DENALI Trip Report, May 28 - June 18, 2006.
Before the Trip, Preparations.
Any party considering a trip to Denali should first check out
provided by the National Park Service. The
ranger station in Talkeetna is the proper point of contact for
all activities related to Denali.
In particular, there is a permit system in place and the permit must
be processed and granted at least 60 days before the intended climb is scheduled
to start. The climbing permit cost US dollar 200 for each participant (as of 2006).
Our expedition had the official name "D6 - Bergen Fjellsport to Denali", essentially
"Denali 2006 - Bergen Mountaineering Club to Denali."
Clothing, Boots, Tents and Climbing Gear:
Good clothing for winter mountaineering in Norway is largely adequate. Thus, the team
members had most of what was deemed necessary. A few supplemental purchases are
almost always done, if not as an excuse to get a piece of equipment that has been wanted for
Unlike what is often quoted in American literature, we all believe in a first inner layer of
wool. Devold, "worn by Norwegians since 1853", can be recommended, there is also Arctic Brynje,
warm inner clothing that can be used every day on extended trips like this one. A second layer
of wool should be taken as sleepware, this layer can then also be used on summit day for extra
warmth. As a next layer, we all used fleece. Normally, one would then put a windbreaker as the
final outer layer. A single, extra fleece may also be useful, I carried a Patagonia fleece with
no wind resistance at all, then a second fleece having a shell for intermediate wind protection.
People have different preferences wrt. socks, I prefer a single, warm sock made of wool, a few times
I double this with a medium thick wool sock inside the heavy duty one. I used standard cross country
leather boots up to Motorcycle Hill Camp (Crispy South Pole), they were cached there and Scarpa Vega
with liners served
me well on the higher part of the route. We all had "40 below" overboots that only were used on summit day.
Gloves are extremely important and any team should carry some spare, high quality gloves. I carried two
spare sets for team use and Olav made good use of a pair of down gloves to keep fingers warm above
Basin Camp. Finally, a good hat that keeps your head warm is needed, with adverse weather this must of
course be supplemented by the hood from your mountain jacket. We all carried a down jacket as well, but
mine stayed in the pack and was never used.
We carried three tents, two large VE-25 to be used as comfortable camp tents. These tents can easily
accommodate three men, however, for long duration climbs like this, it is certainly extra comfort to
have ample space in camp. Additionally, we carried a Bibler Fitzroy, a high altitude climbing tent.
This provided the team with maximum flexibility, we could keep at least one tent in two different
camps and if a team member should be unable to continue, then we could still proceed without running short
on tents. We cached the Bibler at Windy Corner and on the West Buttress,
we left one VE-25 in Basin camp and established High
Camp with one VE-25 and the lighter Bibler. The third tent would also serve as
a (emergency) backup in the unlikely case
of a tent breakdown.
We carried a single 60 meter rope for glacier travel and general team security, 4 snow pickets, 2 deadman
snow anchors and a couple of ice screws. The latter was mainly for crevasse rescue situations, while the
snow pickets were used for intermediate running belays on the West Buttress as well as on the Denali Pass traverse.
We did realize that the rope would need to be cut into two 30 meter sections in certain (again unlikley) circumstances
where the team would be split into two (independent) parties.
Each member had a jumar for easy use on the fixed ropes on the Headwall as well as a few carabiners for personal use.
Harness, prusisk loops as well as crampons and an ice axe completed the personal gear.
Food and Cooking:
We ran a pretty standard and simple regime wrt. food and meals.
We carried two multi fuel (Primus) propane/buthane as well as (MSR) white gas stoves plus
spare parts (a spare burner). Two pots per stove, 12 liter of white gas and 4 containers
of propane/buthane gas. Normal practice is to buy the white gas at Base Camp, in order to
avoid taking it on each and every flight.
Breakfast was always oat porridge with brown sugar and raisins as well as some hazelnuts.
Lunch was biscuits, power bars and general trail mix, while a freeze dried standard dinner
served us as the main meal every afternoon. A couple of better tasting meals had certainly been
nice, however the general ability to enjoy good food almost always deteriorates at altitude,
thus it is not obvious that such extra "luxury" had been effective with respect to team
Experience from past trips to Greenland continued to hold true here. On 2-4 week trips in
arctic environments with generally hard physical work every day,
the above food regime will
leave a deficiency of about a quarter to a half kilogram of body weight per day.
Thus, each team member lost somewhere
between 5 and 10 kilogram on this trip, not necessarily bad. We carried
a full week of provisions that we gave away at high camp the day after we came back down from the summit.
Similarly, we ended up giving away almost two full containers of white gas before descending from
Day -3, May 28th. We fly from Norway.
We met as agreed on Flesland Airport, one hour before the flight
and checking in went smoothly. Heidi dropped me off with heavy luggage,
we had met briefly the day before to consolidate luggage, in particular
putting all skis into one ski bag. It was nice to meet Merete,
Olav's fiancee whom I had not met before. Normal goodbyes and
soon we were en route to Copenhagen. In Copenhagen, the full team met for the
first time, as Jan-Frode had never seen Helge and Olav. We had a rather long
connect, made longer by more than one hour of delay due to extra checks on the
aircraft as it had been struck by lightning on its approach to Copenhagen a few
Finally airborne, there is concern for our connection in Seattle, we now have about
1:15, it will all depend on how slow (or fast) the immigration procedure will be.
We crossed into Greenland north of Scoresbysund, a very nice scenery of jagged peaks,
first a coastal section (Liverpool land?),
then an inland section
(Staunings?) before entering the main icecap. We flew pretty parallel to a distinct
fjord for a while,
I took a few photos, Helge and Olav were both impressed by
seeing this landscape for the first time.
We landed in Seattle with only about one hour connect, but fortunately, everything
went very smoothly indeed. We cleared immigration with almost no waiting time, then
all luggage showed up pretty quickly, we carried it through customs and rechecked it
to Anchorage. A couple of more local airport trains and we still arrived at the departure
gate well ahead of boarding. If only all airport connections could be as this one.
Our taxi from the airport in Anchorage to
Earth Bed and Breakfast cost US dollar 20,
the taxidriver did not know the place and needed the street address in order to get
us there. Arrival, local time (- 10 hours) at 2300. High time to catch some sleep in
our assigned (basement) room, a big room with 4 beds scattered along various walls.
Day -2, May 29th. Shopping in Anchorage.
We woke up reasonably (given the jet-leg) and had breakfast that the friendly
ladies at Earth Bed&Breakfast had already prepared. I asked our host to call and
get a final confirmation for our Van Shuttle Service
up to Talkeetna the next
morning. I had booked this via the Internet, however, their ability to respond
timely (via email) had not been totally convincing. Much more response on a local
call and pickup the next morning at 0800 was readily confirmed.
We then set out to buy all the various items that deliberately had been planned
for Anchorage, partly to save weight on the airplane and partly due to the
US (protectionist) regime of not permitting even freeze-dried food to be
imported. After a brief walk, we located the Anchorage REI store, a large grocery
store named CARR, and a somewhat smaller shop called Alaska Mountaineering.
Freeze-dried mountain food for dinner was bought at REI, they had a wide selection,
but most packages were kind of low on calories. We looked around and mainly selected
based on calories, realizing that some bags advertising "2 Servings" would really
only serve one person. The day came to an end with a nice team dinner downtown Anchorage.
Day -1, May 30th. Check in and wait in Talkeetna.
