Climbing Mt. McKinley

Messages from Jin Fei Bao (translated by Frank Guo in Kunming)

June 13, 2007 -- Jin Fei Bao arrived in Anchorage

After 14 hours flight, I arrived in Anchorage of Alaska at 7:10 pm of June 12 (Beijing time) via San Francisco. I stayed overnight in a small hotel near the airport. This morning, I opened the window, saw a lot of trees - birch, cypress, pine - around the hotel. After breakfast, I took a taxi into the Anchorage city, where I saw many big advertisement boards for outdoor sports, such as hiking, climbing, rafting, fishing, viewing wild brown bears, etc., and I found that now is the peak tour season in this place, many shops, restaurants, hotels are full of tourists. Finally, I found a chinese food restaurant and had my lunch there, but the boss is already the 4th generation of chinese immigrants and can not speak Chinese at all.

After lunch, I took a taxi back to my hotel to taking my luggage, then went back to the Anchorage airport, where I met all my climbing team members - 7 persons, the oldest one is 54 years old, the youngest one is 23 years old, all of them are US citizens. 3 tour guides will take our 8-persons team up Mt. McKinley.

At 4:00 pm, we took a bus for about 3 hours from the airport to Talkeetna, which is a small town at the foot of Mt. McKinley with only about 500 residents. The local people live in log cabins - just look like the log cabins built by Mosuo people in Lugu Lake area in Yunnan. Many families decorated the front side of their log cabins with reindeer head and whale bone. There is a small airport near the town, where parked 10+ small airplanes, the day after tomorrow, we will take off from this airport to the Base Camp of Mt. McKinley.

Now is already 10:00 pm Talkeetna local time, but the sun is still hanging in the sky, the tour guide told us, because we are very close to the Arctic Circle, so the sun will sink under the horizon for about 2-3 hours each day at this season. Today, the weather is perfect, the scenery looks like spring, not summer.

Each year, from May to July, about 1000 climbers from all over the world come to this little town, try to climb Mt. McKinley, but only half of them can reach the summit.

June 14, 2007 -- Climbing Orientation

Today, the weather is very good. In the morning, the tour guides gave us a vivid and detailed introduction about McKinley climbing by showing us many slides. From these slides, I can see that our climbing route is very long, several snow slopes are steeper than 45 degrees, in some places, we have to traverse glaciers and climb up ice walls. But the biggest difference between climbing McKinley and climbing Everest/Aconcagua/Kilimanjaro is: there will be no climbing assistants/sherpas to help us carry our luggage, so we have to carry everything by ourselves, which is a new challenge for me.

The tour guide said that each mountain has its own character, McKinley is quite different comparing to the Himalayas, at here, we have to use Alps-style climbing: 2 or 3 persons form a climbing team, all team members are linked by one safe rope, take only necessary food and equipment, climb up as fast as possible, no need to set fixed ladders and ropes on the way, no need to going up and down repeatedly to acclimate. This is a quite new climbing style for me.

After lunch, the tour guides helped us to check our climbing equipment, make sure that we have taken everything we need, and asked us to take out our wind-proof and water-proof parka from our pack, tomorrow morning, we have to wear the parka to take the flight to the 2225m-high Base Camp, where must be a snow/ice world.

June 15, 2007 -- Mt. McKinley Base Camp

Today, the weather is still very good, at 10:30 am, we boarded a small airplane, flew for about 45 minutes, landed in the snow world of the Base Camp.

The weather in Base Camp is also very good, temperature at noon time is about 15 celsius, so we didn’t wear the wind-proof parka as the guide told us, in fact, most team members wore only T shirt, one man even took off the T shirt and pants, wore only the short and enjoyed a sunbath.

From the 2225m-high Base Camp, we can see the main peak of Mt. McKinley very clearly, the view is quite beautiful and magnificent. There are some other climbing teams from Japan, South Korea, and USA in the Base Camp. As far as I know, I am the first person from Yunnan province coming to climb this mountain.

In the afternoon, our tour guides gave us a climbing training near the Base Camp, taught us how to use ice axe, crampons, ascender, and how to self-rescue when falling down, how to link ourselves to the safe rope, etc.

In the end of the training, the tour guide gave each of us one small radio transceiver, he told us: during climbing, each person has to wear this transceiver, in case of avalanche or falling into crevasse, the transceiver could help the rescuers to find the missing person quickly.

I saw several helicopters parking near the Base Camp, they are ready to take any rescue tasks at any time.

For environment protection reasons, we are required to take all our rubbish and waste in sealed bags, and we have to bring the bags down to the Base Camp when we coming down from the mountain. Now, I am very familiar with this routine, it has become my habit.

Yesterday, I bought a lot of food at the grocery shop in Talkeetna, including chocolate, sausage, beef jerky, cheese, energy bars, etc., together about 8 kg, these are my lunch food during the climbing.

So, our sleds will be heavy, besides taking all our climbing and camping equipment, we have to take all our lunch food and all our rubbish/waste.

Tomorrow, we will drag our sleds from the Base Camp to the Camp 1 (2438 m high).

June 21, 2007 -- Camp 4

(from Frank Guo) -- Just now, Li Jia called me from Inner Mongolia, she said that Fei Bao called her in this afternoon, Fei Bao told her that he is now at Camp 4 (14400 feet high) and everything is going well.

June 22, 2007 -- From Camp 4

In the past 5 days, we hiked up from Base Camp (7300 feet) to Camp 3 (11000 feet). It was on the lower part of the glacier, so it was difficult for my satellite phone to pick up signals, so I could not call you. Because it’s Alps-style climbing, no assistants to help us taking the luggage, I dragged a 30 kg sled, and took a 25 kg bag on my back, hiked up the 9-mile-long snow slope. When reached the camps, we had to use saws to cut big snow blocks into snow bricks, and use the snow bricks to build walls to block winds, then set up our tents inside the walls. It consumed a lot of my energy.

