The Denali Trail
July 18, 2012
By Sam Kennedy
Sitting on the ridge of Denali hovering 17,000 feet above sea level, I looked out into the clouds and snowfall that encompassed me and knew my trip had come to an end. There would be no summit for me, but that was OK, I was happy.
My physical state was rough: sunburned, exhausted, blistered, cold. It was a way of life on the mountain. As we climbed the fixed ropes above 14,000 feet, I began to show signs of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Severe headache, nausea and dizziness that occur at high altitude had conspired to send me down.
My ascent was over, but I was satisfied. I had achieved what I wanted to, and for me that was a success. Surviving the trek and learning about who I was as a person made my climb a success. Did I want to make it to the top? Absolutely. Was it worth dying? No.
“Mountaineering is a selfish sport,” said our lead guide Forest, an Alaska native who has lost track of his Denali summits. Denali is a deadly mountain that has no sympathy for those who are selfish beyond their limitations.
Standing 6-foot-3 without an ounce of fat on him, Forest is the picture of an Alaskan mountaineer. Face and hands tanned dark brown. Patagonia gear tattered and worn. Beard thick and full. He speaks with the cadence of a college philosophy professor, measured and with purpose.
I remember looking off in the distance one day and watching Forest glide across the glacier with pack and sled in tow. His long legs moved across the glacier as though he were an artist painting a canvas. Each stroke he took, deliberate and smooth. Suddenly I wished I had been built more like Sam Bowie and less like Samwise Gamgee. More height, less hobbit.
I have been struggling for a while now to try to whittle down all of my memories and experiences into a blog entry that is a bearable length yet doesn’t leave out stories and aspects of life on Denali that I want to share. I have barely scratched the surface of my time on the mountain and have already exceeded my word count. It’s like drafting a tweet and being stuck on 146 characters. “The rigors of 140 characters,” as MP&F Partner Keith Miles calls this dilemma. Now the question is, how do I solve it?
I came up with an idea, a #hashtag list. On Denali you are always going through some sort of checklist, from gear to breathing, you are constantly checking off a mental list.
On Twitter, #hashtags enable complex issues and topics to be talked about within the rigors of 140 characters. They won’t tell the whole story in detail, but they create a larger conversation about my experience that can be visualized and understood without detailed context. They provide big meaning to a small statement.
I also must confess- I love #hashtags. My colleagues, friends and especially my sisters know this all too well. I use them in texts, emails and conversations on a daily basis.
Here is a small taste of life on the mountain via tongue-in-cheek #hashtag list:
- Negative 20 to 40 degree temperatures: #BeardSickles
- Traveling on a rope team: #Damn #LastAgain
- Rolling off your sleeping mat and immediately realizing it due to the instant drop in temperature in whatever body part has fallen victim: #Mario64 #IceWorld
- Sleeping in everything I brought: #pillsburydoughboy
- Peeing in a campsite pee hole on a glacier: #howdeepdoesitgo
- Altitude: #out #of #brea …
- “Are you supposed to travel with your sled brakes on?”: #myfirstday
- Having your sled trip you while traveling with a 60-pound pack: #turtle #onitsback