. They might have to cross in the middle of the night (early morning hours of the 2nd), though. It isn’t really over until they cross the river!

Best wishes.

Rick

Rick Rochelle National Outdoor Leadership School Alaska Assistant Director http://alaska.nols.edu/ (907) 746-4047 ext. 344

Update #6

From: Rick Rochelle Date: Jul 2, 2007 1:42 PM Subject: 2007 NOLS Denali Expedition Update #6 (final) To: Rick Rochelle

Greetings,

The 2007 NOLS Denali expedition called yesterday afternoon after successfully crossing the mighty McKinley River. From there it was a two mile walk to the road, some of it on boardwalk. Last night they stayed at the Wonder Lake campground, along with folks in RVs. This morning they will be catching any bus with open seats for the drive out to the park entrance. Usually the tourists are very excited to have climbers on the bus with them (despite their odor).

A NOLS bus will be waiting for them at the visitors’ center. We expect them back here in the late afternoon or evening, depending on whether they all got on the 5:30 am bus. This is my final email to all of you. Thank you for supporting the climbers on this expedition!

Best wishes.

Rick

Rick Rochelle National Outdoor Leadership School Alaska Assistant Director http://alaska.nols.edu/ (907) 746-4047 ext. 344

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