Earth Quake (6.3) centered under us while camped on a glacier!

Everyone knows what a picture is, but the implications are much broader than we realize.    No problem, like most things in life, every day we learn more things, science reveals many things we have never imagined.  These impact and actually affect our surroundings, our future, and us.

Training, with our Everest Team, on 14,410 foot High Mt. Rainier. It is the most heavily glaciated peak in the continual USA

We as humans are full of pictures like; what is work going to be like today, or how will it be next year?  What will s/he think, and will s/he lead to the perfect life, and many more. 

Still there is another picture of one sort or another. Am I too skinny, or I am way too fat.   Our picture of ourselves affects our lives, and our futures too.  Each thought that comes to mind, conjures up a picture to go with it; the list goes on and on.  . .

These are our pictures of life, and the way we “think” life is or is not, should be or should not be.  Is it good to have pictures floating around in our minds? Yes, and No. It depends on “how we use them.”  If we paint them in oil, cover them with a protective lacquer, and in-case them in bulletproof cabinets, we will likely attain them, but whether we are happy with them, remains to be seen.

A bookkeeper who assisted me with bookkeeping in my business, said something I have never forgotten.  He said, Beware of what you want, for you will get it.”   It sure seems to be the case. If we want something bad enough, there is a good chance we will find ourselves sitting there.  It happened to me.   

One day, or actually I think it was evening, I found myself sitting inside of my Specialized Mountain Sports Store.  I fell in love with a mistress, the mountains, and she has never let me go.  It has been good in many ways, and rather challenging in others.  It seems to be the case with all pictures; every picture I know of has challenging parts, and fun and rewarding parts.  I think the beware part is that is easy to focus on the pleasure side, and forget t  he yin and yang of life.

One problem with pictures is we use them as guides, or picture of how things are, or are not, suppose to be.  But pictures are things we conjure up, or fabricate in our minds using all of the bits of information we have collected during our lifetimes.  If we are different than most people, and have very carefully selected true, good, healthy, productive, positive, real, etc. things to store in our subconscious memory banks; then the pictures are likely to be a more accurate pictures of our past, current, and future circumstances. So the picture we conjure up will likely be more accurate.

BUT beware, pictures work like road signs, leading us this way or that way. If we hold fast to the oil painted, lacquer protected, picture in the bulletproof case, we will be forcing the future, which is often not a good idea. The problem with forcing the future is that, at least consciously, we Do Not have the knowledge and wisdom to know; what is, in fact, the best route for us to follow or pursue. If we force it, we are likely to be less happy, less productive, and we may find ourselves in a less than desirable situation.

On the other hand, if our pictures are used as possible outcomes, goals, or directions we would like to travel, they can work very well for producing a happy, abundant, and fulfilling life. The key is riding in, or making choices in the moment, it is the only thing we actually have any control over.  

Maybe you have heard the saying, “Make a plan, then work the plan.”   Well, I believe plans put direction to our lives, but since we lack the knowledge and wisdom to predict the future, we must stay in the moment, looking for, feeling, sensing, and determining the best or correct path, or the path with “heart.”  

What is “heart?”  The path with heart is the one that makes us feel alive, vibrant, healthy, and excited.  When we follow that path, it seems our bodies produce a small amount various chemicals, which can reduce stress, help us focus, kill pain, and much more. One such chemical is endorphin.  These natural opiates help us live better healthier lives.  This is a quote from MedicineNet.com, which seems very close to my understanding of endorphins.

“Endorphins are among the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which function to transmit electrical signals within the nervous system. At least 20 types of endorphins have been demonstrated in humans. Endorphins can be found in the pituitary gland, in other parts of the brain, or distributed throughout the nervous system.  Stress and pain are the two most common factors leading to the release of endorphins.”

Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to help reduce our perception of pain and act similarly to drugs such as morphine and codeine.  Although our bodies can only produce a small amount, they still do assist us in normal circumstances.   In addition to decreased feelings of pain, secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response. With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress. Endorphins have been suggested as modulators of the so-called “runner’s high” that athletes achieve with prolonged exercise. While the role of endorphins and other compounds as potential triggers of this euphoric response, it has been debated extensively by doctors and scientists, it is at least known that the body does produce endorphins in response to prolonged, continuous exercise.”

It appears that in acute situations these endorphins can help us deal with severe pain, but in situations of chronic pain the body cannot produce enough long term endorphins, and the use of external opiates becomes necessary.  Maybe these natural opiates are like traditional opiates in that the body builds a tolerance to them and more becomes needed to create the same effect?   In those cases, as long as things are managed well, there is no problem.  There is no “high,” but rather a normal effect, which ends up helping the person live a normal life.

If we choose a path without “heart” we are headed for stress, unhappiness, and more. There seems to be an inner knowing that helps us find the best route for “us,” or the route with “heart.” This is ONLY if we are open to it, and willing to “free fall,” and avoid the control freak syndrome.  Personally I believe it is our spirit which is able to know, or has knowledge of things our minds don’t. Maybe another way to put that is, “our minds, and bodies are of this world, and our spirits transcend this world and others?”

That may be why people have a sixth sense, or just seem to know things.   I must admit, there have been many times in my life where there were no signs or indications something was so, yet, somehow I knew it was, and sure enough, it was.   I do not understand the details of why and how, I just know this is what happens. I believe we are able to sense, feel, receive, etc. these promptings, or insights, if we only learn to calm down our tenancies to control everything, and listen to the small inner voice or prompting.  I am striving to learn to recognize these situations better, and implement them in a productive way.

The most successful, climbs, business projects, rescues, etc., I have ever participated in were ones where we as a group of individuals were able to flow with the moment, look at the current information and determine where to go from there.   The very worse ones, were when individual(s) within the group were control freaks! I remember one expedition in particular.   

It was a training climb, while preparing for our upcoming expedition to climb the North Face of Mt Everest.   This training climb was on 20,320 foot high, Mt. McKinley, or Denali, “the great one,” as the natives call it.  It is considered the “coldest mountain on earth.”   Due to its northern latitude, it considered comparable to climbing a 23,000 or 24,000-foot high peak in other parts of the world.  I believe it is due to the Coriolis force or effect, which makes the atmosphere thinner at the poles of the earth.

During this climb we had a serious situation which came very close to costing several lives. Up until that point, we as a team had traveled to Switzerland, France, South America, Mexico, and other places for training, and never had anything close to what happened on McKinley. In fact, we were almost always successful in reaching our objectives, and always came back with a good feeling and comradery.

This time is was to be different.  At the suggestion of a person who was currently part of my team at Hansen Mountaineering, we had let a new comer join us.  We were told he was a strong and skilled climber.  Things started to go south, after our fourth or fifth night on the mountain.  We had set up camp early in the middle of the Kahiltna glacier due to white out conditions.  Conditions where you are in the clouds or fog and you cannot even tell if it is uphill or downhill in front of you.  It is often snowing, as you ski, snowshoe, or walk on a white snow pack, with flat light.  In those conditions everything around you is white.  I have often reached out in front of me with my ski pole, and tapped in on the ground: first, to make sure there was something there, and second to determine how steep the slope was.  

One time in particular, I was skiing down, the wind blowing in my face, and I noticed how smooth the snow felt under my skis.  Then I questioned the situation, and found out I was not even moving.

Climbers have walked off cornices and died, and fallen into crevasses, due to white outs.  Becoming lost it them is a very real and serious problem.  In fact, a week or so later we had three Japanese climbers spend three nights with us, because they could not find their way back to their camp.  Sometimes it is just too dangerous to navigate a glacier, which is full of hidden and open crevasses.  

This was the situation as we climbed up the glacier.  We did not want to risk a fall into a crevasse.  A fall like that can be fatal.  Consequently, we decided to stop and set up camp until conditions changed.  We did our best to find a spot safe from avalanches, and away from the chasms and abysses that the riddled the glacier, and were covered over by a layer of snow.

