Denali - 2007
Alaska
20,310 feet 6,190 meters
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My Memories are Everything®climbs are to raise awareness and research money for Alzheimer's Disease. My mom, Ida, passed away from Alzheimer's in 2009.

Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, with another person newly diagnosed every 69 seconds. It affects more than 5 million people in the United States and over 25 million worldwide. The burden on families and family caregivers are significant both personally as well as financially. With our aging population, these issues are increasing dramatically. Today, there is no reliable method of early detection and no cure. And there is hope with research.

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This is a very personal, detailed and sometimes graphic report. It chronicles my attempt of Denali in June 2007. My intent is to bring readers into my world of high-altitude mountaineering by showing the incredible rewards and the obvious dangers plus what happens when the human body hits the wall. Remember to click on any picture in the report to enlarge it then use the back arrow to return to the report. Many more pictures can be found here. Click here for videos of the climb. You can also read and hear the live dispatches.

Denali from the air: Click to enlargeDenali 2007 was the first of four climbs for my return to Mt. Everest: Memories are Everything® journey. My goal is to raise $100,000 for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund (CAF) by using the climbs of Denali, Shishapangma, Orizaba and Everest. My hope was/is to summit each peak and to raise awareness and money through real-time dispatches sent directly from each Hill.

I left Denver International Airport for Anchorage on June 10, 2007. With Everest in the plans, Denali was almost an afterthought for my Journey - a familiar climb designed to test my body once again to the rigors of high altitude. I was there in 2001 and was turned back by poor weather at Denali Pass or 18,200’. I was confident I could make the climb, weather permitting. My only concern were the heavy loads involved: 120lbs split between my pack and sled that needed to be hauled up almost 2 miles purely through my personal strength. Hey, I am 50 years-old!

The week before I left, I had worked closely with the CAF’s Tim and Katie to coordinate both web sites to post my dispatches and receive donations marked for the Memories Are Everything® fund. My training was as good as it was going to be thanks to some tough climbs in the Colorado Mountains with my partners Patrick and Robert. Leaving Colorado, I felt confident, strong and nervous about the year-long commitment I had publicly announced. What if I failed? What if I did not make the summit of this “familiar” climb. What if…

Christian - click to enlarge.I met my guides and teammates at the Alaska Mountaineering School (AMS) on June 12 in the little town of Talkeetna, Alaska. I selected AMS due to their reputation as a solid guiding company with an excellent record of safety, success and focus on the basics. I felt this reputation would attract more competent climbers and enhance my personal chances of success and, more importantly, deliver an overall positive experience.
Leighan - click to enlarge.

Christian March was the lead guide. A young man of 27 years, he shook my hand with an air of confidence and gave orders on what to do and how to do it. I liked him immediately. Next, I met his assistant, Leighan, an impressive 26 year-old native Alaskan who oozed with personality. She gave immediate life to the team. Soon the other five climbers arrived at the old house AMS had converted into their offices. They were a diverse group including a father - son pair, a banker, a tattoo studio owner and a British law enforcement officer. Most had good mountaineering experience and all were eager to summit Denali. Thus the team was set.

Scheduled to fly out the next day we rushed to get all our gear checked and to review some basic glacier travel skills. But the weather in June 2007 had been difficult. Colder than normal temperatures and high winds had reduced the normal 50% summit rate to a very low 33%. And it continued. Our flight to the Kahiltna Glacier was delayed for two days. Twice we rushed to the airstrip to load the DeHavilland Beaver Turboprop only to be told the flight was canceled. So we bided our time in the township of Talkeetna by doing more “classes” as AMS calls their review of skills and scrambling at the last minute to find a place to spend the night We also enjoyed the sights and entertainment of the local bars and restaurants. Keep in mind that Talkeetna has one main road – paved that is – and is straight out of the television series Northern Exposure. A great place to be sure.
SIghseeing flight - click to enlarge.

Finally we got the word on June 14th we would be flown to the glacier. The flight is one of the best I have ever taken in my mountaineering travels. Second only to the landings at Lukla, Nepal in the late 1990’s when the landing strip was dirt with Yaks crossing it and pilots who chatted casually as the plane appeared to be on a direct collision course with the steep mountain side!

