Denali May 2005

TA’s Denali Support Team #31 5/31/2005
Happy Almost June 1st,

As we decended toward Anchorage airport, the pilot said, we are passing through 21,000 feet on our approach to Anchorage…I quickly glanced outside the plane through the window and saw nothing but clouds and mountain peaks thousands of feet below. “Holy shit” I thought, “I might be standing at this level in a few weeks.” It really drove what I’m about to do home…

As did the three men being resuced off of Mount Logan from 5500 metres. It is always humbling to hear what nature can deliver in terms of weather. It was the Denali National Park High Altitude Lama Helicopter that pulled them off the mountain. The one man lost his mitts and as a result will lose his fingers-I will tie my mitts to my parka like a four year old…

Liz said she recently read a story of an Alberta man mauled by a grizzly…he fought off the bear by kicking it in the mouth…many warnings and wake-up calls as I head towards my grand adventure…warnings that inspire some fear, some trepidation, some solid preparation and attention to detail, and the weft of adventure…

For if the outcome was certain, who would set out? It is the unknown that gives rise to adventure and risk is something to be courted and managed, not avoided.

I’m taking an easy rest day in Anchorage to catch up on jet lag, do a few last minute things and enjoy civilization for one last day. The last week was filled with wonderful parties, people, and good-byes and today I’m easing out of those connections and preparing room in my heart for my new teammates. I’m feeling centered, I’ve got some butterflies (getting them to fly in formation is a trick) and I’m eager to be underway tomorrow.

I bought a new sleeping mattress yesterday (thermarest pro-lite 4 season for women) in hopes of sleeping a bit warmer and more comfortable. The butterflies make it tempting to buy more and more gear in the hopes that it can protect me from suffering and cold but I know that it will be intentional winter camping practice that will do that-not $160 mitts.

The light here is amazing…it’s nearing 24 hours of daylight and most regular cues for sleeping and eating are off. I won’t even take a flashlight on the expedition.

Thanks for all of your warm wishes, love and support. I’m eager to pick up my mail at the branch tomorrow and breathe that in even more deeply. I know I’m not alone on the mountain and there will be many of you waiting with hands outstretched when I need a lift. My niece, Rayne, who is turning three made me a handprint that says I can hold it when I might be cold or scared…she melts me…as does your warmth and care.

Be well. Send thoughts and warmth and prayers my way. If you have weather god connections, this might be a good time to call in some favors.

Catch you in July,

Much love,TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #30 5/22/2005
Happy “2-4” Weekend to All (and Happy Birthday to Queen Victoria for whom the holiday exists)

This time next week, I will be one sleep away from Alaska and probably “shitting bricks” as my father used to say as a way to describe the sensation of fear overtaking oneself. I fly to Edmonton on May 28th to visit my family, then onto Anchorage on May 30th and then meet all the members of the expedition on June 1st. We will start hiking towards the mountain on June 3rd. If everything comes together and the weather gods are kind, we will be summitting around June 27th, and getting back to Anchorage around July 4th. It’s most likely that you will hear nothing from me during that time in fact, no news is good news.

I did round one of gear sorting today. I’d been piling it up in one room for weeks and finally had the time to do the first go/no go decisions. My “squider” hat was the first casualty-it was too roomy around the ears. My “Read your Map” hat was second-doesn’t fit tight enough around my head anymore. A dual combo Peruvian “tit” hat and small pile hat substitute for Squider and my NOLS Mexico ball cap got called up from the minor leagues. My general color scheme seems to be evolving into blues and blacks with enough bright, multicolored items to keep me off of the Oprah show for life.

Training this week was good I’ve been enjoying the outdoor hiking with my big backpack tremendously. Was out most days in RDF-rain, drizzle, fog-so didn’t get many views along the coast but could hear the waves crashing at the bases of the cliffs below. Thanks to all on the Eastern Avalon for putting up with such yucky weather it’s helping me adjust to Alaska weather. Managed to do a few runs, a few step classes, and a few sessions in the gym as well. I’ve been tapering training some so that I don’t arrive in Alaska totally beat out. I learned this week that we’ll be starting the hike to the mountain from Ellison Visitor Center rather than Wonderlake-the Denali Park Road won’t be open that far in time. It will add 1-1.5 days of hiking to our approach (and 1.5 extra days of fierce bugs).

