Denali - The Inner Journey (Day 6)
Denali National Park
September 10th 2017
Yesterday, as I walked down from the pass, I felt washed out. My mood is definitely different on the way back. It seems like all the energy and mental strength I put in my expedition switches to standby mode. I know the way and the brain only keeps the vital body functions running. The legs move, I get where I need to get, but the whole process feels like automated. I reached my tent and was relieved to find all my equipment untouched. I decided to pack everything up and move the camp down the valley. I had the feeling that the good weather wouldn't hold much longer. The sky was already grey and cloudy. I could feel the air was getting heavier.
When I reached flat ground down the valley, I barely had time to pitch the tent before the rain started pouring down. I could have been proud of myself, having managed to keep everything dry, but it wasn't the case. My shoes were soaked. I had walked in the snow and anyone who has ever tested the waterproofness of a shoe against wet snow knows that there is no such thing as a waterproof shoe. Keeping dry is one of the fundamentals of survival around here. Once you're wet, if the temperature drops and the wind starts to blow, you're up for a very bad time. And in Alaska, this can mean death. I still had my tent, my sleeping pad and my sleeping bag which were all essential to my survival. I had enough food for 2-3 days and a full gas canister. I was safe inside my tent. Rain kept pouring down, hammering the fabric. I took out my kindle and started to read Aventures de Mer by Henri de Monfreid. Reading about Monfreid's adventures of the Red Sea by the African coast of Djibouti in the middle of an Alaskan tempest amused me.
I had restrained myself to go out in the rain but now I was definitely starving. So I decided to go out, cook some rice real quick and warm myself up with a cup of tea under cover of my rain jacket. While I was holding the warm mug in my hands and observing the landscape around me, I saw a couple walking towards me. To be frank I didn't expect to meet anyone... here...? now...?!
There were Americans and he did most of the talking. They had come with a tour operator and set up camp on the other side of the valley. I could see 6-7 red, orange and green tents in the distance. They planned to do the ascent of a peak in the Alaska Range. While they were bothered by this unexpectedly bad weather, they were confident it would improve tomorrow. They seemed wealthy and somehow inexperienced climbers. I mean, they didn't look in good physical shape. The man seemed to make exaggerated and unnecessary efforts to adorn the conversation with bits of small talk, smiles and not-so-funny jokes. I had the strange feeling of experiencing a warm trait of American culture right here, in the middle of a cold and rainy Alaskan day. Somewhat taciturn, I wished them luck and returned to my tent.
Hours passed and the rain didn't stop. I had no clue how late it was but outside the darkness had already fallen. Wind picked up and engulfed itself under my tent, shaking the stability of my shelter. I might have felt asleep for a few hours because when I woke up, the sharp sound of the rain had been replaced by a heavier sound, the sound of something landing heavily on my tent while slowly covering it.... snow! I opened the door to peek outside. What I saw was astonishing. Winter had fallen on Denali. Everything was covered in white snow. Snowflakes were falling from the sky, unperturbed by my intervention. I zipped up the tent and returned to my indoor occupations. I was now alternatively reading the cold northern adventures of White Fang and the warm sea adventures of Monfreid. It amused me to switch between these two extremes. The incessant melody of the falling snow soothed me. For hours, I slept like a stone.
When I woke up, I could still hear the snow sliding against the fabric of my tent. The temperature had dropped and the air was humid. I unzipped the tent to peek outside again. I couldn't see further than a meter, white snow was covering the ground just in front of me and a meter further stood a wall of grey fog. Haha the Americans are not going far today, I thought. Snowflakes were still falling from the sky. I touched my shoes, still wet, obviously. I had finished Monfreid and was almost done with Jack London. My camera had been out of battery for two days already and my phone was about to turn off (hence the sudden lack of photos). The basic necessity were now food and warmth. Nothing else mattered.
I had no choice but to go out of the tent to eat because most of my food needed to be cooked on the stove (tea, pasta, rice, oatmeal, soup). Also, I had a very strong urge to pee. So, I wrapped up in warm clothes, put on my gloves and my hat, and ventured out. It felt like the circle of fog surrounding me was slowly closing itself on my camp. I grabbed my stove, the cookware and the bear-proof food canister and walked a 100 meters away from the tent, looking for a good spot to cook. Stuffing a Clif Bar of white chocolate and macadamia nuts in my mouth, I thought to myself that if there was one thing that was really worth the money in all the food I bought, for sure it was the Clif Bars. Then, I cooked some pasta, swallowed that quickly and made some tea.
As the day passed, I wrote a few ramblings in my diary:
It rained and snowed the whole days so I decided to spend it in the tent. Now, I'm going to stop narrating for a while and copy what I wrote in my diary word by word.
So, I'm stuck in my tent for today. At least for the morning. All electronics are out of battery except for my Kindle. But it's still set on New York time zone and I don't remember the time difference (maybe -6 or -7h..?). Should be approx. 10:30 AM then.
I have one more night in Unit 13 and then my permit expires.
I'm going to read some more Jack London.
Afternoon. Still snowing. So glad I brought my Kindle. Went out to cook four cheese pasta. Shoes are soaked. I managed to keep almost everything else dry
There is more food in the locker at the park entrance... hopefully snickers