The Talkeetna Shuttle Service
arrived outside our Bed and Breakfast already
at 0730, as it turned out we were the only passengers this morning. The
lady driver was talkative and we had a nice drive up to Talkeetna. We made
one short stop along the way, later a short unscheduled slowing down
as a moose crossed the road in front of us.
We arrived in Talkeetna at 1030, advised
the TAT (Talkeetna Air Taxi) that
we had arrived and that we would be ready to go/fly immediately after
the check in with
the National Park Service.
We got a ride by a TAT
employee to the ranger station at the opposite end of town. The check-in
went smoothly, no wait and a quick orientation about the route and some
of the mountain regulations that have been implemented in order to keep
the mountain clean and unpolluted.
The ranger informed us that a number of snow pickets had been placed
along the traverse from High Camp to Denali Pass, the "highest
sports climbing route in the world" as he termed it. We carried quite
a few pickets just for safeguarding this traverse, thus we decided to
leave 4 behind in Talkeetna and only carry 4 with us on the mountain.
We hurried back to TAT and were ready to fly shortly before 1300.
TAT has a safe where each team can deposit a plastic bag full of
valuables, passports etc. that do not need to come along on the
mountain. Additional (bulky) gear can be left in a general storage area.
We weigh everything else that is going to the mountain and stack it neatly
into a few small carts that can be rolled to the aircraft. TAT also wanted
sharp objects, ice axes, shovels, crampons etc. to be packed separately.
We were well below the normal weight limit at 500 lbs, TAT will charge you
extra for any weight above this. We checked in at 450 lbs, including pretty
heavy ski equipment, a wide margin. We made some last minute decisions to
take along a snow saw and 25 wands for marking caches etc.
We bought 4 boxes of Primus propane/buthane gas that will work well with
our two stoves (from two returning climbers),
in addition we will take 3 gallons of standard white gas.
On top of this we will take in two CMCs (Clean Mountain Cans), one
will immediately be cached at Base Camp, the other one shall be
carried all the way to High Camp at 5200 meter. We have plastic bags
for garbage as well as for use with the CMC. Bags and CMCs are provided by
the rangers, while white gas can be picked up at Base Camp.
plane with two Japanese climbers had just left and we were next in line.
Unfortunately, the plane with the Japanese couple was forced to turn back
as bad weather closed in on the glacier up at Base Camp. Thus, no
chance to get directly onward with our expedition. TAT offered a bunkhouse
where we could sleep, we then headed back to town and a late lunch at
Later, in the evening we had dinner at the pizza place more or less
opposite from the Roadhouse. The highpoint of the evening being that
they refused to serve Jan-Frode beer and he could not prove his 31 years
of age as his passport already was deposited with TAT. Our waitress claimed
with some degree of authority that since he had no wrinkels on his forehead,
being 21 years or younger was indeed a possibility.
We rolled out our pads and sleeping bags at the TAT bunkhouse all hoping that
the weather would improve and that we would be on our way the next day.
Day 0, May 31st. We wait in Talkeetna.
Early morning wake-up, but it was easy to hear the rain hitting our roof.
Low clouds and definitely no morning flight. We went back to the Roadhouse
for breakfast, later lunch. We made ourselves quite comfortable in front of
the fireplace. In fact, most people believed that we were guests that stayed
at the house. They provided wireless internet access, a few hours of sending
and receiving email, then a bit of reading. Time pass very slowly when you are
waiting like this. Our first few reserve days for bad weather being burnt off
already before our flight to the Denali Base Camp. We had chicken for dinner,
then headed back to TAT and unscheduled night number two in Talkeetna.
We met a team from Chicago that were here to
do research on AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) related issues.
They were to establish a group here in Talkeetna that should try to examine and test
as many climbers as possible. Next, they wanted to establish a main camp up at
Basin Camp and try to repeat the examination there. Possibly, weather permitting,
they also contemplated a possible recheck of climbers at High Camp. We immediately
voluntered to take their tests both physical and mental then redo this up in
June 1st. We fly in and move to Ski Hill Camp.
We woke up to yet another grey day with low clouds. This did not look
good at all. However, much to our pleasant surprise, the report from Base Camp was
more optimistic. The clouds had lifted off the glacier and they reported visibility
good enough for flight operations. We still depended on somewhat better
visibility in Talkeetna, but the pilots had a "low cloud route" where they
normally could sneak in as soon as they could clear a critical saddle. It was decided
that one plane would fly in and take a look, then report back if the route was open.
We took off at 1115, the Beaver airplane could carry just 4 people and gear, perfect
for us. Helge got the co-pilot seat and the flight was indeed nice. First, across
Alaska wildeness, then a gradual climb to the critical saddle. There was just
enough visibility, we cleared a few local hilltops with only a few meter of extra
margin, then turned into the Kahiltna glacier area. Pretty wild peaks along the way.
The base camp glacier landing area
is on the South Fork of the Kahiltna. This is a pretty spectacular place just below
the steep face of Mount Hunter.
If convenience was an issue, one could certainly
land much further up on the main Kahiltna glacier, however, this would be inside the
Denali National Park where non-emergency flight operations are prohibited.
The landing area has an uphill slope, the aircrafts will then turn around and
take off on the downhill slope. The approach
is interesting, the mountains (Mount Hunter)
gets bigger as you get closer,
then completely dominates, before touch down.
We landed around 1200 and immediately moved
our gear off the plane and to the side of the landing area. The scenery around this
airport must be among the best in the world for a place that has this many flights.
Small planes kept coming with more climbers as well as bringing teams out that had
been stuck here two days waiting to fly out. The local airport manager and
flight controller is Lisa.
She has worked this job for 7 years, two months every climbing season.
She soon decided that we were closer to the loading and unloading zone than she wanted
and asked us to make a second move. We tried to tell her that we wanted to
depart very soon, but to no avail. Lisa rules this area and if she wants something done then she
gets it done. We made a second move, then completed our preparations of gear and sleds.
We were on our way at 1420.
We decided on a team order with Jan-Frode first (most appropriate for setting a team speed), then
Helge, followed by Olav and then me at the very end. We travelled roped and with the sleds connected
to the rope with a prussik in order to prevent a crevasse fall from subsequently being knocked out
by a falling sled. Jan-Frode being the heavy guy and also the most likely to run into any weak
snowbridge thus had Helge our most well trained crevasse rescuer immediately behind him.
We quickly got into a good skiing rythm and proceeded up the huge
Helge should have taken some more food while skiing, we made a note that some high
energy food should be carried in a more accessible way from now on.
When passing Mount Frances, 3185 meter,
we realized that 3 vertical kilometer above this would require some effort.
Arrival at Camp 1, near the base of the first significant hill, Ski Hill, around
1900. The temperature was warm and we enjoyed an outdoor dinner while we also melted water for
the next day.
A first day was coming to an end. The views are new and powerful,
in fact already at this first
camp the scenery and landscape
exceeds our expectations.
I am sitting outside writing this diary at
2230, time for bed. The day has been very nice, now as the sun has set it is quickly getting
quite cold. We are off to a good start, it feels well to know that preparations and frustrating
waiting is over. Now, progress will depend largely on us and the only other significant factor, the
June 2nd. Up Ski Hill.
We started around 1100 after breakfast.
Deliberately, we waited until the sun hit the tent. The hill,
called Ski Hill, was long and steep.
I started out too optimistic, a heavy sled and 12 liter of
fuel on top of that. Gradually, I needed to transfer
all three cans of fuel to the others.
Looking back, it was obvious that progress was made,
however the remaining hill looked desperately long.
In summary, this was a hard day,
I can hardly remember the last time I was as exhausted as today.
