Lead Guide Yoshiko Miyazaki-Back called in from 7,200′ on the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, where the May 6th team spent the day reviewing skills and preparing to move upwards on the West Buttress route of Denali.
The weather is holding, and despite some clouds, the daytime temperatures are quite warm. The plan is to awaken very early in the morning – more like late at night, and head down the Southeast Fork (SEF) to its confluence with the main Kahiltna Glacier, before turning north and making their way to about 7,800′ at the base of a prominent hill. The site of their camp is about five miles away from Base Camp and while the terrain is not steep anywhere on the route, each team member will be carrying a heavy pack and pulling a laden sled, making for the biggest, heaviest loads of the expedition.
Glaciers are like frozen rivers, running downhill, albeit at a slow (glacial!) pace. Just as rivers have tributary streams, creeks and rivers, so too do glaciers. The SEF is much smaller and narrower than the main Kahiltna Glacier, feeding the main flow. This means that the team will actually descend the SEF, traveling down hill to the confluence. This descent makes for a good shake down, but climbers hiking back up the tributary glacier have given it the nickname, “Heartbreak Hill.” It sure feels longer when you’re headed back up it after your climb!!
The team will make one trip up to Camp 1, with all their food, fuel and equipment. This is called “single carrying.” After Camp 1, they will employ a tactic called “double carrying,” which (you guessed it!) means that they will make two trips between each camp. Double carrying allows a team to reduce the weight of loads by carrying roughly half of their total kit to the next camp, or somewhere near it, where they will bury it in a “cache.” It also gives their bodies a taste of a higher elevation, aiding in acclimatization.
Returning to their previous camp, they will sleep that night at the lower camp, before making the trip again the following day. This process of climbing high, but sleeping low, has proven to help climbers better adjust to the higher elevations.