Ascent into the Blue Room

Published 2008-06-13

Mark Seacat on the Cassin's Cowboy Arete. Photo by Andrew Crow

My sleeping bag looks more like a frozen loaf of bread this morning and less like the slightly lofted down sack I had once considered satisfactory for this adventure…. The word synthetic comes to mind. I definitely didn’t get the best sleep last night, and the spindrift has built up outside to somewhere around 18” and counting. Condensation from last night’s breathing has grown to extraordinary levels on the walls, and to be honest, each time someone bumps the tent, it’s hard to tell which side of the silnylon I’m on.

If we had any food, we wouldn’t be headed higher in weather like this, but we don’t, and it’s not something worth worrying about now.

A tough thousand feet later, the lack of calories and long gone comforts of base camp living have crept up on me. I’m forced to relinquish the post holing to Andrew only minutes after relieving him from the same arduous task. One look tells me he’s not 100% either, but we have little choice, and he’s stronger today. I am relegated to slowly following his tracks in the snow. Where has my power gone? I feel completely drained. Every few minutes I scan the storm clouds for any signs of relief, but nothing appears. Four hundred feet higher, I’m slumped over my ice axes; Andrew waits patiently at a rest, silently observing my progress. I’m suddenly feeling much worse. The vomiting begins and I watch helplessly as the energy I will need to continue disappears into the snow.

Andrew looks upon my display in disbelief, I feel like I’m letting him down. We’re far past the technical difficulties, but I’ve just reached my personal crux. I wipe my mouth and nose with an arm and the puke immediately freezes on my jacket. “Are you okay?” I hear his question, the real answer is no, but my only choice is to say yes, yet nothing comes from my acidic lips……

Looking to my left, there’s no option for traversing to safer ground. We must go up, period. I reach into a pocket and grab out two of my remaining GU’s. Andrew asks if I’m okay once again in a tone I’ve never heard before from a climbing partner. I open the two packets simultaneously and drown them both with my little remaining Perpetuem. I take a deep breath and with as much confidence as I can exude, tell him, “Okay, I’m ready.” We don’t waste any more time mincing words, continuing our ascent into the storm clouds.

Five hundred more feet pass and we climb out of the clouds and into a magical scene. The entirety of North America lies below this cloudbank. Nothing but sunshine and blue skies surround us now…… We’ve just entered into the blue room. Our spirits are lifted, our confidence boosted, and we seemingly skip from the horn to the summit and back. No one else is above 17,000 feet on this mountain but us today, and we break trail all the way to fourteen camp.

Andrew Crow summits via Denali's Cassin Ridge. Denali, Alaska. Photo by Mark Seacat