Day 6 Wednesday May 20th: Our first rest day! Sleeping in was required then breakfast became brunch which quickly turned into lunch as we grazed through our food supply for several hours.
On a somber note we learned that a fellow Colorado climber was missing from his summit attempt the previous day. Gerald was a teammate of Mark and John who had considered joining our team before forming their own. Gerald had left unannounced the previous morning for a solo attempt. To climb from 14 camp to the summit and back is a long day with over 6000 vertical feet and 4.25 miles one way. Acclimation is the key in successfully accomplishing this ultra climb. Though the route is fairly crevasse free it still has objective hazards such as knife edge ridges and rock fall to contend with along the way. Altitude sickness (AMS) is another concern for the solo climber. It only takes a simple trip and fall in the wrong place to slide into a crevasse or go over the edge of a cliff or ridge.
The NPS flew planes and helicopters around the mountain as well as inspected the route on foot over the next six days. They took high resolution photos of the mountain in an effort to find Gerald or any sign of him. While no sign of Gerald was found the photos did reveal the final resting place of two Japanese climbers, Tatsuro Yamada and Yuto Inoue, who went missing last season. RIP.
The NPS campsite at 14 camp. Plenty of activity going on with the search for Gerald.
By mid-afternoon I was feeling rested and restless so I geared up and did a little climbing. The next leg of our route is up the face of the west buttress to the ridge that will take us to 17 camp. The face is a snow climb (1200 ft) and fixed lines on blue ice (800 ft). The ice is 50-55 degrees after a short 70-80 degree bergschrund crossing. Without a heavy pack it is quite possible to climb this section without using the ropes. With a pack it would be foolish not to use them as wind, ice and rock fall or other climbers could easily knock a climber off balance.
A view of 14 camp from the ridge above the headwall. For now the clouds were lower than camp.
It was snowing when I left and camp was soon lost to view as I went higher. Neither section was difficult especially the fixed lines which I had to myself. I topped out two hours later at 16,200 above the clouds though with a cold and steady wind. Descent to camp was a mere 30 minutes.
Day 7 Thursday May 21st: Today was truly a rest day. Brewing water, eating and meeting neighboring climbers filled the day. 14 camp is an amazing global stew of nationalities with climbers of all ability levels. We were next door to an Italian team with K2 and Everest climbers and a Russian team with the leader from the only January summit of Denali. And that is just within 10 feet of our camp! Being that Denali it is one of the seven summits it inspires many to make the attempt.
Yes it is in the middle of camp and it is unisex.
On a serious note we found out that one of the team, Colin, is not acclimating well and had been dealing with a GI issue since we arrived at 14 camp.
Day 8 Friday May 22nd: We carried to 17 camp! The route up the headwall was slower and more difficult this time with pack weight. The fixed ropes were easy for all. Colin turned back to camp before the fixed lines as he still didn’t feel well.
An acsender and backup biner set to aid a climber up the fixed ropes of the headwall.
Dan on the way up the fixed ropes.
Chris at the top of the fixed rope.
At the top of the ropes it is a 1000 foot of elevation over 0.75 miles to get to the 17 camp (17,200 ft). The ridge is the crux of the trip as climbers are heavily loaded with gear and often buffeted by high winds. A misstep or trip in the wrong direction will earn a 2000+ foot fall back to 14 camp. The wise decision is to travel roped; if wind is a problem there are numerous pickets in place to use for running belays, there are also some fixed lines in the steeper sections. We followed a Korean team which was moving slower than us. We were able to pass them when they stopped for a smoke break of all things.
A new high altitude record for Gabe.
Taking a break before climbing past Washburn's Thumb on the ridge to 17 camp.
Once close to 17 camp we found an area to cache our supplies and then quickly returned to camp for a roundtrip outing of seven hours. Besides the cache we took care of some serious acclimation to help us on summit day. In order for the body to acclimate at altitude it is best to be active each day and when possible climb high before returning lower to sleep for the night.
Leaving 17 camp and going down the ridge. Denali Pass is in the background.
Going down the fixed lines without gear was easy!
Day 9 Saturday May 23rd: It is amazing how fast the days go. Waking at 1000 once the sun warms the tent, getting changed, making breakfast, brewing water, organizing gear, improving the camp walls, brewing more water, eating again (did I ever stop?), before brewing more water and going to bed. Good thing it was a rest day! For many it was a move or carry day as the weather forecast was favorable for a few more days. Most, I gave up counting after 120 people, of the camp either moved higher or carried equipment for a cache.
Our last group shot for the trip. From l-r Kiefer, Chris, Gabe, Colin, Dan and Craig.
Colin headed down today. Dan (an EMT and our team medico) took him to the NPS medical tent for an evaluation. While his pulse O2 was good he still was fighting the GI issue and feeling more miserable each day. While discussing how we were going to get him to the lower camps we met a group of Mexican climbers, one of which was a doctor, going down who welcomed Colin on their rope. Colin insisted on going with them to keep any of us from giving up our chance at the summit. We were sad to see him descend. With the annual summit success around 55% I had suspected someone from our team would contribute to the other side of that figure but had hoped we would put the whole team on the summit.
The views from the mountain were stunning. Here is Mt Foraker (17,400 ft).
Thanks for reading. More will be posted soon.