At 23:30 hours (11:30PM) it was still fairly bright (due to the midnight sun).  We were laying in our tents, sleeping, or taking care of the evening chores: melting water from ice and snow, preparing and eating the biggest meal of the day, so we could replenish our reserves and strength, and other misc. details; when I was tumbled left and right in my sleeping bag?   First, I thought the Glacier had shifted or lurched downward. Glaciers are like slow moving rivers of ice and snow, so it is common for them to move downward, sometimes several feet, or yards a day.  

I heard team members starting to talk about what had just happened.  Our team physician said, “It felt like his wife had just jumped into the water bed next him?”  Someone else said, “They had just heard on the radio there had been an earthquake, which had registered 6.5 on the Richter scale.”   As he listened, the radio announcer went on to say, “The epicenter was almost directly under us!”

Above the Crux on the West Rib at 16,500 feet Mt. McKinley. Leaving a cache of gear from a carry we had made. Dr. Hooker our Team Doctor, joking about leaving dirty underwear. Photo by D.S. Hansen

I crawled out of the tent to look around (it was early summer, and the midnight sun made it so we could see quite well) and noticed a large area on the southwest face of 17,000 Mt. Foraker was covered in clouds.  As I looked closer I noticed they were building and growing very dramatically as I watched. Then across the valley I saw an avalanche race (some experts say they can travel as fast as 200 mph!) down the side of one of the tall ridges, next to us. Then it dawned on me, those were not clouds on the southwest face of Foraker, the entire side of the mountain must have released and I was witnessing the dust and snow from a tremendous avalanche release.  I was glad we had located our camp in a safe spot away from avalanche run out paths.

The next morning it was clear, cold, about twenty-five below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. We could see the large seracs balanced on the ridges and cliffs of the mountains around us, and the open crevasses in the glacier. We geared up and left camp after the usual, with a light breakfast , some tea and chocolate. We made pretty good time, despite the heightened interest in talking about what the earthquake. “Did it make the mountain more stable or, less stable?”  Eventually we arrived at the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, and the bottom of “heart break hill.” This hill was aptly named because of its length, and steepness, which while carrying an expedition load, could be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.  Quite a few turned around here and went home to either train harder, plan better, or just let “this” objective or goal fall to the wayside.  For us, it was a point where we had to decide as to which route we were going to climb.  There were twelve of us total, with skills ranging from expert to advanced novice, so the route we took was important.

The West Rib was the more demanding route, with a steep, sixty to seventy degree ice gulley, over 1,200 feet long.  In 1982, myself and the three others had taken this route.  I found it to be fairly technical, with avalanche danger, and the lower approach was threatened by large serac caused avalanches. In fact, I included a picture, I had taken from the safety of our high camp, of one avalanche that had come down, and crossed the tracks we had made only hours earlier.

More Thunder, we had become accustom to it. It meant another Serac avalanche. In this case, a small one was crossing our ski tracks. I took this picture in the evening, from our 11,000 foot camp.

The question was twofold; would the best choice be for the group to continue with the more technical route considering the skill level of the group, and the potential changes the earthquake may or may not have caused; or should we take the standard, West Buttress Route?   The more macho climbers referred to the West Buttress as the, “Cow Trail,” because the majority of climbers took that route. But the fact is, climbing Denali by any route, is quite an accomplishment.  Now, if ego drives someone, and they think they have the experience and skill to do so, they would surely choose the West Rib.   As usual the group was open to the Best choice, except for our new trial member; he was hard set on the West Rib. This became obvious as we listened to his various comments. One comment, which really concerned me, was, “You are going to ruing “MY” climb!”

Woe now, whose climb? I thought to myself.  It sounded like this person had a severe case of the “I” syndrome.  Just in case you are unfamiliar with this poorly understood malady, the “I” syndrome is a condition in which a person is so worried about and concerned with making sure they get what they want, they actually undermine, or destroy their possibilities of getting it. 

