Friday, June 22, 2012

getting the don sheldon cabin and anxiety....

drove to talkeetna tuesday. i had gotten an on call at work monday night which allowed me to pack and prepare a bit better. the on call turned into a called in at midnight. my first patient arrived at 0300 and my next patient followed at 0400. that will make for a busy few hours. both patients were super nice people. the second guy was on vacation when he was injured and i believe to him this hospitalization was just another part of his alaskan adventure. super nice, great attitude.
in talkeetna i met up with gail and mack and thier friend, shelly. i can't say enough about these people, they are awesome folk. good hearted, kind, tough and true alaskans. before we headed out to the cabin we had a few little errands in town. we had to hit the park service and get passes for denali national park for $10 as we'd be headed into thier territory. we also had to pick up our CMC cans. CMC stands for "clean mountain container". everyone who climbs around the mountains gets one. that is just a nice way to say a container to poop in.
then off to Alaskan Mountaineer School (AMS) for the key to the cabin and instructions for use and care of the cabin. then off to Sheldon Air Service for check in and weigh in. we were taking a Beaver. us and our gear needed to be weighed before take off. our total for 4 of us and gear was 1,070 pounds. our flight in was spectacular. it was a beautiful day in alaska. more on that in a minute. first i will get to my anxiety issues.
it's not a long walk to the cabin, but i wouldn't say it's not without its challenges. i think it's just over 300 yards. the first bit you walk across the glacier. the snow is packed down on top, but still always a risk. the cabin is used regularly so we were told there was probably a fairly safe packed trail up to it. people also can camp out right below the cabin. there were two routes up to the cabin itself, we are talking about maybe 50 feet or so. above was our first option. the snow this time of year is starting to get more mushy and slushy so it can be a tough pass. we wore snowshoes as long as we could but at some point cramp ons probably would have been a good option. we didn't have any. nor did we have ropes to tie up together, we had asked and since we were just sticking by cabin AMS said we needn't bother. the trail this way got more and more postholy, meaning you take a step and then punch through. at times up to your butt. not too bad but this route was a bit steep and as you can see above got steeper. below us was glacier so the fall could be 30-50 feet or hundreds if you punched through into a crevasse. a bit unnerving i thought. i was begining to wonder about my decision to come up here.
above is plan B. shelly had made it up to the cabin using the first route, plan A we'll call it and came down this way. she felt this was the safer route. i think she was right. it wasn't without its foibles however. the trail is not much of a trail really. thin, loose and it drops off precipitously on both sides. again below is glacier. we were basically on a small outcrop of rock in the middle of a sea of ice. glaciers are like spiders kinda. way up in the mountains is the spider body, from there all the legs expand out into multiple valleys. we were at a mother ship of ice, glacially speaking. surrounded. that in itself was unnerving i think.
me climbing up the glacier. nature can sometimes overwhelm you with it's power. this ampitheater of ice which was surrounded by vast mountains overwhelmed me to my core. i have always been a bit nervous around heights, but i became extremely nervous on that scree trail. i had to get up to the cabin one way or another though. that was a survival thing. i had no tent and so i couldn't stay there and i couldn't sleep on a glacier. i had to go forward. shelly was a lifesaver and she came back down to me, had me hold her pack, look at my feet and take one step after another. how was i ever going to get back down? my camp mates saw that i was unnerved and thought it best to not have me go back down. mack seemed to not want gail to make the trek either. everyone was a bit unnerved it seemed, well not shelly, she is one tough girl.
the first picture shows the actual cabin. that area of dirt/rock around it was pretty much the living space for our two days. the snow was too unstable to risk and the edges dropped off sharply. i never was able to totally relax, the anxiety was with me. probably on a regular trail in a regular park if i had encountered something like this i wouldn't have reacted like i did the other day. i was just so out of my element. the area around us was massive and the mountains awesome. all around, you would hear the rock falls and avalanches. every few minutes the echo filled the ampitheater. i was in awe of the place really. it was daunting being in the presence of the full force of mother nature. i was a dot, completely insignificant. it was daunting and overwhelming and that night as we all lay down to sleep, i never slept. i just got more and more anxious. i was shaking and trying to control my breathing to no avail. the cabin has windows all around and i'd look out and my chest would tighten and my breathing would become more rapid. i was headed for a meltdown. my brain went into rumination mode in the worst way. all the worst case scenarios ran through me. i was headed for panic. the people camping below would be leaving i thought in the morning. here we were with no ropes, no satelite phone, no glacier survival training skills, surely we would all perish.
