October 18, 2008 08:25 PM by Lisa Stauber
America’s Toughest Jobs is heading to Mt. McKinley this week, for high altitude guiding. Over 100 people have died trying to scale the mountain, and our contestants are going to be showing new mountain climbers the way up. Altitude, frost-bite, and 100 mph winds make this one of the toughest jobs in America.
“Just flying into it looked like a death trap,” Steven says. Rommel’s nervous, since his body still isn’t at 100%. Their little biplane will land directly on the glacier with no runway, but that’s the least of their worries. John Race is their new boss. He’s been up the mountain 13 times in 20 years, and knows the ropes. The job goes from 6 am to 10 pm, and they are the client’s slaves. They cook, clean, carry equipment, and even dig latrines.
The contestants will learn how to stop themselves from falling off a cliff and climb a peak. The tools of the trade are ice axes and ropes, and the goal is to stop yourself from falling before your dragged over the edge by a teammate. The professional guides drill them for two hours, and now they are going to practice on the mountain while the guides try to drag them down. Sandy is having trouble stopping herself, and her self-arrest practice is slow going.
The weather changes quickly into a snowstorm, and it’s 7 degrees. They’ve got 100 lbs. of gear on their back and the crew can’t keep up. John doesn’t cut them any slack. “I’m gonna die,” Sandy says. Micheala’s glad that Sandy’s struggling, because she’s having a hard time, too and can take a breather when Sandy can’t take another step.
They finally come to the campsite, but before they can set up tents, they need to probe the area for crevasses and holes. Now they have to dig out a kitchen and a latrine. Rommel can’t get the hang of knot tying to set up the tent, and they get a dish of rehydrated stew for dinner. “I didn’t know hell could be so cold,” Sandy says.
It’s time to learn how to rescue a guide who’s fallen down a crevasse. They have to self-arrest, set up a pulley, and get their friend to safety. They get a very quick lesson on knot tying and pulley making, and Rommel is worried his knots won’t hold. Steven and Ben are the first to practice, and Steven gets everything done quickly, rescuing Ben before he gets hypothermia. “Really strong performance for having just learned this,” John says.
Michaela must rescue Sandy, now, and she doesn’t get it on the first try. Sandy starts yelling at her while Micheala finishes tying her knots. Now Sandy has to rescue Rommel, and although she gets the pulley set up, she loses traction and Rommel slips further down the crevasse. Eventually she gets him up. Ben has to rescue Steven, now. Ben doesn’t self arrest in time, and Steven slips far into the crevasse. Rommel is going to recue Michaela, and he gets the knots tied quickly. “He did remarkably well,” John says.
Climbing the Mountain
The contestants are going to climb the mountain, and they have to reach the peak early in the day when avalanche danger is at its lowest. It’s a three mile trek up to Control Tower, 8,700 feet up. Sandy and Steven are struggling, but Michaela is loving the adventure. The are crossing narrow, dangerous strips of snow and can’t slip, yet still must keep up.
They still have to climb another 500 feet up, and John begins to set up anchor points, in case someone slips. As they pass each one, they must clip into the anchor for safety. Rommel misses clipping in and starts to slip. “You can’t just screw around with the rope here,” one of the pros tells him. They make it to the top. “I’m just awestruck at how beautiful is is,” Michaela says, but they have to quickly head back down before the snow warms in the afternoon sun and begins to melt.
The contestants think that Rommel and Sandy were the worst performers. “Sandy’s kind of falling apart right now,” Steven says. A first year mountain guide makes $50,000 and that amount is added to the jackpot, which is currently at $298,000. Guide John Race chose Michaela as the best, and thinks she’s levelheaded and a natural.
John also thinks Rommel and Sandy are the weakest links, and their challenge is to perform a mountain rescue of a 100 lb. dummy. The fastest one wins and will continue on next week. Rommel and Sandy were best buddies, but now they’re competing.
Sandy starts well, and gets everything set and ready without a problem. She finishes at 4:41. Rommel’s up next, and he blows out the self arrest and pulley rigging. He hits a snag, and takes a little extra time. He rescues the dummy, and his time is 4:53. He’s going home, and everyone else is heading to the finals and the last job.
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Photos courtesy NBC.