Complete optimism in the first camp site of Denali Challenge 2001 at the landing strip. Elevation 7,200 ft. Be careful what you wish for. The team wanted a taste of Denali's weather and got it in this whiteout leading to camp at 10,200 ft. The slope starts getting steeper above Motorcycle Hill on the way to camp at 14,000 ft. Looking down from the Windy Corner area to where the adventure began. Mt. Foraker is in the background. The Headwall going from camp at 14,000 ft. to the cache at 16,200 ft. Jeff Hauser sitting in camp at 17,000 ft. pondering the route up to Denali Pass.
"We were blessed with a great and safe summit after many years of thinking about this goal," said Jeff J. Hauser of Loveland, Colorado. Jeff and his two friends, Michael Black and Roger Byrom, survived the long trek and climb to the summit of Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska in 2001.
Yes, Jeff is a survivor--in more ways than one. He has survived not only the adversity of high mountain peaks, but an advanced stage of cancer as well. Jeff is in good company, too. He had the same cancer and doctors as Lance Armstrong who just won bicycling's Tour de France for the fifth consecutive year. Because of this experience with cancer, Jeff started the "Denali Challenge" fund on behalf of Loveland's McKee Cancer Center, a part of the McKee Medical Center of which Jeff is the Associate Administrator.
At our July 2003 general meeting, the Gold Prospectors of the Rockies were treated to Jeff's wonderfully inspiring slide show and talk about both of his battles--the mountain and the disease. While the defeat of the mountain was difficult, the defeat of the disease, which included two surgeries and chemotherapy, was even more so.
Jeff told us that he and Roger were both 42 years old and Michael was 37 at the time of their Denali climb. Michael directed the Colorado Outward Bound's Professional Training Division and Roger was, and still is, one of the principle partners in Addison, a marketing and communications company in New York City. All three men were in the top shape of their lives, knowing that when they attempted the self-supporting (no guides, no porters) Denali climb, that "tough beats strong" and that many climbing groups turn back at a mere 14,000 feet!
Denali tops out at 20,320 feet at the South Peak. The North Peak is slightly lower at 19,470 feet. Together, these peaks are called the Churchill Peaks. To give you an idea of the height from the base of the mountain to the summit, it is one and a half times the distance from the base to the summit of Mt. Evans! Denali is an Athabascan Indian name meaning "The High One." Denali is now the name recognized by the State of Alaska's Geographic Names Board for Mt. McKinley, North America's highest mountain. The mountain was named for Senator William McKinley, who later became the 25th President. It also is located just 240 miles south of the Arctic Circle from where it picks up the freezing Arctic winds leaving just eight weeks of seasonal climbing from mid May to early July. Yet, the peak is still so popular, seventy percent of Denali climbers come from outside the United States! In 2001, Denali, which has some of the worst weather in the world, happened to have best weather ever recorded for climbing.
The three men did their shakedown climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado's worst weather. They didn't need to acclimatize as they were going from mile-high Denver, to Anchorage, to Talkeetna, and then on to Denali. A major problem they knew they'd find at Denali, however, is that the actual elevation gain from the air strip at 7,200 feet on the Kalhitna Glacier to the summit is greater than the elevation gain faced by Everest climbers. The size of the Denali massif also is greater than that of the highest mountain in the world. (Jeff had thought at one time to make T-shirts reading, "Ski Denali--3 inches of powder and 2,000 feet of base.") Incidentally, if you are ever in Talkeetna, be sure to eat at the Roadhouse, the legendary restaurant whose portions are grizzly sized (a half-order completely covers a plate!). At the Denali National Park Cafe, Jeff and his team were asked about the design on their shirts ("Denali Challenge, McKee Cancer Center, 2001"), and the waiters all gave their day's tips to the team as a donation to the fund! Before you leave Talkeetna, visit the cemetery's Climbers Memorial to those who've lost their lives on Denali.
