November Scenic Shots

Yes, its that time your favorite scenic photos with a description of where and when.

I'm reaching back to last June for this photo of our group plodding down the Muldrow Glacier after Denali.  I hope this picture conveys a sense of the vast clean spaces; a great place to be alone with your thoughts.  Daydreaming also helps to forget we are each carrying/pulling about 120lbs.

November Scenic Shots

I was reminded of the trip when this month's Alpine Gazette ran the short story I sent them.  Although mostly facts and figures, there were moments of excitement which you might enjoy too!

Denali Debut

It was relatively easy to pick my next mountain adventure following Aconcagua Redux (spring 2008 issue). Mt. McKinley topped the list as being relatively close, relatively affordable, and relatively challenging. Just don’t refer to its official name in the presence of Alaskans. For them it’s Denali; The High One.

With over 4000m of vertical rise from Base Camp to the summit at 6193m (20,320ft), Denali’s challenges are significant. In addition to the effects of altitude; cold, wind and precip combine to deny the prize to half of those who make the attempt! I chose the normal route, which ascends the West Buttress. Also known as The Butt, this route covers 25km and accommodates roughly 75% of the traffic on Denali.

A tip from another climber led to an early booking with a Colorado-based outfit that was one of the few authorized to guide on the mountain. I then had time to source a few deals on equipment and the flight to Anchorage. Double boots were the most significant upgrade from my Aconcagua gear list.

After months of training for the expected big loads, my departure date arrived. Our team of nine clients and three guides met in Anchorage on May 31st. Dave, the lead guide, was a local legend with an enviable success record. Fellow climbers included two Brits, four Americans, a New Zealander, a Hollander, and me as the lone Canadian.

The following day we drove to the town of Talkeetna and obtained our permits at the Park Office before heading to the Air Taxi. Soon we were airborne and enroute to Base Camp on the Kahiltna Glacier at 2134m. Upon landing, we organized our first camp then set about rigging sleds for glacier travel. Realization of the combined weight of personal and group gear caused many to cache their non-essential items.

The next day we made the 10km journey up the lower glacier to Camp 1 at 2368m. Dave assured us that the initial downhill, ominously named Heartbreak Hill, was a temporary aberration.

Day 3 saw us off early to cache a load further up the mountain. While enjoying another day of pleasant weather, we were humbled by stories from others who did not experience the best of Denali. We buried our loads at 3100m and moved to Camp 2 (3414m) the following day.

We travelled early to avoid the intense sun which was a hazard from above and reflected from below. I burned the underside of my nose while others had painful sunburn to the insides of their lips!

On Day 5 we made a back-carry to retrieve the cached load. Dave called this an active rest day.

Day 6 was scheduled for a load carry up Motorcycle Hill and past the infamous Windy Corner at 4054m. True to form, the wind was ferocious and denied us our objective. We settled for caching a little short and could only look on sympathetically as other teams struggled miserably to move up.

Once again we were favored by the weather as the winds died the following day, allowing us to push on to Camp 3 at 4358m. Advanced Base Camp is the point where teams stage before advancing to more serious terrain. A ranger station provided medical and rescue assistance or helicopter evacuations when required. The luxury of a sit-down toilet was also appreciated. 

We had another active rest day on Day 8 and retrieved our cache. Those interested in some adventure detoured to a small peak for a good view of the surrounding mountains while later we celebrated a teammate’s 50th birthday.

Day 9 was our first full rest day. We occupied ourselves with a visit to a promontory named End of the World for hero pics leaning into the void. Our attempt to construct an igloo failed but provided a popular photo moment. We also rested the next day and stared apprehensively up the Headwall, where fixed lines marked the ascent route. Some time was spent training as a team to move efficiently along these lines and through the snow pickets that lay ahead.

Day 11 marked our move to High Camp at 5242m. It was a long and strenuous day, made tolerable by more pleasant weather. This camp was significantly more compact and weather-beaten than the others and set a properly serious tone.

Day 12 provided a rest day, which was timely as symptoms of altitude sickness were beginning to show. While many experienced headaches or loss of appetite, only one person was having significant difficulties.

Day 13 was also scheduled for rest but the weather forecast was threatening and we feared any delay might turn into several days of waiting or worse. With most feeling healthy, Dave decided to go for the summit.

