Orientation! Today we had the chance to meet everyone we would be climbing with, along with doing some classroom work to learn the skills we will need to be proficient on the mountain. The day started with everyone gathering outside the grill. We exchanged names and where we were all from. There was a family of three, Wayne, the father, works for GM in Michigan, and his two sons, Zach and Ian, are twins studying and rooming together at Michigan University. Then there was David, who was from Colorado and worked for a ropes access company, which is a lot like rigging. Robert, who worked as an aircraft inspector in Montreal, then Erik from Chicago, who is a rock-climbing instructor.
Our guides’ names are Mike and Elias. They are both veteran guides at RMI. Mike is a school teacher who guides during the summer, and has a degree from Ohio State University in psychology. He is one of the best teachers I have ever had. Granted, there is a little bit more at stake, but regardless, he loves to teach and he loves what he teaches. He’s super confident, and wants to know how everyone is doing. He loves to answer questions, usually with some kind of funny story attached. Now Elias…think Spaniard mountaineer. He has a strong accent and, like Mike, loves to teach. He, too, is a school teacher and, in the off-season, teaches Spanish. To be honest, he is one of the most funny people I have ever met. Sometimes he mixes up his words, and he will embrace it and laugh hard. He also will say something that is only slightly funny, and somehow it’s hilarious to me and most of the rest of the expedition team.
Both Mike and Elias have been on, and even guided big expeditions such as McKinnley and Everest. They definitely know what they are talking about, and I trust them with my life. They are extremely fun people to be around, and help make everyone understand things clearly. They are a true blessing to our expedition, and I have no reserve saying that, without them, there is no way this expedition would succeed.
To start off, we talked about why were here. I answered by simply saying, ‘I want to learn how to mountaineer, and I have always wanted to attempt to climb a mountain.’ Most of the answers were the same, ‘I want to go on to Denali,’ ‘I want a challenge,’ ‘I want to learn this or that,’ etc. The guides were more than happy to reassure us that all of us would get what we wanted out of the trip. After the initial meeting, we all went outside and compared gear with what the guides said we needed. Unfortunately, I ended up having to rent a heavy pair of mittens and an avalanche transceiver. For some reason, the avalanche transceivers Peter and I brought are analogue and quite out of date. Currently, RMI is using digital transceivers, which is kind of a bummer, but they are much more accurate, and in that situation there is no point in using obsolete gear.
After going over gear and how to use it, the guides taught us how to pack. I learned that, in most cases, besides a sleeping bag, stuff sacks and compression sacks actually create more holes and air gaps in your pack, which is less efficient. Instead, you should take clothes and shove them in the cracks of your equipment. This creates a much better and more compact pack! Another point they really stressed was the fact that ‘your body is a huge dryer.’ Especially in the mountains. Elias said it over and over again with a very strong Spanish accent, and every time he said it, he said it with more and more vigor. I found it hilarious! Apparently if you have wet equipment, and you throw it in your sleeping bag, it will be dry by morning. I can’t wait to really test it out. I have heard of it before, but never tried it.
Once we were done being lectured about how our body is a dryer, and how to fill in the cracks of our backpacks, we discussed route finding and safety. There is a lot to it, but for the most part, it just takes a lot of focus and the ability to uncover possible hazards and other factors. One thing to remember is that no route is ever truly safe, just less dangerous. Mike seems to be very into google earth. He has managed to track most of his routes on the mountain so that he can go back and analyze them, and also use them for future reference. He showed us the route that we would be taking. It looks pretty extreme, not un-doable, just hard. There seems to be a lot of ground that goes close to straight up. I can’t wait to meet it face to face with God at my side for strength. I know He will get me through it, and if I don’t make it, then I know there is a bigger and better reason than I could ever imagine.
Route finding class ended right at lunchtime, at which point the expedition team went to the grill and ate together. We traded stories about home and past outdoor experiences.
One of the guys in our team, Robert, has done other mountains with RMI. He did Mt. Elbrus, and attempted to do Aconcagua, but had to turn around due to frostbite. He inspects luxury airplanes for defects before they roll out the hangar door for the first time and take to the air…talk about pressure! Apparently, his father is in the hospital and it doesn’t look good. I’ll certainly be praying for him and Robert of course.
It seemed like lunch ended as soon as it began. Before we knew it, we were being summoned to learn about ‘the ropes.’ We gathered around with all our cord, and learned how to tie prusik knots for ourselves to be used during crevass-rescue and a couple of other times. After that, we learned how to ascend and descend a rope using our prusik cords, followed by some simple knot instructions, including multiple knots and hitches that will be required while en route to the summit.
We followed knot tying with ice climbing on an ice climbing wall. That’s right, an ice climbing wall that is made of some kind of low density plastic that allows you to stick in an ice axe, or two in our case, and put force on it without breaking. It reminded me of the stuff we used to use on the hockey treadmill, and also on the artificial rinks, only that it would have been high density instead of low. Elias, being the resident professional ice climber, taught us the ropes of ice climbing…no pun intended. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be, and it absolutely kills your calves. We all got through it though, thankfully, because there is a possibility that we will have to ice climb a pitch on our climb, which no one seems opposed to it. In fact, we would prefer it! We wrapped our day up by practicing setting up tents, and then Peter and I headed back to the horse camp, where we are now.
I hope and pray that God blesses this expedition, like He has already with Mike and Elias being our guides. Clearly, God is teaching me a lot about loving what you do and being enthusiastic about sharing it with other people. Today was amazing. Thank you, God!