The National Park Service requires that each climbing expedition have a name for the climb of Denali. This team picked the name Commitment Squared (C2). C2 was airlifted to Kalhitna Glacier, near the seventh largest ice field in the world, euphemistically referred to as "Kalhitna International Airport." Their pilot was Kelly from McKinley Air Service (whose motto is "Two babes and a bird"). When Kelly was asked how many people you could fit in their plane, she replied, "Depends on how you pack 'em." It is well known that pilots don't measure their ages in years but rather in how many plane crashes they've survived! Just before landing on the glacier, the plane dived through "One Shot Pass" with 150 feet of space to spare off of each wing tip and flew over the airplane graveyard at the bottom of the pass.
The trek required two full-sized duffle bags just for their food. Breakfast, for instance, might consist of instant oatmeal, grits, or cream of wheat and hot chocolate laced with a large lump of butter. The men had to eat plenty of protein, as well as easily consumed carbohydrates (as found in power bars). The three men knew that the three watchwords of the Denali climb were calories, hydration, and respiration. Whereas a man in Denver might take in 2,000 calories per day, a climber has to take in 8,000 to 10,000 per day. Not only that, altitude and exertion require that they have a minimum of 10 to 12 hours sleep in every 24. Additionally, they had to drink more than the usual amounts of water--if they felt thirsty, they were already dehydrated. They also knew that they needed to be protected from the sun (they took along 50-rated sunblock). At those altitudes with the sun reflecting off the snow, a man could even badly sunburn the roof of his mouth as he gasped for air!
For the climb, each man carried a 75-pound pack and pulled a 45-pound sled from the airstrip at 7,200 feet up to a camp at 10,200 feet. Leaving a three-day load of supplies buried at the airstrip in case of inclement weather when they came down, the three ferried supplies up and then came back down for more. They did this for each camp and, in this way, actually climbed most of the mountain twice! They passed "commercial trips" headed back down with their cheap, overloaded sleds (called "pigs") which the people had dragged too high on the mountain.
Jeff, Michael, and Roger forced their way up the forbidding snow and ice covered Denali peak by way of the traditional West Buttress route. They climbed alongside glass ice through Windy Corner, normally torn by ventura-effect winds, but which was totally calm for them. Above their camp at 14,200 feet, they scaled the Headwall, whose slope was as steep as 40 degrees, using ascenders attached to fixed ropes maintained by the National Park Service. At above 17,200 feet, they passed the tragic site of a Korean climbing team's demise, where eleven climbers lost their lives when they lost their footing and rolled to the bottom of a 6,000- to 7,000-foot chute named Rescue Gully, now remembered as The Orient Express. Often able to look back at triangular-shaped Mt. Foraker (17,400 feet) because of the clear weather, they continued up the Washburn Step, across the top of the Messner Couloir, along the partially rocky Summit Ridge, and finally managed the summit, where the trio celebrated for 20 minutes.
The mountain treats even the hardiest of climbers in different ways. Roger suffered from the thin air, often having to rest. After completing the assault on the summit, the three were glissading down a couloir, a snow filled gully, to reach base camp more quickly. Michael, who had not removed the crampons from his boots, caught a spike and tumbled, breaking his leg in the fall. He made it down with two ski poles as crutches! For Jeff, ascending the highest peak in North America was an especially uplifting experience. At the summit of Denali, you can see 80 miles in every direction, but when you conquer cancer, you can see ahead to the rest of your life.
As of August 2003, Jeff has given this talk nearly 100 times collected $40,000 in donations for the fight against cancer. After the talk, the GPR passed the hat and collected close to $200 to add to the "Denali Challenge" cancer fund!
Incidentally, Jeff took just 12 rolls of film on the trip (every bit of weight was at a premium)
We thank Jeff for the talk--it was very inspiring! If you or anyone you know in other groups would like to see Jeff's slideshow, please contact him at (970) 593-6045.
Michael and Jeff in camp at 17,000 ft. The two friends are still very optimistic. Jeff Hauser. "We were blessed with a great and safe summit after many years of thinking about this goal." Beginning the descent at 10:30 pm. This is all natural lighting with no filters. Continuing the descent from 17,000 ft. to camp at 14,000 ft. Taken on the hike out from the valley floor at 2:00 a.m. This beautiful sunset was captured on crossing the Football Field during the descent from the summit at about 11:30 p.m.