Dispatch from Alaska — Denali Speed Record — West Buttress

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 23, 2017      
Katie Bono getting in some spring training in the Leadville, CO backcountry.

Katie Bono, spring training in the Leadville, CO backcountry.

A month ago, Denali hopefuls waiting in Talkeetna for their flight to The Mountain may have seen two women in the queue packing sleds humbly saying, “We’re going to go climb the West Buttress.”

No doubt, some dudes from Colorado in trucker’s hats -— testosterone and shiny new snowshoes in tow — tried to start conversations with the duo by offering to help explain what the all-female team could expect on the glacier.

One of the women in the pair was Katie Bono, a former Denali guide who is a total crusher. Katie has several Denali seasons under her belt, has climbed the Cassin Ridge, hold’s the women’s speed record on Mount Rainier, and climbs M13: her goal this year was a speed ascent to the continent’s highest point (20,320ft).

While no doubt many of those ‘mansplainers’ are back home blaming the weather for a ‘short trip,’ Katie is now the first woman to climb Denali round trip in less than 24 hours.

I got a call from her on my way to Anchorage from Denali Park. Katie and her expedition partner Savannah had just gotten off The Mountain and needed a ride. I had been skiing with them both in Leadville, Colorado just before they left and was psyched to have a chance to hear how the trip went.

Margi and I already had a pretty full car, but we pulled into Talkeetna and squished two more people and their expedition gear into our Subaru and heard Katie regal us with stories of needing to be, “scrappy but lucky” in this years conditions.

The last update I had heard from The Mountain was of bad weather, cold temps, and stuck climbers. I knew Katie had already missed one shot at a speed ascent, helped evac a climber with appendicitis, and dealt with really tough conditions from 40 below to rain. Needless to say, we were incredibly impressed when we found Katie at the Talkeetna Roadhouse literally fresh off the summit.

Apparently after a few weeks acclimatizing, Katie unlocked the secret to going really fast in the mountains: Taylor Swift on the way up and Beyoncé on the way down. At least that was the playlist on June 13th when she climbed the West Buttress, fixed lines and all, round trip in 21 hours and 6 minutes from Kahiltna base camp at 7,200ft.

Killian Jornet’s still holds the overall Denali record with a time of 11:40. He set this crazy time via Rescue Gully in 2014. Ed Warren’s previous record of 16:46 from 2013 used the West Butt as the ascent route, but I m not sure of the descent, anyone know if he skied Rescue Gully on the way down (if Ed skied Rescue Gully, then Katie’s time is the new all around record for an up and down on the classic West Buttress)? Katie’s time firmly beats the pre-Warren, Chad Kellogg time of 23:55.

Katie’s time is the new women’s speed record for Denali, she joins a very small handful of impressive speedsters who have climbed the mountain in less than 24 hours.

Hat’s off to Katie going real fast!


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38 Responses to “Dispatch from Alaska — Denali Speed Record — West Buttress”

  1. RCL1 June 23rd, 2017 11:26 am

    the negative and speculative paragraphs 2, 4 detract from the narrative of an otherwise interesting story.

  2. Alex June 23rd, 2017 12:03 pm

    RCL1, not speculative-I was relaying the real experience Katie and Sav shared with me. Granted I took some poetic license, but I thought the story was both funny and telling. If it is distracting here, it is worth highlighting, because it is a common and unfortunate type of interaction in the outdoor community.

  3. Dave Field June 23rd, 2017 1:29 pm

    Sounds like a well executed blitz! t would be cool to hear more details regarding logistics and what was they key to pulling it off.

  4. Dillon June 23rd, 2017 2:36 pm

    Great accomplishment. However, if I ever see the term “mansplaining” in a wildsnow write-up again, I’m out.

  5. brian burke June 23rd, 2017 8:03 pm

    great article. thanks for writing it. it is really cool to get a close-second hand report of such a rad ascent. i enjoyed the anecdote about snowshoe-wearing mansplainers.

  6. See June 23rd, 2017 8:47 pm

    Congratulations to the record setter(s) on an impressive achievement. And for doing it in an apparently low key fashion.

    I also find it interesting that mentioning the condescension women sometimes experience seems to have hit a nerve. I thought it added some human interest to the story. In my opinion, if you have a problem with “political correctness,” the least you can do is have a thick skin. The “m word” isn’t one of my favorites, but come on. Man up.