I had even planned that we should advance all the way to Motorcycle Hill Camp, however, this was
clearly an unrealistic goal. The day was nice and the scenery is truly impressive.
We established an intermediate camp at 2973 meter, 1.25 kilometer from
Kahiltna Pass. We arrived here around 1800, so seven hours of hard work. The weather is gorgeous,
but a few small clouds are drifting in. We shall see what the weather looks like tomorrow.
Everybody is doing fine, the quick replies, the good jokes, come naturally and easy from all of us.
We are impressed by the beauty of the landscape,
Olav shows impulsive and genuine excitement when looking
around, very appropriate and very good to observe.
The long range forecast that we read in Talkeetna before we left, predicted a low pressure system
on Saturday, that is tomorrow. Everybody did very well today, there is little doubt that I was
the guy that slowed us down a bit.
June 3rd. Easy day to Motorcycle Hill Camp.
We woke up this morning after a night with snow and wind. We have 10 centimeter
of new snow today and last night was much milder than our first night. Everyone worked
well with morning duties and we were ready to leave already 0900. The terrain slopes uphill, today
was a fairly short, but still hard effort.
We finished the last part
of the long Kahiltna glacier, she tops out at Kahiltna Pass just slightly
further and higher. Our route took a clear bend to the right as
we ascended up the side,
leaving Kahiltna below us.
The route is very natural, how elegant it must have been to come here first time and
explore such a great approach.
The last hill before Motorcycle Hill Camp, was steep
enough that I had to step sidewise and a couple of times even have Olav give me a little pull
via the rope. It was nice to arrive at a beautiful camp
location with quite many climbers. We located a nice
spot and established a near perfect camp.
We enjoyed the good weather, discovered that the sleds could
be used to relax in the sun, made good lunch with hot drink and goodies.
Tomorrow, we shall walk on foot to Windy Corner and establish a cache there. This will be our first
double carry. The plan is then to advance to Basin Camp and subsequently to descend and retrieve the
cache the day after. The weather is just fantastic,
whatever low pressure system passed swiftly last
night. Better conditions than what we have today is not likely to happen.
June 4th. Carry to Windy Corner.
Woke up at 0600. Two avalanches from the seracs across from camp had briefly
interupted sleep this night. Yesterday, we had agreed to go at 0900 this morning.
However, this did not quite work out. Helge and Olav had frozen water, their bottles had
not been kept between their sleeping bags. Olav was sitting outside melting water and cooking
breakfast. He got very cold and needed to rewarm. Jan-Frode started out ahead of the rest up
Motorcycle Hill, this did not meet with much approval. On top of this, Olav had a pretty
bad night, affected by the altitude. Overall, general tension among the team, small issues
would easily flare to an open disagreement.
Olav, Helge and I started out up the hill at a pretty fast pace. I thought this was good,
better to burn off some energy in the hill than continue wasting it on each other.
We caught up with Jan-Frode at the very top
of the first hill and the general spirit and team cooperation improved by the meter.
From up here, the camp below looks quite nice.
The day turned out as beautiful as yesterday. The route further uphill
was very nice, snow hills
that were steep, but reasonable. The natural protection was also fairly adequate, not very exposed,
but still not ideal to take a slide so attention and focus were always there.
We topped out below West Buttress on a general, flat area that led across to the hill leading
up to Windy Corner. Windy Corner had a slight breeze, but nothing even close to its
reputation. The traverse into the valley beyond the corner was in good shape, no difficulties
whatsoever. The view across to Foraker took on a new dimension from this view point. We could now
also see directly down to the Kahiltna glacier where we skied the first couple of days. The glacier that
flows from above make an abrupt fall here. The result is massive crevasses, large seracs and overall
a very impressive ice scenery. The route traverses above all this, there are a few crevasses, but they are
easy to notice and rather small, the snow bridges were in good shape. There have been a few reports from
recent years that there may be some rock fall danger in this area aswell. The very end of the West Buttress
is rocky and looms overhead. However, we did not see any signs of rocks the three times we passed across
We located an old cache that could be reused, quite a good load could be dumped here. Food,
fuel, tent, overboots, down jackets and the small backpacks all sunk into the hole before
we covered it up and marked it with our expedition name. This location was at 4119 meter and we arrived
at 1415. We left the cache at 1500 in order to head back down to Motorcycle Hill Camp. It took us
4 hours up and 1.5 hours back down. Olav got the characteristic AMS headache and stayed in the
tent for the rest of the day.
I have been busy melting water, prepared dinner and emptied our toilet in an authorized crevasse at
the upper end of camp. A deep hole in order to cache skis and two sleds, has also been prepared.
Hopefully, we can move up to Basin Camp tomorrow. We have absolutely incredibly nice weather and
this has now lasted quite some time. How long can this continue?
June 5th. We move to Basin Camp.
We left Motorcycle Hill Camp at 1015 this morning. Olav and Petter pulled the
two large sleds that we shall carry to Basin Camp. Motorcycle Hill is a steep hill
and Olav was annoyed and somewhat upset because his sled carried both tents. He
overreacted and behaved a bit childish at the very top of the first hill. I stated
very clearly that all equipment was team equipment and that his reasoning about
"ours" and "yours" was ill conceived. A completely different matter was the fact that
I thought Olav should rather not pull a heavy sled in light of his acclimatization, he was the
only one that had clear signs of AMS yesterday. I therefore said that we should switch sleds,
in order for me to pull the heavier one. The hills above Motorcycle Hill are equally steep and
quite long. Finally, the first sequence of hills came to an end,
the terrain became almost flat
as it crossed below the abrupt end of the West Buttress.
We rested and soon a Japanese team
caught up with us from behind. The scenery is really nice today, we can see all the way down to
the lower parts of Alaska. This is not always so, very often there are lower clouds even if we have
blue sky and nice weather up here.
We worked hard and as we approached Windy Corner, Jan-Frode took over Olav's sled.
Turning Windy Corner is an important milestone.
From here, the view back down
the Kahiltna Glacier shows that
progress has indeed been made. There is a very nice icefall
straight ahead, the passage here is not very wide, but
like it was part of an overall design of a good route leading to the upper part of Denali.
The weather was even better than yesterday, absolutely no wind at Windy Corner.
After a pretty level section, the route turns a bit more left as it enters the lower part of the
basin below the West Buttress ridge. From here, one can
see the next section of the route, the West Buttress with
the famous Washburn Tumb, then where the ridge connects with the upper part of Denali. It seems almost impossible that
the vertical between the next camp (Basin Camp) and High Camp directly above it, shall be almost 1000 meter. This
fact certainly serves as a reminder of how large scale the terrain formations are around here.
The day was still
a pretty hard workout, we arrived in Basin Camp shortly before 1900, the entire team being quite
We located a pretty nice campsite and got organized. I prepared hot drinks for everyone, in particular,
Olav should now drink more than he normally would take.
Based on his signs of altitude sickness yesterday,
it would be a small miracle if these symptons would not return today.
I felt fairly ok, having pulled a heavy sled
all the way from the lower camp and up here.
There were plenty of life and stuff to observe. Lots of climbers
on the hill leading up to the Headwall
higher up. Many tents and lots of activity. We made dinner and generally
enjoyed a nice evening outside of our tents.
Our property has a nice view, we are near the upper end of Basin Camp and
our view extends from Mount Hunter (left),
then Foraker in the middle and the West Buttress (right).
June 6th. Retrieve cache at Windy Corner.
