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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Climbing Mt. McKinley (Denali) in May, 2005 - Part 7

May 19th

My watch alarm went off and my tent mate Andy stuck his head outside for a look. He starts excitedly yelling "We're going UP!" because we had perfect weather; cloudless and windless.

It seemed to take forever to get ready. I was wearing all of my layers:

Thin thermal underwear tops and bottoms
Sock liners, synthetic hiking socks and heavy expedition socks
Expedition plastic boots with custom fitted liners (similar to ski boots)
Expedition insulated overboots
Expedition Goretex gaiters
100 weight fleece tops and bottoms
Breathable softhell pants and jacket
Synthetic insulated pants
Goretex outer pants
Synthetic hooded jacket
800 fill Down expedition jacket
Two fleece balaclavas, one using Gore windstopper to keep out high winds
Thin glove liners
Gore windstopper fleece gloves
Expedition down mittens
Custom extra-dark wraparound sunglasses (with blue nose protector!)

Then crampons, climbing harness, a small summit pack with emergency gear and climbing gear;  ice axe, pickets, carabiners etc.

We roped up and.........

Moving steadily up the hill, it is literally take a step and then 3 hard breaths.

Heading across towards the Arch Deacon's Tower and the "football field". The summit is in the near distance

After crossing the field we'll climb Pig hill and then start across the summit ridge.

The pictures say it all....

Andy on top, pimping for friends who gave him free gear

Father and son, Jimmy and Kerisi

And the "Old Man" of the group at 20,320' high on a perfect day

The postscript to the story is that we had a few misadventures on the way down to 17K camp. We rested long enough to descend safely to the 14K camp where the storm was settling in. After a day of rest Andy decided to stay longer as he could not go back early and pay huge fines on his airfare. On the 21st Jimmy and Kerisi and I made a mad dash all the way down to the 7800' camp in one long relentless push, digging up all of our caches along the way. There we were boxed in by the storm until 3 PM. Then we whipped ourselves all the way across the 5 miles to the 7200' camp through now slushy snow and hot sunshine.

Remember how deserted it was on May 8th, just two weeks before? Now look at this

The storm had stopped all flights so folks just threw a huge party with beer, BBQs and loud music, an unbelievable sight.

This is Base Camp Lisa who made sure we got out on the last possible flight:

Loading up...

Flying off into the Alaskan twilight on only our 14th day. A pretty fast turnaround!

Ultimately we succeeded because of friendships with each other and with new friendships with total strangers who shared our love of mountaineering. Getting to the top was just the "icing" on the cake.

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