  7. Bruno Schull June 24th, 2017 12:14 am

    I stand with the author, Brian, and See about this. If you have a problem with people pointing out the incredible sexism, often unconscious and well meaning, that exists in the world, including the outdoor world, then you are part of the problem. I find the resistance to terms like mansplaining, or the idea that guys in trucker hats might act in a patronizing or condescending way toward women, sad but not surprising. It’s also kind of ironic that people take issue with this, because, well, it was kind of funny! It made me laugh, not least because I thought that it was probably all too true. Grow some thicker skin, or, to extend on what See said, woman up!

    I also liked the article because it brought to my attention the life and accomplishments of Katie, who seems like an incredible athlete, a cool role model, and an inspiration. Keep on climbing/skiing/hiking, and pushing the boundaries Katie–the world needs more women like you.

  8. Andrew June 24th, 2017 3:17 pm

    Great story. Mansplaining is a new word for me, but perfectly describes my wife to be’s experience of joining various winter training rides some years ago where older guys would give her unwanted “advice” and share generally sexist opinions about women on bikes. At that point she would feel compelled to move to the front of the group and gradually raise the speed to around 25mph. Talking generally stopped at 22mph.

  9. Gregory Foster June 26th, 2017 10:14 am

    Yeah, I also stand with Bruno and the author. Well said Bruno.

  10. Rudi June 26th, 2017 11:04 am

    I find it odd that women are expected to “just deal” with condescension and sexism, but as soon as you point out some guys sexist comments, that guys feelings are hurt, they cry out in indignation. Some cant even see the word “mansplaining” without triggering. Is the ski touring community the epicenter of sexist behavior? Hardly, but shining a spotlight on it as Alex has done, is commendable.

  11. Jack June 26th, 2017 12:07 pm

    Andrew, that cycling story is *really* funny. Perhaps your wife could have administered the coup de grace by leading a break away? Funny.

  12. Dillon June 26th, 2017 1:22 pm

    It’s an avalanche of social justice. Set your beacons to virtue signal and carry on.

  13. Bruno Schull June 26th, 2017 1:27 pm

    Hi folks. Something about the whole sexism story is still bugging me. I am guilty of this all the time, even in what wrote before.

    So there are amazing, rad women doing outdoor stuff all the time. Here’s what makes me uncomfortable.

    Why is it that so many well-know, sponsored, female outdoor athletes are physically attractive by conventional standards? Male professional athletes span the range–nobody really cares how they look. But female athletes are so often valued, unconsciously or not, by their appearance. It’s almost as if they have to be beautiful, in addition to being amazing athletes. This is perhaps even more true in the outdoor sports world than in, say, Olympic or popular professional sports, where the competitive dynamics are different. I guess it’s partly a consequence of the realities of brand images, marketing, and so on.

    Like I said, I’m as guilt of this as the next guy. Why am I impressed by Katie Bono or Mikaela Chiffron? Because they are so talented, or because they are attractive? I would have to admit that it’s a combination of both. And that makes me feel guilty, especially when I start preaching about sexism. On one hand, I’m calling out mansplaining, and on the other hand, I’m objectifying these women. I guess you can’t win. Human nature.

    Below is a link to one of the most amazing female climbers many people have never heard of. Check out her multi-week, completely solo, hard aid climbs on the biggest walls in the world. Incredible by any standard, male or female.


  14. Bruno Schull June 26th, 2017 1:46 pm

    Hey Dillion. I just saw your second comment. I agree that I probably sounded a bit self righteous and preachy when I first responded to you–hence I called myself out on what I view as my own hypocrisy. That said, I still take issue with what appears to be your knee-jerk reaction to mansplaining, and your witty (though snarky) response to criticism. I acknowledge the possibility that you were just joking around, but, if so, your jokes are in poor taste, and really don’t contribute in any way. Also, in your second post, you make reference to social justice warriors (SJWs). I understand that this meme has become popular, but it seems like it’s just a way for people to label anybody whose views they don’t agree with, or anybody who is arguing about/acting on some issue that they feel strongly about, that others simply don’t want to address. It’s easier to call somebody a SJW, than to acknowledge that there might be some truth to what they say. People accuse others of being SJWs when they bring issues, political or otherwise, to forums where they may not be welcome, for example, preaching about sexism on TGR or Pinkbike. I get it. However, in this sense, calling somebody a SJW is sort of like creating a “safe zone” or a “trigger warning” for people who don’t want their views challenged: keep the SJWs away so that the delicate users of TGR and Pinkbike don’t get offended! It’s pretty funny. Anyway, I like your avalanche anecdote, but I don’t believe there is virtue in your stance.