The hanging walls of Ice (Seracs) threatening the North East fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. The vertical height of these walls range as high as 1,000 feet and the horizontal length that could break off is as long as a half a mile. Needless to say, looking up at these hanging over your head is a little intimidating.

Things were heating up and getting rather interesting (my way of saying, rough or challenging, us macho folks can’t admit to being scared or overly challenged, thus “it can become very interesting, at times.”). At times it seems, procrastination is great tool, and since time was on my side, I deferred the decision to the next morning. 

The air was thick with contention as I probed the hopeful camp site for hidden crevasses. The new member was quick to suggest that, probing for hidden crevasses was foolish, and just a waste of time. He suggested I didn’t know what I was doing, or was just too scared, and pointed out, “good climbers need to take risks,”  wow, another interesting concern?

I like to call my style of leadership, synergistic leadership. My object is to provide direction to the team’s goals and objectives, and assist them in providing the power or ways to get there. I just mold the group into whatever seems to be their best or desired choice, using the various skills each person has, in the places the best fit, and it works quite well, provided you have a group of “team” oriented climbers.

To make a long story shorter, I probably should have used my prerogative, as team leader, to make this decision for the group.   Since there was not a clear team consensus, it would have been in the team’s best interest.   Interestingly, I actually, I knew the best choice, but like us all, I have my areas I need to work on.  I, for whatever reason, like to avoid conflict when I can, maybe too much so. “I like to keep everybody happy.”   I don’t recall thinking about it at the time, but now it reminds me of a book I read about a trans-global expedition, called, “To the Ends of the Earth.” The leader of that expedition, which had traversed the entire world, from north to south, pointed this out:

“There is no one set formula for success, but there is one for failure, and that is trying to please everyone.”

The debate raged on. Eventually, a decision seemed to materialize; we would divide the team into two groups: One group, which included the new member and some of the more technically skilled climbers.  They would climb the West Rid; and the other group would go up the West Buttress. It seem to meet the desires of everyone.  I felt I needed to stay with the team going up the West Buttress.  It seemed to make sense, since I had already climbed the West Rib, and I felt that I would be more valuable there.

On the surface, it seemed like a good choice. It left six climbers for the Rib, and Six climbers for the Buttress. By standards, the team size was good, and the team’s abilities seemed to be appropriate. We decided we would make radio contact with each other when we were at a high enough elevation for the radios to work. We estimated that to be at about the level of our 14,000 foot camps, or we could meet at the 16,500 foot camp, on the rib and continue our climb to the summit.

From there we, the West Buttress team, had planned to traverse up and over to the 17,000-foot high camp on the West Rib, and join the other team;   and make our summit bid from there.  This would be done by leaving camp at about 03:00 hours (3:00 AM), or so, prepared for a long and hard day climbing the last 4,000 vertical feet, to the 20,320 foot high summit.

Our climb up the West Buttress was rather eventful, we had white out conditions. The first night, above “heart break hill,” We found three Japanese climbers, or more correctly I should say they found us.  They had made a carry to their high camp, and had been caught in white out conditions on the way down; and were unable to find their way back to their camp. They had spent the first night shivering in holes they had dug in the snow, and ended up finding us on the next day.  

We were sitting in our tent when we heard, “Hello” with an unfamiliar accent.  I unzipped the tent door and they explained, in their broken English, what had happen.  We were more than glad to help by letting them stay with us until the white out conditions changed.  As climbers, we often use wands (bamboo shafts, with little red flags on them) to mark the route around crevasses, and back to camp, just in case a white out sets in.

They had either depended on others to do that, or had failed to do it. There were six of us, divided into three, two-three man rated tents tents. With all of our gear it was rather tight but worked out well.  They spent the next two or three nights with us before conditions cleared up.  It proved to be a very good experience. As we were sipping hot tea and coffee, I was careful not to burn my tongue. One of our Japanese friends informed me that, “I had a tongue like a cat.” I guess cat’s have tongues that burn easy?