This week, I noticed that the weather service had started putting the recreational forecasts up for Denali on the web seeing the forecast highs and lows put the word “cold” into sobering perspective there’s something about a low of minus 25 Fahrenheit and a high of minus 10 Fahrenheit that really gets my attention and makes extra days with bugs seem like a very good idea. I’m hoping I look like the Michelin Man when I have all my layers on! I’ve been having daily talks with my fingers and toes about demanding their share of the blood supply so that we work together to ward off frostbite.

As I’ve been packing and preparing and crossing things off of the to-do list (which seems to be perpetually growing), my mind turns to thoughts of impermanence and noticing the potential that I might not come back from the mountain and then seeing everything more poignantly and then remembering that every moment is a gift and something I might not come back from it seems a paradox that setting off on a big adventure brings such thoughts but setting out in a vehicle does not we acclimatize to the risks around us and don’t give them a second thought.

I’ve also been thinking about transitions. I’ve tended to struggle with transitions struggle to leave, struggle to arrive, then struggle again to leave and then again to arrive some days I think it must be a miracle that I go anywhere. A dear friend, Karen, who knows me very well sent me the following passage a few months ago when I expressed fear about climbing Denali after winter camping. I remembered it and it seems so apt now that I wanted to share it will you all because it will give you a clear picture of the challenges of the next few weeks for me.

“I was thinking about your overnight and Denali. Denali is like a Zen overnight—one overnight at a time, each one new and challenging and rewarding in it’s own way. But really the mountain breaks down into a one-month series of overnights–and you know you can do overnights.

I imagine the first week on Denali will be hell for you–transition, loss of the easy immediacy of support systems, outdoor challenges, group challenges. You will question every motivation that had you doing it–your inner dialogue will be so on you will have to work to shut it off. It will test all your perseverance. But you will move through–you will discover your deep and rich reserves of strength and perseverance and discipline. You will laud the small victories. And soon things will shift impreceptively–you will find your rhythm, you will find connections to your expedition mates, your eyes will open to the glory of the outdoor beauty around you, you will find the metaphorical center of life on a mountain. There will be times when you are totally in the zone–flowing like a breakaway in hockey. Your life lessons will come fast and furious.

Other times, your step will slow, your heart will slow–but you will imagine that you are not climbing Denali by yourself—no one climbs anything alone even if they are solo.

Ask your Denali support group each to send you a small sealed note that you can take on the mountain (like I send you). Open one each day and more on the hard days. Know that they are in your corner, in your goal, in your heart. It is an incredible thing you will do-only not for the monumentalism that everyone will think of but for the small bits of pure and real conscious life along the journey. It’s that why we do anything?

Breakfast is ready,

Love, Karen”

Special thanks this week to Brian who made my ice axe look like new, to Deb for designing a wonderful website, to Marie, Joan, and Natelle for hiking my buns off, to Susan for walking me into the ground on the track, and to Janine for the wonderful relaxing massage.

Here are some Denali web-sites you might be interested in-they are also on my webpage in the “About Denali” section.

National Outdoor Leadership School (who I’m doing the climb with):

The Mount McKinley Weather Forecast:

The National Parks Site that will have statistical updates (26 people have summitted this year with a 36% success rate thus far):

The National Parks Site that will have statistical updates (26 people
have summitted this year with a 36% success rate thus far):
And finally, I hope those in St. John’s will be able to join me and others Thursday May 26 at 144 Merrymeeting Road anytime after 7 pm for the “Send-off et al” party. Bring your favorite beverage and come let me thank you in person for all the support and love and care you’ve given me over the past 10 months.

With thanks,TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #29 5/15/2005
Warm Greetings to All,

It was lovely and inspiring to hear from some of you this past week. I managed to coax my inner coach potato off her comfy chair and went back to training with a vengeance. I was thrilled to notice that I hadn’t lost much fitness or strength-my hockey game suffered but not much else. I think the break was good for building both body muscle and soul muscle.

I finally got it together to weigh my outdoor hiking backpack-it’s 55 pounds and I’m going to increase it to 65 this week since 55 feels relatively easy (of course, the sweat pours off in buckets whenever I climb Signal Hill or the South Side Hills.) Thanks to Marie for being a rabbit to chase up the South side last week-next week I’ll have to put some rocks in her pack. My step aerobics pack is 40 pounds for the upcoming week. I’m grateful for the Grand Canyon trip for getting me ready to carry heavy packs.