  15. Dillon June 26th, 2017 6:07 pm

    HI Bruno. Great post(s). I should clarify that I’m not actually a woman-hating knuckle dragger (though I do have longish arms). My first post in this thread was just sort of a knee-jerk reaction (you nailed it) to what seems like a never ending “Girl Power” narrative in a lot of media these days. Certainly nothing wrong with that and I agree…women are awesome. However, the ‘men are sexist pigs’ narrative is just getting a little old. No biggy, I’ll somehow survive. My second comment was just something that popped in my head and made me laugh so I posted it as no more than some snarky (right again) humor. I get what you are saying and I bet we’d agree on darn near everything.

    PS. I’m still not totally sold on the 19th Amendment, but that’s a conversation for a different day.

  16. Lou Dawson 2 June 27th, 2017 5:55 am

    I’ll jump in.

    Firstly, I’ve always wondered, is it not sexist to even have separate women’s and men’s categories in anything? Be it bathrooms or sports? Or is some sexism good, and some bad — and who decides? Do I need to audit a gender studies course at our local college (smile)?

    Secondly, regarding comments about the appearance of female athletes. I think that’s pretty obvious. Mainly, young people who are athletic, be they male or female, often have nice looking bodies. Add some grooming, nice clothing and personality to that, and you get what our culture calls “attractive.” There is also the media bias factor, for example in the case of a non-competitive sport, the more attractive athlete might get more attention in the mainstream, but that’s a big “might.” I can think of athletes with media coverage who other than their youthful healthy appearance are only average in looks, not international model material, male or female.

    Interesting discussion, but please no personal attacks on each other, no matter how good looking you think you are (smile).


  17. See June 27th, 2017 7:17 am

    I’m not a fan of pro sports in general, so (in my opinion, at least) eliminating men’s and women’s categories might shake things up in a positive way. Not that I think it’s remotely possible any time soon. But I ski, bike and do other sports (both individual and team) with women and I like it that way. (Isn’t there some research that suggests “coed” groups make better decisions?)

  18. Lou Dawson 2 June 27th, 2017 8:29 am

    See, quite the opposite, it’s apparently been found that mixed gender groups do more poorly with avalanche safety, theory being that the presence of females throws the male mind out of kilter, or something like that. Lou

  19. atfred June 27th, 2017 9:11 am

    I’ve always found that finding odd; the thinking being that in a mixed group, the men will try to impress the women.
    On the other hand, it seems to me that an all male group – especially young males – often has way too much testosterone flowing, with no females around to be the voice of reason.
    Actually, the safest group might be a bunch of old guys with arthritis !

  20. Buck June 27th, 2017 10:03 am

    safest BC group? it’s the solo skier

    the sexism discussion is funny.

    here you have the author ostensibly celebrating the achievement of a woman, yet he feels the only way that he can do that fully is to erect and attack a quasi-strawman of some testosterone fueled trucker-capped bro-brahs, and then compare the woman’s achievement to those bro-brahs who went home early in the bad weather.

    so the author perpetuates the sexist thought process.

    the only way the woman’s achievement has merit is when he can compare it to some random incompetent sexist bro-brah.

    instead of writing an article about how impressive and great the woman’s feat was (totally standalone and super fast regardless of gender of the athlete) all he can do is write “she’s better than some bro-brah”.

    it diminishes the achievement. great job!

  21. Bruno Schull June 27th, 2017 12:51 pm

    I love it Dillion, especially the part about the long armed knuckle dragging–I have a huge ape index myself. One funny thing that I have to admit is that my wife actually forbade me from wearing baseball hats–she told me they make me look, “too American.” That’s not fair, because I am American! In the context of this discussion, her draconian regulations are quite ironic! That of course begs the question of what is the best hat to wear while skiing, approaching a climb, crossing a glacier, or whatever. The answer is probably some kind of bush hat with a floppy brim and good face and neck coverage, or maybe one of those hats with hanging flaps at the back to protect your neck. I admit that, despite the great utility of such head gear, I have never been able to make myself wear them, because I think they look silly. That’s how vain and petty I truly am. Thankfully, it appears I have good company. I have met perhaps one or two people in my life who really don’t care how they look, and often that applies only in a particular setting. In the climbing world, consider Colin Hayley. Dig his goofy hand-made nose and cheek sun protectors. Groove on his fleece clown pants tucked into the tops of his boots. Marvel at the extent to which he flaunts conventional style, and transcends traditional boundaries. At least while climbing. Off the mountain, he probably wears a trucker hat!