This was meant to be a first day of acclimatization at Basin Camp. We relaxed and decided to head back
down towards the cache around 1200 noon. Olav has headache and light symptons of AMS. I suggested that
he should come along, but that he should not carry much. It took us only 20 minutes to get back down to
the cache, then 60 minutes non-stop to carry the loads back up. I carried a pretty heavy pack, but increasingly,
I feel that I am getting in shape. Again, I do not feel the thin air, this is more or less as expected, but
this is still a very welcome observation.
We spent the rest of the day in camp. A few strolls around in order to get to know this small
village and its inhabitants. The views are nice and this location is close to ideal for an advanced
base camp. Foraker still dominates the view,
but Hunter can also be seen.
There is constant traffic
up at the Headwall as well as in the pretty long hill that leads up to the steeper section. We enjoy
life and make dinner outdoors.
Olav is definitely hit by AMS and should rest. Most likely, we shall spend several more days
here before the team is ready to go any higher.
Today, we have had some clouds, some fog and some sunshine. The weather is not bad, the temperature
is definitely milder than what we have had in the last several days.
June 7th. Acclimatization in Basin Camp.
Olav feels distinctively better today. This is good and more or less
as expected, or at least hoped for. His AMS is going away as his body acclimatizes to
our Basin Camp elevation. There is a cloud cover at about 5000 meter, the West Buttress
has disappeared up into the clouds.
We can see Foraker, but her top also extends into
the clouds. We do have better visibility to the lower terrain
below us. We have some
light snow showers, but nothing serious.
We shall have an easy day today, but keep working on our acclimatization. To this end,
we shall make a pleasure hike up to the fixed ropes at the Headwall. The slope leading
from here to the Headwall is actually a pretty big hill.
Thus, the hike from here to the
base of the ropes will be a pretty good exercise physically as well as with respect to
further improving acclimatization.
We walked up
to the small ledge below a small ice wall where the fixed ropes start.
The slope starts with a pretty steep hill, then follows a somewhat more gentle section before
a steeper part that leads up to the fixed ropes. This last section gets steeper the closer to
the top you are. Near the top, one should be careful as there are a few crevasses teaming up
with a steeper slope, steep enough that a proper self-arrest would be needed in case of a clumsy
fall. At least, we got a pretty good view of Basin Camp from up here.
completed this climb with no problems and kept up a pretty good pace. In light of his
recent AMS, this looks very promising. Jan-Frode
slipped a bit behind the rest, but not
alarmingly so. It took us 1.5 hours from the tents in Basin camp to the lower end of the
fixed ropes. This is very acceptable, but one should keep in mind that we carried very
low weight packs. The weather was a mix of fog and smaller clouds drifting around in our
I went looking for the team from Chicago. We had seen them in Base Camp, they flew in at the same
time as we did. However, there was no sign of them so they must have moved up considerably slower than
We made dinner and relaxed in the tents while watching
the last climbers descending
from the Headwall quite late into the evening. Despite less than perfect weather, this had been
quite a successful day. There are clear signs that our team is getting fully rested and
increasingly ready for pushing on up to High Camp.
June 8th. Weather day in Basin Camp.
Looking out in the morning,
the weather looks different and less stable.
The morning sun is here and our view towards
the West Rib route is pretty good. When
we arrived there were some activity there, but nobody has been on that slope more recently.
This is in contrast to the West Buttress where the morning traffic
is still heavy.
Later today, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. There are clouds and more
wind. Higher up, the wind is clearly worse, we can hear it roaring as it crosses the
West Butress. We define a day of rest and further acclimatization. A few
short walks across camp in order to break the monotone wait in the tent.
Jan-Frode played a game of softball together with various other climbers, he claimed that
just running to the next base was quite an effort at this altitude, also keeping in mind that
the surface was pretty soft snow. One guy from Puerto Rico that had started out from Talkeetna
at the same time as we, was unlucky and pulled a muscle badly. It turned out that his injury
prevented him from any further walking and he was eventually evacuated by the Lama high altitude
helicopter that the National Park Service has at their disposal during the Denali climbing
season. What a way to end a Denali climb, - a game of softball at 14000 feet.
The helicopter has been heard the last couple of days. we got the bad news that two pretty well
known female climbers were missing on Mount Foraker. They were not found and nobody will ever know
exactly what caused their expedition to end in disaster.
June 9th. Weather day in Basin Camp.
If the weather was below pari yesterday, then today is definitely a low. The wind has
picked up to gale force. There is drifting snow in camp and whiteout conditions.
The worst weather we have had on the trip.
Any trip outside requires good clothing.
There is nothing to do,
but stay indoors and wait for this storm to blow itself out.
The good news is that Olav now seems
completely recovered from the effects of altitude.
Time is always passing slowly with this kind of conditions, but the team is doing well
and keeping the spirit high.
I carry out some more detailed experiments with the oxymeter. By performing many
tests/readings as a function of time, I seem to observe that there is a periodic
fluctuation. My pulse rate changes periodically between 49 and 59, more or less like
a sine-curve. At the same time, my oxygen saturation shows a similar behavior with
periodic variations between 81 and 87. Moreover, there seems to be an almost exact
phase shift between these two parameters. A minimum saturation (81) corresponds to the
maximum heart rate (59). Similarly, whenever the heart rate is near its minimum (49 beats per
minute), then the oxygen saturation is near its maximum value of 87. Obviously, this phenomena
reflects a control system where the pulse is triggered by low oxygen, as soon as a more acceptable
oxygen saturation is restored, the heart rate decreases and then the process repeats its cycle. It
is somewhat interesting that the max and min readings correlate as described. Obviously, there are
delays in this cycle that combine to produce this result. The heart rate must increase before one
can see an effect on the oxygen. Similarly, the low oxygen must be felt and detected before the
brain activates a higher heart rate etc.
Towards the end of the day, the weather improves right where we are located. We can still hear
roaring wind at the higher elevations and clouds are covering up most of the terrain below us.
June 10th. We cache at West Buttress.
Today is partly clouded with sunshine, the wind has decreased. There is a completely
dense cover of clouds below us. It is fascinating to be so high that the weather often may
be considerably worse below you. We decide to push up to the West Buttress ridge today and
establish a cache up there. With improving weather, we may then advance up to High Camp
tomorrow. We left at 1345 and returned back to Basin Camp at 1900. The ascent along the
fixed ropes on the Headwall went fairly smoothly. However, at the ridge itself we had
full storm and a pretty tough time just to dig a hole and stash food, tent and other pieces
of equipment. The cache is located at 4949 meter, a new high for Olav and Jan-Frode. Olav got
quite cold, we must look into this and improve his clothing. We may have more severe conditions
higher up. I brought some extra pairs of heavy duty gloves, one action is to make Olav try these.
June 11th. Weather day in Basin Camp.
We woke up to more wind and snow showers today. Again, pretty clear that we cannot
move up today. We have had pretty unfavorable weather six consecutive days by now.
Incredibly, the medical research team from Chicago has still not reached Basin Camp. They are now
about one week behind us, the conditions higher up have been less than ideal, however it is hard
to see that the weather further down
has been bad enough to prevent ascending up here to Basin Camp.
June 12th. We move to High Camp.
I woke up at 0600, the sky was bright blue - the weather looked just perfect.
I raised the rest of the team at 0630 and suggested that we move our depature time
up from 1000 to 0900.
Unfortunately, the weather did not stay as nice as the morning indicated. We climbed into
patches of fog, however there was almost no wind today. We reached the bottom of the
fixed ropes after 2:15. The next leg, up the headwall, was somewhat more difficult
today. New snow had fallen and covered up all tracks. There was very hard and slippery
blue ice under this snow, not being able to see the ice made climbing somewhat slower as
every footstep had to be carefully tested.
