A day in the life of a mountain guide
Ever wonder if you have what it takes to be a mountain guide? Come on, haven't we all!? Join us in following Bryan Dalpes in his first year as a guide for St. Elias Alpine Guides, in Alaska. His foray into the wilderness begins with a personal trek (and wild adventure) before work began for the summer. He'll be sending updates periodically, so be sure to check back every so often!
West Ridge, Mount Hunter
On April 28th 2012 I boarded a plane at 2pm leaving Denver, Colorado headed for the Alaska Range. After 25hrs of planes, shuttles and sitting in empty airports my partner James Tinker and I landed on the Kahiltna Glacier to set up base camp for an attempt of the formidable West Ridge of the stunning Mt. Hunter. When I left Denver the temps were in the high 80's, upon landing on the Kalhitna we were greeted with a temperature of 10 degrees. It was a tough adjustment that we soon would learn would need to be accomplished quickly. After unloading our gear and digging out a large pit for our base camp tent we began making the rounds talking to other climbers and rangers to get beta on the conditions of the route and weather in general. What we found out was that we would be only the second party to attempt the route this season. Two Denali rangers had come off the day before after turning around at the rock band because of deep and unstable snow conditions. After talking with them at length we came to the conclusion that with a full two days of clear skies and sun the route would likely be in better climbing shape. Also, an Arctic cold front was moving in over the next day or two and would firm up the snow. The front was supposed to be dry with minimal moisture expected. The forecast after the front passed was vague but leaning towards unstable conditions for the next 2 weeks. As we only had 20 days in the range we felt a bit of pressure not to miss what may be our only window to climb the ridge. So, after some discussion James and I decided we should at least climb to the cats ears the next morning to check on conditions. After the lack of sleep and long travel day we decided to sleep in and take advantage of the long Alaskan days and begin the climb in early afternoon.
We packed enough food and fuel for 4 to 5 days in the hopes that we would find good conditions and be able to give the route a shot. As we snow shoed out of camp and branched off south toward our objective I felt fit and confident but humbled by the sure size and scale of the area through which we moved. A short couple of hours later we arrived at the base of the ridge. The weather was beautiful and clear and the snow seemed to have consolidated quite a bit. We stashed the sled and started up the route with the nervous excitement that we were finally getting a shot at the route that held our imagination captive for the past several months. The initial climbing was straight forward. Moderate snow under threatening seracs. We moved quickly to minimize the threat of falling ice. The exertion coupled with the intense radiation of the suns rays reflecting off the snow caused me to begin sweating profusely. I began to feel dehydrated very quickly and consumed what little water I had left. In hind sight I wish I would have taken the time to stop and brew up additional water to maintain my hydration. James and I were so excited to be climbing and we were making such good progress I felt guilty to stop and disrupt our rhythm. This was the first of several poor decisions on my part that would eventually lead to making decisions I hoped to never have to make.
To be continued...