Thursday, June 22, 2006

Update from Denali

Last month, a trio of Colorado College students headed to Denali, the highest mountain in North America. Their goal was to reach the summit of the 20,320-foot peak. Their expedition name: Breasts on the West Buttress, chosen to emphasize the cause they wanted to promote - breast cancer awareness.

Libby Bushell, Nancy Calhoun and Sheldon Kerr started off strong, but as Libby wrote today in this e-mail, encountered problems with the weather a couple of weeks into their climb.
Here's Libby's e-mail:

"So there we were at 14-camp (14,200 feet). It was our fifth day there, so we were still stoked on the scene. Picture 60 tents, 200 unwashed men, one yurt with rangers (ranga-boys) and lots of snow with the headwall (2,000 ft. of 50-degree snow/ice) on one side and the edge of the world (7,000 ft vertical drop to base camp) on the other. Whiffleball naturally sounded like a good idea, Fabio having brought a ball and a bat (no joke, our best friend's name was Fabio). So, we get all the men in camp to play in a diamond the area of a large dorm room. Most of them don't understand baseball or can't speak English. We're all wearing slippery overboots over down booties and falling every three feet into the slushy postholes we've created throughout the game which isn't so bad because the 10-ft run to first base is enough to make you winded enough to merit a sit.

SO Hiraldo, the Puerto Rican gets up to bat, takes a crack and sprints to first where he slides in and starts yelling. We find out later he's pulled his hamstring, no no, torn his hamstring and can no longer walk. So he's supposed to get choppered out of there but the weather remains bad for 7 more days, during which he's crutching around camp and everyone (since we're all weathered in for 12-plus days) starts calling him Hammie just straight to his face. "Hey Hammie, how's it going?" "Oh, you know, just waiting for the weather." "Yeah, me too...."

So, we finally got up to high camp. We came cruising in like victorious superheroes, except add 70 lb packs, a bedraggled look, no oxygen, and a general hatred for life. We got in at 10 p.m. to find all the campsites full, which means that we have to build walls until 2 a.m. (which actually means that Libby weenies out and crawls in the tent at 12:30 a.m. and Nancy and Sheldon heroically build walls until 2 a.m. Then it takes 2 more hours to make 6 liters of water... I hate high camp. I don't wish it on any of you. Summit day was two days later. We started out in beautiful weather, a little wind. We made it up to 19,400 ft when we noticed a lenticular cloud over the summit at 3:56 p.m. We're 3 hours from the summit and are all a little weary but stoked. We ate a bite of candy bar (which was pretty much all the substance we consumed for five days) and at 4:07 we're in a whiteout with 50 mph winds trying to kill us.
So we head down, can't see or hear each other in the storm so when Sheldon has vertigo and stops to puke on the trail, Nancy and Libby are jerking on her, wondering if maybe the rope is caught on a rock and are pulling her down a slippery slope to her doom, self-arresting in her own vomit (graphic details made up by Libby). In a whiteout that bad you can't tell up from down and Sheldon was sure she was going to die while Libby was navigating from pee hole to pee hole, trying to get back down to the friendly atmosphere of high camp. We make it back to camp and the weather gets good again, so we're able to look at the summit and shake our fists at its thwarting of us, but are happy to be alive and going home.

We were 22 days on the mountain, 12 of those at 14-camp. We made some good friends, had some good times, and didn't ever get in a fight, although Sheldon called Nancy and I (names) after we dragged her down the slippery slope of doom amidst her vomit. We were the youngest ones up there and also the only all-girls team, so we were quite popular. The hardest day was the very last, which started at 7 p.m. at 14-camp and finished at 7:30 a.m. at base camp, through a foggy whiteout on the lower glacier whose crevasses had opened up enough to make even me scared as we're making S-turns throughout them, paralleling one so as to avoid another, and getting our sled caught in and then disappear into the darkness.

And then we were in Talkeetna, partying at the pub with our Irish friends, and now we've gone our separate ways, Sheldon in Skagway, Nancy in North Carolina and Libby in Homer. It's been great. Thanks for all the support, kind thoughts and friendship you all have given us. This is Libby signing off.

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