On May 31, 2007, I arrived at Anchorage Alaska. This was my second time in Anchorage; streets, shops, even pedestrians looked familiar. The objective of visiting was still the same as that of last year: mountaineering. However, this time I was going to climb Denali, the highest peak of North America. It is significant, and it is significant not only to me but also to many people who care about me and my outdoor pursuit.
Last summer, I took a NOLS Alaska mountaineering course in Chugach Range; we could see Denali if the conditions cooperated. Denali has this unexplainable attraction: when I look at it, I canâ€™t help but wonder what it is like to stand on top of it. Especially during the course, I learned how pristine Alaskan glaciers are; how satisfactory glacier travel is. My instructor, Shawn Benjamin, told me, â€œNOLS has an alumni course to climb Denali,â€ and she understood that I loved to position myself in a less crowded environment, â€œwe climb from the Muldrow glacier instead of the popular West Buttress route. It is possible you will not see any other groups.â€
I did not apply for the course right away after I got back to civilization in mid August last year. I remember when I called my older brother, who used to be an active backpacker and rock climber, saying that â€œbrother, I am going to climb Denali in June, 2007,â€ he replied me, after a long pause, â€œcanâ€™t you climb something easier first?â€ That was exactly my concern: I didnâ€™t have much mountaineering experience. In addition, the course was expensive: including the airfare, it would cost me about eight thousand dollars.
After debating for months I finally called NOLS in November and was put on the waiting list. I then had to fill out this lengthy questionnaire, detailing my experience (preferably on extended trips, which should be at least 10 days) on glacier travel, crevasse rescue, winter camping, high altitude travel and of course my physical strength. While I thought my registration would be turned down, I received the acceptance letter in January. I was on; there was no turning back.
On June 26, 2007, the summit day, I started to slow down dramatically after 3 pushes even though my rope team started out with an already slow pace. I felt dizzy and I had nausea, you know all those high altitude goodies. Even my stomach wanted to participate in this mess and was giving me a hard time. I had diarrhea at some place nobody really wanted to take their pants off, in another five or ten minutes, I asked for a break. Erica, the instructor leading another rope team, caught up and said, â€œTing Ting, you need to turn around.â€ My tears burst out even before she finished the sentence. Another teammate Robby, who was also suffering from acute mountain sickness, cheered me up and encouraged me that everybody would acknowledge my efforts. Pat, another instructor, led both me and Robby down; we had turned around at 19,400 feet.
During the descent, every time I looked back to the summit, I still wondered what it would be like to stand on top of it. I knew I would not know it this time, but maybe next time; I have gone this far, got this close: another 920 feet; it was so short yet so distant. That night, at the high camp, I had a mixed, complicated feeling: I was happy for the ten other expedition members for their successful summit attempt; in the meantime, I was still deeply disappointed and frustrated that I couldnâ€™t stand there with them.
The retreat from the high camp was fast; we soon got back to Browne Tower at around 14,600 feet. After picking up some cached personal gear and trash, we were ready to proceed onto Karstens Ridge. From the high camp, which was near 17,000 feet, until this point, there was not a single second that we didnâ€™t have a magnificent view. While appreciating the purity of the scenery, I had gradually realized that what I had done was a great accomplishment. On the way down, my mind had never stopped whispering, â€œThis is why I am here; this is why I am mountaineering.â€
This trip is by far my most strenuous trip and the most rewarding one. I made many good friends and I believe that we will be on another mountaineering trip together. Special thanks to my instructors: Erica is always energetic and hard-working. She has inspired me on various occasions. Pat is always easy-going, pleasant to be with; but at critical moments he is always reliable. Ben is witty and clear on goals; his speech has made me stay motivated. He taught me many important concepts and encouraged me to challenge myself hard. Iâ€™ve learned a great deal from them, from my fellow classmates and from the environment. I got what I expected from this course and next time I know how to get there, get high, with confidence.