May 13th West Buttress Denali Expedition – Arrives at Camp 1!

The May 13th West Buttress Denali Expedition (a.k.a. the SA & CO Denali Team) is on the mountain and off to the races! 

The May 13th Team: ready to load the plane and begin their grand adventure!

Lead Guide Jesse Wright called in with the team’s first Audio Dispatch from the field.

Give it a listen by clicking the link below!

Audio Recording

Jesse gets cut off near the end of the call (such is the nature of satellite phones in the Arctic!) but his overall message is clear: the team flew in to the range in the morning under beautiful sunny skies and immediately hit the trail, busting out the long flat walk up the Kahiltna Glacier to establish themselves at Camp 1 (7800′).

Nice work team!  

After landing in the morning, the team packed up their sleds and began the long plod across the lower Kahiltna Glacier to Camp 1 (7800′, 2377m). The challenge comes quickly on Denali as the first thing the climbers encounter along their route is the long sloping downhill of Heartbreak Hill, which takes you down the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, where Basecamp is located, to the main arm of the Kahiltna Glacier.

Why is it called Heartbreak Hill, you ask? Well, since the West Buttress Route is an “out and back” route, everything you go down, you must later go back up. And at the very end of the expedition, after the long descent from the upper mountain, the never-ending gradual uphill climb of Heartbreak Hill is the last obstacle standing between your tired expedition team and the hot showers and cold beer of Talkeetna!

Heartbreak Hill’s gentle downslope can also convince climbers that “Hey, this sled isn’t that heavy!”, which eventually leads to heartbreak when they hit the flat stretches of the main Kahiltna and finally feel the full pull of 100lbs of food and gear on their backpack straps.


Crossing the lower Kahiltna Glacier. The summit is just 13,000 ft up from here!


The May 13th West Buttress Denali Expedition is now positioned at the base of “Ski Hill” where the uphill truly begins. From this campsite, they have great views of the summit and the dramatic Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier, starting point for Denali’s more technical routes, like the Cassin Ridge.


The scene at Camp 2, with the sun setting through the notch of the NE Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.

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