Monday, January 15, 2007

Keith Olbermann For President

This video segment from Olbermanns Countdown is a wonderfully written piece on the mess that is our Presidency. I just wish that Mr President could watch this to gain some insight on his irresponsibilities.

Olbermann is a genius. He is insightful, witty, smug and educated. I would pay a large fee to have him sit in the same room with Bill O'Wrongly for a healthy and robust debate. That would be priceless.

Instead, Billy O only prays on the soft spoken Andrea Mitchell when seeking to uncover the 'leftist' NBC network. What a twit he is. Please...someone give Olbermann and O'Dickly a forum to have it out. And lets make sure the President is required to tune in for his homework assignment. He would surely learn something.

Is it 2008 yet?

Monday, January 8, 2007

Part 3 of Denali Series

I had just eased myself into that sweet, warm cocoon of a bag, ignoring the smells that always waft themselves up and out as the bag is entered, when I heard a voice approaching.
“Jeff......Chris.......Morris.......Where you camped Evans?”

I quickly recognized the voice being that of Roger Robinson, the head of the NPS Search and Rescue patrol at the 14,000 ft camp. After Roger located our tent he calmly explained the situation.

“We’ve got a couple of climbers that were witnessed falling down the Orient Express. We’ve got ‘em in the scope and it doesn’t look like there’s any movement. We’re short on Rangers and need a hand. Would you guys be willing to suit up and climb?”

Chris and I had ventured over to the NPS yurt earlier that day to chat and greet. We were well acquainted with the NPS boys. For the previous two climbing seasons I had been a volunteer ranger at the NPS basecamp at 7,000 ft, assisting with multiple helicopter and ground rescues. I was familiar with the procedures and the staff.

Although Chris and I were actually “on the clock” with our clients, it is part of the unwritten creed as a mountaineer that you will make yourself available in any situation to assist in the search and rescue of any fallen climber.

So without a word spoken between Chris and me, we were dressed, geared and out the tent door in 10 minutes.

We were greeted at the NPS yurt by a sense of urgency and confusion. The few Rangers that were staffed at the camp were pulling and sorting gear at a frantic pace. Roger briefed us on the current situation.

“A group of Brits on the West Rib radioed down to say they had witnessed a couple of climbers tumble down the Orient Express...guessing they fell about 2,000 ft. Athens and Timmons are already headed up with meds and oxygen. I’ll rope up with you two...we’ll carry a litter and some other support gear.”

We had seen this exact scenario play out on multiple occasions. The Orient Express was notorious for chewing on climbers, then spitting them out down its 3,000 ft gully. So many Asian climbers have met their fate there, that the gully gleaned its name from their misfortune. It wasn’t that the gully was exceptionally technical; however, it was the perfect cocktail for a long spill. At an average of about 45°, not exceptionally steep in the realm of climbing big mountains, the Express was located just down from the summit, inviting tired and weary climbers down its deceivingly gentle slope. More often than not, the slope was covered with a thin veil of snow, concealing its true character of blue, hard ice.

The oft played out events would have a climber descending the slope, tired, lulled into complacency by the relatively gentle grade. Inevitably the climber would step through the smattering of cushioning snow and onto the slipfest of bullet proof ice. Once the acceleration begins, one can try in vain to slow the fall although this is usually in earnest as the gentle slip turns into a helpless tumble. Chris, Roger and I stuffed, packed and shouldered all the necessary rescue gear, roped up and started up to save the lives of two men we had never met.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Part 2 of Denali Series

Image to the right is Jeff hanging 100 ft under the "Denali Lama", the most badass Search and Rescue helicopter in the world.

My story continued...

Now Chris and I were back on the hill. 10 days into this second expedition and we were already at the mountain’s symbolic half way point at 14,000 ft. This camp was somewhat of a high altitude climber’s outpost. A massive flat section of glacial ice covered with snow, perhaps the size of 3 football fields laid side by side, provided a comfortable and relatively safe area for climbers to acclimate, rest and mingle. This was also the home of the National Park Service (NPS) High Altitude Research Station, which was by all accounts, the staging ground for all of the search and rescue maneuvers that took place on the upper half of the mountain.

Denali was at times a mean and unrelenting mountain. Often times lulling foreigners and Americans alike into a sense of comfort and ease, just in time to spank them with the sharp alpine tongue that is the Alaska Range.

Just the week before, as we were settling into one of our first camps and enjoying another of the mountain’s sweet displays of vibrant orange alpenglow, the Park Service helicopter, the Denali Lama, had flown several hundred feet over our heads with the hydraulic “grabber” swinging on a 100 ft rope below the copter. In the grasp of the claw was the unmistakable form of a human body. The grabber had picked him up by the back of his red gortex suite, face down, spread eagle, frozen in the position that his fall had left him in.

