May 10th West Buttress Final Dispatch
After being stuck one day in Talkeetna we began our climb with very good weather of the lower mountain. We made good time during our cache and move days and were not held up by the weather until we reached camp 3. The day we moved from camp 2 we moved into 20-25mph winds on the polo field and windy corner.
Wind became the theme of the rest of our climb, even at camp 3 which is usually sheltered from the wind had strong enough winds to bend the poles of our cook tent! We spent 2 extra days on wind/weather hold at camp 3 waiting for the winds to abate so we could carry caches higher on the mountain and make a move for high camp
(Moving up the fixed lines above camp 3)
In pretty windy conditions we were able to put a cache on the ridge. The next day was too windy to try and move to high camp so we had another day of hanging out at camp 3. The day after (May25) we felt like the winds had backed off enough to make the move to high camp and the forecast was showing that the wind was going to continue to die down the next day. It was a narrow window, but after 6 days at camp 3 we decided to take the shot.
Moving to high camp (17,200′) is no easy feat. After gaining over 1,000′ to reach the base of the fixed lines the team has to ascend the steep headwall with the aid of the fixed ropes. Once the team gains the ridge there is about another 1,000′ of steep ridge to climb. This is the most exposed part of the west buttress climb, there is another short section of fixed lines and lots of fixed protection for us to use to stay safe on this steep exposed part of the route.
Once at high camp we have to build camp. This is no easy feat when first arriving at 17,200′ and the work is slow as the headaches set in. It wasn’t made any easier by the constant 35mph winds out of the northwest. We worked together and put in two tent platforms cramming 4 of us in one tent and 3 in the other. We built walls out of snow blocks quarried from the ice. Each block weighed about 20-30 pounds these walls served as windbreaks for our tents. The winds which were forecast to drop overnight did not, and they blew our walls over during the night!
With the forecast predicting much worse weather for the next 6 days we decided to move down to camp 3 and off the mountain. We had a hell of time moving down the ridge to the fixed lines in the heavy winds. Gusts and times were strong enough to knock us off our balance, forcing us to stop and brace, waiting for the gust to subside.
Sunrise on Sultana while the full moon sets in Denali’s shadow
We spent the night at camp 3 and got some good rest in the lower altitude, more spacious tent situation, and relatively light winds (although there were still some big gusts!). We walked out in the morning and spent the day making the 13 mile journey dropping 7,700′ (and gaining 600′) to Base Camp. We caught a flight around 5pm and found ourselves transported into summertime in Talkeetna. The crew scattered to the winds to start enjoying the luxuries of non-glacier camping life.
It was a great trip and a solid effort by everyone up there on the great one. We came together and worked hard as a team with everyone participating and becoming friends. There were no accidents or injuries and most of the team was able to spend a night at high camp in pretty gnarly conditions. We do not have the final word in the mountains. We prepare our bodies and our equipment to the best of our abilities so that we can handle anything up there. We set off hoping that the weather and conditions will line up for us to be granted the opportunity to experience the entire route and graciously stand on a summit. With a big mountain like Denali, there are so many factors that need to come together, any single factor or combination can end a climb. The experience of trying, time spent on the mountain and the friendships made is always worth the effort without a summit.