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It Should Not be Understated

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It Should Not be Understated

KYLE MACDONALD

The following blog post was taken from a series of texts sent by #DenaliforLucy team member Zak Klein on June 7, 2017 between 9:40am - 9:52am from the mountain at 14,200 feet. 

"Yesterday was monumental. It was the result of two days of effort and sacrifice by our amazing guide team. They went from 11k to 14k camp twice in consecutive days, so the rest of the team could have a rest day at 11k camp. Typically, between 11k and 14k, you cache then carry or back carry.  Instead, the guides hauled as much as they could in packs all the way to 14k camp, and then returned to the 11k camp. Yesterday we loaded everything and left the 11k camp... all of us had full packs and full sleds weighing between 80-100 pounds.

Camp 2- 11,000 feet. 

The slope we climbed directly out of 11k camp was incredibly difficult.  Required sideways crossover (french step) basically all the way up.  Rodney had loaded his sled too full, so he couldn't twist his torso against the drag of his sled, and had to front point at times.  I, Zak, got rocked and couldn't catch his breath, needing to call his rope team to a stop in a place where you're not supposed to stop...sandwiched between a few crevasses.  It was unusual for me, because I've powered past similar altitudes with less acclimatization many times.  But it felt akin to an asthma attack from when I was a kid. 

There are people from all over the world speaking at least 20 different languages. 85% male, and no one under the age of 20, except Lucy.

When we reached the top of the hill, I was worked and out of sorts. It was blowing and snowing and the next side slopes hill (squirrel hill) was right above us. This hill is notorious and is a no mistake zone where you have to keep moving. In order for me to guarantee that I could keep moving, I had to ask my team to take some gear from my pack and my sled. Wes, our lead guide, stated at one point that he was "this close to turning us around," as he held up a gloved hand with his thumb and forefinger about a millimeter apart. That would've been demoralizing to the team as we just struggled up the steepest climb with the heaviest load of the entire trip. With cold hands and urgency, we shuffled gear and prepared ourselves for the climb ahead.

I was able to control my breathing on Squirrel Hill and it continued to improve throughout the day. I believe it was a metabolic issue related to not having enough calories in the morning or eating too much salt the previous evening, or, of course, just one of those spontaneous problems that comes from being at altitude.

It should not be understated how difficult this day was. Both of the junior guides stated that this was the most work they've ever experienced on a trip. Again, their effort and our effort was monumental. With a storm coming in, we couldn't risk getting stuck at the 11k camp. It was imperative that we reached 14k to give our bodies time to acclimate. Over the next four hours as we built camp, we all found the energy reserves needed to assist the guides with shoveling out camp, setting up the tents, and preparing the kitchen area.

The view from 14,200 feet.  Photo courtesy of Alaska Mountain School 

The 14k camp is an absolute dream world. We are living in a world of clouds, ice and rock, and of course, snow. Again there are people from all over the world speaking at least 20 different languages. 85% male, and no one under the age of 20, except Lucy.

We celebrated our accomplishment last night at dinner by revealing six of Lucy's letters and two for Rodney. Hannah had the idea before our trip to have Lucy and Rodney's friends and family write them letters that could be opened as a surprise on the mountain at a monumental time. They were read openly at dinner last night and everyone was moved by the kindness of the Westlakes' friends and family.

Finally, looking out from 14,200' is incredible. You peer across to the impressive Mt. Foraker and then you turn around to stare at a 3000 foot wall that you must climb to reach the 17,000' camp.

We are in great spirits and I can hear everyone in the kitchen happily eating breakfast..
 

14K Camp, with the headwall and at least four climb-teams making their way to 17,300 feet.