Thursday, January 4, 2007

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...