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Deadly Ascent homepage

Set #3: June 11, 2000

Question:

First let me wish you all the best conditions for your journey. I will be following your progress, and will be interested in what you learn. I have a question for the docs regarding Diamox. Do you give it preventively, ever? Same question for Decadron. Also, is Decadron given as treatment for both HACE and HAPE? Thank you, and have a blast doing it!

Giana
Oakland, CA

Response from Howard Donner:

Diamox is often used to prevent altitude illness however I prefer to use it as treatment, and it should always be used under the advice of a physician. Decadron is used only for cerebral manifestations of Mountain Sickness such as HACE.

Comment:

I stumbled on your Denali (and I appreciate your use of the correct name) page by accident. I will tell the rest of my family about the site when I get home tonight. We lived in Alaska for several years and, even after being away for almost 10 years, still miss living there. Thanks for providing a glimpse of 'home.'

Steven Read
Dublin, IN

Question:

When is the program about Denali coming on? It sure sounds exciting.

Kathlyn

Response from Liesl Clark:

We expect this film to air in early 2000, but be sure to keep checking this Website for a more specific airdate.

Question:

After the body is exposed to cold temperatures, does it get acclimated to them? I seem to when I'm out for a time. I'm cold at first and then hot by the time I get back inside. Inside then feels like an oven. Does this happen to the expedition members? If so, at what temperature are they comfortable? Thank you for allowing questions to be posted.

Hank

Response from Thom Pollard:

There's no doubt that you become adapted to the cold after a while. We don't have an 'inside' up here so you mostly spend time getting acclimated to the layers of clothing you wear. When getting out of your sleeping bag and going into the cold, our bodies do suffer from the immediate feeling of being exposed to cold. Same thing happens when we stop climbing and the wind picks up and freezes us before we throw on a parka.

Question:

Congratulations on your adventure. I will be following your efforts with a great deal of interest and excitement. I used to live in Alaska and was only able to view Denali once.

Aside from the actual crew, are you taking any animals with you on your journey—such as sled dogs—to see what the altitude effects are on them? What do you hope to learn from your climb aside from the affects of cold and altitude on the human body? Have you all had experience climbing, and what preparations did you have to make before you could embark on this great adventure?

My thoughts and prayers go with each one of you and I hope you are able to discover ways for future climbers of the world's great mountains to climb without such great risk of life. Your adventure is an inspiration.

GOOD LUCK.

Nancy Monicke
Tigerton, WI

Response from Crew:

We have a microphone with a wind screen on it that we call the "gerbil." Howard Donner has a crash test dummy named "Spin," known to be the first crash test dummy to summit Everest. John Grunsfeld has a gecko and a Curious George from his kids that he's brought along. Thom Pollard (soundman) has his son's plastic gorilla tied to his backpack. Dogs have been used by Bradford Washburn and others in the past to help haul loads up the lower slopes of the mountain, and Susan Butcher took her dogs up Denali more recently.

We are trying to educate the general public on what it's like to come to these extreme places. We're also hoping to learn more about exercise physiology of the human body at altitude.

Question:

How long will the team spend acclimatizing to the altitude on Denali? What is the method for acclimatization?

Thanks,

Penny

Response from Howard Donner:

From the moment you get up to 7,000 feet on the glacier you begin to acclimatize and continue to do so throughout the climb. The method for acclimatization is time. A general rule is to not average more than 1,000 feet per day.

Question:

Liesl,
I am so glad to see more of your work. I remember following the Mt. Everest expeditions and hearing the ascent on the Boston radio station. My students have reviewed those expeditions each year during the appropriate time of their Social Studies curriculum. My question is: How is this adventure similar to the earlier mountain adventures and how is it different. I am teaching at an adult learning center and a children's robotic building workshop this summer, so I will share this adventure with them. Our focus with the children is transportation, present and past. I will find a way to link your adventure into their curriculum. Thanks for all your terrific work.

Sharon Simon
Davis Creek Elementary
Barboursville, WV

Response from Liesl Clark:

Hi Sharon,
It's so great to hear from you while we're up here in the cold. This adventure is a little different from the others in that Denali is an arctic mountain and our focus is more on mountain medicine. On Everest in 1997 we were primarily interested in human cognitive response to altitude. On Sara Sara in Peru we were interested in the Inca ritual called "Capacocha" in which they sacrificed their children, over 500 years ago, on high mountain peaks. And, on Everest's North side in 1999 we were looking for Mallory and Irvine and answers to whether they made it to the summit of Everest back in 1924. If your focus is on transportation past and present, you may find a link to this adventure through the mountain rescue efforts that are accomplished through air rescue. A high altitude Lama and a Pavehawk are used to pluck sick climbers of Denali to bring them down to the hospitals in Anchorage. It's quite an operation up here when a rescue takes place. Stay tuned and we'll surely give you more details on a live rescue from up high.

Comment:

Just a quick note to wish you all well in this latest NOVA adventure! I followed the Everest expedition last year at this time with wonder and a feeling that I almost was with the team. Modern day technology is truly a wonder when great adventures such as this can be seen almost immediately by the watching world. Good luck to all!

Jerry Kaplan
still trying to get to the top of Mt. Dana in Yosemite (13,053)
Walnut Creek, CA

Question:

I've heard that Rainier is as technical, if not more so, than Denali. But it is the weather and additional altitude that sets Denali apart. Also, when people make the comparison between the two mountains are they comparing the normal routes; i.e., Disappointment Cleaver and the Denali Normal Route? Thanks and good luck.

