Friday, May 22, 2009


AMS instructor Julia Niles climbing "Black Elk". And below, an AMS student climbing some ice off the Kahiltna Glacier.

Julia called from the Pika last night. She is teaching the 12 day mountaineering course. They are doing really well. The weather changed a bit and they postponed going rock climbing and spent part of yesterday ice climbing instead. They are getting lots done and having a good time.

Here, a group practices clipping through running protection before they head up the fixed lines and onto the 16 ridge.

If the weather is decent, Leighan's team may head up the fixed lines and make a cache. Before they do this they'll review, again, all the techniques they need to ascend and descend the fixed lines as well as go over the specifics of clipping through running protection.

Mike Janes called in from the top of Ski Hill yesterday. They were on their way back down to 7.8K camp in the compression zone at the bottom of Ski Hill. They made a carry to 10,500'. They are planning on moving to 11K today. Everyone was doing well. It had turned from partly cloudy to mostly cloudy and was beginning to snow. Mike said that the lower glacier has been freezing hard at night and hadn't even thawed yesterday. The lower glacier does not have many wands at present to aid with navigation in poor visibility, but that's no matter for this group any more. The terrain above them is well wanded, so regardless of the weather they will be able to move somewhere today.

An AMS group rounding Windy Corner.

Groups can make moves and carries in way more marginal weather lower on the mountain. Temps are warmer and the terrain features allow for traveling in poor vis. Often times up higher when you get the storms with snow and wind, it can turn into a complete whiteout. Unless you have truly experienced a whiteout, it's hard to imagine exactly what that means. I'd say it's just like trying to travel with your eyes closed, but it's actually much more difficult and weirder than that, because on top of not being able to see 5 feet in front of you, your mind plays visual tricks on you as well. Literally, you can not tell if you are walking up hill or down hill. It's freaky! Often you can feel your way from point A to B using your ski pole to feel and probe the old trail as you go and then every once in awhile you see a wand. Hopefully a wand from the current season. There are also "ghost"wands from previous seasons out there to trick ya.

I don't think they are experiencing this yet. You can generally count on encountering this at least once per expedition. Mike ran into Lhawang and the AMS Link crew yesterday. They were moving to 11K. I would imagine the link crew was able to single from 9.7K to 11K yesterday. So they are either taking a rest day or carrying to 13.5K (around Windy Corner).


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