Denali Update 6 of 6: Back to Civilisation

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

Denali Day 15, 04-Apr-2018

Not much to report today. After getting back down from the summit at 05:00 we spent the day drinking, eating and sleeping; pretty much in that order. The winds have picked back up as forecasted and it is quite miserable outside.

For the duration of this trip we have been receiving daily professional weather forecasts specific to our location which have been pretty much spot on. Without the forecast we wouldn’t have had the confidence to attempt the summit yesterday in such a narrow window, and to keep pushing up as late as we did. It has been crucial to the success of the project.

Denali Day 16, 05-Apr-2018

Today we commenced our trek back out to base camp. It was a real tough slog. It took hours just to pack up camp and get moving. The tents were half buried under snow from the storm the previous days and it was a mission to dig them out. Then trying to fit all our gear on our packs was near impossible. We had got everything up there with multiple loads but we were trying to get back out in a single carry. Our bags were overflowing plus had stuff clipped and lashed to the outside everywhere.

Descending with such heavy packs was a nightmare. My knees and feet were in agony from our summit day and now descending with heavy packs just exacerbated it. We were pretty much silent as the four of us, roped up together, made our way back down the hill, each of us in our own little world of pain. Only the occasional obscenities being yelled broke our otherwise silent march.

Back at our Camp at ~11,000ft we reunited with our sleds and snow shoes. I never thought I’d say this but I was briefly pleased to see my sled as I was able to unload some of my bag onto it, lightening the crushing load on my shoulders. Pleased that is until we started moving again at which point I promptly remembered how much of a bastard they are. Turns out they are just as much of a pain downhill as they are uphill. We’ve come to the conclusion that the only times sleds may be remotely tolerable is on dead flat ground with hard packed snow or ice. At any other time they are a complete pain in the ass.

Anyway, with our sleds in tow, we continued on down to the bottom of Ski Hill and stopped at the location where we stayed on the 4th night on the way in.
Taking my boots off never felt so good.

Denali Day 17, 06-Apr-2018

Today we were on a mission. We had spoken with the air taxi company via satellite phone and if we could get back to base camp by early afternoon they could get in to pick us up. With a hot shower and beers in Talkeetna in sight, that was all the incentive we needed to get out of our warm sleeping bags early and get going.

From the bottom of Ski Hill it was a gradual downhill walk, with our beloved sleds in tow, down the Kahiltna Glacier to where we camped on the 2nd and 3rd nights of our expedition. Seems so long ago now. There we turned left and headed up a side fork in the glacier, up “Heartbreak Hill” to where the plane dropped us off 17 days ago. Heartbreak Hill really wasn’t that heartbreaking. With the finish line in sight we got up it pretty quickly.

We gave the air taxi company a quick call on the sat phone notifying them we were ready to go and they dispatched a plane to get us. At the beginning of this expedition we had left some emergency rations behind in case we got stuck and couldn’t fly straight out so we dug those up and had a picnic. The four of us, Rob, Chris, Jon and myself, sitting in a circle in the middle of the glacier eating salami, cheese, crackers, nuts and chocolate, reflecting on what we had just achieved while also keeping a keen ear out for the sound of our ride out. As the wait dragged on Rob entertained us with some classic Dad jokes.

The sound of the small single engine plane coming into earshot was a welcomed relief. The pilot did a couple of low flying loops overhead to inspect the landing zone before putting the plane down right in front of us. We threw all our gear onboard, got one last team photo, then piled onboard ourselves. Approximately 45min later we were back in the relative warmth of Talkeetna. Stepping off onto the tarmac was such a strange feeling. For the past two and a half weeks all we had felt underfoot was snow and ice.

We got a lift back to the Bunkhouse. As its name suggests, it is very basic dormitory bunk style accommodation for climbers but it had all we needed; a shower, a bed, and a pub around the corner.
I’ll do a separate trip wrap up post but for now there is beer and wine to be drunk and burgers to be eaten. But I just want to say a huge thank you to Chris, Rob and Jon. It has been an experience of a lifetime undertaking this expedition with you.

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