But this flight, smoothly operated by Paul Roderick, the owner of Talkeetna Air Taxi, was more like a scheduled commercial flight - no wait – better. We rose to about 10,000’ over the Alaskan tundra as we approached the Alaskan range. Mounts Denali, Foraker and Hunter stood proudly above the rest of the snow covered mountains in the range. Another plane passed by a quarter of a mile away with sightseers. I thought about the fact that their journey would end in half an hour, our's in 21 days.

“500 feet” announced the comforting female voice of the automated flight systems as we flew over a high mountain pass. Paul banked the Beaver to the right as we approached the “landing strip”. Memories came back of my 2001 climb and I felt the adrenal flow as we made the steep descent and abrupt landing on the hard packed ice. I had made it back. Now all I had to do was climb Denali and get home safely.
The landing strip on the Kahiltna Glacier - click to enlarge

Due to poor weather, over 200 climbers had been stranded for the last several days. So as the plane spun around, we saw a refugee camp of climbers with the 100 yard stare in their eyes drooling at our tiny 8 person plane. I was slightly afraid of a rush to take it over but the National Park Service (NPS) has Rangers at the base camp (BC) to organize flights in and out. All quite civilized as my British friend would say.

Base camp - click to enlarge

First order of business was to unload our gear from the airplane – a 60lb pack each, over 500lbs of food, three tents, stoves, fuel and God knows what else – it was a huge pile that ended up on the glacier that needed to be carried, lugged or otherwise moved up the mountain to support us needy humans.

I called Cathy, my wife, on the satellite phone to let her know I had arrived safely and about our plans. A word about my wife. She is my best friend, my loyal supporter, my confidant, my world. She is the voice of calm in a storm. My conscience. My strongest supporter and the one who encourages me to pursue my dreams sometimes at the cost of her own. I would not consider an expedition where I could not speak with her regularly. I need her more than I need a mountain. Full stop.

I also called in my first audio dispatch. I started to post real-time dispatches with my 2002 Everest climb. I have found it to be rewarding to share my personal experiences with the “world”. Using an Iridium satellite phone, I posted the description of the landing area. Unfortunately, I lost the satellite feed within a few minutes thus setting the tone of the anticipated dispatches of text, video and pictures over the next two weeks. The backup was the audio dispatches which became the norm.

Leaving BC - click to enlarge.We pitched tents at BC, 7200', melted snow for water and cooking and were in our -40o sleeping bags by 5:00PM. Yes, 5PM. You see the glacier is an incredibly dangerous place with deep cracks - crevasses - that eat climbers as they go higher. The glacier is more frozen at night than the day thus setting our schedule to make the crossing starting at midnight. The good news is that in Alaska in June the sun “sets” at midnight and rises at 4:00 AM so it never really gets dark.Twighlight - click to enlarge.

On June 15th we departed camp roped in two teams of four climbers each. With a 60lb pack and a 60lb sled we made our way down Heartbreak Hill and made the turn towards Ski Hill. Five miles and 5 hours later we stopped and established the first camp at 7800'.

Let me describe glacier travel. The 120’ rope is the key. We are literally tied together so that when one moves, we all move. This is designed to facilitate a rescue should anyone fall into a crevasse. I am familiar with this scenario as I fell into one on Everest in 2002 – not an experience I want to repeat. There is about 30 feet of rope between each climber and the rope moves in front of you like a snake. You tend to stare at the snake while trying not to step on it but also to keep up with the pace, all the while, taking a brief moment to look around and let it sink in that you are in remote Alaska climbing the highest mountain in North America. Here is a video of me walking - note the slow pace of a roped travel.

The views are breathtaking- this is a big part of high altitude climbing and I often paused to let it all sink in - creating new memories. But better views were to come.

Mt Foraker at dawn - click to enlarge.

