Acclimation Day – We Climb to 17,200 Feet


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 10, 2010      


Louie on one of the narrow ridge sections. No wind so it was easy, but in a Denali breeze you'd probably be using your cord.

Louie on one of the narrow ridge sections. No wind so it was easy, but in a Denali breeze you'd probably be using your cord.


We’re still preparing ourselves for a safe one-day summit from 14,200 foot camp. We could push it and just go for it, but in a group of seven the odds are someone could get sick up there, and pass from mere discomfort to life threatening illness.

Joe et al on the West Buttress ridge. Most of us left our skis low on the route as the ridge only has sections that are skiable. Joe opted to carve those sections.

Joe et al on the West Buttress ridge. Most of us left our skis low on the route as the ridge only has sections that are skiable. Joe opted to carve those sections.


So today we climbed the classic West Buttress ridge to the 17,200 foot camp, where a lot of people stay for their summit push. Sleeping over there is still an option for me, but the boys really don’t need to do that once they’re acclimated to that height so I’ll try to follow the plan.
The boys on the ridge cramponing the wild snow.

The boys on the ridge cramponing the wild snow.


The West Buttress route from 16,000 to 17,200 is quite the classic. You walk ridges literally two feet wide, with cliffy terrain dropping down to distant glaciers on both sides. The guides maintain a bunch of fixed lines and anchors so you can be as safe as you desire, but it’s exciting enough no matter how much or how little of their gear you end up using. We all pretty much third classed up the thing, then Louie and I roped up and did some running belays for the descent as I felt a bit dizzy from the altitude.
This large chunk of snow is known as the Rescue Gully and is the most direct way to ski down from the 17,200 foot camp. It gets skied quite a bit, but current snowfall has been too frequent and heavy for the route to be avalanche safe. We hope to at least use this as our descent if we come off the summit, but doing so is not essential to doing a nice ski descent of Denali, as even if you descend the West Buttress ridge partially on foot you'll still have skied enough of the route to feel good about it.

This large chunk of snow is known as the Rescue Gully and is the most direct way to ski down from the 17,200 foot camp. It gets skied quite a bit, but current snowfall has been too frequent and heavy for the route to be avalanche safe. We hope to at least use this as our descent if we come off the summit, but doing so is not essential to doing a nice ski descent of Denali, as even if you descend the West Buttress ridge partially on foot you'll still have skied enough of the route to feel good about.


 Joe brought his skis along and did ski quite a bit of the ridge. Conditions are ideal for that, which is somewhat rare as the ridge is frequently iced.

Joe brought his skis along and did ski quite a bit of the ridge. Conditions are ideal for that, which is somewhat rare as the ridge is frequently iced.


The climb and return took seven hours. None of us had any great problem with the altitude, but we were nonetheless quite tired when we got back to camp here at 14,200 feet. Recovery time for some of the boys was mere hours — proof is at 10:00 PM they did a few laps on the ski hill behind camp. Strong work.
Joe and his BD skis, which have been working well from what I can see.

Joe and his BD skis, which have been working well from what I can see.



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Comments

8 Responses to “Acclimation Day – We Climb to 17,200 Feet”

  1. Jay St. Charles June 10th, 2010 9:25 am

    That ridge section was one of the more memorable parts of my trip there. We descended that section in the late evening in blue bird weather, with the reflections of hundreds of distant lakes lakes shining at us clear to the western horizon.

    One of our small group from Tacoma was 59 years old and in ’75 I had no real appreciation for what a feat it was for him to perform so well on the mountain.I do now!

    Thanks so much for the vicarious adventure. And have fun, you guys!

  2. Ben C June 10th, 2010 10:44 am

    Lou and company- great to follow this trip on the blog!

    What impresses me most, taking you and your team’s well known skiing prowess as a given, is the professionalism with which you’ve approached this objective. A great example for others to emulate.

    (Greedily) hope someone’s shooting some video!

    Stay safe and have fun

  3. Prakash June 10th, 2010 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the dedicated reporting… Why am I not surprised that Joe opted to ski? Hahaaa!!!

    Congratulations to Bjorn and Colin. I assume they went after the Belgian climber’s fatal fall on Cassin (June 7)? Did they hear anything about it?

  4. Steve Weaver June 10th, 2010 9:44 pm

    Jumping out of my truck after work every evening to watch the progress of your excursion. This has got to be one of the best adventure blogs ever! Thanks for keeping us so informed Lou. Carbondale awaits the big day on the summit and your safe return.

  5. Jon Waterman June 10th, 2010 10:10 pm

    Go Team Wild Snow! How cold is it? My thoughts are with you, not so much on the way up, but on the ride down. And please kiss the summit about three feet below the top for me.

    Does the old body acclimate as well as the young body used to?

  6. Huey h June 11th, 2010 9:30 am

    You guys are living the dream! Keep the story coming, as I check your blogs
    often.

  7. Mamam June 16th, 2010 8:53 am

    A keeper photo of father and son!The Dawson and Pillsbury clan celebrate you. Be safe on the way down. Mamam

  8. Lou June 20th, 2010 12:30 pm

    Waterman, in my case the old bod seems to acclimate slower, or perhaps I confused recovery time with acclimation, but either way I felt like I really needed 5 days at 14,200. That being said, I was interested to find out that some of the guide services basically keep their clients at 14,200 for around 5 days, with cache carries up higher. As I learned in 1973, and as you emphasized when we had lunch with you, really truly acclimating is just so key to a good trip. We took that to heart and wow I’m glad we did. Doing the summit from 14,200 was hard enough for me even after having been up to around 17,000 three times. One problem we had with the summit push was that our packs were quite heavy, due to all the emergency gear and summit cold weather gear, combined with skis. The boys seemed to do ok with that, and Louie carried a huge load, but I had a lot of trouble with it and ended up caching a few things on the Football Field. We started the day with a ton of water, and that made the packs super heavy, but of course that got consumed by the time we were near the summit, with just a thermos of tea left in pack.

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