We arrived at the ridge and dug up our cache. We had not discussed exactly how to proceed
from here. Obviously, my Bibler tent needed to be carried up since we needed two tents for
High Camp. We ended up loading the entire cache onto our backpacks. This resulted in very
heavy packs, in fact, Helge was really loaded and his effort this day was indeed impressive.
The rest of the team also carried a heavy load. Speaking for myself, my pack was certainly
at the borderline of what I could carry. We carried full supplies for 8 days, we still had
300 vertical meter to climb, most of this at elevation above 5000 meter on the steep and
fairly exposed West Buttress ridge.
The entire team worked well and hard, we needed numerous stops for resting and finally arrived
in High Camp at 1745, - 9 hours from Basin Camp. It had been a hard day, I was certainly very tired,
it is a pretty safe assumption that this was a true characterisation of the team. The sun was
shining up here, the camp has a very good location.
The view from here up to Denali Pass was clear,
this should be our next milestone. We also had spectacular
views directly back down to Basin Camp almost
1000 vertical meter below us. My pulse and oxygen upon arrival read 78/78, pretty clear evidence
of the effort and the large vertical gain.
June 13th. Rest at High Camp.
We woke up to a nice day. Perhaps a bit windy in the morning, but the wind
died down and the sky was blue and sunny. We have relaxed around camp
today. A bit
of work to improve the campsite, we were too tired to do a completely satisfactory
job yesterday. If this weather holds, we shall push
for the summit tomorrow. Thus, there is plenty to do, one needs to melt more water
and rest in order to regain as much strength
as possible after the heavy
I walked around camp and took some photos.
First and foremost, we took a good look at the first section of the
summit climb, the traverse up to Denali Pass.
Denali Pass is an important col, it separates the lower north summit from the
south summit (which is the proper Denali summit), as well as the north side of the
mountain from its south side. We are actually on the west side, however the
well known approach from Wonder lake on the north side of Denali, meets the route from
our side in this col. The Muldrow glacier from which this route is named tops out at Denali Pass.
Thus, the North summit is located to the left
of Denali Pass, while the highest (south) summit
is to the right.
Neither summit is visible from High Camp, as they are located beyond the immediate
We also explored the cliffs
overlooking Basin Camp far below. From here, one gets a
really good view of Hunter
as well as the route from Windy Corner and up to Basin Camp. The lower section of the mountain
is still hidden below clouds, but we are high above almost everything by now.
I could not resist commenting on Helge
standing on a pretty exposed
slab of rock wearing bivouac boots only. In any case, we did
move carefully and there was never a chance of any mishap.
These cliffs also provided a very direct view back down to the Headwall, this
angle certainly makes the slope look more realistic than viewed from below. Further right, we could look
back at the West Buttress route connecting the Headwall with High Camp.
It has been a good day, the team is
ready provided that we get weather. We have provisions to stay here
for a full week, hopefully we shall have a window of opportunity, perhaps already tomorrow.
June 14th. SUMMIT DAY!!
The big day, anxiously looking out in the morning to check on the weather.
The day looked gorgeous, blue sky and minimal wind.
Normal morning preparations, perhaps
slightly more detailed. We had a bigger than normal
breakfast, melted extra water (at least 2 liter per man to take along), then
started out at 0930 as the first team heading across towards the big traverse leading
up to Denali Pass.
The trail had completely vanished by the previous windy days, but some wands were
visible. Digging near these wands would normally reveal a snow picket that could
be used for a running belay. Shortly after starting up the hill, we came to a rather
steep section where the route headed straight up instead of traversing. Jan-Frode was
leading (as we stayed with our normal order), and he obviously had a hard time. Not only
did he have to break trail in pretty deep snow, but here the terrain was steep enough
that he also had to kick steps and use his axe up above him. From my position at the
very end of our rope, it seemed like Jan-Frode was off-route. I yelled a few times
in order to check on this. Pretty stupid of me, Jan-Frode could see what I could not,
the few wands leading further uphill. Finally, we got on top of the steep section and
could resume a more normal looking climbing traverse towards Denali Pass.
Looking back, it was now obvious that almost all the climbers in High Camp, except the
few that arrived yesterday, would attempt the summit today. A long row of teams followed
behind in our tracks. Shortly, a few of the first teams to follow started to catch up
with us. Clearly, breaking a deep track in the snow was considerably harder work than
following behind. After a short while with a couple of teams behind me, I suggested that
we step out of the trail
on the upper side and let a few of the other teams help
breaking the trail.
The first team behind me agreed and we waited patiently as they passed us. The
second team behind followed on after the first. The progress was slow, I could immediately
notice how the team ahead slowed down as soon as they passed Jan-Frode and began breaking
the trail. This operation took about 10 minutes and my team was already feeling the cold
temperature and it was indeed high time to keep moving again. I shouted up front that
I would start walking right after team number two (The last man on the rope is the first
to fall back into the track.) However, the next team behind was a guided team, in fact
the same team that had been impatient and yelled unreasonably down by Washburns Thumb two
days earlier. Now, their guide said that there was no way that we should get back into
the track ahead of him. By now, the teams formed a continuous line way down the slope.
I told him that we had been waiting for 10 minutes, that different teams should share
in breaking the trail and that my team now needed to get moving again.
The guide (a disgrace for Rainier Mountaineering), did not accept the situation and started
a long sequence of complaints and unsubstantiated claims, like me doing illegal guiding
on Denali etc. I replied calmly that we were an independent team, that we had equal rights
to climb and that we should focus on our common objective of completing the traverse.
I then stepped into the track in front of the guide, his reaction was an unpleasant push trying
to force me out of the trail. I pushed him back and that message was strong enough. He kept on
yelling and shouting, behaving like he and his team owned the mountain and certainly deserved
priority over anybody else. I ignored him and soon he took his team out of the trail and started
a parallel track on the side. This slowed him down and most likely exhausted his clients, this behavior
was very unprofessional, but could only hurt his own team. (They failed on their summit attempt when the
going got much tougher higher up with pretty marginal weather.)
The team behind him, another guided group
from Alaska Mountainering, caught up and I had a pleasant conversation with their guide. He had
observed what had taken place and assured me that that guide most likely was a novice and that his
behavior was indeed very foolish.
We gained Denali Pass and I immediately noticed two significant changes. First, the snow surface climbing
further (more to the right) up from Denali Pass was wind swept and really good for crampons. No more heavy
work breaking trail. Second, the blue sky had disappeared, clouds everywhere and perhaps more omnious,
the wind was noticeably stronger and picking up.
We continued up on fairly easy slopes, there were some rocks ahead
and we ended up going right, one could
also go left, perhaps slightly steeper. (We ended up coming back down on that side.) Mostly, we stayed in
the track and followed the team ahead of us. As we gained more elevation the wind was clearly stronger and
visibility became quite poor. Snow was drifting around and hitting your face.
I was not too optimistic, if the
conditions continued to deterioriate, then we would certainly not make the summit today.
Another cause of concern was our very slow progress
up the hill. We had been passed by many teams and more often
than not would Jan-Frode
not be able to keep the pace of the team ahead of him in the track.
We were getting closer to the flat area called the Football Field, we observed teams that were just sitting in
the snow as well as teams that decided they would turn around due to a combination of exhaustion and the weather.
I reconsidered the weather, more or less like a day in the Norwegian mountains with snow drift and gale force
wind. Nothing to worry too much about, except for the single important fact that we were only a few hundred meter
short of 6000 meter and about as far north as Trondheim.
