Top of North America for the Congo! Denali Summit #5

Denali....aka 'Degnarly'... :) May 19-June 5 2010 

It seems amazing that almost two months ago I stood a top North America (Denali)! Yes, on June 1, 2010 I completed my fifth of the Seven Summits for women in the Congo, benefiting International Medical Corps. Like all of my climbs thus far, it was an incredible adventure and one I will never forget, but different in the sense that this one was a true test of will every day.

This journey officially began July 2008 when I completed my first summit, Mt. Elbrus in Russia, and looking back now....these last two years have flown by. I have experienced so many personal changes as well from starting a new career in management consulting, to moving to two new cities, amongst other things. Sadly, the crisis in the Congo continues and so my effort to raise funds and awareness for these women continues as well. Years after the official end of the decades-long civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), violence remains pervasive throughout eastern DRC, acts of rape against women and children continue to escalate, and over a third of the population lacks access to even the most basic health care. From the height of the conflict until today, International Medical Corps has remained in this volatile area, working with local partners to build sustainable capacity by repairing health facilities and improving the skills of medical professionals, village health workers, and community members. I hope anyone reading this will join in our efforts to help improve the lives of these women and children, as any little bit goes a long way!

In case you are unaware, the sexual violence in the Congo, an area plagued by civil conflict for over a decade, has been deemed the worst in the world by John Holmes, UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. We are also still a long way from reaching our $2M your support is greatly appreciated. To date, I have personally financed all the climbs and all funds raised goes to the charity. These climbs are for them in hopes of having a positive impact in their lives, as no woman or child should have to undergo such atrocities. We really need your support and hope you will visit us to donate.

A little about Denali: 

Mount McKinley (20,320 feet) has a larger bulk and rise than Mount Everest, although the summit of Everest is higher at 29,029 feet (8,848 m). Everest's base sits on the Tibetan Plateau at about 17,000 feet (5,200 m), giving it a real vertical rise of a little more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m). The base of Mount McKinley is roughly at 2,000-foot (610 m) elevation, giving it an actual rise of 18,000 feet (5,500 m). Many climbers call the mountain by its original Native American name, Denali, meaning "great one". 

McKinley is also perhaps the coldest mountain in the world outside of Antarctica. Temperatures as low as −75.5 °F (−60 °C) and wind chills as low as −118.1 °F (−83 °C) have been recorded by an automated weather station located at 18,700 feet (5,700 m). 

Because of its weather and ease of access, some climbers use McKinley as a training ground for climbing the 8,000 meter peaks of the Himalaya, including Everest. I had told myself going in, “if I make McKinley, I will go for Everest in the spring.” 

There is also a higher risk of altitude illness for climbers than its altitude would otherwise suggest, due to its high latitude. This is because barometric pressure decreases with increases in latitude. That is, at the equator, a mountain as high as Mount McKinley would have 47% as much oxygen available on its summit as compared to sea level, but because of McKinley's latitude, the pressure on its summit is even lower at 42%, and believe me you are sucking air hard on the last final pushes to the summit. 

Here are the final statistics for the climbing season in 2010; our team was one of the lucky ones to summit. I believe there were four deaths on the mountain this year as well. 

Final Statistics for the 2010 Climbing Season Mt. McKinley

Number of Registered Climbers 1,222
Climbers Currently On Mountain 0
Completed Climbs 1,2222
Number of Summits 661
Summit Percentage 54%

Some interesting facts can be found at: 

Prepping for Denali: 

I trained for Denali just after I got back from Aconcagua from February to May. It was a bit hectic, as I was trying to relocate to San Francisco from Portland, and had a pretty intensive travel schedule for work, as we were amidst of a major rollout with one of our clients and so I was on the road pretty much every week, scouting for hotel gyms or running paths to train in.