I continued in my role as fashion trend setter this week. I started wearing my big red plastic mountaineering boots around town they look and sound rather like downhill ski boots. I can no longer sneak up on Vera at work because she hears me from 100 feet away. Wearing the boots now gets my legs used to having 4 extra pounds on each foot, get me used to walking like Frankenstein instead of heel to toe, and breaks in my feet to the boots (not to mention cements me firmly into a role of wing nut). Some folks worry about my ability to drive the Omamobile in them but then I remind them that I also drive in skates.

I have four to-do lists going one for work, one for the house, one for Denali, and one for all three combined. The moment I cross something off, four more things get added. It will soon be time to decide which of my six cameras gets to go, whether or not I’m taking a video camera, which pair of long underwear gets the call, etc. last Tuesday, it seemed impossible to get everything I needed to get done, done. Today, like Denali, it seems impossible but just within the realm of the maybe. I’m hoping to carve out some time so I can actually indulge in some anticipatory savoring of my upcoming adventure.

I did a 90 minute long run this morning and found myself thinking about tuna fish. Yup. Albacore. One week, I’m road kill on the highway of life, the next the biggest fish in the sea-Charlie the tuna. Well, not quite. Tuna fish salad actually. Between two pieces of bread. Maybe two lovely pieces of bread from the Georgetown Bakery-whole wheat with seeds and 34 grains-chewy but soft with a firm crust. Hold on, back to the tuna. See, I was thinking (always dangerous when I get time to think) that we are all sandwich filling. Given all the nut allergies in the world this year, I chose to be tuna salad instead of peanut butter.

It goes something like this: there will always be someone better than me, faster than me, slower than me, I’m always in the middle thus the idea of sandwich filling. There will be folks on my expedition who will climb faster than me or carry more than me or less than me we are so primed to evaluate ourselves in comparison to others temporarily inflating ourselves by feeling superior or temporarily deflating ourselves by perceiving ourselves lacking. I think it’s saner to just give that up and claim our rightful spots as sandwich filling-finding comfort and acceptance of where we are at any one moment of knowing in each moment, we are doing the best we can do, and in being as compassionate with ourselves as we are with others. Yup-sounds good. Sandwich filling, that’s me. Tuna salad made with tofu instead of mayo, with a few dill pickle pieces. Yup, I know I can sometimes look at the world in a funny way.

Considering the dearth of vanilla dips in the Grand Canyon, I made up for lost sprinkles by indulging in four this past week. I had lots of edible prayers to catch up on. My friend Mavis gave me a bottle of sprinkles to take on Denali-she labeled them ‘edible prayer flags’. Not sure what I’m going to do without vanilla dips for five weeks at least there is a Tim’s in the Vancouver airport. Speaking of Tim’s-after I sent my e-mails of love about vanilla dips to the Tim’s website, I received a letter saying that I fell outside the range of age that they sponsor in other words, I wasn’t a Tim Bit. Geez-not even a gift certificate for a free donut.

My friend Deb has been working on a web site for me. It will be up and running soon. The URL is The template looks awesome-I’ll let you know when it is up and running. A few people suggested that I was a bit too subtle last week in announcing my promotion. In the end, my application for promotion to full professor was approved by Memorial’s president so as of September 1, I will be a bouncing baby full professor-not sure what I’ll be full of (vanilla dips perhaps!). I also submitted my teaching portfolio this week because I had been nominated for the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching. I also learned I was being nominated for a teaching leadership award in the Atlantic Universities Association. My goodness, if this keeps up, my head won’t fit into my climbing helmet.

The plans for the big five-occasion send-off party are still evolving so I’ll send out more of those details soon-keep May 26th marked on your calendar. If you want to see me actually totally out of character, I will be delivering the Oration that introduces the Honorary Graduand at the 3:00 pm May 25th Convocation. I’ll be wearing my full academic regalia-though I’ll probably leave the mountaineering boots behind. That’s going to be a big week-I’ll also be on Radio Noon with Anne Budgell on the 24th.

Yup-the next two weeks are going to be very busy. If any of you in St. John’s want to join me on a training hike, let me know. I promise I won’t put rocks in your pack-just my own. It’s good to be back in touch with all of you. I love knowing you are there behind me! Much appreciation to you!

Take good care, TA

TA’s Denali Support Team #28 5/8/2005
Happy Mother’s Day to All

(either you’re a mother or you’ve been mothered or both)

I’ve missed you!