The main concern was really our progress, not only Jan-Frode, but increasingly also Helge seemed very tired, mainly
affected by altitude and calling for repeated rests at intervals that (to me) seemed inconsistent with a successful
summit bid. I mentioned my concern to Olav, indicated that we might have to make some tough calls about how to
proceed, but that I still had hopes that we all would be able to carry on. Olav nodded,
he seemed pretty ok and I
could see a scenario where only two would be able to make the summit. Finally, we reached the edge of the Football
Field, the route actually dips down a small hill, then out on the more level area. We moved reasonably across towards
the sloping hill that would get progressively steeper turning into the last big hill of the climb, named Pig Hill.
At this point, we were overtaken by a Canadian team that moved very slowly indeed.
We had yet another of an alarming sequence of rests, in fact any person with rudimentary knowledge of mathematics
would see that our pattern indeed would converge to a point with no further progress and this point would be quite close
and a long shot from the summit of Denali. I told Jan-Frode that he now had to get into the track just a meter behind
the last Canadian and that he had to walk EXACTLY as him. That is, every single step made by the Canadian had to
be repeated by Jan-Frode, never ever let him get more than a meter in front of you. I said this with little hope that
the strategy would indeed work, however, miracles still do happen. Jan-Frode executed in a flawless manner, keeping the
steps of the Canadian and never letting him get more than a meter. Thus, team progress changed in a significant way. We started
moving up Pig Hill, the speed of progress was like a snail, however, the significant change was that we kept moving. All these
stops that clearly converged to a limit point before Denali had been eliminated. Helge, also very tired, kept moving after
Jan-Frode and Olav and I were delighted at our end of the rope. We moved steadily uphill, the slope got steeper, but we kept moving.
YES !, this was it, I felt confident again that we would all get to the summit. A decisive turning point. When things start to
improve, everyone gets into a more positive spirit. One could not avoid to notice that the wind had calmed down and that
the weather generally, was better up here than lower down. Another piece of incredibly good news. We continued steadily uphill
until reaching the crest of the ridge and therefore the top of Pig Hill. At this point the Canadians needed a major break
and we actually passed them, starting our walk along the ridge leading to the Denali summit. We soon met a couple of
teams returning from the summit, they kept saying "congratulations", "you are almost there" etc. certainly encouraging
news reminding us that we now were on the "home stretch" of our Denali climb.
As it turned out, it took us one full hour to traverse this ridge and gain the final 100 vertical meter.
The ridge was partly covered by deep snow. There were some footsteps from people ahead, however nothing like a trail. Quite
often, we would step into holes where the snow went above our knees. Needless to say, this was hard work and snow conditions
like this do take time and effort even on a local hike near Bergen. After nine hours of hiking and being above 6000 meter
certainly did not help our progress.
Initially, the ridge
was quite wide, it then narrowed and the drop to my right hand side seemed significant. We still had snow and fog and clouds so
visibility was rather limited, but it seemed pretty clear that one should not even consider a fall off to the north side.
The left side looked more survivable, but the best approach was certainly to stay right on top of the ridge. After a narrow section
in a small local saddle, the terrain got somewhat wider and we continued to push ahead, partly in pretty deep snow.
At some point Jan-Frode and Helge stopped for a rest and after a little while the Canadian team caught up with us behind
me. I offered their lead man to pass, but he responded with a broad grin: "If you guys feel like taking 10
minutes, we shall certainly take the opportunity to break for 10 minutes as well." They were in no hurry whatsoever and
felt perfectly happy about waiting behind us.
We resumed our slow but pretty steady pace and I sensed that the ridge perhaps turned slightly right. The summit was clearly
not very far away. However, much sooner than I could approve of, both Jan-Frode and Helge sat down in the snow up front,
declaring yet another major rest. I felt almost a bit embarrassed on behalf of my team as I turned to the friendly
Canadian and said: "It looks like my team needs another rest, there is plenty of space here, so why don't you just
go ahead." The Canadian considered the situation for a brief moment, then replied "OK", he walked by my side, then one -
two - three - four steps, raised his ice axe above his head and exclaimed" "Yeeehaa". I looked at this scene in disbelief,
realizing that my team had declared a major stop about five steps from the summit of North America. Everybody noticed of
course and everybody smiled in utterly joy and surprise.
We left the backpacks were we stood and quickly made the few steps
to really observe that indeed, we were on the very summit of Denali.
There was time for celebration
despite the poor visibility and the somewhat marginal weather.
We took a closer look
at the official summit symbols.
The very highest point was a rounded snow dome, the symbols and markers were perhaps
one meter lower on the far side when seen from our direction of arrival. Numerous photos
of the team as well as
individual pictures were taken. Jan-Frode on the summit,
Olav on the summit,
Helge alias Dart Vader on the summit,
the team picture etc.
A Japanese team joined us and we took some pictures for each other. The wind was pretty calm and
the temperature was also quite acceptable. Visibility was, unfortunately, not there. My thoughts went back 25 years when
Heidi and I were camping at Wonder Lake, just north of Denali. How impressive, when the clouds cleared and
Denali came into view for the first time.
It was by far the absolutely largest mountain I had ever seen. That I should
stand on the summit 25 years later was quite like a dream.
We spent about 45 minutes at the summit, then collected packs and gear in order to start the descent. The tent and
a well deserved rest was still hours away. Accidents do happen on descent, when team members are tired and the
level of consentration lower than it should be. Still, new energy and the good feeling of success should help as well
as gravity, no question that walking downhill is easier than climbing in the opposite direction.
We traversed back down the ridge without any problems and with few stops. However, as we descended down Pig Hill,
signs of fatique and altitude showed up. Helge needed a break and we left him some privacy while waiting about
50 meter further downhill. Then Olav needed a break as well, before we all got back into normal lineup down at
the Football Field. Hiking back across took time and I noticed the immediate effect of the small uphill at the
far end as the team crawled its way up and across. The wind was stronger here, but patches of drifting clouds
revealed that the weather might change.
We continued downhill
and suddenly more blue sky was visible above us. The clouds were breaking, a few rays of
sunshine came more or less horizontally in. Light snowdrift and reflecting sunshine, the colors and the feeling
of walking on top of the world was sensational. We all sensed nature, an immense force of closeness, man and
nature, mountain and sky, sunshine and snow, it all came together
in a symphony of impressions. There was still
a long way down to Denali Pass deep below us. We could see straight across to the North Summit, I looked at the
possible approach climbing a fairly gentle snow slope towards the right. It was impossible to make a good judgement
about the final top traverse that would be required. There were rocks up there, but it looked as if it might go.
Another much steeper chute with snow came up even further right, however the route I thought looked better would
involve less elevation loss from Denali Pass and most likely, a considerably gentler slope.
We took a few breaks for photography as well as just to look around and see what a fantastic landscape we were
descending. The clouds further south were constantly changing, Foraker was hidden in clouds below us. It was after
midnight, but the sun was still shining.
For the first time we could also look north and see the upper part of the route that originates at
Wonder Lake where I was 25 years earlier.
We descended a bit too far into the Denali Pass saddle, without noticing
that our ascending path had come across and around a corner well above the actual saddle. Anyway, it was not too
hard to make a traverse back out from where we were and connect up with the climbing trail that descended while
I was walking at the end of the rope as usual, we advanced rather slowly downslope. The Canadian team was still
ahead and we stayed well behind them. Every so often I would unclip from a snow picket and more often than not
Jan-Frode would already have clipped into the next one. I reminded myself that many accidents do happen in this
traverse and often on descent. The downside slope was plenty steep and went a long way.