We had all been made aware of the death of a climber before we flew over to start the trip and the subsequent body recovery missions that the helicopter had been attempting. Finally the fallen climber had been recovered and was, at that moment, dangling in the grasp of the grabber, plum down from the whirlybird, right over our heads. Our new clients were standing in stunned silence as this macabre scene flew over our heads. The likeness of a doomed Superman was obvious but not spoken. The energy in the otherwise jovial cook tent was radically different that night over supper, all of us contemplating our own fragile nature.

Now at the mid mountain camp we would relax for a couple of days, let the muscles recover, then make our push up on the higher flanks of the mountain in hopes of standing on top within a weeks time.

I went big on cooking supper that night. The additional Tuna chunks into the mac and cheese was a reward for our clients who were proving to be quite strong.

Chris and I, over years spent together in the mountains, had developed our cooking strategies as they related to one another’s least favorite time of the day. I preferred the languid affair of cooking the evening meal following a hard day of climbing. After a long day, Chris would rather change into dry clothes and snuggle his bald pate down into the confines of his sleeping bag. Although I was often tired, to keep rolling through the chores was far more desirable than that of rising early. The bane of my existence. The weed in my garden. The fly in my ramen soup. Rising early to fire up the stoves required one to exit the warm confines of the wonderful womb of the down sleeping bag. I considered this a terrible prospect. For some reason, unfamiliar to me, Chris was one that somehow didn’t mind rising early to depart from the bag and fire up the stoves for the morning’s chunky coffee and even chunkier “goatmeal” as we referred to the daily dose of oatmeal. All of this activity was done as I was milking the last few minutes of comfort out of my sleeping bag. Our schedule tended to work out quite symbiotically.

Continued tomorrow...

Part 1 of Denali Series

This is the first installment of 'My Summer on the Great One'.

Back on the Big Hill
We pulled into the 14,000 ft camp on Denali for the second time in a month. I felt tired. My legs felt thin and sinewy. My pelvic bones were prominent, jutting out like blades. The dreaded Denali weight loss program had taken its toll on my already lean frame at a charge of 15 lbs.

Chris and I were guiding our second expedition of the summer on the 20,320 ft hill and we were satisfied to be at the mid-mountain camp the 3rd week of June with good weather forecasts rumored about.

Our first trip of the summer had been a good one, albeit without a sip from the holy grail of Denali’s summit. We had been beaten around for 3 weeks by the unrelenting wind and snow that the mountain was notorious for... until the clients submitted, cried uncle and agreed that the smell and taste of pizza and beer far outweighed the desire to suffer through another week of cold and ramen noodles. I have to admit that I was somewhat driven to explore the wonders of a Talkeetna pizza pie as well. The glorious, glistening mozzarella, providing a warm squishy bed for the sweet ovals of pepperoni and black olives.

With the knowledge that I had to be back on the glacier in less than a week, I drove my client, a quiet and smilingingly reserved Japanese man named Usako Yakamoto nearly to his breaking point.

“Let’s pick it up now Usako”, I said as I pulled him by the rope he was begrudgingly tied to up the last hill into basecamp. Heartbreak Hill was the mountain’s last stab at you in its quest to make you suffer. Basecamp and the airstrip were set up on the hill which rose about 600 feet off the lower Kahiltna glacier over about an hour of average speed hiking. This position was crucial for the Cessna planes in order to facilitate their take offs and landings, coaxing gravity to help them in either pursuit.

“One more hour to go my friend, then we eat and drink like Emperors.”

In the forefront of my cortex, thoughts of that Bud bottle rising to meet my lips as the first ounce of that golden nectar slips into my mouth causing a stir of taste bud detonation.

Usako had been suffering from a dental abscess for close to a week now, however as much as he wanted to head to warmer climes and the office of a dentist, the pace up the hill was tortuous.
My haste was brought on due to the lowering sun and therefore the ceasing and desisting of any subsequent flights off the glacier for that day. If we were to miss that last flight of the day, our fate would be sealed for at least 15 hrs. Another night on the ice, cuddling up with a hot bowl of dehydrated potatoes and Usako.

“Come on Usako; let’s push it up the hill.” At that moment, he hated me.
“Mr. Jeff, please. I no can go fast like this. Too tired. Must rest.”
“Do you hear that plane my friend? That’s our plane. That’s our pizza with wings. Dig down deep my Japanese compadre.”

Any amount of compassion that I had was vetoed out in the democracy of my brain. “Must sleep on sheets tonight,” I mumbled.2 hours and a plane ride later, Usako and I were wolfing down piece after piece of decadent pizza pie, swilling it down with multiple bottles of Anheuser-Busch’s finest hops. Usako slowly became oblivious to the pain and swelling in his jaw, easing into the popular American cuisine.

More tomorrow...