Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day 27: Move down to Base Camp and fly off

Phew, what a grueling day. The good news is that we made it all the way down to Base Camp in safety despite some bad conditions. The evening started off well. We left camp around 8pm with clear skies and nice weather. However, by the time we got down to Camp II the clouds had come in and we were moving in a whiteout. 

After digging up our cache there, we continued down towards Camp I. But we soon lost track of the trail and wandered around for hours using the GPS to find our way down. This section of the descent, which should have taken around 1.5 hours, took us 3 hours. It was cold and everyone’s clothes and faces glistened in the moonlight. Karen’s hair had even frozen solid around her face. If it hadn’t been cold and miserable, it would have seemed magical. Finally we made it down to Camp I and took a brief rest there before continuing on to the final six miles of the trek to Base Camp. 

A couple hours later, we began our hike up Heartbreak Hill—a usually mellow hill that feels like torture after a 13 hours descent. It definitely didn’t feel so mellow to me at that point. Furthermore, we had to walk up another half hour beyond Base Camp because as the season progresses, the ice runway melts so it keeps getting pushed up the glacier. Finally we made it and had a celebratory moment for getting back down safely. We set up our tents and rested (it was now around 9am). The clouds hadn’t let up at all, so we were not optimistic that we’d be flying out that day. Some teams have spent up to a week at Base Camp waiting to fly out… (that expedition had to dig through the trash to find food to eat…).

Flying off...

All of a sudden, around 6pm that night, we got a call to begin flattening out the runway. This involves strapping on your snowshoes and walking up and down the glacier runway in a line so that the places can land safely. Just as we finished this, we heard the unmistakable buzz of a plane descending and we sprinted back to our camp to pack up our stuff. If the plane did get a chance to land, we might be able to fly out. Luck was on our side then, because two planes landed so we threw all our gear into the jet and took off out of there. After a beautiful half hour ride back to Talkeetna, we set foot on dirt once more. And boy did it feel weird. After a month of just snow, rock, and ice, I was back in the forest and back in civilization. We are spending the night in Talkeetna and then heading back to Anchorage tomorrow morning after a  final breakfast at The Roadhouse. 

Suddenly I feel dirty...

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