Eventually, we approached the very steep section of the route where the trail went more or less directly
down the fall-line before resuming a more gentle traverse down and across to High Camp below. Jan-Frode had
done a superb job when breaking trail and leading up this steep section in the morning. Right now, we were waiting
for the Canadians to complete this steep descent. The good news about this section was that we were already
above the flat section connecting to High Camp, thus a slide here would end up relatively soon on the flat snow
below us. I was about 60 meter away from the action, but understood that the Canadians were having some
kind of trouble. It seemed pretty endless and they must indeed be moving extremely slowly. I heard some
shouting: "Climb backwards!" Obviously, at least one of the Canadians were troubled by the steepness of
the slope. I got slightly impatient with the lack of progress and came close to suggesting that we should just
descend parallel with the Canadians. The slope was equally steep all across and we should not have much trouble
descending just to the right side of the track were the Canadians still worked they way down. However, before
suggesting this, the trail was clear and Jan-Frode started down. I noticed that he climbed face in using his
ice axe as he disappeared out of my view into even steeper terrain just below. Helge quickly followed, same style
and soon was also out of view. Olav started walking and he moved carefully downhill using French technique, stepping
a bit sidewise, half way front out while bending his ancle and putting the entire crampon into the steep slope below
him. That looked pretty convenient at least for the upper part, I therefore decided to proceed downhill using a
similar technique. I could now see High Camp and my thoughts wandered to laying down in a warm sleeping bag and
have a good and well deserved rest while drifting into sleep thinking about the successful climb. WHAM !!, a forceful
pull on my harness sent me head first flying out in open space above the steep slope. I had no idea what had caused
this dramatic change from peaceful thoughts to a rather unpleasant reality. I crashed into the snow and thumbled
downward at high speed. The sense of acceleration and how fast you pick up speed is sensational. Snow everywhere,
neck, eyes, ears, arms,.. I rolled over my axe and got it into the snow below my chest. OK, Petter, you have done
this before, brake hard, try to stabelize the slide, keep your boots in the air, knees into the slope. My brain
was working at 120 percent and my senses told me that I was starting to control the slide. I was still moving
downhill at high speed, but perhaps not at an increasing speed anymore. WHAM !!, the rope catched my harness and
removed all sense of control just as I felt I had some. The rope certainly felt like a rubber band, bungy jump etc.
Then, quiet, very quiet. Everything had come to some sort of equilibrium. I was hanging in the rope. The rope
went straight uphill to a carabiner attached to a snow picket, then back down and a couple of meter below me, to Olav.
He was similarly hanging in the rope balancing me. Jan-Frode and Helge were standing slightly further down
looking at the spectacle.
"What happened?" was my first words. "I am sorry, I fell", replied Olav. OK, I climbed back up to the snow
picket and unclipped, then came back down. We could all proceed the short remaining distance down and across
to High Camp. It turned out that Olav had stepped on a patch of unexpectedly soft snow, his leg had sunk in and
he had fallen down the slope. I did not see him when this happened, his slide produced a big snap at my
harness and there was no way I could have held him. This was the first time I have ever been pulled off a
mountain by a climber falling below me. Interesting experience. Olav had clipped below me and the anchor
certainly did its job, stopping the fall. A lesson that serves as a strong reminder: Always use anchors, belay
points when travelling roped on steep slopes. You are not likely to hold a fall and the only purpose of a rope
without belay points would be to make the entire team fall instead of a single man. All too often, one observes
roped teams on steep slopes without any running belays. They may have some sense of false security, however,
in many situations the entire team is at higher risk than if travelling unroped.
We called it a day and quickly fell asleep as soon as we were back in our tents. It had been a great, but
tough day. The guys had been pretty determined to reach the summit. They had all pushed themselves when the
going got tough. A lot of credit to everybody, but certainly to Jan-Frode and Helge, that most likely
searched for and found new energy when advancing up Pig Hill. Helge might still have had effects from his
great carry on the West Buttress in his body. Jan-Frode had more weight to move uphill than anybody else.
Despite his AMS further down, Olav seemed in pretty good shape, still one should not ignore that some
general fatique contributed to his fall at the last steep slope, very close to High Camp. We all slept
well, knowing that the main goal of our expedition had been completed and that we were all back in
camp without as much as a minor frostbite.
June 15th. Descent to Basin Camp
A long, lazy and slow morning was called for. The team needed rest after the
successful, but quite tough push to the summit. I think we all, individually, had
thoughts and memory drift back to yesterday. Slowly, rewinding memory. Sort of trying
to experience the top of North America once more.
The weather was nice, actually nicer than what we started out with yesterday. We gradually
attended to the daily routine, melting of water, breakfast should be served.
I walked around High Camp and gave away our extra food. The way things turned, we ended up
with a full week of extra provisons. Fortunately, there are always takers. Team after team are
worried that the weather will turn bad and destroy their summit bid. Extra food, carried by
somebody else all the way to High Camp, is always welcome.
1600, we were ready to start descending.
By now, the weather had again turned from good to more
marginal. The pictures from descending the Buttress
had been contemplated all day, but would not
be very interesting with such poor visibility.
We proceeded down in what was now our standard order, the steep section
near the Washburn Thumb was
downclimbed backwards and with a prussik to the fixed rope. Everything takes time, but reasonable
progress soon found us at the top of the Headwall. Steep and icy, the previous downclimb had been
with almost empty backbacks. We now carried a considerable load and proceeded with care. I was quite
tired and very happy upon reaching the Headwall base. From here on, first a pretty steep section
of snow, then more agreeable slopes. We arrived
back at ABC at 2000, 4 hours from High Camp to here
is quite acceptable. It was nice to have a ready camp,
just one tent to put back up and we were ready to melt
ever more water and have a well deserved dinner.
We went across and located the "medical research team". they were pleased to see us, but had
decided that our measurements would likely confuse more than enlight their science since we had
already summited and spent many days at ABC or higher.
June 16th. Return to Base Camp.
A fairly relaxed morning, our standard breakfast yet another morning, not many more to go and
the entire team certainly looked forward to soon having a real breakfast with plenty of different
food. We broke camp and were ready to go at 1100. The sleds decided to be a bit non-cooperative, turned
over fairly soon after leaving Basin Camp. We sorted this out and made good progress down the hill.
Helge and Petter with one sled each, Olav and Jan-Frode being assigned the very responsible duty of
breaking the sled via a rope attached behind them. Further down, in steeper terrain, they would carry the
main responsibility for arresting any fall, as we figured the person pulling the sled would have a slightly
more awkward position between the poles connecting to the sled. We made Windy Corner in 30 minutes and continued
around and then down the hill to the level area just below the end of the West Buttress ridge. The weather was
foggy and we saw nobody. Why would not people come up from Motorcycle Camp today? It is interesting, but most
likely a fact that most teams consider a completely fogged up day as a day that one cannot move. Nothing could
be less true, the day was pretty perfect for moving below Basin Camp, no wind and comfortable temperature. Just
as we came to the end of this more gentle section and the hill really slopes pretty steeply down, two guys actually
emerged out of the fog coming towards us. Who could this be, but two fellow
Scandinavians. Jarle Traa from Voss and
Norway and Fredrik Streng from Sweden.
We knew Jarle as he lives pretty close to Bergen. Jarle and Fredrik came
pretty directly from Himalaya, Jarle had just solo climbed Shismapagna, while Fredrik had been on Everest. Fredrik
was going after the 7 summits in record time, his goal being to complete them all within at most 7 months. It turned
out that he succeeded with this climbing Vinson towards the end of 2006, thus completing the task in 6 months and
6 days. We had a pretty long chat, nice to meet people from home, these two guys were the first and only Scandinavians
we met on this trip.
