Kahiltna Trip: Part Two

The Storm

Strange light on Mount Foraker, Where is it coming from?

Strange light on Mount Foraker, Where is the light coming from?

“There is some cool light on Foraker.” Chris said as he fiddled with the stove outside of the tent. I quickly scrambled, putting on my numerous layers. The light was unique, like Mount Foraker was creating it from within. I took a few images but then became more concerned by the obvious decline in the weather, Denali and Hunter were lost in the clouds and little flakes were being spit from the sky.

After breakfast we roped up and decided to try and push up the Kahiltna as far as we could. I was still worried about the camera and the previous day’s failure. One idea I had was that it could have been the lens I rented, maybe there was and issue between it and the camera? I left it at camp and just took my 24-70.

We worked our way up the glacier, past Mount Crosson and then Peak Farline. The weather got worse the higher we went up, I was having trouble seeing, the whiteout was getting worse. We decided to turn around and head back to camp.

The storm grew, a strong breeze was now coming up the Kahiltna, but no snow, only the little crystals being blown off the mountains. We hunkered down early, this time I took Chris’s advice and put a warm water bottle at the bottom of my sleeping bag, that helped and I got a better night sleep.

Packing up camp.

Packing up camp.

We woke up to full-on conditions. It was blowing hard, the temps were cold, breaking down camp was tough. We headed straight into the wind, we figured a steady 10MPH with guts around 30MPH. After about twenty minutes, face masks went on, frost bite was a serious concern. I busted trail into the wind, the tips of my skis were all I could see.

After and hour or so I realized that it was dumb to keep pushing through the weather. We needed to either dig a snow cave right into the glacier or try to find safe shelter along the flanks of Mount Hunter. Those avalanches we witness were very fresh in our minds, hanging ice dripped off Mount Hunter’s flanks. Evey once in a while I would see hints of Mount Hunter. I looked desperately for a rocky area that had nothing ominous hanging above it.

The ambient temp was around -10f, add gust of 30 or so and we were playing around in -40F conditions, the safety barrier had been reached. We headed to the safest spot we could find and dug in, crossing our fingers we didn’t miss something hiding above us.

Needless to say, photography was not happening. Dug a quick camp out of the wind, under one of Hunter’s many rocky arms. The wind died down that evening as we brewed up and ate dinner. I passed the time cutting awesome blocks in the wind-hammered snow. Once hot water bottles were filled, we got in our bags and called it a night.

Making camp in full-on conditions.

Making camp in full-on conditions. Chris braving bare hands!

That night we called my wife Pam on the satellite phone in order to get a forecast.

“We are getting dumped on, at least a foot so far” she said, figuring we were being buried alive. “No snow here, just really windy and cold.” She was surprised.

“Forecast is to let up tomorrow and get really cold, then another storm rolls in.”

“Get cold?! ” I said, “It’s cold enough!”.

We knew if we had good weather tomorrow we needed to get through the icefall, it would be really hard to find that smooth path in a total whiteout and we all knew a crevasse fall in those temperatures would turn our little photo trip into a survival epic.

Next: Part Three: The Price of Solitude

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