A lightly edited set of diary notes from Ade and my attempts on Denali in May/June 2002. We did not summit but we had fun trying.
Friday, 17 May 2002
Polar left me at the airport with 55lb and 65lb bags. Left grey Syracuse at 4:10pm to arrive in… grey Detroit, 5:37pm and then grey Seattle, 9:10pm. Met by Susan and joined by Ade for supper at a Mexican restaurant. Packing at Ade’s until 1:30am; beer and bed.
Saturday, 18 May 2002
Up at 5:30am, to SEA-TAC to find all check-ins without power, long line. Still left on-time at 8am, arrived in sunny ANC 10:30am (1hour time difference from Seattle; 11:30am Seattle time), last espresso from Starbucks. Picked up by “Denali Overland” and beautiful drive to Talkeetna, mountains growing as we drew closer. Delayed park check-in because of SAR organization; eventually done by ~6pm, too late to fly in. Arranged flight for 7:30am and retreated to “West Rib” pub for burgers and beer. Bed ~10pm, still very light.
Sunday, 19 May 2002
Up at 6:30am, bright and sunny. Flew in with 358lb gear at 7:30am. Awesome flight through one-shot pass. Collected fuel from NPS, showed permit, buried cache and left at 10:30am. Quite easy hike down Heartbreak Hill and then slowly up to 7800’ camp at 2pm. Took 3.5hours from KIA (aka Kahiltna Base). Feeling good, very settled weather with a few high wisps. Summit clear, no avalanches obvious. Adjusted barometer for 7950’, P=772mBar at 8:30pm. Could not receive weather on CB radio at 8pm.
Monday, 20 May 2002
Up at 6:30am since didn’t hear alarm at 6am. Lots of parties already on Ski Hill. Left ~8:30am and passed almost everyone by 9.5k. Carried half loads with sleds to 10k in 2.75hours, left to go back ~noon, took 1.5hours down in hot weather. Snow getting mushy so we used snow-shoes on the lower section. Broke camp, drank, filled bottles. Left again ~2:30pm, back up at 10k at ~6pm -> ~3.5hours. Felt hard on last section but we lapped various people who we had passed on the way down. Could not get forecast from KIA or hear 14k camp on CB. Got weather report via 14k camp from another party who could make contact: “expected sunny thro’ Friday, increasing summit winds; expected slightly cloudy after then.” Both exhausted, I have a slight headache. Ate well and hydration good, sleep at ~10pm. Altimeter 10.2k at 12noon, 10.33k at 10pm, set to 10k, P=698mBar.
Tuesday, 21 May 2002
Up late, ~8am, ate breakfast and packed for half carry. Rucksacks only, left at 10am, 1h06min to 11k camp, down in 30min to 10k at noon. Lunch and big brew up. Second carry with rest of gear and sleds, just 1h up! Quick time because Ade saw “Rudolf” who we passed on the way so we had to speed past. Hot afternoon fixing snow walls. Couldn’t get forecast on CB, apparently expect more good weather. People coming down from carries to 13.5k report strong winds. Altimeter 11.06k, P=671mBar. Bed at 21:40 after sewing neck-shade onto hat made from top of sleeping bag liner.
Wednesday, 22 May 2002
Alarm at 6am after a too-hot night with fitful dreaming. Once woke as I thought I’d been bitten by a wasp. In-tent temperature approx. freezing. Left ~7am with half-carry to stash at 13.5k or 14k. Cold at first but hit the sun at Windy Corner – beautiful. Got to 13.5k cache after 3h, felt fine. Another hour of hard-going to 14k; 4h total. Buried gear in cache and left at 12:30, down in 1.5h, partly this fast because Ade needed bog! Off and on cloudy with very light snow all day. Ate tons – chocolate, soups, potato, cheese…
Feel great back at 11k, Ade’s headache has gone too. Well hydrated. Bed at 9pm, P=671mBar (stable from last night).
