Day Five in Talkeetna. Seth and I were running low on ideas to stale off boredom and frustration.
-Walk over to TAT and check conditions - Check
-Lay around downtown, gawk at tourists - Check
-Go to the river, skip rocks - Check
-Trespass on railroad tracks - Check
-Walk back to TAT, check conditions again - Check
-Take a nap - Check
-Climb a tree - Check
-Beer at West Rib - Check
-Pet Stubbs - Check
Time was running out. In five days, I had a date with the Wrangell-Saint Elias. 16,471' Mount Bona waited, and I couldn't miss that trip. This trip was a free bonus offered to me just days before. Bona was a commitment.
Day Six: Paul Roderick called early. "Conditions look good, let's go!" he said.
We quickly sprint to TAT, haul our heavy bags to the tarmack (for the God-knows-how-manyeth-time) only to be told that the Root Canal had just socked in again.
Disappointed, we slink away and repeat day five's events again.
Day Seven dawns clear and stable. T-minus four days until Bona. With a clear window, we plan to get in and get out in three days. Another party waits to be taken out later in the week so I should be OK. We rush to the TAT tarmack for what we hope is the last time.
The Turbo Otter is quickly loaded up.
"Hmmm...what if I get stuck in there?
What if I am unable to make the Bona trip?"
Questions, doubt and a little fear of letting down my friends popped into my head as Talkeetna grew smaller under the plane.
The massive Ruth Glacier came into view as we left the lush green spruce covered landscape.
The four dead presidents (Church, Wake, Grosverner, and Bradley) came into view. London Tower, the Werewolf, the Broken Tooth loomed on my right.
Zooming around the Broken Tooth, we dove into the Root Canal. Paul eyed the landing site and dropped several weighted trash bags to mark the spot.
We veered around the Incisor and the golden granite of the Mooses Tooth met the untracked snow of the Root Canal glacier.
Skis touched glacier and we quickly came to a stop.
People out. Gear out. Thanks and a "see ya' later!" Then Paul was gone.
We set up camp and enjoyed the evening. The climbing should have started right away.
Snow. Weather. Fear.
"I won't be able to climb. I might not get out in time. I might miss Bona."
The next day dawned clear once again, but I knew the truth. I knew the snow would be back by mid-afternoon.
After hoofing up the Incisor and checking out the entire Ruth, we returned to camp, just as a massive serac broke from the hanging glacier on the Bear Tooth.
1PM and the snow began to fall. It didn't take long for a game of hearts to get going. While fun, climbing would have been better. The Ham and Eggs couloir roared and rumbled as rock, ice and snow avalanched down the narrow slot.
After that night, it was apparent that there would be no chance for both Mooses Tooth and Bona, so I had to decide. My commitment was bound to Bona, so I was forced to leave. Early the next morning, Paul graciously made a quick landing in the Root after dropping off some climbers in the Gorge. After picking up several nice folks at the Mountain House, we were Talkeetna bound.
It was hard to leave, but ultimately I feel I made the right choice. My three friends sat out a big storm and another foot of snow. They didn't even get on the route until four days later. Hitting the col after c. 18 hours of climbing, they were pelted with constant light sluffs and chunks. "The conditions weren't that great," they said. Apparently that was an understatement.
If there is one good thing to rejoice about, it is that my photographer friend who invited me on the trip didn't get the images he needed. The word: we should be going back this May. This time with more than 48 hours invitation. This time with more planning.
In the end, I made it to the summit of Mount Bona. The Alaska Range and Wrangell-Saint Elias are without a doubt two of the most amazing mountainous areas on the planet.