Cory
Denver, CO

Response from Liesl Clark:

Climbing Rainier is a weekend trip, where climbing Denali's West Buttress is an expedition. You end up climbing Denali twice because of having to carry loads. The West Buttress, by comparison, is perhaps 15 times longer than Disappointment Cleaver. Another fundamental difference is that you can take someone from sea level and get him or her up Rainier in 3 days where Denali typically takes at least three weeks. This message is coming to you from Advance Base Camp, which is approximately the same elevation as the summit of Rainier.

Question:

What is the temperature at the top of the peak? What is the rock composition on the peak? What is the shape of the top of the peak?

John
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

Keep an eye on the web site and we'll report what the temperature will be when we're there. Most of what you see on the south summit here is granite and on the north summit there is mostly a black sedimentary rock similar to shale.

Question:

When you will be climbing, what kinds of physical or mental tests will you have to go through to make sure you are healthy?

Christen
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

Walking a straight line is often a good test to make sure you don't have High Altitude Cerebral Edema or Acute Mountain Sickness. We also watch each other for any lack of energy or attention, which might indicate fatigue.

Question:

In your past experience of climbing what part of the expedition takes the most energy, mental or physical?

Janna
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

The preparations and planning before the trip is often the hardest mental task for an expedition like this. Physically, summit day is the hardest because you are at such a high altitude and exposed to extreme cold. Also, getting along with your expedition members can be a big deal for some climbers.

Question:

How well does the altitude and cold preserve organic materials? At what altitude do you have to begin wearing an oxygen mask? What happens if you don't put it on? About how far can you see from the peak?

Nathan
Michigan

Response from John Grunsfeld:

Our food up here freezes, so we have to boil it to warm it up to normal room temperature. We use shredded cheese, for example, instead of blocks of cheese because it melts easier shredded.

We don't breathe supplemental oxygen when climbing Denali because it isn't high enough.

On a clear day you can see the ocean which is over 100 miles away.

Question:

What would happen if a giant storm came? Would you ride it out or descend?

Keegan
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

We would ride the storm out in our tents and 'hunker down' until the conditions allowed us to move. We had such a storm at 11,000 feet and therefore didn't move up the mountain.

Question:

Does it get hard to move? Because when I'm outside in the winter and my hands get cold they are kind of stiff and get difficult to move.

Nate
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

Yes, our hands get stiff and frozen too.

Question:

Did you even have any idea of how difficult climbing a mountain would be? How much preparation did you have to go through, and how long? Why did you want to risk your life to climb a mountain? Even after all we have heard from movies and books like Into Thin Air, why do you still want to do it?

Emily
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

With everything in life that brings rewards involves great risks and we take those risks knowing we will come home challenged and fulfilled.

Question:

How does being on the mountain compare to being up in space?

Melissa
Michigan

Response from John Grunsfeld:

The expedition preparation and training is very similar, having to account for all the details of what you have to take with you. Both on the mountain and in space, if you forget something, you can't run out to the hardware store.

Question:

How do you think the challenges that come up in space will effect your decisions on Mt. McKinley?

Response from John Grunsfeld:

I'm much more conservative than I was ten years ago. My participation in the space program has changed my acceptance of risk.

Question:

What methods does your team intend to use to cope with altitude sickness? What equipment does your team plan to use on Mt. McKinley?

Josh
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

We use climbing hardware like ice axes, crampons, pickets, ropes etc. We use pots and pans and stoves for cooking. We use solar panels and a laptop and satellite phone for communicating with you and we use lots of good warm clothing to keep us warm.

Question:

How long does it take for spit to freeze? Does it hit the ground, or freeze in the air?

Charlie
Michigan

Response from Liesl Clark:

At 50 below zero, we think spit freezes before it hits the ground. But don't quote us on this.

Question:

How can you drink at high altitudes? Wouldn't they freeze before they got to your mouth? Wouldn't the food be too hard to chew?

Alex

Response from Liesl Clark:

As I type, I have an insulated water bottle tucked inside my down parka. If I leave it next to me when I sleep, the water will be frozen by morning. All of our warm food freezes after time, if not eaten.

Question:

What type of animals are found on top of Mt. McKinley, or aren't there any? What's the lowest temperature that a person can survive in on a Mt. McKinley?

Brianna

Response from Liesl Clark:

Ravens are known to fly over the summit of Denali.

We know of an expedition on Denali that took place in the winter and they recorded a wind chill factor of minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit.

Back to top

Dispatches

On the Way (06.01.2000)
One Shot Pass (06.02.2000)
Midnight Rescue (06.04.2000)
Across a Glacier (06.05.2000)
Cold Toes (06.07.2000)
Cloud Walkers (06.09.2000)
Fourteen Medical (06.11.2000)
A Climber Saved (06.13.2000)
Lull Before a Storm (06.15.2000)
Frostbite (06.17.2000)
An Unforgiving Mountain (06.19.2000)
Stopped Short (06.20.2000)
A Great Loss (06.20.2000)
Bid for the Summit (06.23.2000)
Summit Reached (06.24.2000)


E-Mail

Set #1 (06.07.2000)
Set #2 (06.08.2000)
Set #3 (06.11.2000)
Set #4 (06.12.2000)
Set #5 (06.21.2000)


Meet the Team

Pete Athans
Colby Coombs
Dr. Howard Donner
John Grunsfeld
Dr. Peter Hackett
Caitlin Palmer





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