Denali, Day 11: Return to Base

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Tuesday, May 19

Day 1 Travel to Talkeetna, AK
Day 2 Fly to Base on glacier, ski to 7700'
Day 3 Tent bound
Day 4 7700 to 9450'
Day 5 Place cache at 11,200'
Day 6 Move to 11,200'
Day 7 Place cache at 13,500'
Day 8 Move to Genet basin, 14.000'
Day 9 Back-carry cache to 14,000'
Day 10 Summit attempt
Day 11 Return to Base
Day 12 Fly out

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

This morning brought more wind- as we waited for the sun to come up and warm the basin, the wind went from mild gusts to strong gusts to continuous strong wind.

We had been discussing the problem for several days: how do we get all this stuff back down? It's illegal to dump anything, but we had moved up to 14k camp over the period of three days of carrying. We now had more food at 14k than we had carried when we came up, plus we still had another 4 days of food and a can of gas in our cache at 13,500.

So this morning we started asking around to see if anyone wanted some extra food, or perhaps was done with a sled? We found someone to take a day's food, 10 pounds. We also gave away a bunch of bars and gu, another few pounds.

Then Bro found Duncan, a climber from Argentina who wanted to go down, but the rest of his team was staying. And he had a sled. We finished packing and then tied Duncan into our rope and headed out.

Packed

A lot of climbers have to take equipment down. These guys were using sleds, but they were using them like drag bags. Essentially, the sleds were rolling over and over sideways in response to the off-camber hillside.

We tried to do a better job, rigging the sled so that the guy behind could control it somewhat. Even so, as we rounded Windy Corner our sled tipped over. Most everything was strapped down, except our First Aid kit, which fell out. No problem. Until one of the corner's infamous wind gusts came along and gave the First Aid kit a little push, straight into a crevasse.

The wind was trying to give all of us a similar push. I'd estimate that some of the more powerful ones, which were knocking me off my feet despite a ski pole and ice axe for balance, were in the 60mph range. And building.

And regrets about our decision to go down? Check the snow plume coming off the summit plateau.

Packed
When we got down near Squirrel Hill, the wind had scoured all the snow, leaving only blue ice to walk on. Tommy tried to walk on a patch of snow, but fell through with a nasty twisting motion. From my position on the rope two people back, I thought for sure he had broken his leg.  

Once we got below Squirrel Hill, we got back onto good snow and proceeded more easily down to the 11k camp.

Time to take a break and undig our cache.

Meanwhile, we had passed the worst crevasse danger so Duncan took off on his own.

Packed

After all that wind, the ski conditions were pretty lousy. In fact, really lousy. We tried and tried to ski, but in our ongoing struggles we were passed by people who were simply walking. How embarrassing!

All that wind had also changed our old camp sites. Check out these before (right, on our ascent) and after (left, on the descent) shots of our wind wall at 11k.

Packed

As we got to the lower glacier, the snow was softer and the wind had not affected it as much. Finally we were able to do some gliding and make time.

But in reverse of the start of our trip, the last mile or so is uphill. This 600' climb is called Heartbreak Hill. And it is a heart breaker. As Tommy and I neared the halfway point, we knew we were running behind the 8pm last flight. Then we saw two planes drop into the landing area. In a panic, we accelerated our poor, tired bodies.

Packed

But we still missed the last flight out and would have to wait another day. As usual, we were completely gassed and quite dehydrated. And after our hard pull up the hill we were soaked with sweat, which quickly led to feeling very cold. But we still had to make camp after a hard 10 hour day.

That's Mt. Crosson with the little lenticular forming.

Packed

 

After the pristine snow of the upper mountain, the rotten, dirty snow at Kahiltna Base was a let down. Even so, we were able to get camp up and water boiling in an efficient manner, showing the whole team had developed and learned during our time on the mountain.

We ate and tried to recover from the day's hard effort, knowing we'd be flying out first thing tomorrow.

Note: We found on our return that a solo climber attempting from 14k this day disappeared somewhere near the summit, and was never found. We also found that due to poor conditions no one summitted until May 25th.

Packed

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