Today, we are finally up to Camp 4 (14400 feet), it is on an open platform, so my satellite phone can work again. There is a space in Camp 4 for parking the rescue helicopter, and the climbing control center is also set up in here, so, Camp 4 is working as an Advenced Base Camp (ABC). We feel very safe in here.

On the way from Camp 3 to Camp 4, we met some crevasses. One tour guide walked in front, used an exploring pole to check the crevasse, if it was dangerous, the guide would plant a small red flag beside it, and informed us to walk around it.

Up to today, the weather has been always good, so we didn’t see any avalanche, but we have to always keep alert.

Now is the peak season of climbing, on the way, we met other teams from US, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, but not all of them want to climb to the summit, some of them come here for ski.

One most unexpected surprise for me is, today, at Camp 4, I met a 5-person team from Taiwan, they were on their way down the mountain, when they knew that I am from China, they were very happy and decided to stay overnight in Camp 4, we chatted a lot about mountain climbing in chinese, 2 of them have also been to the top of Mt. Everest, I told them my 9 Extreme Spots Project, they said they also want to do it in the future. They also invited me to visit Taiwan, to climb Taiwan’s highest peak: the 3952m-high Jade Mountain. Later, they cooked a chinese meal for me, which is surely my best meal since I left China. So, today is the happiest day since I arrived in the Base Camp.

Tomorrow, we might go up to 16000 feet.

June 25, 2007 -- Trapped in Camp 4

Weather changed on last Friday, it has been snowing since then, which forced us to stay in Camp 4. At present, our food can last only 6 days. 10+ other climbing teams are also trapped in Camp 4.

Now, all climbing routes have been covered by thick snow, and our camp is wrapped in thick fog, each morning waking up, our first job is to check the tents and consolidate the camp.

Next to our camp is a Japanese camp, I visited them when there was nothing to do. This is a senior climbing team, most members are above 60 years old, the oldest one is already 76 years old. But all of them are in good shape and high spirit. I was moved by their take-it-easy attitude, I wish I could still climbing like them when I was in my 70s, I also wish more old chinese people could taking part in outdoor sports. After all, life rest with movement. I communicated with the Japanese climbers by simple english and written chinese, we could understand each other very well, I found out that 2 of them have been to the top of Mt. Everest. When they knew that I am doing the 9 extreme spots project, they were very surprised at first, then wished me good luck.

June 28, 2007 -- Camp 5

This morning waking up, the guide told us: “today, the weather is good, the snow storm is over, we will climb up to Camp 5, please take out your ascender, crampons, ice axe, carabiners and harness.”

Half hour later, we got all the equipment ready and started out from Camp 4. My backpack weighed more than 30 kg. We were linked by a safety rope, followed the tour guide, slowly climbed up an ice slope about 700 m long and 45 degree steep, we had to use ascender, ice axe and crampons to help us going up, when we reached the top of the ice slope, we had to follow a narrow ridge up to Camp 5, some places on the ridge are very very narrow, only one foot wide, both sides are sharp drops. Finally, after 8 and a half hours climbing, we safely reached Camp 5 (17200 feet), everyone was very tired. When we were setting up tents, it started to snow again, temperature dropped to 20 C below zero. So, we might have to stay in Camp 5 tomorrow, waiting for good weather to going up to the top. 7 other climbing teams, including the senior Japanese team, have also reached Camp 5.

Now, we are only 3120 feet below the summit.

July 2, 2007 -- Incredible!

“I have successfully reached the summit, and have safely come down to the Camp 4.

On June 30 (McKinley local time), the weather was good, it was sunny, we started early from Camp 5 (17200 feet), climbed up a very steep ridge. When we reached 18,400 feet, a climber from Germany, who was in another climbing team, fainted to the snow/ice ground, it was an emergency, so, the German’s team leader asked our tour guide’s help, and our tour guide helped him to carry the fainted German down to the Camp 5, then our guide climbed up again to join us.

When we reached the place only 330 feet below the summit, we looked up and saw it clearly that the route to the summit was on a knife-sharp ridge, which was covered by thick snow, the snow looked like a steep roof, and we had to walk on the eaves of the snow roof to reaching the summit, if the eaves collapsed, we would surely plummet and die.

After considering the situation, 3 members in my team decided to turn back, some other climbers in other teams have also decided to give up, at this critical moment, I didn’t care if I was scared or not, I just had one faith in my heart, that was: I could do it. So, under the instruction of our guide, I finally made it to the top (20,320 feet).

The space at the summit was very small, only about 2 square meters, so we had to take photos one by one, before taking photos, we had to insert our ice axes deep into the snow ground to keep us safe. Standing at the summit, I showed China’s national flag, 2008 Beijing Olympics flag, Kunming City Spirit banner, KCC banner, etc. When I took out the Olympics flag, everyone at the spot said they would like to come to Beijing to watch the games in 2008. I said loudly and proudly: “Welcome, Welcome, the Beijing Olympic Games will surely be the best one.”

After taking photos, we started going down, which was not easier than going up, because we were exhausted at that time, so it’s easier to falling down, we had to focus all our attentions on the descending route, and hold our ice axes very tightly. Looking down the steep ridge, I was sacred, I told myself again and again: “hold on, hang on, keep going.” Althogh I felt very hungry, thirsty and freezing cold, but I kept moving slowly and carefully, finally, I safely reached the Camp 5, I looked at my watch, it was 00:05 am July 1 (McKinley local time), so, it took me 16 hours from Camp 5 climbing up to the summit and coming back to the Camp 5.

Now, I have already come down to the Camp 4, tomorrow, I should be back at the Base Camp.”