At 9 am we moved onto the face of the Autobahn and into a queue of teams heading for Denali Pass at 5486m. Past this bottleneck the groups stretched out according to their pace. Once we climbed Pig Hill the summit ridge appeared before us and by 8 pm we were on top. A tiny survey marker occupied a snow mound fit for one person to pose while the others waited their turn on a small plateau below. After an hour in the biting wind we headed down.

Our sick member wasn’t doing so well and began to lose control, culminating in a tumble off the ridge ahead of me. Instinctively I dropped into self-arrest to prevent a long slide. The climber was able to crawl back up and was short-roped the remaining distance to camp, which extended our journey until after midnight.

Day 14 we descended directly to Camp 2 then moved to Base Camp the following day. With heavy loads and tired feet, we were re-introduced to Heartbreak Hill for the long ascent to the air strip and our flight out.

Even today I can’t believe how fortunate we were with the weather! Thankfully, our group’s overall fitness and positive attitudes allowed us to take advantage of Denali’s gift.

July, 2009

Next trip is in the planning stages.  Points to those who can was the summit that Hillary achieved just prior to his historic Everest expedition in 1953.
your adventures are extraordinary Dean! Not a scenic shot per se but
11/19/2009 - 00:04
gliding at 1300 meters is quite fun and you can get a good feeling of the altitude in this photo. Love the adrenaline rush it's as close to flying as you can get
11/19/2009 - 00:15
It brings back memories of my first (and only) parachute jump... It was a tandem jump, and in order to jump, my 'instructor' had to sit on the edge of the plane door - which meant that my whole body was out of the plane, and that my feet were touching the belly of the plane.   One of the top ten scary moments of my life (I am afraid of heights). But once we dove, it was quite an exiting experience! Alex, when did you glide? CHeers, Francois
I did quite a bit of gliding and skydiving this summer, was
11/19/2009 - 10:07
great fun! Here is a photo of a take off in Villars in Switzerland, scenery is much nicer
You're a brave man Alex!
11/19/2009 - 16:30
That scares the heck out of me .  My brother did one jump, but his main chute didn't open.  He said it was the longest few seconds of his life until he remembered the reserve chute.
November Urban Scenic Shot
11/19/2009 - 00:08
view from Central Park... Dean, I really enjoyed your story - very well written, it read like a novel. Amusing facts (from my point of view, comfortably sitting in front of my computer) about the sun reflecting so much off the snow that some burned the inside of their lips... Your story made me realise as well that although this is not a 'team sport', any team member can seriously affect the chances of success of the mission. I wonder if during the trip the team morale is relatively constant, or if there are many ups and downs... Did I mention that it is a beautiful shot? Cheers, Francois
Central Park
11/19/2009 - 16:39
Francois, I've heard so many good things about Central Park, including comments from a visiting Brit who said the Empire had nothing to compare!  Hard to imagine paradise in the middle of a huge city . BTW, you're absolutely right about the team vs individual dilemma of mountaineering.  When survival, or even success, is at stake many just take care of themselves.  So the team spirit is very mercurial and goes up and down with the risks at hand.
Re: November Scenic Shots
11/19/2009 - 01:41
Here are a pair I found looking through my shots. The first will be familiar to anyone from Sun-Moon Lake just after sunset. The second one is familiar to tous les Parisien(ne)s or any tourists... one of the fountains at Place de la Concorde. Les voila
Very artistic Joseph
11/19/2009 - 16:40
Wonderful colors and mood .  May I borrow your fountain shot for my screensaver?
Re: Very artistic Joseph
11/19/2009 - 17:10
Hi Dean, Thanks for the kind words. Send me your email address and I will send you a larger file version. This one I shrank down for the THL site. Let me know if there is any particular file format you want (ie. jpeg, psd, tiff, bmp etc.) Regards, Joseph
JB, your pictures are out of this world!
11/21/2009 - 01:06
Truly amazing shots, I am more and more impressed with your skills...
Since you opened it up to adventures...
11/20/2009 - 03:09
Got to take a deep breathe, OMG what have I gotten myself into!!!! Doesn't really make sense, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. WOW, what a rush!!! 13,500ft of scenery, WooHoo!! No VC for this ride! Breitling Super Ocean Very good memories of my first and I'm sure not my last skydive with my son. Jacob
the minute of free falling is just the best feeling on earth :-) Loved
11/20/2009 - 10:38
your photos
Great Shots!
11/20/2009 - 18:07
I could feel it in the pit of my stomach!  Really, you guys must be mad...better to keep one's feet on the ground .