Thursday, 23 May 2002
Alarm at 5am but took a long time to pack tent, bury cache, eat and drink. Felt pretty cold. Finally off at 7:30am, passed the AAI (Alpine Ascents International) team and the Russian/handicapped team by windy corner. Ade felt pretty sluggish around there but picked up again at 13k and around the caches. The sleds, although light, seemed to make everything more difficult. Both weary and feeling the altitude, we got into camp at 14.2k after ~5h10min. Still an okay time according to the book. Spent the day building snow walls, setting tent and camp and resting. Both got slight headaches from exertion, Ade seemingly a little worse than me. Two Aussies, Pete and Reno, arrived later in the day and made camp next-door. Four Germans on the other side. Bed at sunset, ~8pm, when the sun falls behind the West Butt. Still no luck with our radio but got the weather forecast from others, still good.
Got up only when the sun made the tent too warm, ~10am. Both feeling a bit better. Spent a couple of hours improving the snow walls. Afternoon stroll to the “Edge of the World” for amazing views down over the NE fork, the main Kahiltna glacier, 7.8k camp and on to Foraker. Could see tracks on NE fork, the main Kahiltna and 7.8k camp.
Still no-go with the CB radio but forecast still good. P=594mBar.
Saturday, 25 May 2002
Lazy start again around 10am, sun up at 9–9:30am. Ate and drank for the morning, finally headed up to the West Rib Cutoff at 2pm. After some messing about we found the correct “large boulder” at 15,750’. Amazing views down the NE fork and of the Cassin Ridge (1st rock band looks okay, cowboy traverse looks very scary). Out on the south side of the rib it was windy and very cold so didn’t stay long. Looked like there was a party of 5-6 just digging in and building walls after completing the first section of the Rib. Tracks from 7.8k camp to the Rib looked fine, not too much avalanche debris in NE fork. Tried radio to KIA twice, no reply either time. Back in 1hour. Quick supper before shadow around 9pm. Forecast good thro’ Wednesday. P=590mBar (falling slightly).
Sunday, 26 May 2002
Up with the sun again (~9:30am). Still night so tons of hoar frost inside the tent. Ade stayed in tent longer – a little alone time is starting to be important. Brews and breakfast as usual watching the Russian team climb the headwall by fixing ropes up the Rescue Gully. They took ~2h on low part, ~1h on fixed lines. I spent ~4h carving a gargoyle in overcast conditions with infuriatingly flat light. Pleased with the result, hope the pictures come out. Snowed off and on all afternoon, especially snowy in the evening when ~0.5in fell. P=584mBar.
Monday, 27 May 2002
Alarm at 7am, up in the cold and very slowly off up the headwall at 8:30am. Felt very weary at first and we only just went faster than a large guided party until they rested. ~45min up the fixed ropes, less than 3h from 14.2k to 16.2k (top of fixed ropes). The long slog up the beautiful ridge in mixed cloud/sun with some wind. Ade didn’t feel too good so at ~16.5 I went on to make the 17.2k cache alone. Took some time digging hole and recording cache location and just as I left to go back down, Ade appeared. We returned to the cache so that he’d know where it was without the need of my map. Then heard cries of “HELP! HELP!” from the path to Denali Pass. Could eventually see two people hurrying down and went to meet them. Ade was a little behind; I followed closely a ranger named John. The two people were two of the four Germans who had been camped next to us at 14k. Apparently they had found an unconscious person on the Football Field. He had regained consciousness after they had administered Dexamethazone by injection and six people were helping him down. We gave our apologies that we were not fit to help at higher altitude and did all we could by escorting the Germans back to their tent (where one other friend had stayed).
Snowing by then so we made haste to start our descent. At first it was tricky to follow the path so we roped-up and clipped in-situ runners (pickets etc,, used by the guides). After a while we met other people coming up and the trail became easier to follow. Made good time down to the top of the fixed lines at 16k. Started down fixed ropes very fast using the fixed pickets as runners, rope as handline. However, just 100’ down we got stuck behind a really slow party and took and hour or so longer to get down. All the time the weather seemed to get more socked-in and ~4” of new snow had fallen by the time we got to the bottom of the fixed lines. Overtook the slow party at the end in spite of some protest and then followed “unevennesses” in the snow texture for ages in near white-out conditions. Back to 14k camp at around 5pm; a long day. Cooked inside and finished “Brave New World”. Still snowing, keep knocking snow off tent, expect to dig-out in the morning. Caught weather on CB relayed by 14k ranger station at 8pm “High pressure dissipating” (just as barometer has indicated for days!) and “expect 30–60mph summit winds through Thursday”. Also heard that casualty from football field had been lowered down rescue gully and airlifted from 14k [actually wrong: casualty from football field had been airlifted off and another casualty from 17k had been lowered down rescue gully and airlifted from 14k]. P=578mBar – still going down!