I have a request (perhaps a gently worded demand :-)…I’ve been waiting 10 months to make it…funny things keep one motivated along the way…I LOVE mail…mail that comes by post…OK, I love e-mail as well…but I really LOVE snail mail…so, please send me TWO pieces…(if you are willing of course)…the first piece of mail needs be sent SOON so it is waiting for me in Alaska when I arrive-please include a small note (i.e. 2 inches by 2 inches-ideally on lightweight paper) taped shut with some inspirational stuff in it that I can take on the mountain to open in times of exhaustion, despair or super cold weather for a bit of encouragement. This piece can be sent to me at the following address and it costs $.85 to mail a letter to the US from Canada.

TA Loeffler (DEN-06/01/2005)
NOLS Alaska
PO Box 981
Palmer, AK 99645

Please use my home address as the return address so that if it misses me it will get returned to me and I’ll get it in either case. The second mail request is for a welcome home letter/note/card that will be waiting for me when I get home. I anticipate it will be “interesting” to come home after such an adventure so I think having a pile of mail welcoming me home will be good to assist in that transition. Of course, if you are an overachiever, you could send a end of climb message or birthday card to my Alaska address as well 🙂 …I finish up the climb around July 5th.

My home address is as follows:

TA Loeffler
7 Wood Street
St. John’s, NL A1C 3K8

A second request (or maybe it’s the third)…please mark MAY 26th on your calendar (especially if you live in St. John’s). This is the date of a very big party…a very celebratory party…it’s a send-off party for Denali, a 40th birthday party, celebrating my upcoming promotion party, celebrating my first public oration, and my becoming a Buddhist party…five celebrations for the price of one (one thing the last year has taught me is how to be efficient)…not sure of the details yet-those will be forthcoming but please reserve part of the evening so you can drop in and sign my long underwear (who’d want to miss that?…I promise it will be freshly laundered).

How time flies and yesterday was a big day when I realized that I start flying towards the mountain three weeks from yesterday. I did a 10 km run this morning around Quidi Vidi Lake and marveled at being able to run on trails again after the long winter of asphalt. It was good to be running again. On my travels I found my discipline melted away like butter in the desert and I ended up declaring my non-canyon time to be rest weeks/couch potato time as the long months of training caught up with me and deposited a heap of cumulative fatigue/exhaustion onto my lap. It was a good break and I’m now ready to be back at it for the home stretch.

The canyon was grand as always and very interesting to see how physically easy it seemed this year after the big year of training. We backpacked 70 kilometres from the South Kaibab Trail to the New Hance Trail. I’d never used the New Hance because it was described as the hardest south rim trail…we were forced onto it by a landslide which closed the Grand View Trail and I was so glad. I actually thought is was a great trail-nicely shaded and a relatively easy to hike out on…maybe next time it won’t seem that way.

I carried a heavy pack throughout…since we were dry camping and I carried 11 litres of water the first day I figure my pack was in the 60-70 pound range…heavy enough to hurt and make me miss the old padding around my pelvic bones that I lost this year. My body adjusted to the load and I got some calluses over my collar bones. I hope to hold onto that load carrying capacity by replacing lost hockey games to hikes up Signal Hill and surroundings with a big pack.

Three weeks of training left…my goal for this last cycle to to maintain the fitness I have and build it back up some after the break I just took. I want the training to be lifegiving and resilience building. I want to push hard but not too hard. I want to arrive in Alaska feeling strong, health, resilient, excited and eager…I have some fear of injury now that healing time would be brief so I’m trying to be mindul of that…so here’s what I’m committing to…saying it aloud to all of you to help fight off my inner couch potato who has a stronger voice than usual at the moment…21 sessions of meditation, 12 hikes with my backpack, 9 strength training sessions, 9 pilates classes, 9 step classes with backpack, 4 hockey games, 3 long runs, 3 ten K runs, 3 interval sessions, 3 tempo runs, 3 yoga classes, 2 turtledoves and a bicycle ridden everywhere. Hold me to that will ya!

Yesterday, I completed a longstanding ring of fire challenge…Vera, a staff member at work wasn’t going to let me get away without accomplishing this one and I thank her for taking me to task. With the accompaniment of Tobi on the guitar, I did my best rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire at our end of year gathering. No one went screaming from the room and I found my inner lounge singer who’d been dormant since Thailand waking up…maybe I can find a karaoke bar on the slopes of Denali.

What’s new with you? What are you up to for the summer? Drop me a line and let me know what you are up to…three weeks and then my e-mail habit will be going through severe withdrawal so gotta store up now…

Have a good week…always a pleasure to be in touch and to have you along on this most interesting and intense journey.


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