Ellen Parker: Denali

Monday, July 25, 2011

Some Narcissistic Musings and Photos from a Noteworthy Adventure! Denali, 2011.

By: Ellen Parker

I love both trail running and mountain climbing.  When on the right path, these two activities create a symbiotic love in my heart that I have yet to find anywhere else.  On a hard climb with 50 pounds on my back I will find myself saying, “Can I drop this pack and run on that nice dirt trail down there?”. And similarly, on a long run on the trail I may suddenly stop, look up at an amazing peak, point and say, “I want to go there!!!”.  Luckily for me, I CAN!! This summer I did. 

May 23rd to June 8th, 2011 Denali, Alaska

My brother, Kurt and I have had a long time goal of climbing Denali which stands 20, 320 feet tall and is the tallest peak on the North American continent.  As a brother/sister team we have been climbing alpine style in the North Cascades and in other parts of the Western US for a decade and always dream about what’s next.  Although,  I have been lucky enough to climb Mt Elbrus in Russia, which stands at about 18,500 feet and have been high (~20,000ft) in the Himalaya before,  as for technical climbing ability and life-saving skills my bro is top notch and a league above me.  He has the skills and the knowledge to navigate his way up any route. I have massive trust in him and respect for these qualities of his.  This May we began our journey, he and I. 

The following is a short summary of our days out there on “the big one”.

Day 0.  Fly onto the glacier at about 7200 feet.  Beautiful clear and cold night! I, of course, started our adventure with a head cold and a stomach virus of sorts. I hadn’t had a solid stool for days leading up to the flight onto the glacier. This was quite an unnerving feeling knowing that we’d be pooping into a poop bag and carrying it in our little green poop can;) LOVELY, I know!

Day 1.We traveled up the Kahiltna glacier with all of our gear (~100 pounds each) to Camp 1 which was at 7,800 feet. Although we only gained 600 feet of vertical we schlepped all gear 5 long miles. In the trail running world the first 5 miles is a warm up? My head cold and congestion were at it’s peak.  I was making Kurt slow down but we were still passing people who seemed to be at a stand still. ;) I realized that skiing up the mountain was such a great idea. One of our steps was about two of those who were climbing in snow shoes. As a bonus, on skis you are less likely to fall into a crevasse!

Day 2. We carried extra gear from 7,800 feet to an intermediate camp at 10,000feet.  Slept at 7,800 feet.  I still had a head cold and congestion that was beating me down. I was slow. Kurt was raring to go! This was one of those days that I wished I had my trail running shoes and could go for a run without a pack or any other equipment holding me back;) I couldn’t figure out why I was vomiting.  Was it the altitude? Did I have some kind of a bug? Was I pregnant? No. Just taking my vitamins before eating breakfast. Phew!

Day 3. Moved up to 10,000 feet.  I was slow and lethargic. I couldn’t muster any energy to move at the pace my brother seemed comfortable with. I kept telling him to slow it down a notch.  We got to camp and just as my bro said he wouldn’t go any higher with me until I was feeling better. I felt better. OH, Thank you higher power!!!

Day 4. Moved to 11,000 ft camp.  Beautiful, easy day.

Day 5. Carried to 14,000 ft. We skied up Motorcycle Hill. Conditions were bad. Between Motorcycle Hill and Squirrel Hill we removed our skis and walked up. Too Treacherous. My first time to Windy Corner at 13,300 feet. NOT Windy!!  Slept at 11,000 camp. A lot of teams carry and cache at 13,500 but we decided to skip that and carry all the way to 14 camp. That was a good plan for us!

Day 6. Moved to 14,000 ft camp!!!


Day 8. Carried gear to 16,500 ft. The headwall was so much fun to climb.  I think my bro and I were both glowing from actually finally climbing something fun!!! And we knew we’d get to climb the head wall at least one more time!! Woo hooo!

Day 9. REST DAY. Cooked BACON All DayJ yum. We both felt so good! We knew we were ready to move on up!!

Day 10.  Moved to 17,000 ft camp. HIGH CAMP is right! Our energy got slaughtered by gaining 3000 feet at an already high altitude.

Day 11. Windy Conditions on the deadly slope known as the Oriental Express. We decided to stay put!  

Day 12. SUMMIT DAY! We did it….the only Team on June 4th, 2011 to summit! It took about 9 hours to summit and 4 hours to descend.

Day 13. Rest at High Camp. Bad Weather.

Day 14. All Day Descent to Base Camp.  Tough Descent for both of us. For me, this day was the hardest. I was at my end. Luckily, it was the end.  No K2 Flights out today;(

Day 15. Flight off the mountain to Talkeetna, AK.

There are not enough words to describe this experience, especially when accomplished with a sibling. Kurt and I had an experience that we will never forget and also one that we can not ever replicate. We had luck, strength, support and teamwork on our side. Things went wrong. We both reached our limit with each other and with being on a cold, stormy mountain. We endured it all, lived, learned a lot and for myself I can now say that I can’t wait to get back for more.

Without my dear friends and roommates Kathleen Egan and Krissy Moehl along with Justin Jablonowski  who supported us during this climb by taking care of my pooch, answering our calls from the mountain and posting to Facebook so that family and friends were kept informed this trip would not have happened. Thanks guys!

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