Semi Attempt and Acclimation on Denali


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | June 13, 2010      


The stormy weather up here on Denali has been difficult for climbers to deal with. Very few groups have summited recently. A couple of teams got to the top because they were ahead of us in acclimation and camped at 17,200, and took advantage of very short weather windows. Another group just went ahead and did a somewhat dangerous push out of the acclimation safety envelope. Since half our group has no altitude experience we’re not willing to do that.

Friday we did a summit attempt because we heard there might be a short weather window. The window didn’t materialize. After climbing the knife ridge and rocky scramble section up to 17,200 feet, we rounded a corner and got blasted by stiff ten below zero 30 mph gusts.

The crew during our Friday acclimation climb and summit attempt. This shot is taken just around the corner from the miserable but possibly useful 17,200 foot camp. The wind was howling up there, we were in the calm. Elevation and aspect on this mount cause dramatic differences in weather.

The crew during our Friday acclimation climb and summit attempt. This shot is taken just around the corner from the miserable but possibly useful 17,200 foot camp. The wind was howling up there, we were in the calm. Elevation and aspect on this mount cause dramatic differences in weather.



Conditions were too harsh for us to continue climbing. No one else was up there either. We hope there might be another short period of climbable weather on Sunday when we’ll give it another go.
One of the WildSnow boys throws some snow around on Denali West Buttress. About 2/3 of of ridge from 16,200 to 17,200 is skiable given soft snow conditions, but it frequently ices up and is not safe to ski. Most of the ridge drops off to an abyss on either side. Spectacular to gliss but a bit unnerving.

One of the WildSnow boys throws some snow around on Denali West Buttress. About 2/3 of of ridge from 16,200 to 17,200 is skiable given soft snow conditions, but it frequently ices up and is not safe to ski. Most of the ridge drops off to an abyss on either side. Spectacular to gliss but a bit unnerving.


Lou up on that same ridge. 'Wow, we're skiing Denali,' was Louie's take while he snapped this photo.

Lou up on that same ridge. 'Wow, we're skiing Denali,' was Louie's take while he snapped this photo.

Colby on the headwall where the fixed lines are, just below 16,200 feet.

Colby on the headwall where the fixed lines are, just below 16,200 feet.


Some of you might wonder about our strategy of staying at 14,200 and planning on the full 6,000 vertical foot climb for a summit, instead of staging from 17,200. Both strategies have merit. Fairly fit groups who take the time to do acclimation climbs generally do well with the 14,200 foot camp strategy, so that’s why we’ve been sticking with it. Downside is you can’t catch the really short summit weather windows. Upside is that 17,200 camp is a brutal, miserable place and even somewhat dangerous due to the altitude, difficulty of self-care in the cold and wind, etc. That is unless you get a period of beautiful weather which is not happening for us.

As for me, the 6,000 vertical foot strategy is tough and I’m not sure I can make it. But what good would a summit be without the challenge of uncertainty? Conversely, for me to carry loads up the semi-technical terrain to 17,200 would have been a miserable process with uncertain outcome for increasing my chances for success. Since I’ve summited before, I figure I’ll just relax and do what works best for the boys. They seem ready for what might be the hardest 6,000 vertical of their lives — though I believe it is totally doable for them.

Tension has mounted a bit in the group due to all the strategizing the weather is requiring. But we’re still friendly and cohesive, which is so important for safety. No major health issues either. If anything, we’re all tired from Friday and would like more recovery time before another push, especially this old man. But we’ll get two nights and a day, which is probably enough to do the trick.



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Comments

17 Responses to “Semi Attempt and Acclimation on Denali”

  1. Steph Helfenbein June 13th, 2010 11:48 am

    Colby Cheese-Awesome photo of you skiing! We miss you and are SO excited for you and your adventure! Thanks for keeping us all updated!

  2. Jennie W. June 13th, 2010 11:55 am

    Photos are fantastic, fellas. Good luck on the summit push! I hope the weather cooperates.

  3. Boone June 13th, 2010 12:36 pm

    Onward mighty warriors! You gotta love the process – in the thick of the storm – that’s what it’s all about! We are with you every step of the way.

  4. Mike T June 13th, 2010 1:07 pm

    Stand srong…..

    Good work…..

  5. Steve June 13th, 2010 1:53 pm

    Lou,
    You are an inspiration. Have been up Denali a couple different ways more than once, last time 10 years ago. Now same age as you and with a 15 year old son wanting me to suffer once more with him next summer. Giving it some serious thought based on your blog.
    Keep inspiring!!
    Steve

  6. Halsted June 13th, 2010 2:29 pm

    Bring home all the fingers and toes…

  7. P Kenline June 13th, 2010 2:43 pm

    Yeah Colb! Keep up the good work!

  8. Michael Kennedy June 13th, 2010 4:39 pm

    The 17,200 camp is fine if the weather is decent (I’ve mostly been lucky up there) but 14,200 is way better. Be patient and wait for a good forecast. 6K is a long way to go but you’ll be fine. Just take it at your own pace, you will know when you’ve had enough.

    And keep something in reserve – on all my climbs at altitude, I tried to get back to camp feeling like I could have kept going for another 8 hours. Wasn’t always successful at that but never felt totally depleted either.

    Good luck and good hunting!

  9. Shannon Williams June 13th, 2010 6:17 pm

    Wow guys- Good Luck- hopefully the weather clears up. Stay warm!!

  10. Joe June 13th, 2010 8:45 pm

    Enjoy the pictures. Keep it right side up. What are your gps coordinates?

  11. Mark W June 13th, 2010 9:35 pm

    Beautiful shots of magnificent skiing. Thanks for the weather update. All that snow is amazing.

  12. skibrendan June 14th, 2010 1:17 am

    Wow! How amazing it must be just to be there; and to share the experience with your son and friends! I’m really hoping that you will all make the summit, but regardless this is an incredible adventure to follow along with. Thanks for sharing once again. All the best!

  13. craig wheeles June 14th, 2010 2:06 am

    Hi Lou,
    I’m from Carbondale and my family did a flight over denali with Talkeetna Air Taxi today. I’m in their parking lot typing this.
    I thought of you the whole time on our flight. We could see base camp, the clumps of tents and the long line of the trail. Wish I saw the ski tracks!
    Have a great trip and celebrate, whatever the outcome.
    craig

  14. Kathy Baker June 14th, 2010 8:01 am

    Joe, hope you made the summit on Sunday!! We love you!

  15. Aimee LoDuca June 14th, 2010 10:50 am

    I heard you made it to the summit! Congrats guys!! Beware of the Yeti.

    Aimee

  16. Jason June 14th, 2010 1:09 pm

    Great shots! Super fun! Rip it up! 😎

  17. John and Mary June 14th, 2010 6:59 pm

    Colb and Ty –
    Looks a lot like Song Mt!
    Amazing and inspiring! – all of you.
    Safe trip back…
    the Menapace Family

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