2016 Denali Expedition – Posted in: My Quest
Denali, standing at 20,237′, is the highest mountain in North America and one of the World’s Seven Summits.
It is surrounded by massive glaciers and peaks only 300 miles South of the Arctic Circle and 200 miles East of the Bearing Sea making weather a difficult adversary. Denali offers some of the largest vertical gain of any mountain on Earth with base camp starting after a flight onto the glacier at 7,200 feet. The mountain has experienced a few changes in 2015 including its official name and height. New technology used by the U.S. Geological Survey found that Denali tops out at 20,237 feet, short of the 20,320 feet commonly cited as the summit elevation. It was also renamed Denali the name originally known by Alaska Natives before it was renamed to honor President William McKinley.
The team of four comes from Cork (2), Copenhagen, and the United States. We first met on Elbrus in 2014 then completed an expedition on Aconcagua the year after. All have equal strength and style critical to any adventure when spending 3 weeks or more sharing a small tent. Couldn’t have put together a better team. Great mountaineers and great friends!
- Saturday May 28th – Flying to Anchorage to meet with team. Gear includes 5 large duffels each weighing 50 to 80 lbs each. Will finalize supplies tomorrow then travel in the afternoon to Talkeentna to stay in the Talkeetna Air bunks, the outfit flying us on the glacier on Monday weather permitting.
- Sunday May 29th – Group gear arrived with no issues. Team made our way to Talkeetna in the afternoon including preparing the gear at the airport hanger.
- Monday May 30th – Woke up this morning to rain as we headed out for some breakfast before our 11:00 am orientation at with the park rangers. After a bit of delay for weather to clear up, we flew out at 4:55 pm to Kahiltna Base Camp 7,200′ on the S.E. fork of Kahiltna Glacier. We are on our way! Planning to leave near midnight to Camp I as glacier is frozen in evening cold.
- Tuesday May 31st – Arrived to Camp 1 at 7,800′ in the early morning after dropping 600′ on Heartbreak Hill for a net gain of 1200′. First day on the glacier and adapting to the surrounding beauty of the Alaskan range. Gear issues at start but nothing impacting the expedition (with a bit of luck).
- Wednesday June 1st – Left Camp I in the late evening up Ski Hill. This hill along with the other “ups” and heavy gear behind us made it a mental grind near the end. Arrived at Camp II at 9,800′ in the middle of the night and set up camp in the extreme cold. We dove into our tents for some rest before moving up to Camp III tomorrow. This will be the first camp we spend a day for a much needed break.
- Thursday June 2nd – Left for Camp III at 11,200′ in the afternoon and pushed through a white out as we turned west up the slope to camp. Looking forward to ditching the sleds from this point on. Found old camp offering room for two separate tents. Dug out snow, set up camp then made hot water for dinner.
- Friday June 3rd – There was another storm last night so we had to dig out our tents from snow this morning. This will be an acclimatization time spending the next day resting and getting our gear prepared for the next stage of the expedition.
- Saturday June 4th – Received another 6 inches of snow over night making the first chore digging our tents out once again. Weather not the best in the morning but with low winds, we decided to cache at 13,500′ via Motorcycle Hill in the afternoon. Stayed at Camp III again and hoping for a move to Camp IV tomorrow. Lots of efforts melting water for dehydrated food and drinking water in the bad weather.
- Sunday June 5th – Same weather but good enough to move to Camp IV, base camp at 14,200′. Cached gear and sleds but had trouble getting packs on backs due to extreme weight. Decided to dig out sleds and move up steep slopes and windy corner with the distributed load. Arrived at cache site and choose to spend the evening here in lieu of pushing to base camp. No impact to schedule as we would have came back tomorrow to get cache anyhow. Looking forward to a few days rest at base camp. We are perfectly on schedule and everyone is doing great and engaged in expedition.
- Monday June 6th – Awoke to clear but very cold morning. Dug up cache and moved to Camp IV in white out conditions. Hoping to find great site requiring little effort to set up key camp for final stages of expedition.
- Tuesday June 7th – What a day to relax! We made it to the half way point of the expedition and well ahead of schedule. Many camps abound including the French, Mexicans, Colorado’s and many others. Planning two rest days but let’s see how we feel tomorrow.
- Wednesday June 8th – Decided to cache 3 days supply anyhow at 16,200’ above the headwall as weather was in our favor and the bodies felt recovered. Would sleep back at Camp IV for continued acclimatization. Totally engaged in the daily requirements of the expedition mostly snow melting. Spirits high with final stage set for move to final advanced camp. Once back to camp, received changing forecast, broke stove and spilled dinner in ten minutes. What is going on?
- Thursday June 9th – Even with the changing low pressure weekend forecast, the winds were predicted to be less than 15 miles per hour. We decided to make the move to Camp V at 17,200’. We achieved the headwall with our heavy packs (getting heavier due to elevation), but agreed the final push on the West Buttress and exposed ridge around Washburn’s Tower might be to much, we dug out a platform on the ridge thanks to a shovel propped against the rocks at the only spot large enough for a tent. What a spot to spend the evening on Denali all alone!
- Friday June 10th – Woke up in the cold morning without the warming sun so far in the horizon. Hard to get hands and feet moving but continued up the exposed ridge onto the main massif of Denali. Took full advantage of fixed protection with extreme exposure all the way to Advanced Base Camp. Arrived in the early afternoon to windy, cold desolate conditions. Set up camp but wiped out with the treacherous autobahn in plain view. We only have a few days supply so the push for the summit must come tomorrow. Much needed rest and recovery over the next 15 hours. Aside from that we are on schedule and everyone is doing really great. Tomorrow is the last day up on this great expedition.
- Saturday June 11th – SUMMIT DAY! Planned to leave at 10:30 am with other parties but after melting water in the high altitude, we set off at noon. We traversed the steep face to Denali pass without issue before turning right up a exposed section to the slopes to Archdeacons Tower. Maintaining a good pace, we arrived to the large plateau at 19,400’ aka “football field” before the winds kicked in and fogged up first my googles then my glacier glasses. Without visibility up “Pig Hill” which required vision to kick steps into the steep, icy terrain, I decided eye protection must be disregarded. We ascended the moderate terrain to the crest of the summit ridge before the final 300’ of exposed ridge to the top of North America. The view up was anything but easy but we pushed on in the increased winds and zero visibility. Using the fixed protection to preventing slipping off the edge of the world, I after some time saw floating benchmark on what was the summit of the highest point in North America. What a day in my life! With only fifteen minutes on the summit, we started the long descent to Camp V and arrived back in the middle of the night.
- June 12th – We summited yesterday! The weather is good and the team is extremely happy. We’ve headed back down to Camp IV for the night.
- June 13th – Woke up early at Camp IV in hopes to make it to base and a flight out that evening. Picked up two caches along the way and felt the “Heartbreak Hill” reputation. At base, missed flight but enjoyed case of Coors Light left for the celebration. One more night on the glacier.
- June 14th – Woke up and heard the “Geo’Junga” name for next flight to Talkeetna. Burgers and beer we are on our way!
- June 15th – Dried out the gear and made our way back to Anchorage. Life is good!