June 9 Denali – Carried Loads up the Headwall

Well, the June 9 team had a bit of a break in the windy, colder weather that has been whipping over the upper mountain for the past couple of days.  They took advantage of this window to carry supplies up the steepest section of the route, the stretch from from 15,600′ to 16,200′ called the Headwall.  This team has some extra guides on board to help with the climbers’ loads, and the guide team carried a cache of supplies all the way to the 17,200′ high camp, while the climbers cached at our traditional cache site at about 16,400′.

The Headwall rises about 600′ and reaches 45 to even 50 degrees at points.  Slipping on such terrain could have undesirable consequences, so there are two sets of “fixed lines” that run up and down the stretch.  These are sets of ropes that are anchored into the ice at semi-regular intervals.  The climbers, traveling roped together, use mechanical ascenders (rope clamps used by climbers) to connect themselves to the fixed lines.  Ascenders will slide in one direction, but lock off when weighted in the other, helping add an additional layer of protection to the ascending climbers.

The Headwall tops out at about 16,200′ on a spectacular ridge, which leads up another 1000′ to the site of our high camp.  The climbing on the ridge is really fun, engaging and exciting, as it weaves in and out of black and gray rocks, follows the knife-edged crest at times, and proveds plenty of “big-air” exposure to keep climbers on their toes (well, technically on the flat of the crampons on their feet, known as French Technique).

The weather looks like it could be a bit unsettled for a couple of days, which could keep the team at the 14,200′ camp.  Unsettled is OK in some respects, because the temperatures of last week were actually hot on the upper mountain, and some cooler weather will help keep things consolidated on the route.

Here is our guide James Gustafson, calling in an interrupted post from 14,200′.


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