2015 Denali Ski Base Camp #1

Last year Mike, Bryan and I cramponed up mountains with full packs. We descended into chutes that were colored pink by sunset. We mashed into small tent. That was light and fast style in the Western Chugach. We were a mobile unit in big mountains. The essence of ski mountaineering. 

This year we slept in a nylon super-dome. We carried small packs up steep coulies and rode down beside roaring sluffs. We recovered in a vast tent with burgers and beer. This was fat base camp style in the Alaska Range. The essence of exploring in style. 

Beaver the cat, Bryan Herold and Mike Schmid at Talkeetna Air Taxi, ready to fly into the Alaska Range. We have 450 pounds of supplies. Mostly food and beverages. 

TAT owner Paul Roderick flew us to the Kahiltna Glacier. Paul is an avid skier and took a run before flying back. You know you're in the right zone when the pilot goes for a run. 

Paul heading back to Talkeetna.

Our camp above the Kahiltna Glacier. 

After setting up our fat base camp, we reviewed avalanche companion rescue and ski anchors. Then we made a run before dark. Soft powder over avalanche debris made the stability assessment easier. Foraker is the big mountain on the left. Denali is in the distant right. Our tent is in the shadow below. 

Nibbling the marshmallow above the Lacuna Glacier during our assessment day. In Roger Atkins recent paper Ying, Yang and You he describes mindsets for avalanche terrain, including the Assessment Mindset where "There is a high degree of uncertainty about conditions, such as when first encountering the terrain for the season...." Atkins describes the typical operating strategy for Assessment Mindset as "Select conservative terrain in which to operate confidently while more information is gathered...."

Stepping Out Mindset: 1,700 feet of blower powder into a rock-walled chute. 

Open Season Mindset: "Any skiable terrain may be considered...." Bryan and Mike in The Schmidy, a north-facing geologic mirror of the chute above our camp. 

Mike and Bryan below The Schmidy, at the end of a long day.

Recovery burgers and beer after skiing The Schmidy. Backcountry skiers are the coolest people in the world. They want to see some pretty mountains and have soft snow to ski. They like a beer at the end of the day. They also want to bullshit the entire time. Always pumping the good feelings. 

Entrenchment Mindset: "Entrenchment is not a preferred operating mode and requires discipline...." We tied the tent down with climbing ropes anchored to dead manned skis. After each dose of snow we raced each other to dig out the tent. We listened to the roar of avalanches. We carved a running track around the tent. We ate, listed to tunes, slept and had a blast. 

While entrenched, we dug a hole to ground—3.5 meters to glacier ice—then prusiked from the rim. As per Cosley and Houston in Alpine Climbing, Mike is using a waist prusik and his cordelette as a foot prusik. A basic premise in mountaineering is that gear should be multi-purpose. The cordelette is multi-purpose. A more common method for prusiking uses the Texas kick foot loop. The Texas kick is not multi-purpose. 

Bryan with our gear back in Talkeetna. Hazmat in plastic bags. 

Thanks for an incredible trip Mike and Bryan! I can't wait for another adventure with you!