I did indeed move to an amazing city with loads of stairs, hills, and trails! Thus, my trips to the Lyon Steps, runs up to Baker Beach from the city, and hikes up Mt. Diablo became far more frequent on the weekends when I was actually home. I also got a new backpack from Gregory, as they were kind enough to exchange my two year old backpack (Denali Pro) that obviously was too big for me and had made the last couple of summits pretty miserable (frame was too big for me). So training with my Gregory Diva 85 pack was indeed a lot better! The key in my training plan for this trip was to be able to train with weight and replicate as best I could the movements my body would make on the mountain with that weight. I got to celebrate with friends in San Francisco the day before I left for Anchorage, as it was the Bay to Breakers run in San Francisco where everyone dresses up in costume...needless to say it was a lot of fun and great send off for the weeks that lie ahead!! 

Going into the Climb: 

Denali was the first mountain, I can honestly say I was afraid going in. For starters I had heard stories of people getting blown off the summit ridge, temps dropping to -40 F +, endless crevasses, etc. In addition, I knew for the majority of the trip I would be carrying 100lbs between my sled and my backpack. Considering weight had been one of my greatest challenges on Aconcagua, when I was only carrying 50-60 lbs at a time, I was worried how I would perform with this additional weight over a 3 week period. This was not a mountain to underestimate under no circumstance. All I could do at the end of the day was train to the best of my ability, pray for good weather, and have the confidence that I would try my best to get up there. 

I chose to climb with Alpine Ascents once again, as they had some of the best summit success rates on the mountain. I also had been really impressed with their guides on my previous two climbs with them to Mt. Elbrus and Mt. Aconcagua.....Vern, Seth, JP, you guys rock! This trip would be no different as I was blessed with some pretty amazing guides once again! Paul and Phil...Amazing!! Also, my two very good friends were on this trip, Pam and Jason....thus I had some comfort knowing that at the end of the day...I would be in good company no matter what. I also knew I was lucky to have an awesome tent mate, Pam....we definitely can have fun!! She is also a very strong climber and that alone pushes me to go harder :) 

I had a tremendous amount of respect for the mountain going in and kept saying to friends pray for warm weather and I think my last FB post said something like “Denali, please be kind”....and kind she was indeed, as we had a successful trip. 

17th nights on the mountain....The Climb...The Journey...A lesson about Humility and Test of Will 

Pam, Jason, and I met in Anchorage and headed on our two hour journey to Talkeetna. The ride over was an interesting one with our shuttle driver...god love him...was eager to share every fact about Alaska he knew! For example Alaska has more than 1 million lakes over an acre! Wow didn’t know that, but also the three of us were eager to catch it was a funny balance. 

We finally made it to Talkeetna and met up with the rest of the team and our trusty here’s where we met Paul, Phil, Chris, Rob, and Brett. Tom and Hobs at Fireside B&B made us one last yummy dinner and we all got to ask some looming questions and then hit the hay, cuz it would be an early start the next day. I can honestly say it all still hadn’t hit me yet. 

The next day, we got up, had another delicious meal ala Tom and Hobs and then headed to the Alpine Ascents hanger to sort out our gear and do some final crevasse rescue practice. Here I must admit I snuck in a few more items that were not on the gear list that made for some funny conversations later on the trip....hmmm what were those??... well here you go and if you are a purist, don’t hate me  I did sneak in and carry: 1 pink razor, 1 full deodorant, 16 pairs of underwear (although I did have 3 pair of ones you can supposedly wear for 16 days straight--I ended up cashing most at 11,000 feet...was silly to bring so many), a compact, lip-gloss, mascara, and 2 eye hear often on Denali... “Ounces make pounds, pounds make pain”, but I felt these ounces would be worth it and make me feel like me on the hill. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, just knowing I feel better when I feel I look good and not like a train wreck :) 
So final order of business before flying to the glacier was to get some yummy pizza at Mountain High Pizza Pie in town and then head over to the National Park Service to get our permits and listen to a presentation about safety and proper waste management on the mountain. 

