HIGH ON DENALI
ver feel lonely in the summer?
Try climbing Alaska's 20,320-foot Mount McKinley.
It's a hazard-filled climb, but you will have plenty of
James Hasse and Sam Jacobson of La Grande learned this last June while climbing to Mount McKinley's 17,206-foot mark. They were among 300 people on the climbing route. At 14,000 feet Hasse and Jacobson stayed at a camp that had 50 to 60 people.
"People from all different countries were there,'' Jacobson said.
Many climbers talked on cell phones, and one climber from Asia was hanging up fish to dry.
"People looked like they were living it up,'' Jacobson said.
Don't be fooled by the social aspect. Climbing the highest mountain in the United States is fraught with danger. More than 50 people have died climbing Mount McKinley, also known as Denali. Last summer good timing helped Hasse and Jacobson avoid the mountain's victim list. About one to two hours after Hasse and Jacobson passed by a ridge known as Windy Corner a rock slide killed one person.
News of the slide didn't surprise Jacobson because temperatures had risen after his party had passed by Windy Corner, loosening its frozen rocks.
Hundreds of deep crevasses are another hazard climbers face.
"Some are so dark and deep that you can't see the bottom of them,'' Hasse said.
The best way to avoid crevasses is to follow the well worn trail and to stay at the camps used by other climbers. These are regarded as generally safe, Hasse said.
Hasse and Jacobson reached an elevation of 17,206 feet before turning back because their climbing partner, Luke Burton, was struggling with altitude sickness. Hasse and Jacobson did not want to leave Burton alone while they climbed to the summit.
Hasse and Jacobson, though, do not regret their early descent.
"My goal was to bring all of us back alive,'' Hasse said.
Today, seven months later, Hasse considers coming within 3,114 feet of Mount McKinley's summit as a noteworthy consolation prize.
"17,200 feet was a goal in itself,'' said Hasse Monday night during a presentation on his climb to Boy Scout Troop 514.
Hasse and Jacobson, La Grande High School's choir teacher, climbed 10,000 feet from the 7,000-foot base camp. They paced themselves to allow their bodies to adjust to the thinner air. They might trek 1,000 vertical feet and then rest a day.
"There is a lot of down time waiting to acclimate. ...You don't run at this altitude,'' Hasse said.
Hasse read four or five books during the many breaks his party took.
The body produces more red blood cells as it becomes acclimated, allowing it to process oxygen faster. Acclimation is a critical process.
"If you took someone from sea level to the top of Mount Everest (elevation 29,028 feet), the person would die in about five minutes because their body would be starved for oxygen,'' Hasse said.
The lulls in the Mount McKinley climb were balanced by unnerving moments. For example, a glacier the party climbed shifted several times. The sudden movement was accompanied by a loud noise like a gunshot that reverberated throughout the area.
"You feel like it (the glacier) is going to open up and swallow you up,'' Hasse said. "It's like an earthquake.''
Hasse, Jacobson and Burton started their treks between midnight and 4 a.m. when the weather was colder.
"We took advantage of the ice being frozen,'' Hasse said, explaining that solid ice is easier to hike on.
Eating became more difficult the higher the climbers got.
"I had to force myself to swallow,'' Hasse said. "At 17,000 feet your body does not want to eat. ... Food does not taste good. You are eating for substance, not taste.''
The climbers also forced themselves to drink a gallon of water a day from snow and ice they melted.
"Water is your antifreeze. When you have plenty of water, your body takes better care of itself,'' Hasse said.
Although Mount McKinley is known for its severe weather, Hasse, Jacobson and Burton enjoyed good weather for most of their trek. The temperature ranged from 14 to 70 degrees F. The climbing team benefited from good timing because it started its hike right after a long storm ended. So bad was the storm that climbers at the 17,000-foot camp were stuck there about a week.
Hasse and Jacobson hope to someday return to scale the summit. Hasse is planning to go back in the summer of 2006, but Jacobson will not return until later.
Hasse said that reaching Mount McKinley's summit will be meaningful, but it will not be an end in itself. He likes to paraphrase a popular proverb to make his point: "The journey is more important to me than the