CLimbers on the horizon - click to enlarge.Arriving at camp, the first order of business is to probe for unseen crevasses. This is serious business since a crevasse can be hidden by a thin layer of snow that when stepped on collapses and seals the victim to an eternity of isolation or a desperate rescue. This is not hyperbole. It is real. The probe is done by pushing a 20 foot pole into the snow to feel if there is air or solid snow underneath. Generally the guides do the probing while the climbers rest on their packs – not a bad deal!

The next task is to dig the kitchen. Yes, dig the kitchen. In our case Christian, the lead guide, assumed sole responsibility for the dig. You see, there seems to be an unwritten competition amongst Denali Guides as to who can dig the best kitchen. This is more a sense of pride and one that cannot and should not be challenged. Thus Christian proceeded to dig a five by five foot hole complete with bench seats, cooking counter and steps. All covered by a teepee type tent. It was nice.

As the rest of us set up our tents and became settled, the guides continued to work hard by melting snow and cooking dinner. I want to emphasize how hard the guides work. They set the schedule, lead the climbs, dig the kitchen, cook the meals and watch over every detail from bowl movements to morale and attitude. All for an amazingly low wage. This is truly a labor of love
Leaving C1 at midnight - click to enlarge.

Heading towards Ski Hill at dawn - click to enlarge.

Now a word on sleeping. It is bad. No spin here. It is miserable and worse than any Everest or Himalayan climb I have been on. Consider a tent that is five feet wide and six feet deep with three full grown men in it. Each has an insulation pad to protect from the cold snow, a thin air mattress to provide some comfort and a fluffy down-filled sleeping bag to provide warmth in the -20F cold night. Oh and there are water bottles, boot liners and jackets, food and other miscellaneous items that create a claustrophobia environment. I awoke several times looking around to see who had more than their allotted space only to find everyone well behaved but my own sense of personal space violated not to the fault of any individual. It is miserable. See the video below.

The next day we awoke at midnight to leave two hours later to carry part of our gear to a higher part of the glacier towards Skill Hill. The plan is to climb high and sleep low to facilitate acclimatization and to move our gear, a pound at a time, higher up the Hill. So we awoke, ate breakfast, loaded packs and sleds and took off like sled dogs up the glacier.

This is a special part of the climb for me. The twilight of dusk/dawn. The quiet of the glacier. The methodical rhythm of the travel. And the driving snow and wind… Yes, all this peace was inconveniently disturbed by a strong snow storm that reduced us to crawling coyotes searching for the next meal. The winds were gusting to 40 mph, the snow was blinding and the temps well below zero. We pushed through to 10,500 feet.Heading towards Windy Corner - click to enlarge.

Digging the Cache at Ski Hill - click to enlarge.

Thankfully the night time storm retreated allowing us to dig the cache. This involves digging a six by four foot hole in the snow and burying our gear. It is deep to prevent the smart Ravens from discovering our food and wide to encompass everything. Each team member takes a turn to dig and then to shovel back all the snow on top of the gear. Bamboo wands are used to mark the spot for retrieval.

We returned to Camp 1, spent the night and then began to move camp up the glacier and established or second camp at the base of Motorcycle Hill or 11,000'. The Hill names are historical and more a description of what the hill looks like rather than what is was actually used for. Other than Squirrel Hill where assumedly a red squirrel was seen running in front of some climbers. Then again there is altitude sickness…

The next few days repeated the pattern of carrying to a higher level, cache the future gear, return to the lower camp, sleep, move above the cache, establish camp, go lower to retrieve the cache and go higher. A lot of work and no rest. But it was fun and we were climbing Denali! I felt great at this point. Strong, confident and secure in my abilities – now and future. In fact all our team was doing well and I was confident we would go higher without problems.
14K Basin camp tent with Foraker behing - click to enlarge.

We soon arrived at a milestone on Denali, the 14,000 foot camp aka the Basin or Ranger camp. This is a very flat spot on Denali about the size of three football fields. A beautiful place that provides an unobstructed view of the northern areas, Mounts Hunter and Foraker. And the Headwall – the 2,000’ climb to the ridge at 16,000’ and the route to the High camp and the summit.
Cornice above C2 - click to enlarge.