Looking down from 17,000 ft, at our 14,000 camp site, which is just above the 1,200 foot ice gully which was considered the crux of the Western Rib.. To the right center we are looking down on the North East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. To the right of our camps are some thirty foot cornices. For perspective, “There is a black mark which is a Swiss climber walking back towards camp.”

On the West Buttress we camped at 11,200 feet, to prepare for the push to Windy Corner, which was about 14,000 feet in elevation. Two things come to mind regarding this camp. My teammate became quite sick with some type of infection. He seemed O.K. to stay at camp until we returned from meeting the other team mates. There were other climbers camped there too, so he stayed in our tent.

As a team leader, I often second guess various choices. He suggested he would be fine there until we returned. He seemed O.K. and it was a common camping area on the glacier, so if things got out of hand, there were other climbers he could ask for assistance. That ended up being the case, had I known how sick he would end up getting, I may not have continued. The plan was that I would sleep in one of the other 2-3 man tents while climbing higher

The following day we roped up and left camp, just kicking steps in the hard snow.   Above the ridge, things changed, the wind was blowing about fifty or sixty mile per hour, the slope had changed from hard snow to thirty degree ice, with patches of loose snow on it. At the bottom of the slope there was a thousand +/- foot cliff that seem to drop off into the eternities, “Wow!”

An unchecked slide would lead to a sweet ride into emptiness and whatever else waited far below. Fortunately, we had ice axes and when used quickly enough and correctly, with good presents of mind, you can arrest a fall.

Wands we used to help find our route during white out conditions

I was on lead, which was about one hundred feet in front of my partner. Even though we were connected by the rope, it was hard to talk or even yell to each other over the sound of the wind.

As I tried to kick steps up the icy slope my foot slipped a time or two, and eventually I decided I should stop and put on my crampons. My rope partner continued to climb towards me.   I yelled, “Stop, put on your crampons, it gets icy up here!”

He kept climbing. The wind must have made it hard to hear, or he felt otherwise. I yelled again, but still he climbed. Then my worst fear appeared, “his foot slipped and he began to sliding and falling towards the emptiness, of the thousand foot drop off, and “I was tied to him!

I quickly tried to figure out how to save my partner and myself, I was flooded with a thousand pictures of, “What if?” I sorted through them and tried to choose the one that fit this scenario. Considering how hard the ice was, and the short distance to the edge of the cliff, it would be next to impossible to use my ice axe to arrest his fall before we would be pulled over the edge.   I saw a large, fifteen to twenty foot boulder on the edge of the cliff and quickly put together another plan.

The only choice I could see was not a great one but the only one. I planned to run, slide, crawl or do whatever it took, to get myself on the opposite side of the boulder. Then I would either wedge myself there, or jump off the edge, while he slid off the other side.   It may not be pretty, but it sure as hell seemed better than him dragging me off the edge with him! The last thought I had was, “I hope there are no sharp edges to cut the rope?”

With the adrenaline which only fear and desperation can provide I ran across the icy slope trying to reach the other side of the boulder before he went off the edge. I took one more look at his situation as he slid toward the abyss, luck had saved day. He had hit a soft snow patch and was able to arrest his slide.   After I caught my breath, I yelled down to him, “DAMN IT!  PUT YOUR CRAMPONS ON!” which he was more than happy to do.

The rest of the climb was not near as exciting for us. The wind blew, our goggles and glasses became so ice covered we could not see. We would lift them up to see a distance in front of us, then, cover our eyes again, as we climbed the route ahead. Eventually we made it to the 14,200 foot camp. This was a big open area on the glacier. The National Park Service had a camp here to monitor the mountain and climbers, and to affect rescues or provide assistance as may be required. There was also a high altitude, cold weather study group there carrying out there tests, and such, along with quite a few climbers from all parts of the world.