Tuesday, 28 May 2002
One of the Aussie’s said that their thermometer read -30F early this morning. They both left to camp at 17k and try for the summit tomorrow if possible. The day started off sunny and clear but had socked in and was gently snowing from early afternoon. Cloud must be thin though because it is still bright and warm; snow falling on the tent melts and evaporates as fast as it falls.
Went to chat with the rangers about the weather – they didn’t seem to know much and weren’t very helpful. Just said that high pressure system has gone, expect okay conditions on summit today (Tue) and Wednesday, high winds Thursday and Friday.
Ade is now reading “Brave New World” and I wish we hadn’t cached the other books at 11k! Having read all the Cassin descriptions, I think we can do it. Scary parts seem to be: approach, cowboy traverse (aka ice rib) and topping out. [6pm]
Decided that we don’t have enough information to know when to go down for the Cassin. So will go tomorrow unless we find a good reason no to. P=574mBar [10pm]
Wednesday, 29 May 2002
Packing to go with pretty marginal weather – started to cloud over almost as soon as the sun rose over the West Rib at 7:30am. Ade went to check with rangers and got report of socked in all the way down to KIA – no good, stay. Decided to build an igloo and Ade, somewhat reluctantly at first, agreed to help. Lightly snowing and socked in with very flat light which made seeing what was going on quite hard. Progress seemed worryingly slow at first and then it looked like we could build up but not close the roof in. Progress improved when Pete and Reno started to help – Pete’s fast block cutting and Reno’s help holding blocks. Finally closed structure at ~5pm, having started at noon. Another half hour to make seats inside and more arches for entranceway. Inside ~7–8’ diameter, 7’ tall. Still need some cracks filling in but good for the four of us to hang out in.
Skies cleared by about 9pm. Looks like cloud and wind on top, cloud low down too. P=575mBar.
Thursday, 30 May 2002
Woke up to another overcast day. A Brit living in Australia, Jack, found us and said two Americans had completed the Cassin in 3 days. Arranged meet for brews and biscuits in our igloo. Two Americans were Fred and Bob – team “Wyoming Wankers”. They seemed better than us and had gone very light, they estimated ~30lbs each. Copied the de Clerk topo from them. Other Brit team were hard to gage – they seemed to take very quickly to the idea of no sleeping bags and talked about taking on half a tent. Another US team on the Cassin and two Brits on the Denali Diamond overdue… causing worry. However, Ade and I now convinced to descend West Rib instead of approaching via NE for of the Kahiltna. Plan to return to KIA tomorrow to get stuff (weather forecast to be bad anyway).
Just before bed we were talking to a father and son team when one spotted a figure on the skyline of the West Rib having come down top part of the Orient Express. Waited with John and other rangers as figures approached. Turned out to be Ian Parnell and Kenton Cool who had completed Denali Diamond – on their last legs. The also had news of the Cassin party on the football field so spirits in cam much lifted. Bed at 11pm, ready for run down to KIA tomorrow. P=583mBar
Friday, 31 May 2002
Missed 7am alarm setting, woke around 8am. Off down the hill at about 9:20am, planning to go to KIA to get more food and the technical gear. Quickly down to 11k and dug up the cache – dumped crampons, took snowshoes on down. Lower glacier very soft, used snowshoes from about 8200’ on. Lots of dumb questions from people heading up were quite frustrating, Ade had some truly absurd answers. Got to KIA ~3:20pm (6h from 14k). KIA was a real madhouse with tons of people waiting to fly out and lots of planes. One plane smashed and upside down on the runway from a crash earlier that day. Took quite a while to dig up the cache, now soaked from all the snow which had turned to slush (to a few feet down!). Off again by about 5:30pm. Did 30min down Heartbreak Hill and then stopped to brew and to eat. Glacier now firming up.Long slog with heavy packs and bad moods. Eventually stop at 11pm, at 8700’, chilled by a brisk wind. Ade all-in, I brewed and made supper without enthusiasm. Bed around 0:30am, still reasonably light although no direct sun. Pretty alpenglow on Mt Hunter.
