Denali Update 3 of 6: Made it to 14k Camp

In 6. Denali, North America, Project 7in4by Steve

Denali Day 6, 26-Mar-2018: Load Carry up Motorcycle Hill

Another glorious day with idyllic weather. That’s five days straight now with sunny skies, no cloud and no wind. It is remarkable. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but I do fear that the longer this perfect weather continues the harder it will hit when it does change.

The only downside with clear skies is that the nights are colder. This morning it was -22degC when we got up. I’m guessing it would have dipped below that in the dead of the night.

At our current camp the sun doesn’t hit until mid-morning. It is tough getting up and getting going in the freezing morning air and still in the shade, but once the sun hits it is like someone switches the heater on. The warmth of the sun’s rays is magic.

Today we dropped back down, collected the rest of our gear we stashed and brought it all up to our current camp. Then in the afternoon Jon and I carried on a bit further and took a load of gear to the top of “Motorcycle Hill” (I have no idea why it’s called that).

Motorcycle Hill was reasonably steep and riddled with crevasses. It took a while trying to navigate the maze of cracks, half of which are snowed over and you can’t even see. I found one the hard way. Your heart does skip a beat when you feel the surface give way beneath you. Fortunately it wasn’t too wide and I only wedged in waist deep, but with my foot swinging in open air below. Apart from that it was an uneventful day.

The four of us, Chris, Rob, Jon and myself are all doing great. It is hard going at times but the teamwork is awesome and all in good spirits.

Denali Day 7, 27-Mar-2018: Load Carry to Windy Corner

Currently sitting down and tucking into our evening meal of pasta and pan fried salmon garnished with roasted pine nuts and parmesan. It’s a hard life.

It was a meal well earnt though. Today the 4 of us did a large load carry up “Motorcycle Hill” and up around the aptly named “Windy Corner” to approx. 4200m, just shy of our next planned camp. Total elevation gain of 1200m and then all the way back down again. It is somewhat demoralising descending back down after all the effort going up but we have to do multiple trips just to move all the equipment, food and fuel we need.

Heading up today we took as much as we could up, leaving just the bare essentials to camp one more night where we are. Tomorrow we’ll pack up and move camp up to “14200 Camp”, which is situated in a basin at the base of the main summit pyramid. Someone was very imaginative when they named “14k Camp”, which unsurprisingly is at 14,000ft elevation.

The weather does seem to be changing. Today was our first day with overcast conditions and a little bit of snow. It was cold but still reasonably pleasant except for going around “Windy Corner” where…. surprise, surprise…. it was windy. At these temperatures even the slightest wind makes it pretty miserable.

The weather looks to be deteriorating further over the coming days so our aim is to get ourselves settled in at 14k Camp and sit it out.

Denali Day 8, 28-Mar-2018: Climbed to 14k Camp

Epic day! Woke up this morning to overcast conditions, light snow and poor visibility. We were debating whether to sit tight or move. Good thing we decided to move. It turned into a great day.

Packing up camp this morning in the shade was very cold. Constant battle to keep hands warm. Somehow Jon does it all in liner gloves! Took me a while after we started walking to warm up. Initially it was relatively windy making it feel even colder. But once we got to about 4000m we climbed above the clouds and the wind eased. Then in full sun and still 5 layers on it got quite warm. The usual dilemma, either too cold or too hot, hard to find a happy medium.

Arriving at 14k Camp in full sun, no wind and looking out over a bank of cloud was superb. We got here at 17:00 then took 2hrs to dig in tent platforms and build a surrounding snow block protection wall. A wall that even Donald would be proud of. Might raise it by another block height tomorrow but it will provide good protection as it is.

Now fed, watered and tucked in. It is bitterly cold. We won’t be leaving our sleeping bags until the sun hits tomorrow morning.

Denali Day 9, 29-Mar-2018: Consolidating at 14k Camp

Last night was bitterly cold. Even with a big down jacket on and inside my -40degC sleeping bag and I struggled to stay warm. Due to the cold temperatures we waited for the sun to hit the tent before doing anything. When we finally stuck our heads outside, which was about 11:00, we were greeted with a spectacular day. There was cloud in the valley below us but above was beautiful blue sky, and not a breath of wind. It made the freezing temperatures somewhat manageable.

In jumping up to 14k Camp yesterday and leaving some supplies cached a bit further down, we made a miscalculation and didn’t bring enough fuel up with us. We had just enough fuel to melt snow to fill a couple of water bottles and boil a small pot of water for a freeze dried meal last night. Consequently we were on rations last night and this morning. So our main objective today was to drop down and carry back up the rest of our food, fuel and equipment cached lower down.

We are now settled in at 14k Camp and have everything with us. Tomorrow we’ll try and recce the route up to 17k Camp, drop of some food for our summit push and then return back here to 14k Camp. It then looks like we could get shut down for a few days with high winds so it will just become a waiting game. We have enough food and fuel with us for about another 10 days so we’ll just sit patiently and wait for a suitable 2 day weather window for our summit push. Fingers crossed.

Denali Day 10, 30-Mar-2018: Established Route up the Head Wall

Well, I’m running out of words to describe these glorious days. And sadly I think we’re running out of glorious days. Strong winds predicted for the foreseeable future.

The nights aren’t getting any warmer. Last night Chris measured -29degC in the porch of his tent, at which point his watch stopped working, and that was only at 8pm and sun still up. Fair to say it got quite a bit colder throughout the night.

Today we headed up the headwall from 14k Camp. The lower section was moderately steep with a maze of crevasses, most hidden or partially covered with snow bridges. Navigating it was slow and tedious. Despite best efforts, we still put our feet in a few. At one point my right foot punched through the surface and after quickly retreating to more solid ground I peered back down the hole and saw I was on top of a large crevasse about 3ft wide and no bottom in sight. Thankfully only one foot went in and the snow bridge held.

Jon and I are now 1:3 respectively for feet in crevasses. Although I have a weight disadvantage weighing about 15kg heavier than Jon. I’m sure Chris and Rob have found a few too – I’ll ask them tomorrow. Just for the record, we are roped up all the time, either as a team of 4 or in pairs, and doing everything as safe as possible.

About half way up the headwall we crossed the bergshrund then climbed the steeper icy face to the top of the ridge, just below 5000m. On the way up it had been sunny and warm with spectacular views out over the surrounding Alaskan ranges. On top of the ridge the wind picked up and it was much colder. We dropped some supplies for our summit push and raced the setting sun back to camp.

On the way up we ran fixed lines through the trickier sections which will make going back up next time much quicker.

We now have everything is place for our summit push but with strong winds predicted we may be waiting a few days. Time for a tent party!

“Go with the decision that will make for a great story.”