me in a calmer moment before my panic set in. i got up to pee at about 3am. this woke up gail. i wrote her a note that said, "can't sleep, having some sort of anxiety episode". she pointed outside and mouthed did i need to talk. denali was out and there was the calmest face on the mountain. it was solstice so the sun never went down . it went below the mountains but it never got dark. gail talked me down, i was still anxious and couldn't sleep. i'm sure mack thought i was nuts when he woke at 6 and i was asking if perhaps we should see if the people below would be willing to leave us a satelite phone and some rope before they left.
eventually, everyone got that i was freaking out and they did everything they could to reassure me and help me move forward. i took some short naps through the day and eventually got myself together. i knew they would take care of me getting back down. also a pair of guys were still staying the night below so a comfort to not be totally alone out there. during the days several flightseeing trips would land on the glacier but in such a vast space to be the only humans is totally frightening. i was much calmer the next night, got some rest, had dreams of bald eagles flying by and princess lines buses driving down the glacier loaded with tourists. we packed up early the next day to take full advantage of the snow being less mushy early in the day. gail and i stayed up top cleaning the cabin and packing up stuff while mack and shelly were our sherpa's. they packed stuff out via the plan B route, gail helped me get down hte plan A route. thank god they are such kind, patient and understanding people. i have never felt so overwhelmed by a place. you hear of being awestruck, i was almost awesick. it unnerved me to my core, this magnificent place with all it's power and danger. i am completely humbled by nature and i know i will never be the same.
i have no regret going there, but i wouldn't make other people deal with me in that state to return. i am just grateful that they were as amazing of people as they were. i just have never been anywhere that was quite so powerful and daunting. i am crying just thinking of it.
above is our pile of rock, we inhabited about 50-60 feet of it. last year about this time trips to cabin were cancelled when a moat formed around the rock. when i read through the log books it seemed people went there from mid march to mid july. we forgot to sign the guestbook, but none of us wanted to trek back up to write in it. we all decided that my reading of all the log books that first night probably put me over the edge. people have been weathered in there often over the years. some for many days. i think the earlier travelers have more stable snow conditions. they also often mentioned spectacular aurora's. i can only imagine what that must be like in that huge space. wow! we got no darkness so no northern lights for us. happy solstice by the way.
the flight in was great. i came up here years ago on a flightseeing trip. it was pretty amazing then. on those trips you stay on the glacier maybe 30 minutes. on the flight you follow the glacier from it's terminus to it's beginings. loved these huge bright blue ponds.
my thanks to roberta sheldon for allowing people to rent this amazing place. it was built by her husband, don, years ago before the national park existed. it's the only privately owned plot of land within the state park. the family owns 5 acres. AMS manages it for them. i guess you can hire guides out of there to take you out on the glacier. we watched a class below climbing into the glacier, roped together getting back to the tents while skiing and then later as they waited for thier plane out they put on skins on thier skis, trekked up and then skied down. i bought the book, "wager with the wind" by james grienar. it's don sheldons story. speaking of people without fear. he pioneered glacier landings. now people like me get to enjoy the beauty of these amazing places.
being at the cabin makes you a tourist attraction and i'm sure we will be noted in many photo's of peoples vacations. often they would all yell hello to us at the same time, once we got up and did poses for them, walked like we waited this morning for our plane one old guy got off his plane and immediatly flopped down into the snow. it's slushy so it took a few folks to get him back up. gail felt bad for the guy and took over some of her leftover raspberry brownies. they were excited no doubt to hear directly from someone who had stayed in that strange cabin in the middle of an ice field.
the cabin is at about 6000 feet. not really high up but i was feeling a bit winded dragging gear up before last bit of the trail. we had 3 sleds to fill up and tote behind us. in the end we left a good sized pile of stuff at the base where the tents were. the others have packed in totes which turned out to not work that great for that very last bit. they came up emptied out thier backpacks, then returned to base to refill. the cabin actually had way more of the stuff than we had expected so you could leave stuff behind. we needed no firewood and it was actually so warm up there we never needed to start a fire. it was too hot to start one. the cabin does have a wood burner. we did a trash burn briefly that last night.
the cabin also had books, games, cooking stuff, a stove, fuel, lots of tp and paper towels, an ice chest. we used that. we were able to keep that in the snow and everything stayed nice and cold.
there was even a guitar. i never opened the case. we didn't notice it there until we were getting ready to pack out. i had brought my little guitar. had i known about that last bit of trail i would have packed a bit different.
coming up the glacier.