Saturday, 1 Jun 2002
Good night’s sleep in the Bibler, didn’t get up until about 8:30am, had already heard several parties moving up the glacier. Left at about 10am, weary still. Slowly up to 11k from 9.7k for a long rest, arrived at 2:30pm in really hot conditions but weather then proceeded to cloud over as we brewed and ate. I felt very weary and I think Ade even more so. Some indecision as to whether we should stay there or go up. Eventually left at ~5pm, in cloud. Very slowly up Motorcycle Hill where the two guys who’d spent 6 days on the Cassin passed us on their way down. They sounded annoying, didn’t care to chat. Cloud turned to snow as we slogged up Squirrel Hill. On wearily, Ade in the lead and moving more strongly than me. Knee deep snow on the hill to windy corner, continuous rattles down the gullies from the West Buttress. Weary but now determined to get to 14k since all the campsite options on the way seemed threatened. Step by step with breaks every 20–30 step. Eventually got to camp about 10:15pm, absolutely knackered. Greeted by Pete and Reno who made us hot chocolate as we ditched junk in the igloo. Spoke briefly with ranger Gordie who said that Jamal and friend were missing having gone on a day climb on the West Butt from 12.5k. To sleep quickly.
Sunday, 2 Jun 2002
Woke late and stayed in bed even later. Light snow and fairly well socked in when we emerged around midday. Retreated to the igloo for brews and to sort through the sack of food that Pete and Reno had scored for us. I found a huge slice of ham that, when thawed, got named “breakfast” (>8oz!). Ade decided on a Lipton Teriyaki mix with a tin of Chicken added. The day progressed slowly with time spent letting some Poles use the igloo for a brew before moving down, and reading. Skies cleared around 7pm, no snow (about 18” accumulation). Didn’t hear weather on the radio so went over to rangers camp. Got invited in and found that weather very uncertain with a “stack of lows” poised to move in. Expect first on Tuesday. Not looking goos for a period stable enough to let us on the Cassin. Ryan and Jen quite chatty so we stayed a while. Jen getting married on 5th, champagne will flow. She offered us a choice of Glenfiddich 15yr or Oban. Both accepted the Oban and chatted until ~11:30pm. Left with amazing alpenglow on Denali, Hunter and Foraker. Hope some of the pictures come out! -9F, P=582mBar
Monday, 3 Jun 2002
Jamal and partner got back to camp around 5am, all okay. No real rescue situation, it just took them longer than expected.
Woke at 8am, inside of tent -10degC according to my watch. Overcast so both decided to sleep in. Got up with the sun at ~9:30am and spent most of the morning eating and drinking. Ate and awful “Dinty Moore” turkey dinner and some pretty bad burritos acquired for us.
Eventually decided to go for a hike up the headwall, left around 2 or 3pm. Headed toward the Russian fixed line in the rescue gully but Ade was having coughing fits before the bergschrund and decided to turn back. I followed the fixed lines in beautiful sun. Passed only by a Japanese solo woman who had summited from 14k today (apparently a celebrity in Japan, 3rd woman on Everest?). She looked beat so I unclipped from the line so that she could rap past. Top of rescue gully was quite fun with patches of steep neve. Eventually popped out at the 17k camp around 7pm. Wandered around and took photos. Chatted to the Russians and Filipino from Colorado named “Valiant”. Found Jack and the UK-Aussie team. They gave me tea and said that Pete and Reno had gone to the summit. Saw then come back over Denali Pass just before leaving at 8pm. Temp was -9F with sun still up, they said -30F in the mornings. They planned to try for the summit the following day.
