Thursday, July 11, 2013

AC DENALI POST 27: july 10th recap

Dave's recap:

"Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Last night’s snow shower turned into the “heavy fall of snow” that we’ve been promised on a daily basis by our forecasts these last ten days.  It snowed, it snowed and then it snowed some more here at 14,200 ft.  We estimated that it was coming down at a rate of 3 inches per hour.  Zeb got out at three to rally a shovel brigade in retaking the camp from the tent-bending powder deluge.  We could hear great avalanches roaring repeatedly down the steep and icy flanks of the West Buttress.  It didn’t ease until around nine in the morning, by which point we figured about 24 inches had fallen overnight.

Needless to say, today was not a climbing day for us.  The wind was still pulling huge streamers of snow off the route we’d hoped to trace along the crest of the Buttress.  And the slopes leading to the ridge were now all suspect in terms of snow stability.  So much snow falling so quickly doesn’t give the stuff a chance to settle.  One of the ways it settles on a mountainside is to avalanche.  There was plenty of visual evidence (when the clouds parted for a minute here and there) that a number of avalanches had already occurred on the route to the fixed ropes, but there were also still vast stretches of undisturbed deep new snow.

We needed a hot and sunny day to glue things in place and to make it all safe again.  But you can’t always get what you need.  Our day was mostly cloudy with light snow showers.  Zebulon gave a great lesson in basic snow science, demonstrating how to identify weak layers in the snow pack, how to compare the hardness of those layers, and in how to conduct a “compression test” on an isolated column of snow in a study pit.  Our climbers then dug their own pits and made their own observations as a way of understanding our challenge in these next few days.

We need to figure out the level of hazard that exists on the slopes above us without exposing ourselves to that very hazard.  And we don’t have much time to do it in.  We only have a couple more days of food available.  Our greater cache of food is now the one sitting above the suspect slopes… In perfect position for our summit bid, but out of our reach until we determine that the avalanche hazard has diminished.  Lots to figure out on Denali.  We aren’t alone though.  The other teams, mostly at 17 camp have similar dilemmas

What we all need, first and foremost, is a break from continued bad weather.  As is normal, we need a little good luck.  Despite the challenges, the team is still in good spirits.  Today, we went over the blog comments together.  We can’t surf the web with our setup, but the RMI office was kind enough to cut and paste the comments into an email for us.  Thanks, from the entire team, for keeping us in your thoughts."

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