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SMG Trip Report Denali Prep April 2015

A favorite early season trip is our Denali Prep Course. Mt. Shasta is a long way from Denali (Mt. McKinley) but we’ve been offering this trip for several reasons: 1. Mt. Shasta is a perfect training ground for bigger objectives and winter storms can be as fierce and cold as anywhere. Whether your first climb or 50th, Mt. Shasta will whip you into shape while delivering some valuable mountain lessons. 2. Many of our guides also lead trips to climb North America’s tallest peak and what a great opportunity to learn expedition skills from those actually doing it.

This year’s trip was ideal Alaska training conditions and we had SMG Senior Guide Patrick Chu leading the climb. Patrick heads north from Mt. Shasta to guide a couple climbs on Mt. Rainier before heading to Talkeetna and guiding a climb up Mt. McKinley. Assisting Patrick was Jacob Swartz; Alaska native, SMG Lead Guide, and Squaw Valley big mountain instructor. Along with a winter storm forecast, all the pieces were in place for a great learning experience.

This season will be turning the keyboard over to some of our guides who will offer a first hand report of some special trips and expeditions on Mt. Shasta. After 5 days of snow, wind, and single digit temps here’s Patrick’s narrative of the trip.

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As I rummaged through my equipment bins I found myself pulling out sunglasses, light down layers, and spring gloves. Although it was 60 degrees, I was packing for a Denali Prep climb on Mt Shasta. It had been a little while since I had guided on Shasta and in my mind I envisioned 5 days of blue skies, corn snow, and maybe even a pair of flip flops. I was wrong! By the time I arrived in town it had become apparent that the coldest storm of the entire winter was creeping towards the mountain packing feet of new snow, high winds, and bitter cold temps. Suddenly my backpack was stuffed to the brim with goggles, mittens, puffy pants, and whatever else might provide some protection and warmth to battle the storm.
The calm before the storm

The calm before the storm

Day 1: A group of deidicated climbers departed from Bunny Flat under stellar spring conditions on Friday 4/3, taking turns towing a sled full of group gear to simulate the mandatory sled hauling that occurs on Denali. We built a simple camp at Horse Camp and spent the rest of the afternoon learning about our technical equipment, knots, and how to prussik up and down a fixed rope.
Day 2: We started the day off with an in-depth snow school which included numerous movement skills, self arrest, and safe glissading. We then learned rope travel techniques and took an acclimatization hike to the top of Giddy Giddy Gulch to both practice our rope management skills and to simulate carrying loads to a higher camp on Denali. At the top of Giddy Giddy we practiced rappelling and fixed line use. The fingers of cold air at the front of the storm began to chill us in the early afternoon and a light snow started to fall. The team decided it was time to descend to camp and we spent the rest of the afternoon learning about snow protection and pitched climbing.
Paul practices safe glissading technique under Jacob's watchful eye.

Paul practices safe glissading technique under Jacob’s watchful eye.

Day 3 : Time to move higher! The team packed up at Horse Camp in semi whiteout and snowy conditions to move to Camp 2 at 9,000 feet. The weather forecast was calling for 33″ of fresh snow, 65mph winds, and single digit temps at 11,000; perfect Denali training. We roped up into two glacier teams and began moving towards our next camp placing wands to mark our route of travel in case we had to descend in whiteout conditions. Our sole purpose for the day was to learn how to build a bomb-proof camp that would weather the incoming storm. After arriving at high camp we slaved for hours, cutting blocks of snice (snowy ice) and building walls to solidify our camp. After camp was built we spent the rest of the day eating, drinking, and fine tuning our new battle ready castle.
The team, roped up for glacier travel, moves higher up Mt Shasta.

The team, roped up for glacier travel, moves higher up Mt Shasta.

Working hard to build solid snow walls to protect our camp from the wind.

Working hard to build solid snow walls to protect our camp from the wind.

Day 4: The storm moved in with a vengeance in the early hours of the morning. Temperatures plummeted into the single digits and the wind began howling through our camp. We still had plenty of material to cover and spent the day cycling out of the tents to learn and practice anchor building, running belays, and crevasse rescue. Jacob saw all the fresh snow as an opportunity to lead a seminar on avalanche awareness and to demonstrate a step by step avalanche beacon recovery. This day was the perfect opportunity to truly taste of what Denali weather can be like. We regrouped in the cook tent often throughout the day to warm up, sip hot drinks, and recap on course material. Everyone was ready to sleep in the early evening and we hunkered down for what was sure to be a cold and stormy night. I had to reluctantly crawl out of my sleeping bag twice in the middle of the night to shovel out my tent which was quickly becoming buried by all of the wind transported snow.

Jacob and Steve take a round practicing crevasse rescue during the worst of the storm.

Jacob and Steve take a round practicing crevasse rescue during the worst of the storm.

Day 5: With a slight reprieve in the wind by morning, we made haste and packed up camp after breakfast and a mountain navigation lesson. The team roped up and navigated their way down the mountain following the wands we had placed on our way up. With all the new snow the trip out was quite an adventure. It ended up taking us almost three hours of wallowing through deep, fresh powder to reach Bunny Flat (about as much time as it took us to get up!).
While it may not have been the sunny, warm, and forgiving conditions that spring and summer on Mt Shasta can offer, last weekend’s Denali Prep gave us the best possible conditions to train and prepare for what The Great One can throw at climbers attempting to reach its lofty, corniced summit. Only through teamwork, mental fortitude, and plain old hard work will one have a fighting chance of standing on the summit of North America. I feel quite fortunate for such opportunities to experience mother nature’s raw (and frigid) power and I’d like to personally thank the team for an awesome and humbling experience on Mt Shasta.
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Within a few hours of the team battling their way off the mountain, the storm cleared and left several feet of new snow. Patrick and Jacob dried out, warmed up, and along with several other SMG guides headed back out to truly enjoy the powder on skis!
Remnanats of camp after the storm while Dane breaks trail above

Remnanats of camp after the storm while Dane breaks trail above

Look for future trip reports and guest blogs from our staff. We’re super excited about the upcoming season and look forward to the opportunity to share it with you.

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