Beautiful hike down the West Butt ridge to the 16k col, took about 40min then I stopped to eat, drink and put on more clothes before heading into the shadow on the fixed lines. Felt elated and wonderfully free to be moving fast and to be alone on the magnificent ridge. Down fixed lines with just cows tails for safety – just 7mins. Skedaddled and butt slid the rest of the way to camp, total of 24min from 16k col to igloo. Ade said he’d felt better and climbed on a bit after I’d left. A bit bummed though.
Went to chat with rangers after a big cous cous meal. Significant storm no longer expected but still a stack of lows that could bring bad weather. Very uncertain. P=583mBar, bed at midnight.
Tuesday, 4 Jun 2002
The day of the big storm that never was. Decided to leave for the Cassin. Spent the sunny morning drying, drinking, eating and packing. Amazing numbers of people clocking up the headwall. Left at about 2:30pm after eating the Tiger chocolate bar with espresso beans with Pete and Reno. Took about 1.5h to get to crevasse and another 1h to get to the West Rib cut-off at 15.7k. Socked in for most of the way. Struggled to see and find a route down the West Rib until we finally gave up due to the bad vis at 9pm. At 13.8k, just above the second ice dome. I stupidly dropped a mitten on the way and this did nothing to improve my mood. Went pretty much straight to sleep but had an odd dream about an argument over a bill for an Indian meal.
Wednesday, 5 Jun 2002
I woke up soon after midnight and looked out to see clear skies – we were, in fact, just across from the ‘edge of the world’. Decided to eat and move on. Took quite a while to cook and fill water bottles. Eventually off at about 3am. About 1.5” of new snow had fallen and this sloughed off the steeped slopes as we disturbed it. The two ice domes were quite exposed and moderately steep in places, we dug 6” down to good ice to place screws as runners – one in the rope (~30m spacing since we had coils). After about 1.5 hours we go to the top of the lower couloir and then about 1.25 hours down to arrive 6:15am and find a tent with two guys about to head up the West Rib. Placed screws to protect simul-descent for about two-thirds of the way down. Very impressive couloir.
Pitched the tent and dozed ‘til about noon then brewed up and filled bottles. Started hiking toward the Japanese Couloir (JC) but turned back because of flat light and decreasing vis. Could only just see JC when we pitched again at ~3pm. Waiting for better weather… (4pm).
Weather cleared by about 9pm, lengthy consideration of options during which the entire NE fork clouded in again. I still voted for the Cassin but eventually Ade came down against – the West Rib it is. Decided to eat and get sleep before heading back up lower couloir of the West Rib.
Thursday, 6 Jun 2002
Alarm at 7am, didn’t really do more than roll-over before 8am. Then brewed and delayed further until the sun hit the tent. A tantalizingly clear, warm and sunny start to the day. Many looks toward the Cassin. Although we had both accepted the decision not to try it, it would have been easier if the morning were cloudy.
Started up the couloir at ~10am, stayed away from the left side which seemed to be a chute for little avalanches. Should have started much earlier as the snow was all mush, and icicles on the rock sides kept cutting loose. Protected the (long) ascent with ice screws - one per rope length. Simul-climbing with almost no coils. Saw a party of 2 starting ~1h after us and moving about the same speed until they stopped in the middle. Topped out at about 1pm (3h up) and ate and drank lots. Weather already starting to deteriorate, lots of clouds about. Alternated lead up the 1st and 2nd ice domes, no gear. Weather pretty much socked-in by 2nd ice dome, and snowing too. Found the party we’d seen previous day when we got to old walls at 13,500’. We stopped behind a wall to brew, then trudged slowly on in bad vis following the remains of our own tracks. Stopped a few yards past our notional 13,800’ camp on the way down. Arrived ~7pm. Camp actually closer to 14,000’ and as weather cleared in the evening we could see the rock spur just above and across to the “edge of the world”.
Plan to get up early and head for 16,900’ camp if weather permits. Bed at 11pm. P=598mBar.
