Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day 1: Flying onto the Glacier

After our NPS briefing, we ate a delicious lunch at The Roadhouse, the famous Talkeetna eatery, and I stuffed my face since it was my last meal before flying onto the mountain. Luckily, the clouds stayed away and so Yoshiko, Ted, and I were able to fly the hour to base camp in a single-engine Cessna. We landed on a glacier runway—a first for me. The scenery was dramatically different at Base Camp compared to the vibrant greenery of Talkeetna. Forests were replaced by rock, snow, and ice. Lots of ice. The plane had massive skis attached to its landing gear so that it wouldn’t punch through the glacier.

Yoshiko, Ted, and I offloaded all of our gear and bid our plane and pilot farewell. We dragged it on sleds (our first of several experiences with them…) to the main base camp area and selected a campsite. Because we were starting in late June, past the peak season of May-early June, many of the good campsites were empty. We snagged a great location with a well-developed kitchen area and solid, flat tent platforms. Despite the fact that our location was already in good shape, we still spent three hours polishing it off and building more tent platforms. Since Denali is entirely surrounded and covered by glaciers, this was a good learning experience.  I was most impressed by the difficulty of building a good kitchen tent. You actually dig deep into the snow and ice to carve out your kitchen, including a stove area, seats, cubbyholes, and a water hole. This takes more than just brute strength; this takes preparation and a good mind for design. Our kitchen even had a table in the center! In other words, it was basically a hollowed out donut. Usually we cover this with a “mid”—a teepee-like tent, but we chose to forgo this at Base Camp since the weather was looking very good and even at worst the weather isn’t too dramatic there.

Following this, we retired to our tents to unpack and prepare for the following day’s skills session. Before I went to sleep I was treated to my first taste of the Mountain Trip culinary experience. I was shocked. It was so delicious! I knew from that moment that I would be in for a couple weeks of pigging out. (How can someone expect me to not pig out when we’re served frosted cinnamon French toast…that’s better food than I eat at home…!)

It was also my first time sleeping in 24 hours of daylight. Though it took a couple minutes of adjustment, I fell asleep very quickly. I didn’t even wear my eye mask! If this first day is any indication of how the trip will go in its entirety, then I am very excited because I couldn’t have asked for a better day!

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