Monday, July 15, 2013

AC Denali Post 34: Heading Back Down!

We had a long talk with Anders last night at a party we held with a bunch of his friends to celebrate his Denali summit.  More on that in a second, but first of all Dave posted this lengthy and wonderful post that details much of what has just transpired:

"Sunday, July 14th, 2013
Back at 14K.  A couple of long, hard, exhilarating days have come and gone.  When we left 14,200’ two days ago, we were happy to even have a chance at getting to 17,200’.  It wasn’t certain that we’d get there with the leftovers from that two-foot snowstorm.  And as we moved up, we were aware that teams were coming down from 17,200’ because of avalanche conditions between there and the summit.  But we had a perfect day for moving up and we weren’t used to perfect days on this trip… we took advantage.

The going was a little slow, what with trail-breaking, but it was better than we expected to find.  We were able to walk on avalanche debris for a good portion of the approach to the fixed ropes.  The climb up along the crest of the buttress was spectacular and difficult with our big packs, but all handled it well.

It took 8.5 hours to reach camp at 17,200’.  When we got there we were overwhelmed at the generosity of the teams who’d been waiting there for days.  They gave us water and helped to build our tents… And most importantly, they pointed out that recent winds had virtually eliminated the avalanche hazard on the route to Denali Pass.  They were going for the top in the morning and we were invited.  It was just a matter of whether we could get camp up, dinner down, and people in sleeping bags fast enough that the team would be rested for a try on the top.

The next day dawned cloudless and windless and our teams were all enthusiastic about a chance to climb.  We took off at 10:20 AM just behind Rob Galler with AMS and Dennis with AAI.  We’d discussed things extensively and were determined that the last guided parties of the season would work together to achieve this unexpected summit.  Rob did a lot of the hard work breaking trail on the steep slopes to Denali Pass.  We took over a little past the Football Field to make a route up to and along the summit ridge.  Throughout the day, it seemed nearly unbelievable that on a storm-plagued trip, we’d get such a perfect opportunity for the top.

The wind never blew and we were comfortable the entire day… no freezing hands, faces or feet.  We hit the summit at 6:40 PM and stayed there for an hour, taking pictures, shaking hands and marveling at our good fortune.  A few thousand careful steps later, we pulled into high camp at 11:30 PM.
Everyone worked to get some dinner down before turning in.  The guides were up for hours more, melting snow and filling water bottles.

It seemed a great gift that the good weather continued into this morning.  It is always rough packing up at 17K after a summit day, but it was made immeasurably easier by the calm, sunny morning.  We set out at 1:00 PM and climbed ever so carefully down the narrow ridge crest and the steep fixed ropes with our giant packs.  It was quite hot by the time we reached 14,200’ and it seemed a good idea to set camp rather than chancing rockfall around Windy Corner.

Tomorrow will be another big day as we’ll try to make it to 8000’, putting ourselves in position to go out the lower glacier early the following morning.  Probably too much to ask, to get another nice day, but we’ll ask anyway."

We had a bunch of friends over on a glorious night in Stone Harbor and we all took time to celebrate and toast Anders' success and safekeeping:

We put Anders on speaker and we all gathered around and he was able to spend some time telling us about his experiences over the last 48 hours and answer many of our questions.  From a mountaineering proficiency perspective this was certainly a master-class for Anders.  As we've documented throughout these posts, the route of-course was very demanding physically and technically.  Anders and his team made use of many advanced techniques such as running belays to help protect them on steep, exposed slopes.  Coming down, Anders was on a rope with two other guests and one guide.  Anders was postitioned at one end of the rope so he was either leading his team or serving as anchor throughout the descent...a testiment to the confidence that Dave has in him.

Anders clearly is having a fantastic time on this adventure.  He is thrilled with the climbing itself and wowed us with some of the descriptions of what they did and saw....we look forward to the full debrief and looking at the "500" photos he has taken so far....Anders is very much looking forward to his first shower in 21 days and a nice roomy bed....

As Dave indicated, they spent the night at 14,200 (ABC) and no doubt will be getting up early to get past Windy Corner before it heats up and rocks start moving.  The plan is to get down to 8,000 feet today and then move the final distance down to the runway at night putting them in postition for a possible departure early tomorrow morning.  When they actually get out is, of course, a function of the weather, which is clearly deteriorating (winds on the summit will be approaching 70 mph tomorrow).  We are hoping the good weather fortune of the recent past continues for just a bit longer....we can't wait to have him home amongst family and friends!

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