From there it was to Talkeetna Air Strip, for our flight to base camp, set right smack in the glacier. We took some final photos with all of our 800 lbs of gear for the team, I got to meet my friend Norma Bastidas in person :), and filled up our Nalgenes with water to reduce our efforts once we landed. We boarded our 7 passenger planes and were off! Within 20 minutes or so, all sight of green was gone and we entered a world of white and some glacial okay here it was starting to hit me. We landed in the middle of some impressive peaks all around (Hunter, Foraker, and Denali). We quickly unloaded our gear and got if off the snow covered runway and made our way to set up our first camp. Now was the pinch me moment....the oh Sh^& I am about to climb going back now ....wooohooo! Excitement, nervousness, inflow of energy all in one! It was also evident that on a beautiful sunny day on the glacier, it was gonna get HOT! 

Climbing Highlights (in no particular order): 

• Visiting one of the most beautiful places in the world! Denali is a magical... a little slice of heaven :) One of the most remote places in the US...such a treat to be able to see it and call it home for 17 nights. 

• Seeing the top of North America!!!! WOW what an amazing sight and feeling to get up there...yes I did get a little teary eyed...really wasn’t sure if it was going to make it, but so happy I did. 

• Pushing my body, mind, and spirit to its max....more to come in a bit, but I almost quit on summit day. 

• Denali was a test of will each and every day...proof you can do anything you set your mind to. 

• Nailing down summit number 5 of step closer to the goal! 

• Summit Day- a day with endless personal key learnings, putting full trust in others, a day that others helped me regain my will to press on; a day I will never forget. 

• Meeting world class adventurers and making new friendships-one of the best things about mountaineering is the amazing people you meet. 

• Being humbled by nature and these world class adventurers....I still say to this day, I am a person that enjoys climbing, I do not consider myself a “climber”....some of the folks I met attempting to go up the Cassin or other crazy routes are the hard corps true adventures in my book....or our amazing guides that without them, there may not have been summit success. 

• Experiencing endless light for the entire night time in Alaska during the summer. Also, experiencing constant on a glacier for 17 days is all white...snow and ice!! 

• Being able to celebrate success as a team at the Fairview in Talkeetna,...we shut it down at 4 AM I think?? 

• Getting to explore beautiful Alaska post the amazing place and I will have to go back so I can see the Kodiak Bears!!! No time or money for that on this trip. 

• Getting to experience an overall extraordinary lifelong memorable adventure!!! Amazing and yes I would do this one again :) 

• Realizing how quickly your body forgets pain....although I was some extreme pain day on body would do a mental wipe each night and allow me to do it all over again the next day. ..pretty cool I think. I also wish I could have had a mental tape recorder to capture all the funny thoughts going through my mind each day and also the endless cursing in my head that every now and then did get vocalized and heard by the rest of the team...ooops :) 

• My ‘Scorpion’ fall coming down from a cash from 16,200...we were almost back to 14,200...oh ya....I tripped on my crampons and caught air and even tumbled a little bit to land face first in the snow....a few people even took pictures...luckily it was in a flat spot, so I rolled over and just laughed laying there for a was pretty funny and I have no problem making fun of myself when its due :) 

• The weather forecast is not always accurate...had we listened to the forecast we would have missed the weather window and our summit bid...we had to listen to the ‘nowcast’, as Paul would call it....which was telling us to at least try to get to 17,200 camp and hope the weather would hold for a couple of days. (I was initially hesitant since if the weather predicted did hit, we would have to head all the way down to 14,200 and then go up again to 17,200 for a third time!-luckily this did not happen) 

• A huge special thanks to Paul Koubek and Phil Marino...without them there would be no summit. They gave me the mental will on summit day to keep on going when I had lost the will to go on. I thank them forever because they saw my ability to continue when I doubted it in myself. (I thought I was moving too slow for the team due to my cold hands and effects of altitude and didn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s summit bid). 

• A huge special thanks to Pam amazing tent mate, friend...and partner in crime ;) There was never a dull moment and endless entertainment. I know she loved it when I tried to cuddle with her in the tent...actually not and she nicknamed me Captain Crunch :) She rocked it on the mountain by the way!! Can’t wait to rock it again on EVEREST this spring with her!! 

