After settling in at VBC and filling up our “fuel reserves” by eating as much as we wanted, we did a carry about half-way between base camp and low camp (aka camp 1). Given that we were expecting the weather to take a turn for the worse, we reasoned that we should just drop a cache of gear, food & fuel at the mid-camp and turn around. The upside is we got to stretch the legs for a bit and didn’t have to pull sleds with gear for nearly as long as if we had gone all the way to low camp. For most of the day, the clouds had set in, which took any views of higher on the mountain than we would have been able to otherwise see.
After we carried our gear to mid-camp, we returned to basecamp for the night to chill out for the rest of the day. An interesting effect of expeditions is that you end up getting a lot more sleep than you normally do at home. Even though the days can be extended periods of exertion (upwards of 14-16hrs on summit day), after you get back to camp, there isn’t a whole lot else to do, but sleep.
On move day, we packed up all our gear and set out for low-camp. We had the luxury of pulling sleds with the extra gear that we didn’t want on our backs, but that significantly changes how tedious the move itself becomes. We made a pit-stop at mid-camp to pick up the cached gear and headed off for the rest of the day. It took roughly 6hrs to get from basecamp to low camp, which we then had to clean up the camp sites (dig out the snow & ice from previous camps & wind that had blown it around) and start setting our Hilleberg tents again in addition to the cook/dining tent we’d have for the next few nights.
Since we were going to be staying at low camp for several nights, we were in no rush to do anything other than settle in, have dinner, and rest up. One of the keys to staying happy on a trip like this is to take every chance to rest up, and fully take advantage of that. There is plenty of time to suffer on move, carry & summit days, so why not just take that extra snooze when you get the opportunity?
After resting up at low camp, we decided to do a carry up to high camp in preparation for our move. This carry was much more enjoyable, mostly because we were not roped up to one another while moving up the fixed lines. I think the fixed lines was roughly 1,200-1,500ft of walking on a stairmaster like hill. The fixed lines are climbing ropes which are anchored to the mountain with things like pickets placed in the hill to aid in your ascent by clipping onto the rope with an ascender (basically it just clamps on to the rope and moves one-way) so that if you lose your footing & fall, you won’t go far.
When we got nearly to the top of the fixed lines, Jacob noticed that the fresh snow which had come in over the last day or so had wind loaded the top of the hill and appeared to be ready to avalanche off at any moment. Given that there were so many of us, and we couldn’t move as quickly as we’d need to in order to safely get beyond the hazard, we cached what we had brought with us, and turned around for low camp.
The nice part about not going all the way to high-camp is that it makes the day a bit shorter than it otherwise would have been. The downside is that now when we move to high camp, we have to carry that cache of gear/food/fuel even further, which is kind of a bummer.
Now, back at low camp, we were planning on taking at least one full rest day in anticipation of the move further up the hill. Fortunately for us, the skies cleared up on our day off, and gave us the chance to play a little football after our late breakfast of pancakes. This of course just worked up an appetite for quesadillas which we had in the late afternoon, just prior to dinner. Rough life on the mountain.
Fully rested, we set out for high camp with all of the remaining gear we’d need to be higher up on the mountain. With having fixed lines in between us & the upper portion of the mountain, we didn’t get to use sleds to carry any of the gear we needed to bring. Coupled with having our cache lower on the hill than originally planned, it meant having to carry even more on our packs. All, in all, I still think it wasn’t nearly as torturous as the move from 14k camp to 17k camp on Denali, but it was still probably the hardest day on Vinson. The beauty of having climbed Denali first is that Vinson seemed like a walk in the park and was quite enjoyable from a physical exertion perspective.
The move up to high camp seemed to take longer than expected, and was still a pretty big day (roughly 8-9hrs) after all was said & done. One of the mind games that high camp plays is that it is not in sight until you literally stumble into camp itself. You just keep staring at what seems like a never ending hill, until finally you crest the ridge and almost right smack dab in the middle of high camp. Once there, we had to quickly start work on leveling out a campsite by chopping away at snow & ice which had formed after the last group had been up there. High camp isn’t nearly as miserable as high camp on Denali, but it is similar in terms of being colder, more windy and generally desolate compared to other camps. It’s not a place you want to spend a whole lot of time, given that it is far more exposed and subject to some pretty nasty winds when they kick up and roll through the area.