    Link to amazing female ski mountaineering racer:

  22. Dillon June 27th, 2017 4:34 pm

    Buck. You said what I was trying to get at so I’m adopting your post as my official stance on this thread.

    Bruno. That’s a great question in regards to the optimal hat for recreational purposes. I’m going to assume that we’re talking about a combination of sun protection and looking like a badass at the same time. The answer is an old straw cowboy hat. Weighs nothing, costs next to nothing and when I come strolling up the ridge in my hat and sunglasses, any ladies who are present swoon noticeably when they first look my way. No joke.

    As far as Katie and this record setting achievement goes, I’m amazed. What she did is ridiculous. We should all chip in for a week up at the Asulkan hut and invite Katie to put on a daily clinic on trailbreaking.

  23. Lou Dawson 2 June 27th, 2017 6:08 pm

    Ditto on Roux, am huge fan, have watched her jogging up the mountain, leading the pack of both genders. Lou

  24. Dillon June 27th, 2017 6:10 pm

    Bruno. I just thought of it, but a straw cowboy hat with an American flag hatband would be the ultimate wife-trolling (in a funny way).

  25. Dillon June 27th, 2017 6:49 pm

    Lou. Fine by me if you want to delete my last post (and this post). I didn’t see that you had posted and were steering this back to it’s proper direction.

  26. See June 27th, 2017 6:50 pm

    I don’t think the author thought that was the only way to write up KB’s feat, it’s just the way he chose to do it. Also, apparently, it’s the truth (plus or minus a little poetic license).

    Re. hats: lately I’ve been digging the ski touring mullet— trucker hat over bandana. Bro in the front, hippy in the back.

  27. See June 27th, 2017 9:46 pm

    But it could present everyone else there at that time in a bad light, maybe unfairly.

  28. JCoates June 28th, 2017 1:49 pm

    I’m going to stir the pot again and comment on the sexism in climbing/backcountry skiing–at least as far as sponsorship goes…

    Lou, I disagree that a lot of these woman “just happen to be attractive because they exercise (sic).” As Bruno pointed out, and as most people in the outdoor gear industry know (but won’t admit)–it is a lot easier to get sponsored as a female (or male) athlete if your attractive–even if you aren’t as skilled as someone who might be less photogenic. I think the woman’ market is extremely guilty of this.

    I am getting tired of the constant “Girls Rock” ads that OR, Patagonia and everyone else seems obligated to make these days. Don’t tell me your company supports woman in sports when they somehow only show attractive ones in their ads and catalogs. There are plenty of “normal” looking woman out there kicking butt that are not getting celebrated for their achievements. and that’s sexist no matter how many “girls rock” ads you put out.

  29. Herf June 28th, 2017 4:26 pm

    Hope it’s okay to post a link . . . Chris Weidner wrote a good article about Bono in our Boulder paper: http://www.dailycamera.com/recreation/ci_31098356/chris-weidner-boulders-katie-bono-sets-womens-speed-record-denali

  30. Lou Dawson 2 June 28th, 2017 7:53 pm

    Jcoats, where did you get that quote ““just happen to be attractive because they exercise (sic).” It wasn’t me, and I don’t see anyone else having written that here.

    This whole thing is pretty complex. Women don’t win competitive sports because of their looks, but good looks might help them on the way to the top. Nonetheless it degrades athletes such as Shiffrin to contend that they’ve made it because they have a pretty face. Ridiculous, really.

    On the other hand, I’d totally agree that in non-competitive sports the exceptionally good looking gals, and probably guys as well, clearly have an edge in sponsorships and media coverage. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, if the person in question is clearly selling their looks as being pretty much a model, then more power to them and the consumers who enjoy the photos.

    Where it gets annoying (and perhaps morally objectionable) is when a person is average or somewhat above average — but not world class — and you start seeing them all over the place touted as some kind of expert or amazing athlete, or both. This has resulted in some pretty hilarious photo faux pas for those in the know, but that’s little consolation.

    And, I contend that both men and women who are athletic, young and well groomed tend to most often look quite good. I wouldn’t read more into that than what it is… sometimes this stuff seems like people are running around looking for sexism under every rock… gets tedious.


