When I spoke with John on Saturday, he said he'd call...then the call was lost. Luckily, I had a chance to speak with John today to get a clearer picture on the end of the climb.
In order to reach the summit, the team has to take part of the gear to the next camp. That meant climbing from 14,000, up the head wall to the 17,000 mark. According to John, the head wall is the steepest and (to my ears) the most technical part of the climb. There are six permanent ropes, approximately 50 feet apart. The climbers really put to use the crampons and pick axes to achieve this climb and the team did it. John spoke of how this aspect was the most daunting task of the trip. First of all, physically, the head wall represents the steepest climb: 2000 feet starting at 40 percent grade and raising to a 60 percent grade. Everyone feels the burns in their calves on this climb. Mentally, John said that hanging on ropes 50 feet apart from the others on the team left a climber completely alone with his thoughts - even a little lonely. Self-doubt and homesickness begin to creep into the brain. John said that what he did to fight off those thoughts was to imagine the students right there with him, urging him on.
Once they hit the top of the head wall, he was able to walk along the ridge wall and over to Wahsburn's Thumb. He said the view was just spectacular. But, looking back on it. he cannot imagine being up there with the weather that was heading their way.
The team descended back down to 14,000 to retrieve the rest of the gear (after the three hour trip up) and the bad weather hit. At one point, they were pinned in their tents for about 30 hours. Visibility was nil. The winds pounded the tents and the National Parks Service rangers told them that the weather would not clear for at least another three days. Two feet of snow fell on them, fully covering the lines and the path that had been previously tramped into the snow. This is when the team decided to abort the climb. Based on the weather that occurred at the summit, this was the wise choice. The summit received five feet of snow and experienced wind gusts of up to 100 miles per hour.
While John is disappointed that he and the team did not reach the summit, he realizes that they made the only decision they could make. There was a team from China camping next to them who were going to wait out Mother Nature. The team gave them some of their extra food and then came down the mountain. The snow followed John and the team. He said that coming down was like being in a snow globe, snow puffing up from the ground and flying hither and yon. They had to spend an extra night on the lower glaciers because the weather did not permit the plane to come in and get them.
I spoke to John while he was in Talkeetna, the place where the journey started. He has a touch of bronchitis and should be home in a couple of days. He is thrilled to have taken this trip and proud of the students who have helped to raise nearly $18,000 for student activities Hamtramck Public Schools.
You can, of course, still donate. Make your check out to Piast Institute ("Mr. Rostek's Climb" in the memo) and mail it to:
Hamtramck Public Schools
Hamtramck, MI 48212