Denali - part-3

By Scott Swalling

After 6-7 days at camp 14200 (I lost count), a camp move due to avalanche risk, a trip to the Edge of the World (fantastic views) and attempted outing to the top of the fixed lines foiled by my own lucid concern over coughing up some blood, which did turn out to be nothing and a weather pattern that repeated itself. Cold crisp mornings, sunny warm days with very high winds from 16800 up then enough snow overnight to increase the avalanche risk daily.

After all this I finally made a decision to head down the mountain with Ty and Aaron, Alex soon decided to join us. The decision was based on the fact that weather reports seemed to be quite accurate, even though others on the mountain were trying to convince themselves otherwise. Some discussions with the rangers and hearing the weather reports that Aaron was getting from his wife, meant that we had plenty more of this weather to come. This would prove to be the case when some friends summited as the weather turned, about 8 days after we left the mountain. I also wanted to see a few more things in Alaska, sorry to say I am not a died in the blood climber and with the odds stacked against a summit bid I headed out.

Summit of Denali

Mount Hunter from 14200

Heading out when I did with Ty, Aaron and Alex, was timed quite well. As we did have to endure some pretty foul weather and with Alex suffering, he and I got to endure significantly more of it then Ty and Aaron. After a couple of moments making camp 11000, we dug out the cache (I dug a great deal more being the stronger of our team). We attempted to ski from here but Alex was having trouble with the weight of pack and sled and only having mountaineering boots to ski in. So we changed plan and started to hump our way out on foot. This would prove to be painfully slow and difficult with fresh warm wet snow and sagging snow bridges, skiing would have been the best option.

Eventually we passed camp 9600 and the lower camp 9400 and we where soon at the top of ski hill. Which had been very benign on the 3 days we had passed over this section of the route days before. I wanted to unrope as the load on my knee with us roped up was beginning to created issues. Alex and I had a slight altercation over this, but as I was in a huge amount of pain from being pulled left and right as Alex stumbled or his sled went over again, he was really suffering. I feared that I might not be able to ski out from 7800 camp. I knew what was occurring in my knee and knew how debilitating it can be.

We unroped and moved on down Ski Hill with not too much distance between us for most of the descent and without too many issues. At one point Alex post holed in the same spot I had done and walked out of, he panicked a bit fearing the worse, but was soon out and we roped up again to be sure. Nearing the bottom of Ski Hill I punched through a crevasse properly to my waist, I had my sled in front of me incase of such an occasion I pushed it forward and stopped rapidly. I turned to see Alex still walking down the hill towards me and the rope entirely slack. I yelled at him to stop walking a couple of times and to take the slack. By the time he had done, I had managed to self extract myself with one of my skis, I pulled off my pack. We continued down to 7800 camp found Ty and Aaron’s tent and pitched up next to them for a few hours of kip. Ty poked his head out to check we where ok.

The next morning, we packed tents and roped as a four as planned from this point and headed out. As we did we watched several groups approaching on snow shoes struggle with the crevasses, I was on point and managed to make good decisions on each crevasse and we only had one incident of Alex getting a little stuck in one on our trip back to Base Camp and the wish of a flight to Talkeetna.

Once at BC, the weather finally started to clear, but we would spend a night here and the next day fly out, Alex and I in the morning and Ty and Aaron late that night. Alex and I had basically ate our way around Talkeetna and once joined by Ty and Aaron, we added drinking our way around Talkeetna to the list (its not a big place) all though the Fairview did do well out of us.

Denali plane

The TAT way home

Back in Anchorage I mooched around Anchorage to get to see the place, went on a sight seeing flight to see bears in their natural habitat and generally put weight back on I had lost on the mountain.

Unlike some others, I am not that fussed about not making the summit, that’s mountaineering as I see, any trip you return from is a good one, yes? I am also not that fussed to return to Alaska to try Denali again. However, the range is an amazing place and I am very keen to return and try more technical routes, in other parts of the range. So in time I will return, but there are many other places to climb.

I learnt a few things on the mountain, which I assume the others did as well. Make a long detailed list of food that you need, if you think it is wrong or you personally need more, say or do something. Make sure the entire team is fit and really knows what they are getting themselves in for and finally makes sure the team spends more time together than we did, people really need to know each other and how each other react under pressure, boredom or indeed if a member of the team has a health concern.

I will certainly only travel to the mountains in the future as pair or a close knit team of no more than 4, out team size was a little difficult to manage and maybe had a few too many ego’s and one too many passengers, but everyone did get along and conflict cause by stress and the affects of the altitude were few and resolved super fast without ill feeling.

I learnt a lot about myself as well and one thing being that slogging up a mountain for days, is maybe not my first choices of mountaineering and that I am better suited technical routes.

Alaska I will certainly be back, but winter is near now and my thoughts turn to ice and mixed routes. Fingers crossed for a cold cold winter.

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