  31. JCoates June 29th, 2017 6:37 am

    Lou, sorry, I was paraphrasing your above comment–and completely misusing the term “sic.” Mansplaining I guess…

    We agree though; my point being that when an attactivace athlete of average ability get sponsored over an unattractive one who is clearly better, this is a form sexism/discrimination. So my point is, if a company is really dedicated to showcasing woman, then they should make a point of highlighting their achievements (like Katie Bono) not spam videos to my email showing pretty girls ski touring/BASE jumping/etc.

  32. Lou Dawson 2 June 29th, 2017 7:21 am

    Agree. But know that most of this is purely based on economics not any nefarious conspiracy of male domination. I’m involved in the advertising industry in my own small way, and can honestly say that plenty of women and enlightened men control the content, and from what I’ve seen they as a whole don’t make any particular effort to “reform” their content, all they and most everyone else does is do what works in terms of effective branding and click throughs so they can turn a buck and make a living. Pretty and handsome faces sell. That’s the way it is. Meanwhile, it’s not like the world is coming to an end because the Dynafit catalog has good looking humans doing sports while using their gear. Or, is it?

  33. Kevin S June 29th, 2017 7:39 am

    JCoates your post just help me to realize that I didn’t make a late 80s Hart/Reush advertising campaign possibly because I wasn’t as pretty as the other males at the shoot! Darn it! But I looked so good in my neon yellow Bolle sunglasses that matched my Neon yellow Dachstein race boots and Conte headband as they contrasted the pink bases of the Hart skis while we launched off of cornices at A-Basin for the photographer.

    My boys, who fortunately have their mother’s good looks laugh at the photos today that reside on our wall of shame in the basement and now I can explain why I didn’t win the feature ad…knowing I have the looks for radio modeling humbles me!

  34. Nate C July 2nd, 2017 1:28 pm

    I took issue with Alex’s commentary on “mansplaining” when I first read this post. Then I read some of the comments and decided that maybe the irritation was a problem with me and not it’s presence in this article.

    After watching the comments for a few days, I’ve decided that the commentary was inappropriate in this article. Not that the commentary itself was inappropriate, but that it didn’t belong in this article which was supposed to be a report on the incredible climb of Katie Bono.

    Look at the comments now. All the discussion is about sexism and male introspection. Katie’s ascent has all but been forgotten in this.

    Alex blew it by conflating the issue of sexism with this remarkable speed ascent. Separate posts, one about the ascent and one about the issue of sexism and mansplaining would have been appropriate.

    Perhaps the level of sophistication will be when remarkable ascents can be reported without needing to leverage the achievement as a soap box? I don’t know Katie, but I believe she deserves to have her ascent talked about on it’s on merits and not be lost in the unrelated issue of sexism and mountain sports. Unless I missed the memo that she did all this in the name of “sexism awareness”…

  35. Lou Dawson 2 July 3rd, 2017 7:15 am

    Nate, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Definitely got me thinking about our edits and publication. Lou

  36. Katie Bono August 29th, 2017 9:49 am

    Hey y’all,

    I’m late to the game on this, but thanks for your comment, Nate C. I don’t think Alex blew it at all by mentioning gender issues in his article.

    For most women, working through gender issues is not a separate aspect of their lives, but one that is tightly woven in to many of their experiences. Your phrase ‘the unrelated issues of sexism and mountain sports’ is not a valid phrase for many women, especially in the high alpine mountain sports. Alex didn’t conflate this topic with my Denali trip, it was a part of my Denali trip.

    I also think it’s possible for sexism to be talked about without it being seen as someone getting on a soapbox- Alex told that story as a funny intro anecdote that many female (and male) readers would recognize and connect with, not as a call to action or op-ed. If some readers choose to focus solely on the article’s introduction, it strikes me as the fault of the readers.

    If I ‘deserve’ anything, I would argue that I deserve to be able to narrate the entirety of my experiences without the internet replying that some of it should either not be spoken about or reserved for a separate article.

    Finally, it should go without saying that the vast majority of my experiences with men in the mountains have been rad. Thanks for the supportive comments on this thread, they’re very much appreciated. And with that, I’ll end this soapbox ;).


  37. Lou Dawson 2 August 29th, 2017 3:30 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Katie, appreciate thoughts from the “source” (smile). Lou

  38. Bruno Schull September 11th, 2017 8:00 am

    Hi. I linked to Silvia Vidal once before, but here’s another link to a recent accomplishment from this incredible climber. There aren’t many people, male or female, doing what she is doing…perhaps just a few in the world. Respect. Ski touring is really popular in Catalunya…I wonder if she does long solo ski tours as well?

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