The weather changed with the certainty of a Lindsey Lohane probation violation. Lying in our tent like sardines, uncomfortable both physically and mentally; the sudden quietness brought on by the lack of driving snow and wind caused everyone at High Camp to stick our heads out of our tents like prairie dogs after a thunderstorm.
We arrived here on Saturday and it was late Tuesday afternoon. The clouds, wind and snow had occupied our thoughts and view the entire time, trapping us in an undefined timeline.
But now the heavy, low white clouds disappeared in a matter of minutes bringing strong sunshine against a perfectly blue sky. The white looked even whiter.
We were rewarded with an astounding view of the mountains and glaciers of Denali National Park. People came from everywhere, cameras in hand, spirits lifted to enjoy the view.
I looked towards Denali Pass knowing if this was truly our widow, the skyline would be absent of the telltale wisps of blowing snow.
By now, a path had been worked into the snow by climbers trying to stay somewhat active instead of lying motionless in tents. I walked the path alone, enjoying some personal time and space. I looked over the sharp edges of our small High Camp plateau onto the 14 Camp – a few tents remained. I could easily see the Headwall and Ridge we climbed only a few days earlier; it seemed longer.
In spite of the tiny inconveniences and boredom; I was glad to be here. I am here for a purpose. With the downtime, comes the gift of silence to think, to reflect; to remember.
The camp was filled with the giddiness of Christmas Eve. We shared our small plateau with two brothers from Anchorage, also two brothers from Finland and an eight person team from Alaska Mountaineering School. One by one we are getting to know one another on the exercise path.
I spoke with one of the Fins this morning. Denali, McKinley; had been his dream since he read about it in a book in the fifth grade. Now his enthusiasm was muted after five days in their small tent. He said now he just wanted to get it over.
A father and son were with the AMS team. Their climb had been booked only a few months ago. I took a picture of them on the sunny afternoon with a backdrop Ansel Adams would have envied. Their spirits were high; but also their patience was being tested like the rest of us.
I called Cathy as I crawled into my sleeping bag, shoulders touching my tent mate. “Tomorrow we go up … maybe. Look for a SPOT notification as we leave camp.” I told her hopefully. “I will. Be careful.” she said. I clicked off the sat phone missing her deeply. In many ways, I was also ready to get this one over.
I tossed throughout the night and then sat straight up in my bag, my head touching the nylon roof setting off a small rainstorm from the condensation of four breathing men. The tent wall flapped against my face to add a punctuation mark. The winds and snow had returned. I lay back in bag, my back to my tent mates. Wednesday would not be a summit day.
We awoke to clear skies teasing us that maybe today was the day but those tiny wisps of blowing snow high on the ridge lines dared us to try. Spirits dropped.
Today has passed swiftly. The card players, playing cards; the sleepers, napping; the walkers, walking.
And I keep glancing towards the skyline. Maybe, just maybe. As I said to the Fin, Don’t give up on your dream.
Memories are Everything