The NPS has a seasonal camp there with Rangers and Paramedics on staff. A Lama Helicopter often visits to bring fresh supplies, new staff to the camp or to evacuate a critical medical victim. The sound of the Lama is not good news usually.

There is also a toilet complete with a real seat. Ok, now for more information than you wanted: how to go number 2 on Denali. Sorry for the second grade terminology! So, first you carry a Clean Mountain Can aka the CMC to the basin camp. It is a small plastic bucket about a foot wide and two feet tall. It holds a biodegradable bag made of corn starch. Everyone poops in the bucket. In all honesty it is quite comfortable and sitting there you can enjoy the view as well as a fresh breeze! After it is full, the bag is thrown into a deep crevasse under the theory that it will decompose by the time it leaves the glacier – who knows?

As for number 1 … are we still in the second grade? – a “pee hole” is established and all climbers, male and female, use it accordingly to prevent a random spotting of the pure white snow. Yes, the NPS is serious about keeping Denali white even if it means shitting and peeing in front of twenty of your closest strangers. Actually it is a good thing.The Mini-Mid Kitchen - click to enlarge.

Back to climbing - soon enough? Tents are established on the flat Basin camp with four foot snow walls surrounding them. The winds are so strong here that without the walls, the tents would literally blow away. The tents are secured to the ground with small pieces of cloth attached to guy lines to the tents. These “parachutes” are buried about a foot under the snow and secure the tents against the strong winds. We soon discovered that when it snows, we had to clear it from the tent walls otherwise running the risk of causing a total collapse of the tent. We saw over a foot of new snow while at the Basin camp.

Japanese curing thier dinner - click to enlarge.The camp is an international place. Teams from all around the world were there to climb North America’s tallest mountain. It is one of the seven summits – the highest mountain on each continents So it is a trophy for many climbers. Some of the teams were from Germany, Britain, Taiwan, Japan, Russia and the US. Most were guided by one of the seven companies authorized by the NPS but half were independent. The common theme was that all of us looked towards the summit of Denali every few minutes contemplating our next move.

But humans have no control over the schedule. Ideally, you arrive at the Basin camp, take a rest day, establish a cache at the top of the headwall and then move to the High camp at 17,200 feet. Ideally. We spent a full week at the Basin camp as did a lot of other teams. The only relief was watching a group of professional, extreme skiers boot up a few thousand feet and ski down the steep slopes of Denali’s west face. They were incredible. It was like watching a Warren Miller movie in person, actually it was better – no editing!

Climbing Motorocycle Hill - click to enlarge.

I felt great during this time. OK, not really. I was anxious and growing impatient with the weather and the extremely conservative nature of Christian. Not to complain but he seemed to take the most negative view of the weather. While I completely supported his final decisions, I also felt we could have moved higher earlier to be in position for a summit bid. After all this is what it is all about – being in the right place at the right time. To his credit, Christian asked for my opinion in front of the team and accepted my comments without defensiveness. I appreciated his willingness to hear other views.

So we sat at 14,000 feet. We slept three abreast for seven nights. We squeezed into the kitchen pit and made polite small talk abut Super Heroes, movies, bathroom humor and other meaningless banter. It was painful not to have an adult conversation. But that is the nature of an expedition made up of strangers – the lowest common denominator. Sigh.

I continued to call in my audio dispatches. It was frustrating to say over and over that we were at the Basin camp. Also, I could not send text and pictures with the Iridium system so I did my best to describe with words what I was feeling. I even resorted to describing the mountains as a snow cone with chocolate sprinkles. Actually it was fairly accurate!

