Climbing Denali Part 5 – The Summit
17 June (Day 13):
The planned summit day for Scott and Bob was not meant to be. The forecasted good weather actually turned out to be the extended blizzard that Justin and I got caught in the day before. Things were not looking good so Scott and Bob decided to call it off and get off the mountain. There were too many instances of climbers getting stuck battling the weather at High Camp for over a week and they didn’t want to be another one of those victims. We tore down camp as quickly as we could and headed back down towards Basin Camp at around 1 PM. We decided to try to get as far as possible without having to setup another camp in order to save us the time and effort. It was going to be a long long day.
At Basin Camp we took about 6 hours to collect and prepare our gear for our long trek out. Because we had extra food now (planned for 22 days on the mountain but it was only day 13) we made a mega goulash and dumped about 3-4 days worth of food into 1 pot. Man it was good! And we would find later on, we definitely needed the energy. By the time we left Basin Camp it was midnight.
After Basin, we headed down towards Motorcycle Hill. It was supposed to be maybe 2-3 hours, but Bob had problems securing and balancing his load so it took about 7 hours. We were behind schedule as we wanted to get off the mountain before 11 AM but there was nothing we could do. It was 7 AM and there was still lots of trekking ahead of us. Luckily, from Motorcycle hill onward we could put our skis back on, which makes the descent a lot easier!
After a bunch of fiddling to figure out how to ski with a large pack on and a sled trailing behind we were on the move. While gliding down the mountain, I was amazed on how I even climbed up the thing with all the gear that I had. The descent seemed like a super long ski run that never ended. I couple times my sled overtook me, either tripping me up or knocking me over. I didn’t mind, I was descending off the mountain while others climbers going the opposite direction were struggling to move up at a slow pace.
Eventually the route flattened out then went into a huge uphill climb aptly named “Heartbreak Hill”. It is the last hour or so of the trek that leads up to the icy airstrip. After no sleep for the last 36 hours and nothing but hard work my body and mind was ready to give up. However, I kept pushing forward with thoughts of burgers and ice cream keeping me going. I finally arrived at the airstrip in the late afternoon and collapsed next to Scott. Wow, it was a long long day! From High Camp to Base Camp without any rest or sleep is quite the feat. I promptly passed out on the plane (Twin Otter) ride back to Talkeetna despite the amazing views offered by Denali National Park from the air.