Friday, 7 Jun 2002
High winds buffeting the tent almost as soon as we tried to go to sleep. Not much sleep as this continued through the night and into the morning. Eventually decided to get up in a lull around 9am. By the time we were ready it was as bad as ever. Retreated to the tent still wearing boots and shells for another brew and to wait. Winds seemed to improved a little and anyway we got bored so decided to move. Finished packing about 2pm and saw the guys we’d passed at the 13,500’ camp. They rested as we moved off. Strong winds and biting snow made progress fairly unpleasant. Went for only about 1.5h to a wonderful camp inside a bergschrund at 14,500’ (last camp probably 13,900’ not 14,000’). Weather cleared as afternoon progressed but winds still gusting outside the sheltered camp. Both other parties showed up in the afternoon and dug a place to camp in the bergschrund just above us. Went up to see if they could get the weather at 8pm – they could and the forecast was: Sat, high winds ~45mph; Sun, same; Mon, moderate winds ~25-30mph; Tue, winds easing. With two more nights food it looks like we must shoot for Monday. Other group thought next camp at 16,300’, sheltered by a rock dome. Bed at 10:50pm, P=578mBar.
Windy through the night. Alarm at 6am in a futile attempt to move. Back in the re-pitched tent by 9:15am having been blown sideways and frozen by strong winds and snow after a few minutes. Ade got about 50’ from the tent! Pitched tent with door inward to bergschrund which allowed us to use it for a little ventilation even though snow was still drifting in.
Shifted about 1’ of snow from behind the tent at 6pm, otherwise dozed in sacks. Went up to the other two teams 20’ above at 8pm to catch weather: Tonight, 14k+ 45-60mph; tomorrow (Sun), 14k+ 25-40mph; Mon-Wed, partly cloudy. Not much use! Have to hope for less wind tomorrow.
Rationed food, no freeze-dry meal today so we still have two left. Supper: 1/2 milky-way, 1/2 chewy bar, soup, tea, 3 gummies, 1 dried sweet, hot Gu drink. Yum? Bed at 21:20, P=575mBar.
Sunday, 9 Jun 2002
Alarm at 6am, still windy so back to sleep until 9am. Much calmer so brew and pack with wind remaining light. Off around 11am, Ade post-holing a way through the bergschrund and up the slope above. Worrying sections of windslab up to 2’ deep so we headed left to the ridge at about the 15,300’ level. Windy, though not as bad as on our aborted attempt the previous day. Both suffering from lack of energy… perhaps because we hardly ate anything the previous night? Ade’s feet very cold too. Stopped to eat and drink, added layers: Ade - DriClime+Down, Simeon - Fleece+Shell. On up the ridge to camp at 16,500’ where we were joined by tracks from the 14k camp. Now almost sunny and much less wind. My lead up tongue of snow for ages; both very tired. Eventually find flat spot which may be the “16,900’ camp” mentioned by Secor although we seem to be at about level of 17,200’ camp on West Butt. and altimeter says 17,300’, P=520mBar. Pitch tents at 8pm. Long time eating (eating “well” this time – Alpine Aire “Black Bart Chili with Beans” is good), and brewing. To bed at 23:28, alarm 5am, calm.
Monday, 10 Jun 2002
Cold, cold night. Bags pretty damp at this stage, even I needed to wear my down jacket. Alarm at 5am and still seemed calm. I decided to pee in an Alpine Aire bag and then found that it leaked… “Shit Ade, it leaks! Open the door!”. This got us both thoroughly awake although we were sluggish getting ready; especially because it seemed to get progressively more windy as we prepared. Bibler had so much ice on the outer that we couldn’t fit it in the (normally loose) bag the first time. Sufficiently cold that when I eventually led off (7:30am), we did so with down jackets on. Easy mixed walk/scramble/climb up the ridge with ever increasing wind and bitter cold. Viva the Marmot mitts!
Both of us got pretty much blown-over and also noticed white patches on each other’s noses (quickly put on face-masks to remedy). If anything the weather seemed to be getting worse and going on seemed foolish, we decided to bail. Started descending the Orient Express from 18,000’ at 10:30, got to 16,500’ at noon. Climbed face-in for safety and because conditions varied from neve, through powder and windslab (worrying). I was quite nervous both because of the potential for avalanche and because of the bad history. Safely down to 16.5k we could see a little more and then went down to the wands from the West Rib cut-off (couldn’t find tracks on Upper West Rib). Ade broke trail through snow, at times 1’ or more deep. Got hotter and hotter as we descended. Hazy sun and not a sign of a breeze at the 14k cap when we arrived at ~1:30pm, Spent the afternoon relaxing and eating in the igloo. Igloo now only about 5’ tall, quite some shrinkage.