The fog persisted, but we had no trouble with the descent down to Motorcycle Hill Camp. A well deserved break here while
we rearranged equipment. Dug up the cache and prepared for a continued descent on skis, now with one sled each and therefore
no breaking from behind. The first few hills were pretty steep and we all had some different kind of trouble
with controlling speed and sled while trying to stay on trail. The fog did not make things any better. Jan-Frode had
perhaps most success with his upside-down technique. He pulled a rather well packed and small sled. By turning it
upside down, it provided just about the right amount of breaking. Olav and Helge having heavy duty Telemark skis, figured
out a tandem principle with Helge first, then two sleds followed by Olav that then could serve as a breaking and
stabilizing skier. I had significant problems, one of the two big sleds and more narrow skis combined with the
fog that made it close to impossible to judge the terrain, resulted in numerous falls. Eventually, I concluded that
it was better for me to proceed on foot with the sled in front of me pulling downhill.
The trip continued in fog, it was indeed fortunate that we saw all this glacier landscape while ascending.
Another rest in the middle of fog, we were on the way down,
but hard to tell exactly where.
Eventually, the hill got somewhat steeper again, we concluded that this was Ski Hill. Further down on the flat
glacier and still a long way to go, we were now under the fog and had visibility again. How flat this glacier
appeared. It had certainly been a gentle uphill in the opposite direction, but now it seemed flat, there was no
help to make things slide a bit easier. On top of this, there were a few crevasses that had opened up since we
skied here. I managed to take a somewhat clumsy fall right on what seemed like a fairly questionable area. Trying
to push myself away from this spot, my pole went straight through into open space below. I was distinctly unhappy about
not having the rope right then. Here we had proceeded with roped glacier travel for weeks, and just now on the
very last day we were skiing unroped across a couple of weak spots on the lower Kahiltna - Arggh.
Further along, Helge made the very sensible suggestion
that we should make a break,
melt water and recharge
a bit before the final push across and up to Base Camp. I was pretty tired and likely not too helpful, Jan-Frode
and Olav seemed a bit indifferent to the whole idea of stopping sort of in the middle of nowhere on a very
flat and pretty endless glacier.
Helge showed good judgement and suggested the only right thing.
After this break, we skied a bit downhill again and arrived at the base of the South Fork. Sure enough, at the
end of a long day that started well above 4000 meter, this final uphill deserves its Heartbreak name. I counted
trail markers as I skied uphill, knowing that the trip would soon be over. It was mild and almost raining, the time
was 2130 when we finally pulled our sleds into Base Camp. We had been skiing 10.5 hours and despite the general
downhill, this had been a pretty tough day for everybody.
June 17th. We fly out, celebration in Talkeetna.
We all slept well, the next morning came with clearing weather.
Many climbers had been
stuck here waiting to fly out the last couple of days.
The first TAT Beaver
and took a few lucky climbers out. There were about 45 climbers that had waited longer than
us. Our airport manager Lisa
kept track, first in, first out that was the sensible rule. We packed
up and generally had a good time watching the busy glacier airport,
other people and
chatting with a few other teams that waited for their slot to fly out. Every so often, one could
hear rock and ice avalanching off the steep mountain slope
across the glacier. At one such
incident, Lisa would remark: "The airport walls are falling down", then resume her busy schedule
keeping track of numerous flights from 3-4 different companies, each trying to get their clients
out in a timely manner. Around 1400, we got towards the top of the TAT list and could load up
equipment and climb into the Beaver. A truly spectacular flight.
The weather was good and we could
take a more direct and even more scenic flight path out.
Huge mountains with icefalls and glaciers,
Denali has a fantastic set of mountains scattered around her.
Glaciers and jagged peaks everywhere. We cleared
a couple of saddles with peaks on either side, then proceeded to see the larger
glaciers heading towards lower land,
the flat wilderness with big rivers, several lakes,
a few remote cabins,
the highway going north to Fairbanks
and then the Talkeetna airport.
We rented a huge room on the top floor of a cafe for the night. The very helpful guy at TAT organized
this as well as giving us a ride across with all the gear.
We then paid the required visit to the Ranger Station and checked out from our climb, picked up a few
color books, among them a description of the route we had just completed.
Next in order was cold beer and a huge
Summit Burger at West Rib in Talkeetna. We got the same waitress that had denied Jan-Frode beer across
on the Pizza place. She recognized us and declared that she had changed her mind, by now (after Denali?)
Jan-Frode looked old enough to be served alcoholic beverage.
We have slept on snow in our tents for 16 nights, a regular bed in a regular house after a regular
dinner seemed just right at this point. Somehow, we all fell asleep pretty fast and fairly early.
June 18th. Travel to Seattle.
Breakfast at The Roadhouse, then shuttle to Anchorage. This time, the van was pretty full.
I had a nice chat with a senior climber from Fort Collins. He was an active collector of US State Highpoints.
We arrived at the airport in Anchorage and rebooked our tickets to Seattle without trouble. I got on to
the internet and reserved a SUV with skirack from AVIS. I also sent an email to Loyce and Randy asking their
advice on a place to stay in Seattle. Undeserved, but not unexpected they immediately insisted on us staying
in their house. Last time I visited, I came straight off the summit of
Rainier, this time we were 4 guys having
spent almost 3 weeks in Alaska. Unbelievable hospitality, there is no easy way to express how we all came to
appreciate having a local base camp in Seattle for the next week.
AVIS decided not to bother with a skirack, easier for them to give us an upgrade to a SUV with built in
skirack. Thus, a bright red Hummer was ready for us as we arrived in Seattle. The next week would consist of
hearty meals with Loyce and Randy, a successful trip north to climb
Mount Baker, an equally good trip down south
to Oregon with a very nice climb of
Mount Hood. On the way, we also visited
Mount St. Helens. The story of how she
exploded in 1980 and the next 25 years of nature's rebuilding a new environment made a deep impression on all of us.
Thus, our extra week, set aside for more weather related trouble on Denali, was well spent in the state of Washington.
After the Trip, Wrapping Up.
We travelled back to Norway on June 24th. arriving on Sunday June 25th. exactly
4 weeks after departure, without incidents. We said goodbye to Jan-Frode in Copenhagen
as he had a separate flight to Stavanger. At Flesland, two wifes and one girlfriend were waiting and
the reunion was warm. Later in the fall, Merete and Olav got married. Somewhat later, we all met
at my home for a nice dinner and good memories, this time with four spouses. We watched photos and
talked about the trip perhaps slightly more personal than the
lecture about the trip that was presented to the Bergen mountaineering club.
I had already made many good and memorable mountain trips with Jan-Frode, I am impressed by his
constant, positive character, his friendship and ability to "hang in" when most guys would just give up.
I am very lucky to know two more excellent friends and mountain companions, Helge and Olav. I did not
know them before this trip, I feel that I do know them now. They are both true outdoor people, excited
about nature when at its most beautiful, determined and very knowledgeable when conditions take a turn for
the worse and the difference between success and failure gets thin. I do hope that there will be more
opportunities to experience the mountains with their good company. To all three team members: Thanks a lot,
the Denali climb will always remind me of your good qualities.
A list of all GPS waypoints taken along the way with incremental and accumulated
distance as well as elevation and average slope is available. Also, see the detailed readings of
heart rate and blood oxygen saturation as plotted here.
Return to Petter's mountain page