Home Glaciers ‘So much Chapstick’: Denali base camp worker reflects on her first year...

‘So much Chapstick’: Denali base camp worker reflects on her first year on the glacier

Lisa Roderick (left) and Gabby Faurot at Talkeetna State Airport. (Colleen Coulon Love / KTNA)

Kahiltna Base Camp was taken down last week, marking the end of the 2021 climbing season on Denali.

Kahiltna is the name of the glacier where climbers begin and end their journey. The teams are transported to the glacier by one of the local Talkeetna air services before the climbers are checked in to base camp by someone who, for three months, works and lives on the glacier.

This year, Lisa Roderick, longtime head of the base camp, has alternated the management of the camp with the new assistant Gabby Faurot. Faurot grew up around Denali, climbing and camping in the Alaska Range with his father, Chip.

Lisa Roderick, longtime base camp manager, in front of her tent in 2018 (Katie Writer / KTNA)

At the height of the climbing season, base camp officials may have 100 climbers at a time eager to return to Talkeetna for a shower and a hot meal. During these weeks, keeping an agenda for thefts out of reach is an important task for the base camp manager.

“I find it hard to assert myself and it’s a job you have to be assertive,” said Faurot. “People came and they faced me saying they wanted to leave, and I just had to put him in danger. Like, ‘Hey, you can’t go out now. No one is going to fly to pick you up because the weather is bad. ‘ “

She said she had learned a few tips for curing climbers’ frustrations.

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“I once played Frisbee with people and it relaxed them a bit, they were a bit happier, but the lemonade really does the trick. Just give them a glass of lemonade, sit down, ask them how their trip went, ”she said.

The base camp is funded by the Air Association of Talkeetna. K2 Aviation and Talkeetna Air Taxi each collect a small fee from the customers they fly with to climb Denali. Air taxis then send this money to the Air Association, which pays for base camp expenses.

Faurot described some of the tasks she performs on the glacier.

“I talk to the pilots, I let them know what the weather is like, I talk to the climbers, I introduce them to base camp, I give them their fuel, I get them on their planes when they return,” he said. she declared. “You have a record of everyone, their license number, the name of their team, the amount of fuel they paid for, the type of communication they have and their routes – then their scheduled release date so that we can sort of keep an eye on that. “

One of the most important aspects of the job is communicating the weather to air taxis so they can get climbers in and out of the range. Faurot found that she was developing fairly good forecasting skills.

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“It’s all about the role models out there,” she said. “Especially with the fog, you would notice when the breezes would come in and when it started to clear, then I was able to pay more attention to the wind patterns, and if I felt a certain type of wind, I would know that hey, maybe it’ll go away in fifteen minutes. “

As with any new job, sometimes it’s hard to know what is most essential. And having a good support system is crucial when you find that you don’t have what you need.

“I need Chapstick so badly,” Faurot said. “My lips are getting really dry over there. It’s so sunny. I must have flown a plane with a tube at one point because my lips started to split the first week, or the first two weeks I was there. And the girls at Spinach Bread would send me a burrito every now and then and it was really, really nice.

In early July, the snow on Denali softens and makes it difficult for climbers to travel. Climbers usually aim to complete their expeditions before this happens. Faurot explains what motivates the decision to put away the base camp for the season.

“It’s the deterioration of the glacier. The crevasses are starting to open up a lot more than they did at the start of the season. It doesn’t freeze that much overnight. It’s not very conducive to safe travel on glaciers because the snow above the crevasses is really soft, so you don’t have strong enough ice bridges, ”she said.

At present there are not many climbers on the mountain anymore. As teams carry inReach devices, the remaining climbers will be able to text air services directly and may well be the only customers on the Kahiltna Glacier waiting to be picked up when their plane arrives.

Faurot is looking forward to going back next year. Despite the remoteness of her job, she left with a deep respect for the Alaska Range.

“There’s this poem, it’s about appreciating the side of the mountain versus the top,” she said. “It’s not just about going, going, going, reaching the top, it’s the only thing that matters. It’s about looking at the ground, what you’re walking on, what you’re walking over, and enjoying everything it takes to get to the top.

And you can be sure that part of that appreciation is reserved for people like Faurot, who works from his office on the Kahiltna Glacier.

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