It's time to get everything down from Mount Hunter and back to Talkeetna. Wow, did it go smoothly! The plan was for the helicopter to show up around 9:30am and start taking 700-1200 pound sling loads from the Hunter plateau down to Kahiltna Base Camp. From there, Talkeetna Air Taxi was supposed to fly all the cores and equipment back down to Talkeetna. Dave and Tim would fly with the first load from base camp to help move cores and equipment around in town. Mike, Brad, Dom and I would stay on Hunter to create sling loads. Erich, Liz, and Erich’s recently arrived undergraduate student from Dartmouth, Sam, would move sling loaded items at base camp. Sounds simple right?
Well, the helicopter was flying the evening before for another project, so based on FAA regulations they had to delay their launch in the AM. They arrived at Hunter around 11:30 am. Fortunately, they dropped Joe Reichert off on the plateau to help us with all the sling loads. Joe is a good friend and climbing ranger for the park and he was fresh off an acclimatization climb and ranger patrol on Denali up to 14,000 feet so he was well acclimatized to be at the drill site elevation. He is also the helicopter manager (similar to what Tucker did for us when we were dropped off on Hunter) and he is a long time Denali ranger. With his experience, pilot Andy’s flying experience, and our brute strength, we were able to shuttle the loads off Hunter to base camp, including ourselves, in 18 sling loads. All of this in less than 4 hours! AMAZING!!!!
The last two helicopter flights down to base camp included myself, Brad, and Mike on one flight and Joe and Dom on the final flight. By the time we arrived in base camp, Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) already had 26 of the 33 ice core boxes in Talkeetna and loaded in the freezer trucks. This was ALSO amazing considering each box weighs between 150-170 pounds. The pilots and TAT employees really pitched in this year with all the heavy loading and unloading of gear! The most exciting news for us was that Erich had planned for the four of us from Hunter to head straight to Talkeetna. The next TAT flight that came in had the four of us and the final ice core boxes on the flight along with our personal gear, back to Talkeetna.
We arrived in Talkeetna in balmy 75 degree sunny weather. The plane taxied up right next to the freezer trucks so it would be easy to unload the final ice cores. Dave and Tim were waiting for us along with Tom (a super cool TAT employee that helps all the TAT clients get prepped for their flights) and the truck drivers, Bill, Paul, Carol, and Jackie. The drivers were from South Carolina and super excited to be helping with this project. In fact, they were two husband/wife teams so the trip turned out to be almost an exciting vacation for them on top of the very important role of safely delivering the ice cores to Denver.
We helped them load the final cores into the single freezer truck (remember truck # 2 was for backup) and after that…. well… we called it a pretty successful day! The drivers hit the road and the group of us headed back to TAT’s free bunkhouse that they let climbers and other clients stay in when they fly with TAT, for a much needed shower.
I am also 100% clean shaven on the face now… it turns out my wife was not super keen on the mountain shave! (I wasn’t really either, but it was fun to do at the time!). We walked down to the river next to the town and looked off into the distance where Hunter (and the drill site) was visible sandwiched between Foraker and Denali. I think we all sat by the river bank in awe for about 30-40 minutes quietly looking at where we had just come from. We are off to town to get some food now for dinner and much needed rest, but there is more to come about final packing and the trip home.