Climbing Denali Part 4
Starting to get really high up on the mountain and just days away from the summit.
11 June (Day 7):
After surviving the long day up to 14,200 ft, we took a rest day. After the big storm from the day before we decided to take a rest day instead of the original plan of retrieving our cache at Windy Corner. Although it was a “rest day” it wasn’t all rest as we spent the day improving our camp. We secured our tents more permanently and built up large walls using blocks of snow to protect us against any future storms. We were lucky we did!
12 June (Day 8):
Originally slated to retrieve our cache, instead we got snowed in. A huge blizzard rolled in and kept us in bunkered down for most of the day. High winds and huge dumps of snow made things extremely difficult. Our tents were almost completely covered with snow and we ended up digging them out 3 times during the day to prevent them from collapsing. During the afternoon, Bob had a close call and got caught in a small avalanche while talking to the rangers at their camp. It knocked them all off their feet as they started to run away when they saw it coming. Reports were coming in of even worse conditions higher up at High Camp (17,000 ft). Apparently everyone was just getting battered like crazy in weather even worse than us. Trying to escape, later that night a Swedish group was descending from High Camp to us at Basin Camp (14,200 ft) and got caught in a large avalanche that caused a number of injuries. It was not a good scene that day.
13 June (Day 9):
The weather cleared up enough for us to retrieve our cache at Windy Corner (finally!). It was a pretty short trip and it only took us 3 hours round trip. It wasn’t without some trouble though as the snow from the day before bogged down our sleds and they weren’t able to slide smoothly. I ended up ditching the sled and carrying everything on my back after trying to force it through for about 30 min.
14 June (Day 10):
After starring at the steep, high ridge up to High Camp for the 4 days, we decided to go against the norm and make a 1 time push to High Camp. Usually groups will do a caching trip up to or near High Camp in order to acclimatize and make the trip easier by breaking it down into 2 light trips instead of 1 heavy trip. Due to the historically bad weather this year and what looked like a small weather window opening up at the summit, we decided to make our move to the last camp on the 15th. We spent all day preparing and organizing gear. The key was taking only the essentials and packing light. We would prepare for 5 days of food and fuel to get through an extended stay in case we got caught in weather.
15 June (Day 11):
We made an addition to our group (a lone climber, Justin) as we made our push up to High Camp (17,000 ft) with a full load on our backs. The ridge leading up to Washburn’s Thumb (an outcropping of rocks that could be seen from Basin Camp) was in excess of 50 degrees and required the use of fixed lines with an ascender. Once on top, we found ourselves on a very exposed ridge so made sure we went slow and carefully to avoid any slips and falls which could result in serious injury. A climber already died on this section this year from a slip and we didn’t want to do the same. We arrived at High Camp in the late afternoon after a trekking time of 8 hours. Exhausted and hungry, we set up camp at a slow pace. The cold evening air came in very quickly and we found ourselves struggling to get everything setup and the stoves going. Our stoves ended up having their fuel lines freeze so we couldn’t easily cook food or melt snow for water. Scott, heroically, took control of the stoves and made enough hot water in the vestibule of the tent so we could eat our dehydrated food pack. It was a bad ending to a good day, but at least we got some food into our stomachs. There was some comfort in knowing that all that was left now was the final push to the summit from High Camp.