The Challenges: 

• BLISTERS...oh ya...formed on the back of each heel 4 hours into the trip and grew and bled and caused endless amount of pain. My days started with a 1 hour gauze, medical tape, and duck tape process, followed by 2-3 extra strength Excedrin just so I could get my boots on! The day ended with cleaning the blisters out so they would not get infected with either Neosporin spray, hydrogen peroxide, antiseptic wipes, or alcohol....basically whatever I could get my hands on, as I had limited supply in my first aid kit and so had to borrow from others. Oh Ya let me tell you alcohol and hydrogen peroxide hurt like HELL...poor Pam got to see these gnarly things everyday and witnesses my endless cursing in the cleaning process. On certain moves these darn blisters were the cause of silent tears as every step became excruciating....most notably our move from 11,000 ft to 14,000ft (had run out of tape and didn’t put enough layers), and our move from 14,000 to 17,000 ft up the almost vertical 1000 foot fixed line (I wasn’t able to modify my stepping techniques to relieve pressure of the heels). 

• Our Sleds that seem to have a mind of their own and also caused some tension on the rope teams....especially going around windy corner and up motorcycle and squirrel hill!! Imagine dragging a weighted sled uphill for 3,000 feet that is roped to you and you are also roped to two other people with their own sleds and all trying to walk at the same pace....crazy and easy to create some aggravation! 

• Your hot then your was like there was no in between somedays. On the lower glacier when the sun was out, we were cookin!!! Then when wind kicked up and sun was less prevalent...bring out the Parka! I must say we were extremely lucky with the weather overall! I would say including summit day, it never got below -15 F, which is amazing for Denali. 

• Being roped up in general and having to move at the same pace as a team (4 on each team) 

• Clipping into pickets with your puffy down mitts and cold hands efficiently...I really struggled with this on Summit Day and will have to practice a lot for Everest. 

• Realizing the power of a team and how important teamwork is on the mountain, not only within your own team, but with other teams. For example, sharing weather conditions, medical supplies, food, keeping the morale up, etc. I was so grateful to everyone that donated medical tape, duck tape, and antiseptic wipes to me for my blisters :) 

• Weight and keeping up stamina and moral....just when you think you can go no more...well you have to...true test of will every day. My hardest days were moving from 11,000 to 14,000 feet (blister day mega pain), the move from 14,000 to 17,000 with a weighted pack about 50-60 lbs (fell 3 times this day...blow to the ego and made for a very nervous day). and first half of summit day (when I almost quit due to being cold and convinced I was going too slow). 

• Balance with a weighted pack on narrow, mixed terrain...I fell 3 times (on the move to 17,000)...the mental and physical recovery is important and challenging all in one. Here is when you are super grateful for your rope team! There are some very exposed sections on the upper mountain above 16,200 that definitely made me nervous! When my Nalgene fell down several thousand feet, as I was walking down the summit ridge, it definitely gave me Goosebumps seeing how far of a fall it could be for any of us! 

• I gave up several times on summit day and it was only due to the pep talk of my guides, Paul and Phil and my good friend Pam that I kept going. For the first time in my life, I lost my will, and it took others to get it back...a pretty powerful experience....and I will be eternally grateful for their support. By the time we got to Pig Hill on Summit Day, my will was back and as Paul said, “I was too close not to make it” :) 

• Cold- I got some slight frostnip on my right thumb and index finger and why I almost quit. My hands were really cold and I could feel the cold metal of the ice ix, although wrapped in foam. Also, didn’t wear enough layers out of camp on our summit bid morning. A silly mistake that had some performance consequences later that day. It is so important to keep your core at the right temperature. 