Deep inside I was growing concerned that we were winning the battle but losing the war relative to acclimatization. On Everest, and other 8000 meter climbs, you establish a base camp around 17,000 feet and climb high and sleep low from there. Here we felt comfortable at 14,000 feet with not a lot of activity. Two of the seven days we went to 15,000 feet on the headwall for an “active” rest day. In hindsight we could have done more.
Strong winds above the Headwall - click to enlarge.The team dynamics grew and split. This is a normal phenomenon on expeditions. Even with a team of eight, it happens. There was the “hip” tent and the “others”. I was in the other. The 40’s crowd listened to rap music and bantered like rock stars with no conclusions. My tent was sterile with the father/son avoiding any meaningful conversation. It was painful to say the least. But I am not criticizing anyone. It is the way of commercial expeditions. Part of the deal. But something I want to avoid in the future.

Each day we awoke expecting to go higher but the winds were too strong so we sat in the camp. We wandered around aimlessly. We had an ice axe throwing competition with another team. See the video. I reconnected with my tent mate from Everest in 2002 and my guide for Rainier in 2004 – small world. And we all looked up every five minutes.

Patience is a critical part of high-altitude climbing. There is no solution for weather delays other than to use the time to rest, eat and hydrate. Lenticular cloud oer Seanli summit - click to enlarge. Finally, after 7 nights at 14,000', Christian took the risk to move up to the 17,000' High camp despite a huge lenticular cloud hovering over the summit identical to the previous day. I appreciated the move.

The fixed ropes were somewhat simple. Maybe 500’ with an anchor every 50 feet or so. Each climber was fixed to the rope by an ascender, a device with sharp teeth that stopped a fall when pulled upon and a backup carabineer above the ascender that would stop a fall at the lower anchor. Plus we were roped together so that if we fell the climber above would self arrest to stop our fall. All in all an incredible overly safe system given the environment. Given I only climbed the Lhotse Face with a single rope, this seemed overkill but, I was not about to complain.

There was a big team of 20 above us and another 20+ below as we started up the fixed rope. We were very slow – maybe a step every five seconds. This was due to some climbers having problems switching their ascenders and carabineers at the anchors. The sun was behind the lenticular on the summit of Denali so it was not hot. Actually it was quite slow and comfortable giving me time to take some pictures.

We climbed higher and soon I could see the top of the headwall at 16,100’. I was feeling strong, comfortable and confident. Actually I was enjoying the climb and feeling secure - then it happened.

Climbing the fixed ropes on the headwall - click to enlarge.

A hit to my stomach that took my breath away. I stopped in my tracks bringing my rope to an abrupt halt. I bent over to catch my breath. What the Fu*K? I asked myself.

I pushed as I consider what was happening. Was I drinking enough? I had a liter at breakfast and another half at the break. Eaten enough? Cream of wheat for breakfast and a Cliff Bar an hour ago. Warm enough? Yup, needed to zip down to stay cool and was comfortable. OK, covered the basics, what else. I felt like I had diarrhea. What had I eaten… the same as the others. So, probably no food problem including food poisoning.

I pulled it together and continued to climb without telling anyone of my concerns to the top of the headwall. Still feeling like I had to use the bathroom, I moved to a flat spot. The protocol is to use a large size plastic bag. I dropped my drawers and positioned the bag. Nothing.

Ugg. I felt horrible. My stomach still hurt and I felt the pressure of my team plus a lot of others staring at me. I pondered my choice: go down, go up. Leighan asked me if I could go higher. I paused to consider my answer.
Climbing the fixed ropes on the headwall - click to enlarge.

I have been in trouble on mountains before and I have always chosen never to put my teammates in danger. The last thing I want to do is to be responsible to stop another climber’s ascent. I thought about how I was feeling and the risks of going higher. “Yes, I can go higher but don’t get concerned if I puke” I told her. With wide eyes she said that was the quote of the season! I laughed nervously.

Deep inside I was worried. I had felt this before at 27,000’ on Everest but this was 17,000’. Come on. I had felt for the previous two weeks. I was sleeping as well as I could in the small tent. I was eating. I was drinking. My legs felt strong. My overall body felt fine. I had a great attitude. So what was up? This couldn't be happening on Denali … Denali. Not to dismiss the Great One but this was 17,000’. I shook my head in frustration, anger and denial.

