Denali 2012 - Base camp

By Scott Swalling

On the 25th May, a team of climbers with varying experience left London Heathrow for Mount McKinley (Denali), Alaska. The team consisted of Will Hardy, Franca Serafini, Daniel Bergo, Nick Mortley, Alex Erskine and myself. We all had different strengths and weaknesses coming into the expedition and some of these would be shown.

We arrived in Anchorage very early on the 26th, got some sleep did our food and last minute equipment shopping and then headed for Talkeetna, the gateway to Denali. We got registered at Talkeetna Air Taxi (TAT) and then rested up for the night.

The next day we had our briefing with the rangers at the Denali National Park Service and then we began to wait at TAT for a window of opportunity. The weather needs to be good in Talkeetna, in the range and in between. We would wait here patiently some times and others frustrated for a few days. Even one evening we were in a plane with our new friend Nina, off the ground and heading for the mountain. It rises straight out of the tundra and looks intimidating when you first see it. But this flight was turned around as we heard the weather had closed in again.

Talkeetna Air Strip

The following day however would be our lucky day, as we got crammed into Cessna 185's and after a flight with amazing views we were stood on the glacier at Base Camp. It was finally all happening. We registered with Lisa, got our fuel and set up camp, ate and got some sleep.

It was meant to be a rest day, but eagerness and maybe a bit of weakness saw us heading off across the glacier in the middle of the day for 7800 Camp. With skis on our feet and sleds attached to our rucksacks these sleds would cause us no end of frustration and I would even break a ski pole on one, we headed into the white cauldron. Dan, Alex and Nick as one team, Will, Franca and I as the other.

It was hot and hard work and Franca was already struggling with weight of pack and sled, and she was having binding problems also. This was resolved by me, and the application of her ski over to the boot that kept popping out of the ski. Half way up, Will and I swapped rope positions and Will led to 7800 camp. We arrived and met the others, who had set up camp and started to melt snow. We set up camp and began to help the guys. Franca was still struggling and appeared to be faffing a lot. A few members of the team had noticed this and were concerned about the apparent difficulties that lay ahead on the route.

Camp 7800 (Ski Hill)

After a good meal we retired to bed and I got a surprisingly good nights sleep. The next morning after a solid breakfast, thoughts turned to the next few days and how to approach them and some of the team members expressed their concerns with Franca in an open and candid discussion as they were concerned that the weather and speed of movement may affect the group safety and summit bid. As we made plans to head to Camp 9600 and then 11000 to allow for good acclimatisation for the entire group, Franca took me to one side to discuss what had been said and had decided that she thought it best to head to BC and out of the range. A no doubt difficult and painful decision to make. But this did change our plans.

Will and Dan would head back down to base camp with Franca. Nick, Alex and myself would head up to 9600 with a load carry and hope to meet the guys back at 7800. Not long after they headed to BC, we sorted a load to carry and headed up to 9600 Camp. The weather was getting a little gloomy and threatened to whiteout a few times, but soon after arriving at 9600 and caching the load we were on our way back down.

On the way back, Alex was struggling greatly with the mountaineering boot ski combination while Nick and I cut turns and even videoed each other. Who said mountaineering was hard work?

Soon back at camp and some toys out of Alex's pram ;) we ate and turned in for the night.

Part 2 soon.

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