Day Five: No Summit for Old Men

Making a Deadman Anchor

Our day began outside the Box. The sky was grey, but it showed no further evidence of the previous night’s storm. 22° F (-5° C) and partially cloudy was an excellent way to start the day.

The guides asked us to bring our harness and crampons for an introduction to rope travel. I quickly got ready. I put on my harness and my crampons, which properly fit due to prior use. Others had to adjust their rental equipment. While waiting, the guides snapped at me for tying the extra length of my straps off (German style) rather than tucking them inside my gaiters—their preferred method. So much for a good start.

Quick Instruction

Quick Instruction

We split off into groups of four. Each group had its own rope and guide. The guides explained proper rope travel including stepping over the rope and keeping proper distance between team members. I call the technique smiling whereby the middle of the rope between two climbers gently drifts over the ground while the ends of the rope arc back up to their harness. Since the members of my group had previous experience, we deftly climbed the Beehive Snowfield before tackling a rock formation above the Public Shelter. Our reward was a brief and beautiful glimpse of the Colwitz Glacier and the entire stretch of the Cathedral Rocks including its gap.

After lunch, we went back outside. We left our crampons behind. A fresh layer of snow on the ground gave us enough traction. During our break, the weather had started to change. Partially cloudy became mostly cloudy. Our visibility was diminished, but we pressed on as a winter storm of wind, Graupel, and low hanging clouds rolled in.

Belaying

Belaying

We hammered pickets in the soft, fresh snow. We built deadman anchors (T anchors) as the new precipitation covered our tracks. I found it interesting that the guides did not suggest using an ice axe as a deadman anchor as the DAV instructs. (We spoke about the subject later and about the T-rating for ice axes.) We also trained with pickets instead of ice screws since the powder snow was deep and fresh.

Making a Deadman Anchor

Making a Deadman Anchor

With our anchors left behind, we moved on to belay techniques. We split up into different groups again. We practiced a running belay on a fixed line as well as boot and body belays. Familiarity with a running belay is crucial for the Autobahn on Denali’s West Buttress, a long exposed slope on the route to Denali Pass. Traffic on this route is often very congested due to climbers with poor technique. As the weather continued to deteriorate during the day, we found another use for a fixed line. A guide built one from the Box to the outhouse—arguably the most treacherous route on our trip.

A Fixed Line

A Fixed Line

The Fixed Line to the Outhouse

The Fixed Line to the Outhouse

Back in the Box for the afternoon, we received a useful checklist for properly placing anchors, which was abbreviated as earnest.

Equalization
Use at least two anchors that can equally share the load.
Redundant
Place more than one anchor, such as two ice screws or three pickets.
Non-Extending
Build the anchors so a failure of one anchor doesn’t overload the other one (shock-loading). Do this by tying a limit knot, such as an overhand knot, down towards the attached carabiner.
Solid
Place strong independent anchors that can hold up on their own. Place the anchors apart from each other vertically and horizontally as well as at small angels (less than 90°). The cones (an arc emanating outwards from an anchor along the path of the attached cord or webbing) should overlap like a tightly bound Venn diagram.
Timely
Build strong anchors quickly!

After some hands-on training applying the method, dinner followed. Our conversation during our meal was just as earnest. A guide told us that the weather forecast did not look promising. We were not going to make a summit attempt in the morning. In fact, the weather was getting so bad that the guides had little expectation that we go back and train outside again. Sensing our dismay, the guides used the disheartening moment to speak about mental fitness and waiting out storms. Expeditions frequently have to ride out storms until good weather opportunity arrives. Being able to chill in chilly weather is an essential skill. Although I understood the point, I found it hard to accept the truth. We were stuck inside the Box.

I went to bed in a pensive mood. I thought about my last year of physical training, mental preparation, and learning. Unlike an expedition on Denali, we didn’t have an open-ended trip. Without exception, we were scheduled to return in two days. I stared at the ceiling above my head and noticed a bright light shining through the frost on our little window. A full moon gave me a glimmer of light at the end of a busy day.

Full Moon

Full Moon

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1 reply
  1. Peter says:

    Hallo Jeff,
    Das ist wirklich spannend deinen Blog zu lesen…hoffe, dass dir die Winde und der Schnee gnädig sind.
    Was für ein Abenteuer!!
    Bergmanns Heil

    Reply

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