Climbing the fixed ropes on the headwall - click to enlarge.I pulled it together and headed higher. But the first ten steps told the story. All my strength was gone. Physical or mental – it didn't make a difference. I talked to myself like a schizophrenic as I climbed higher on the ridge. The ridge has several 50’ uplifts and a long narrow traverse. When I say narrow, I mean a sloppy snow path a foot wide – two footprints side by side – and a two thousand foot drop on both sides. Not a place to fall. This would come back later.

My stomach cramped. I stopped and took deep breaths. I took another step and another. After an hour, the cramps turned to convulsions and then to vomiting. I simply stopped dead in my tracks, took a knee and let it go … but nothing came out. I gagged another ten times (not that I was counting) and then a brown Thanksgiving-like gravy substance came out (sorry about the Thanksgiving analogy). I stared at it since I had never seen such a substance come from me. It scared me.

After two or three minutes, I stood up and continued climbing. I needed to get to a safe spot to stop and the narrow ridge was not it. Soon I joined the first rope team waiting for us. I stumbled to a flat spot, dropped my pack and sat heavily on it.

I put my head in my hands. My hands clinched into a first and I wanted to punch the snow. A slew of expletives went through my mind as my frustration and anger grew. My normally calm demeanor was spinning out of control. I paused and breathed deeply.

Then I gagged and vomited again.

Christian and Leighann came over and knelt in front of me. Their humanity and professionalism came through as they worked me through the questions. Christian put the blood oximeter on my finger to measure the amount of oxygen in my blood – this is a measure to determine if you have altitude sickness. Mine was close to 90 – excellent. At sea level it is 100. My body was fully acclimatized. But I was vomiting and had trouble engaging. They broke to conference. Soon he came back and said “We think you should go down.” I simply nodded. And that was it. Leighan would take me down.

I fought back the tears and choked on my sobs. I had let myself down on this “familiar” climb.

A few minutes later Christian and Leighan looked me in the eye and said ”Alan, you need to be totally honest with us – can you walk down the ridge?” I paused and considered their question. I understood that if I couldn’t, it meant that I would put me and Leighan in danger if I fell. This is the time you look into your essence and consider factors beyond your own. “Yes.” was my answer. They both looked at me with hope and fear.

Almost 30 others climbers had arrived at the flat spot, backed up by my problems. I felt the stare of sixty eyes as I vomited and then put in a nausea stopping suppository. I felt nothing. The weather was good as I stood, roped to Leighan. We started down. The only words came were from strangers as I departed – “good luck”

We made swift time to the top of the headwall – no problems on the traverse. But as we took a break, another convulsion and another gravy vomiting session occurred. What was going on?” I interrogated myself. I finally succumbed to the reality and curled up in the snow next to my pack. Leighan radioed the NPS and gave me words of rational encouragement. I was disillusioned, discouraged, tired, hurt and sad. And this was the warm-up for Everest?

As we made our way down the fixed ropes, I saw two climbers on skis heading up. It past eight o’clock so I thought it might be the NPS Rangers. An hour later we met them. Yes Tuck and Stu were the Cavalry. With a calm demeanor they took my pack and worked me through a triage scenario.
14K Ranger camp from the Headwall - click to enlarge

Soon we were back at 14,000’, the Basin camp or as I will always call it the Ranger camp since that is where the National Park Service hosts “my” team of Rangers and Paramedics during the season to help climbers. Stu, Roby and John – all NPS Paramedics – begin to question me as to how I felt, what I ate, what I did, and family history. They took my pulse, oxygen rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and looked me carefully in the eye and tried to decode my situation. It was 10:00 PM. I had started the day at 6:30 AM.

Sometimes I felt like a science experiment. They took my blood pressure four times before agreeing it was high – 150/100. My temperature was 100. They could see I was fading. They pressed my stomach – no rebound pain – a good sign since it would show appendicitis. But there were several other serious conditions they could not rule out: peritonitis, ulcer, stomach bleeding, intestinal torsion. They became more worried as they talked.

I called Cathy to let her know what was going on. A difficult call since we both had expected this to be a “standard” climb. It is not fair what I put her though.

