I just spoke with Ben a bit ago and it sounds like things are going really well for the team and they are going to make a carry up onto the ridge that leads to high camp in just a few minutes.
Yesterday, they did a “back-carry” to bring the supplies that they had cached at 13,500′ (4115m) up to their camp at 14,200′ (4328m). This is one of the more enjoyable days of the trip, in my opinion, and involves sleeping late, eating a big breakfast and taking a 20 minute saunter down the glacier to the site of their cache. They dug up the cache and carried it back up to camp, which took about an hour.
In the afternoon, they worked on fixed line skills, which involve setting up a mock length of fixed rope to simulate to some extent the 600′ of fixed rope they will ascend today when they carry loads up the “Headwall.”
The Headwall is the steepest section of the West Buttress and rises from about 15,600′ to 16,200′. This section has been “fixed” with rope for decades, meaning that there are ropes anchored every 80′ or so into the ice, that run from the top of it down to the less steep ground below. Rope teams ascend using an ascender or Jumar, which are mechanical ascending devices that grip the rope in one direction. When tethered into one of these devices that is clipped to the affixed rope, a climber is fairly well protected against a fall, as the device will grip the rope and not allow the climber to slip far. Fixed lines are a common means to protect steeper terrain on big mountains.
Jacob and Zach took off ahead of the climbers to free the fixed lines from their winter encasement in ice and to inspect the anchors and make any repairs necessary. As the first team on the mountain, they are being very thorough and methodical with their ascent.
At the top of the fixed lines, they will either make another cache of food and fuel or they might push on a bit higher before making it. A lot depends on the weather, which Ben reports is calm and about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a fog of sorts that is slightly obscuring the upper reaches of the mountain, but all in all, it sounds like a pretty nice day. Last night the temperatures dipped to about -15F, pretty darn balmy for 14,200′ in April!
More to come- stay tuned!