Weather report says summit may clear and winds drop tomorrow evening. Plan to try to round-trip it in a day. Alarm at 5am, P=585mBar.
Tuesday, 11 June 2002
Last dash attempt at the summit. Ade decided that he wasn’t interested so I started with the alarm at 5am. Ate a big breakfast and left by 6:40am. 16.2k col at 8:10am, pump Gu and drink, feeling great. On to 17k camp at 9am. Rest 30min then wait hoping for better weather, rest of route from just above 17k camp is socked-in. Seems to get a little better so leave at 12noon and make it to Denali Pass at 1:30pm. Went a short way past in brutal winds with low vis, meeting a Polish party that had turned around slightly ahead. Decided to bail, back to 17k camp by 2:30pm. Still very keen to get to the summit and feel that fitness/condition is not going to be a problem. Wait so more, hanging out with the Aussie team who also provided hot drinks (thanks!). Weather just doesn’t improve, if anything it seems to get worse as the afternoon progresses. Finally have to admit defeat, off at 17:15, back in 14k camp at 18:20 (1h5min). Rats.
Go to chat to rangers after eating a hearty meal. Jen says that the planes have started flying and that they are heading down at 10pm. We decide that there is no point in hanging about until the next day and so start chopping the tent out and packing. After two weeks in the same spot the tent is very well iced in, several inches of ice need to be chipped off the snow valence while trying to avoid cutting the tent. A long process and seemingly tons of gear to pack into packs and onto the sleds.
Leave 14k camp at 12midnight in gentle snow. Stop to rest and dig up gear at 11k camp – like a ghost town with fresh snow and no-one moving. Then on and down, seems to take an age and not easy to follow trail between 10k and 8k. Another good rest at 7.8k camp and then the long slow trudge to KIA. Pass several parties starting in in the early morning. Last push up heartbreak hill to arrive in KAI at 7am. Ade signed us up on the TAT fly-out sheet and we retired to the tent to sleep.
Wednesday, 12 June 2002
Woke again in the late morning and went to dig up our cache. Call went up that they were starting to fly at 3pm but everyone had to get out and trample the runway first. About 30 of us marched up and down in snowshoes and on skis.
Ade and I had somehow managed to get first on the TAT list and TAT were the first plane to fly on so we got to be first out. Plane was a Beaver this time so it took both of us, our gear, plus gear and one person from another party. Flight out went down the Kahiltna for a while with great views of the wild textures in the glacier. Then up and over mountains and out over ever greener hills and forests. Amazingly different scenery from when we’d flown in just a few weeks earlier.
Stash gear, into town for a wonderful shower at the laundromat behind the gas station. I looked alarmingly thin and my jeans were very loose. Then to the West Rib Bar to rectify that. 1 ceviche starter and then burgers and fries three times over, with a beer or two to wash it down. Later I felt much fatter though the jeans were still loose. Spent the evening drinking beer with the ranger team that had been up at 14k (Gordie, Jen and two others) and Dale, a park superintendent. A fine evening!
Thursday, 13 June 2002
Lazy morning sorting gear. Big breakfast and coffee at the cafe, arranged shuttle to Anchorage in the early afternoon and rebooked flight for the evening. Got back to Ade’s house in Seattle around 2am. Sleep. Real bed. More showering. About 15lbs lighter than when I left.
Denali by the standard route is crowded and the 14k camp is a zoo. This gives a kind of party attitude some of the time but not a wilderness experience. The mountains themselves are magnificent, from the 17k camp one can look out to the top of Mt Foraker and over the top of Mt Hunter – a fine view from atop a box privy. By the end of the trip I felt fit and acclimatized, the first time I’d spent enough time at altitude. Perhaps the moral there is either to allocate enough time or to pick something lower (and perhaps less popular).