Although the West Buttress route is not considered a highly technical climb, the physical environment of Denali presents much of the climbing challenge: miles of heavily glaciated terrain, extremes of temperatures and weather, and climbing and living at altitude. In addition to extensive glacier travel on the lower mountain, the climbing is considerably steeper above 15,000′.
We had a mixed bag of weather on this expedition starting with rain in Talkeetna to walking through a pingpong ball with no definition between the ground the sky, simply putting one foot in front of the other through deep soft snow for some stretches here and there between camp 1 and 2 with still early expedition loads on our back and sled.
However, the team did well and proved to have what it takes to make further advances to face the physical and mental challenges the upper mountain poses.
We were received by beautiful golden light and contrast of the hanging seracs and glacier of camp 1 at 11,200ft, along with several other days where one can appreciate the vast remote and wild beauty we were traveling through and surrounded by. Some of the best views and your progress on the route can be enjoyed from high camp at 17,200ft.
We haven’t had the high-pressure stretches that we’ve had in the past, with this season bring a lot of high winds and snow. Bitterly cold temps with the help of wind, to rain on the lower glacier which we avoided by waiting for a cooling trend and traveling through the night.
High camp can be a harsh place to be even in the best of conditions. We hung in listening to high winds zipping through camp, and blowing snow making simple things like going to the bathroom, and building tall snow block walls around the tents take some effort.
Despite harsh weather, each camp is also filled with interesting climbers from all around the world to climb this mountain in hopes of experiencing standing on the highest point in North America and back safely with all fingers and toes intact. It is easy to find out you have not just one but a few mutual friends and/or guides with a person camped just next to you.
Great stories are shared, and riddles played. Unexpected meals made can turn into entertainment, such as fat mexican burritos, breakfast hashed browns to pizza assembled in front of your eyes in a pan.
Even during years with long stints of less than ideal weather preventing further advances on the mountain, there are still various positives to be experienced and seen on Denali. Various difficulties, including simply flying on and off the Kahiltna glacier makes this mountain special and memorable. It brings climbers back for the second, third and even forth time for that special moment to experience standing on the summit. What an achievement it is.
This is Yoshiko Miyazaki-Back (Lead Guide) signing off for the May 24th Expedition.