John, the lead Paramedic, called the consulting Physician in Anchorage. To my shock they agreed to recommend I be helicoptered from camp and then to a LifeSaver Helicopter to an Anchorage Hospital immediately. My eyes went blank, my face lost it’s color. I took a moment. Ok, my stomach was in convulsions and my vomiting was problematic. Yes, I had a temperature and my BP was way, way high. But I didn’t feel that bad… “You can refuse treatment if you want but then we are not responsible for you.” John said with sincere care in his eyes. I blocked everything out for at least a minute and then said “OK, I’ll take the helicopter but I want you to call Cathy and explain the situation and get her opinion.” John readily agreed.

At this point I felt I had two choices, take the risk that I was OK or go with the professional’s recommendations. John then said “Alan, you might get to the hospital and they ask you ‘why are you here’ since everything is fine. But that would be better than the alternative.” With the conservative analysis and my own philosophy that getting down safely – in any manner – is better than dying, I said yes. Four minutes later he returned and the plan was set. Cathy had concurred. The helicopter was in flight and the ambulance was standing by. My stomach flipped. I could not make eye contact. What was happening?

"Thirty minutes till the Lama arrives.", was the announcement. The French made Lama Helicopter was designed for high altitude and could only carry a limited load. It is a dangerous flight in itself. John brought several people in the medical tent and gave the orders: you two will carry Alan to staging spot. You two will get his gear on the helicopter. You will open and close the door. Everyone wait till the thumbs up is given. Watch the rotors. We must get him on and off in less than one minute. Be careful of the blowing snow – you will get blinded. My stomach flipped.

My head was spinning. I felt numb. My stomach hurt. I left the medical tent and saw Leighan. I hugged the 26 year-old like a father and was pulled away by the arm by Stu. In a flash eight men were huddled on the perfectly quiet snow. In a blink the snow was hurling against us and we struggled to maintain our stance. Another blink, the helicopter door was opened, I ran towards it, stepped on the small step slipped into the seat –pulled by Dave already on board. My pack and duffel were thrown in. The door closed and locked. The whine increased and we gently lifted off and I was gone. I gave a thumbs up to all the people left at 14,000. I was confused.

The flight was a blur. My eyes closed. My stomach cramped. Dave asked me questions I could not answer. The scenery was incredible. The sun was rising at 1:00 AM from this altitude. This was not what I wanted. As we landed I saw the flashing red lights of the ambulance – not for me? We stepped off the helicopter and the EMT began to question me. An hour and half later, I was in an Anchorage area hospital – the emergency room with nurse and doctors peering down on me. Blood test, urine analysis, chest X-rays, abdominal x-rays were taken. At 4:30Am, the ER Doctor said the tests were all negative. He had no idea what happened and perhaps it was a virus. Uggg.

At 6:30 AM I left for a local hotel feeling horrible.

I changed my flight to Denver to the next day and tried to sleep as much as possible but only got about four hours after being awake for the previous 28. As I landed at the airport and hugged my wife, it all began to sink in. I was home. I was alright. I had done my best. And we had our first donation to the Memories Are Everything® fund.

Over these past few days, my friends and family have come forth with incredible support for me. They all know me well enough not to say the cliches and they know me well enough to tell me the cliches. The mountain will always be there. They are disappointed for me, not in me. The summit isn't worth your life. And more. They understand my disappointment, we have been through this before. So where from here?

First, back up in the mountains - I have to get training for Shishapangma - 26,289'. I leave in seven weeks! Next, I called my Doctor today to get a reference for a Sports Medicine Doctor to understand what happened. I have some ideas but want to dig into this deeply. Finally, I have already started to shake the experience. Mental training is as critical as physical training. So time to move on.

Climbing big mountains is always a risk anda gamble. Sometimes the weather gets you and other times it is yourself. It seems to be random and insensitive to training, attitude and preparation. All I know is that I did my best on Denali. I want to thank my Guides and the NPS Rangers and Paramedics for their help. I am pleased to have had another go. I am grateful to be home safely. And I am looking forward to the next time!

Denali 2007 Pictures

Denali 2007 Videos