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Yesterday, we took advantage of a weather window that Joel of Colorado Powder Forecast assured us would work for a good 18 hours or more of terrific Denali weather. He was right. The seven of us took off from 14,200 feet at around 9:00 in the morning. Since Louie and I seem to travel with a bit different rhythm than the other guys, we left after them and went our own pace. The fast boys did the round trip in 12:45 with Joe leading the charge but the crew swapping leads on some of the early morning trail breaking up to the headwall (like I’ve said, these guys don’t even know how strong they are). Louie and I were around an hour and a half behind. We got in a solid summit ski descent all the way down past the 17,200 foot camp, where we booted the knife ridge for a short distance then continued skiing down the headwall back to camp at 14,200.
This might have been the most incredible day of mountaineering of my life. Why? Two things. Summiting Denali with my son, and dealing with a huge amount of self doubt due to my age, injuries, etc. Indeed, I’m finding it hard to believe I made the 6,000 vertical foot round trip push — but reality strikes when I pay attention to how weak I am today! Prayer, preparation and determination were the ingredients. Perhaps some experience as well, though this mountain has humbled me to the point where I’m shaking in my boots most of the time.
Yeah, I summited in 1973 after a 9 day snowcave bivy at 18,000 feet. Learned a few things then. The boys pointed out that it’s been 37 years since that climb. Crazy.
At any rate, we were safe and careful all day. Tough part was the big packs that being safe requires. Lots of water, skis, emergency stove, satphone, radios, all the clothing. If you do it that style you end up lugging 30 or so pounds at times. Just brutal.
We’ve got an interesting situation here at 14,200. An energetic storm is rolling in, so even though we’re tired we’re going to try to progress down the mountain so we’re lower when it hits. Hence I don’t have time to post photos from summit day but will do a ton of them at earliest opportunity.
We plan to be cautious heading down from here to the Kahiltna airstrip, and we do have fairly light loads so I believe it will go well.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.