Tourists spend extra week on Denali glacier

Posted: Tuesday, April 08, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Ten tourists who got caught in strong winds and a blizzard and were almost out of food were flown off a glacier on Mount McKinley over the weekend.

The bad weather turned a weeklong stay into a two-week adventure that ended Sunday.

Hudson Air made four trips to retrieve a dozen people from the Ruth Glacier, a base camp at 5,500 feet.

"I learned a lot of Japanese," said Amy Beaudoin, 32, an Alaska Mountaineering School instructor who served as a guide for the group. "And they learned a lot of English. It was mutual."

The adventurers were mostly college-age and teenage members of the Aurora Club, which has made early spring trips to McKinley for years, Beaudoin said. The club honors Japan's Michio Hoshino, a nature photographer who lived in Alaska and led a number of children on trips to Ruth Glacier before he was killed by a bear in Russia in 1996.

Beaudoin said stormy weather arrived March 29, two days before the group was due to leave the mountain. For a full week, each day brought snow or high winds that made visibility too poor for air traffic. On Friday morning alone, more than two feet of snow fell, Beaudoin said.

The group packed down snow on the airstrip every day, she said. It kept busy by climbing Michio's Point, which is named after Hoshino; by drawing and writing; and by playing a guitar left by other Aurora Club members during a 1998 trip to the mountain.

"No one knew how to play the guitar at all," Beaudoin said. "We'd pass it around and play really off-key, bad music and just laugh about it. We were able to entertain ourselves pretty well."

By the end of last week, the supply of food had dwindled and the Japanese raided an emergency food bucket at the Don Sheldon Mountain House above the glacier.

"A bunch of it was food they'd never eaten before, like instant oatmeal. It was pretty funny. They tried to make a cookie out of each packet," Beaudoin said. "They were definitely the most positive group I've ever worked with. They were like, OK, let's make the best of it."

The skies finally cleared Saturday night, allowing for a spectacular show of northern lights - one of the things the Japanese had come to the mountain to see.

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