Monday, June 7, 2010

Denali - First Attempt

I came back to the Bay Area over a week ago from Denali. To go straight to the answer, I did not make it to the summit. In fact, and unfortunately, I only made it to near camp 2. There are 5 camps on Mt McKinley, 4 of which climbers can haul their sleds to. I was sad and disappointed not to be able to proceed to further due to my knee injury condition.

I have had meniscus tear, probably since last year when I did Mt Whitney. It probably so minor that I did not realize. Then came the training sessions for Denali where I carried really heavy backpack while hiking. I have been really careful with my knees, always use trekking poles and never ever run down on the descents. In late March, I started to experience pain on my left knees. At first I thought it was muscle tear and a week of rest would be enough. It never went away and only got worse. Every step up and down (more so on traversing down) any stairs caused some pain on the left knee. I sensed something not right and went see doctors and got MRI scan and X-ray. The doctors could see the tear right away. So before going to Ecuador, I already knew to the full extent of my knee injury, but I decided to continue my training and acclimatization process, in hope the injury would not get worse. I told Pepe about it and we were quite careful about my condition.

After returning from Ecuador, I met my surgeon and scheduled a date for operation. I would be June 17. My surgeon recommended me not to go but I told him I really wanted to do it. So he prescribed me pain killer. At that time, I felt that the pain did not get worse, so hopefully I would not aggravate it. My thinking was since I was going to have a surgery, and have the tear removed, it would not make any difference if I push forward or call off the expedition. You never know until you try.

Air taxi dropped us at the base camp

Jump to the expedition, the hike from base camp to camp 1 wasn’t too bad, despite our super heavy weight of gears, food and fuel (total about 105 lbs each person). However, I got digestive problem. Pepe also had it but his stomach was strong enough to deal with it while I had to take diarrhea medication to stop it. This and the knee injury definitely did not help me on the mountain at all.

Near camp 2, about to descent back to base camp

There was this pretty big slope that we had to hike from camp 1 to camp 2. We started the day at 10am. It was a beautiful day but no wind. On the glacier, with the sun fully blasted its heat and the snow reflected single light ray back at you, this was not so good of a time to hike. All these added up. About half way to camp 2, the knee started to feel more painful and the back of the knee was so stiff. Each step was a huge effort. I did not have a good balance because I would shift all the weight to right leg. When we reached near camp 2, I decided it was not a good idea for me to pursue the climb further up, it became too dangerous. I did not want to get into any accident due to this knee problem. We camped for the night and started to go down the following morning. On the way down, it was more painful than going up, even with the help of the pain killer. Some climbers could even tell I have issue with my knee! At the base camp, Lisa, who helped arranged with flights back to Talkeetna said she had similar issue and that it was the right decision. No one wants an evacuation by helicopter.

The surgery will be a small one, but it’ll take at least 6 to 8 weeks to go back to normal. I do have a plan for the summer and the rest of the year, but the injury has pushed some, if not most of them out, depending on the healing process. Sometimes you can’t proceed with your plan due to unexpected reasons. The mountains are still there, that I know.