Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In The Shadow of Denali

I started reading this book yesterday and its incredible.
Written by Jonathan Waterman and published in 1994, there are lessons to take away with each chapter.
While I don't expect to summit Mt. McKinley, or Denali as the locals refer to the 20,320 foot beauty, there is much to take away from the true stories of life and death here.
The author has much experience mountain climbing. As he tells his personal experiences and relates other gripping stories of mountain climbing Denali, we're left with deep respect for those who pursue this passion.
He's the first outdoors person I've seen admit in writing that dehydrated food can cause ( and usually do at this altitude) flatulence of epic proportions.
He tells of following Camp keeper Sue's advice to sprinkle cayenne pepper on your feet to keep them warm. At first he and his partner felt no effects. But, on the way down from the summit, the spice's heat built until he could hardly stand it. Once in camp, he removed his footwear and plunged his feet into the snow.
I'm wondering about a little cayenne pepper in some olive oil or petroleum jelly, would that work better? We'll report on that topical ointment if we try it.
Reading about the fatal mistakes of a crew of 12 was sobering. Seven died in that trip, inexperience and a horrific storm both being a factor. I do not pretend to understand all that mountain climbing entails, so I leave it up to you the reader to draw your own conclusions. Howard Snyder wrote The Hall of the Mountain King as a cautionary work telling his side of the story. Joe Wilcox wrote his book, White Winds telling his version. I think Jonathan Waterman wrote both sides well in the second chapter of this book.
My take away from this chapter is to be careful who leads you, and be careful who you lead. On any expedition, under or overestimating abilities can be fatal.
Researching gear lists and typical weather conditions, and having real time trail experience are two other lessons from these first chapters.
Not building snowcaves and lacking serious snow shovels both factored into fatal outcomes.
The author recalls his first trip while an Explorer Scout. Enormous amounts of food and gear caused them to actually gain 10 pounds each in efforts to decrease the loads. He remarks that having 8 members of this first team was detrimental to the fun as well.
An interesting quote" We spend our lives trying to evade death and its myriad of black mysterious faces, but unless we kick and shout back and fulfill ourselves wholeheartedly during our precious short time, death will stalk us until our days turn to mere condemnation."
Stay tuned for more in this blog while I devour this book.

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