below is one of my favorite shots. very cool. i took it out the side window looking straight down.

you can follow the glaciers look by these photo's as it winds it's way down.

landing on ski's is so soft. we took off on wheels. he had to hand crank the ski's down and warned us they would eventually drop in place with a bit of a thud. on the return flight the pilot had to use a hand pump to pull the ski's back up so he could again land on the wheels.
who comes up with these ideas. there are truly some amazing people out there.
out the back window...a bigger view of the glacier.
good to be home safe and sound. another great alaskan adventure. there is so much to see here and you will be surprise and amazed over and over.
picked up the dogs. blossom is the most needy of the two. rio seemed pretty settled in. blossom and i are pretty tight though. i sure miss the dogs when i'm away. as i drove out for this trip i got a call from the petsitter i had lined up for round island. she was in a bad car wreck and had to back out. she's in the hospital and still more worried about all the animals she cares for than herself. apparently she had 6 dogs in the car. i think there were a few injuries with them as well. poor things. i hope she heals quickly, i felt very badly for her. michelle volunteered, i may see what i can do to break it up though. that's alot of dog for a long stretch. would be very sweet of her to do it though.
this part of the glacier above is getting closer to the terminus. more muck in it.
out the front window with the blades spinning about.
terminus of the glacier.
at least that spider arm of it.
alaska is so vast. you can see for miles and miles and see very little signs of development. it's hard to really understand until you are in the air like this.
talkeetna was fun as always. we stayed at the majestic talkeetna lodge which was a very nice cabin. we all enjoyed the cool massage chair and accomadations. we ate at the roadhouse.
shelly and mac, the powerhouse pair that carried the bulk of the gear...many thanks! i bought lunch for them today, but i know i can never repay thier kindness. pay it forward.
coming closer to talkeetna, the big river.

and our little plane.
tourists on thier way somewhere on the train.
us on take off. not sure why i tossed this sock monkey in, but he came in handy. those headphones never fit me right. thanks mr sock monkey. even when you are totally stressed out a sock monkey can always make you smile!! the pilot gave me a funny look before we took off though. hasn't he ever seen a 48 year old woman with a sock monkey on her head??
the workings of the plane....actually looks like the pilot works quite a bit with these little planes. the big planes seem to run themselves, these little ones, less so.
just a few shots of the ski's.
i'm always fascinated by floats and ski's on planes and that they can just change them out for various seasons and needs.
all loaded.
our beaver for the day.
doing our weigh in at the hangar.
gail looks pretty excited for this big trip. her husband mac bought it for her for christmas. i feel incredibly lucky and blessed that she asked me if i wanted to join. after my bouts with anxiety i hope she doesn't regret her decision. :-)
at the AMS they have a pretty impressive pantry. they guide treks up the big mountain...obviously not on my to do list!!

at the ranger station they keep a running list of the mountain stats. when we left that day there were 337 climbers on the mountain, 1191 climbers had registered to climb denali, of those 743 have signed off and completed thier climb, of those 271 had reached the summit. a 30% success rate. they didn't mention deaths on the board, which is probably a good idea.
talkeetna is such a cute town. all over are these various hand painted/decorated moose. so adorable.
i loved the railings at the lodge with cute iris flowers. such a cool idea.
the drive up to talkeetna was unexiting. i listened to my ipod and it rained and rained.
that is the end of my sad tale of anxiety. i will post more pictures over the next few days. haven't even looked to see what is on the big camera. lots of pictures of mountains and ice no doubt. no photo i will take will do the landscape justice, that i know for sure. and the feeling of the place can also not be captured by a camera i fear.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic. You definitely have an exciting and different life than most of us. Keep it up as long as you can.