• Forget modesty....having to go to the bathroom in a shared waste bucket for the team in dug out snow favorite was a 14,000 camp when your only option was to use one of two public outhouses with no cover really except for snow blocks people had carved up to make for some privacy, but basically everyone could see your head when you sat there. It was embarrassing for me... but part of mountaineering 

• Building snow walls after long days of climbing. I never realized how much work this entailed and it was so awesome to have a team to get it done right. Basically it could take a couple of hours of carving snow blocks to build walls tall enough to protect our tents 

• At the end of the trip after making it up that final Heartbreak Hill, we found out we were weathered out and so would have to wait a day or two to be able to fly out....thus this added 2 more nights on the mountains as planes could not fly into the glacier to come get us. Not really a challenge, just another little road block to getting off the hill. We also had to stomp out our runway so that the plane could land. Basically everyone at the base camp got out of their tents and put on their snowshoes and stomped the runway for a couple of hours so that the planes could attempt a was pretty comical actually...Denali didn’t let us go easily. 

• Losing all of our Summit Photos  My camera fell on the snow at the summit and so the battery froze. We then took all of our photos with Pam’s camera, but on our way down from 17,200 camp, the camera fell out of her hands as she snapped a photo on the ridgeline. I was just happy it was the camera that fell and not one of us!!! It’s the memory that counts  but still sad not to have it captured. 

• Adjusting to everyday life after the trip. This one hit me hard this time, as you go from focusing on survival and accomplishing a goal you have been training for months for, to just going back to your normal routine. It is a difficult transition of going from the extraordinary to the ordinary...I challenge myself with trying to make everyday the extraordinary. 

What Got Me up the Mountain: 

• Denali was a test of will every day, I cannot say that I thank my mental will for getting me up the hill 

• Having trained...this is not a mountain to not train I felt physically strong for the most part 

• Prayers...lots of them :) 

Paul Koubek and Phil Marino...our trusty guides and without them there would be no summit. Thank you forever!! 

• Having a goal...this has been a long time journey and as always a lot was at stake...having a larger goal of reaching the 7 definitely kept me going. 

• Getting enough sleep, water, and important to keep up stamina for 17 days on the mountain. 

• Blessed with good weather...that could have changed everything 

Lessons Learned: 

• Humility- so humbled by the magnificent beauty of Denali and so humbled by the world class adventurers Denali draws in. ...both inspire me to continue to pursue more adventures in my lifetime. 

• Test of Will- every day my will was failed a bit on summit day, but thanks to the help of others I was able to regain it and press on. I am still a firm believer that climbing is 80% mental and 20% physical when it boils down to it. 

• Climb more in your boots before going on a 3 week trip!! I was told you could not ‘break in’ Millet boots and that’s true for the most part, but it is important to test the friction you will feel on the hill beforehand. I found out that the hard way with my blisters. 

• One step at a time gets you up the mountain...there were many days when I really tried avoiding looking up :) Was better just to put one foot in front of the other and know you would eventually get to the next camp 

General Info on the Climb: 

• We went up the West Buttress- Although there are no technically difficult sections on the route, many stretches of “The Butt” leave very little margin for error. Furthermore, the West Buttress is just as exposed as any other route to McKinley's legendary weather. 

• We had 5 camps on the way up (7300, 7900, 11500, 14200, 17200) and 3 on the way down (17200, 11,500, and 7300). 

• Spent 17 nights on the mountain in total (May 19-June 5 2010) 

Thank you for reading and I hope you will all please continue to support our efforts! Every dollar has a tremendous impact on a life…. 

How Your Donation Will Help Women & Children: 

International Medical Corps (IMC) provides life-saving services for displaced women and children in the Congo (DRC), including: emergency medical treatment and physician training, counseling to help heal deep psychological wounds, and economic opportunities to help promote self-sufficiency. 
Your donation is tax-deductible, totally secure, and will go directly to this cause. Please forward this link to others so we can help save more women and children’s lives! 

Thank you so so much for all of your support and encouragement. So what is next for the campaign?? Everest April 1, 2011 is next! More to details to come soon of the next challenge in support of women in the Congo! I am very excited that others will be joining the climb in support of these women...We are going to the top of the world for them to raise awareness and support :)