We tried to radio the other group with no luck. Eventually we started asking arriving climbers if they had seen them. No one had.  Hooker, our team physician, and I made the traverse up to the 17,000-foot high point on the West Rib, carrying supplies and expedition gear. When we arrived we could not see any sign of them. We really began to worry. Leaving the supplies and gear there for them, and when we returned, we climbed back down to the 14,200 foot camp.   We again asked around, no one had seen them, but one person assured us that there were so many climbers on the mountain, nothing could happen to them . . .  

Wow, it amazed me someone would say and believe a comment like that. Ignorance is bliss.   After some discussion, we decided the best thing we could do was climb back down and retrace their route up the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.  

Part way down we started hearing messages from other climbers that had talked to the other team members, as they were leaving the mountain!?!?   WHAT!?!   By the time we got to the bottom of heart break hill, they had already flown off the mountain with one of the bush pilots, and were aboard a jet gong home! What had happened? Why didn’t they make radio contact?   Why on earth were they on a plane going home? Wow, I just didn’t know what to think?

Later we learned that they had been caught in the white out which had caught the Japanese Climbers, and several of them had to spend a few nights in a crevasse, to avoid the cold and wind.  They eventually made it to the crux, the 1,200 foot ice gulley.   Where there was another team there as well. The other team suggested they join forces and fix lines, or ropes to improve safety and make load carrying easier. Well, from what I was told, this other, new person we had brought with us was now leading the group, and he declined the offer. He chose the more sporting (macho) approach of climbing it without fixed lines, obviously with little or no consideration of the other team members with him.

Now I don’t know all the details, but this is what I was told happened. They began climbing the crux. The icy gulley had about six inches of snow on it which made it easier. About half way up, high winds started to blow, and stripped the slope of any snow on it. Now it was a solid sheet of sixty to seventy degree ice. One of the guys who was in lead, a pretty strong climber generally, had been caught off guard. He didn’t have extra gear with him to cope with the change in weather. The high winds and twenty five below zero temperatures were just too much. He needed help as did other team members.

One climber I know was really strong and likely able to help the others, and maybe this new guy was able to help others down, even if he had no idea how to work with a team. I heard tale of one person even saying to one to one of the climbers who was doing better, “Just get me off here alive, I’ll pay you anything?”

Eventually, they were lucky, and I do mean lucky, enough to make it down and return to the glacier air strip, to be air lifted back to Talkeetna, Alaska.  Where they were able to get to Anchorage and catch a flight home.  All I can say is I had no idea things would have gone that bad, but again, I should have.

“To err in the mountains is human, but the mountain seldom forgive . . .”

The “Great One” had taught us all a few lessons we are likely to never forget; and yes, I am very thankful the mountain, or whomever, decided to forgive us all.  Moral of the Story: Pictures are likely one of the main reasons a number of these things happened. The picture I had in my mind, about avoiding conflict, and trying to please everyone, although logically it made sense, that inner voice in that case, did not agree.

The picture this new guy had, of being, Reinhold Messner (one of the world’s greatest mountaineers), I don’t know this, but obviously, he wasn’t in touch with the real picture. The new person did not seem to understand himself, the people around him, or this climbing environment.   Incorrect pictures, not facts, knowledge, wisdom, openness, teamwork, etc. were to blame.

“Life is about the journey, the destination is only an excuse to come out and play…”

The correct principles interlaced with the correct pictures lead to success.  What is the correct picture?  Who knows?   We won’t know that until we are crossing its threshold.  Then if we have prepared well, have filled our souls and minds with correct concepts, ideas, principles, information, etc., we will be able to allow the picture (life) to flow, be changed, and develop into what it can be, what it should be, in that very moment.

Climbing with my youngest daughter Melissa, in the City of Rocks. When synergy, and the correct attitude of mind is working, magic happens. A stranger just happened to be below, and was kind enough to take this picture, and when we came down he got my address sent this picture to me. Family (however that may look) is important to me. I believe it is a good platform to live life from.