On June 3, 2010, Matt and his team summited Denali (20,320), the highest peak in North America, via the West Buttress route. The summit kicked off a speed-record breaking expedition of the 50 high points in the 50 states completed in 43 days, 3 hours and 51 minutes.
A Note On Denali's Altitude
Denali sits on the 63rd parallel meaning that the difference in the barometric pressure at northern latitudes affects acclimatization. Denali's latitude is 63° while the latitude of Everest is 27°. On a typical summit day in May, the Denali climber will be at the equivalent of 22,000' (6900M) when compared to climbing in the Himalayas in May. This phenomenon of lower barometric pressure at higher elevations is caused by the troposphere being thinner at the poles.
So, the team basically feels 2,500 feet higher than they actually are. If the team is at 11,200 ft, they feel like they are climbing at 13,700 ft. And yes, this makes the mountain, in effect, 22,820 feet.
I got a message about 1:30 MT today from the team saying that they had been holed up for the last 24 hours on the glacier waiting for the predicted Denali storm to abate. It appeared that the ceiling was lifting - there were about 50 people (climbers) stomping out a runaway for the planes to transport back to Anchorage. Temperatures were cold and I'm sure the team is pretty excited to be back in civilization again.
From the sound of things, I'm wondering if Denali might just be beginning....
Thursday 6/3 - SUMMIT! - Updated!
I spoke to the team and got the scoop on their successful summit bid. The day started with a nearly (for Denali) unheard of 5:00 am start. Since the temperature was unusually warm and the forecast showed a lull in the winds, the team went for it. They reached the summit at about 1100 am AK time. As they were descending back to 17,000 camp, the team reported that the also forecasted storm was making its presence known. Thunder and the winds were picking up. Their timing was perfect. After 9 hours and 35 minutes, round trip, of hiking, they were resting for a hour before (likely) heading down to the 14,000 camp.
More details to follow after I talk to the team, but the SPOT update clearly shows the team at the top of Denali.
The team woke up feeling fit and decided to try the summit. They made it partially up but were met with a strong and cold wind. The wind was too much for a solid attempt so instead they returned to 17,000 camp and chalked the day up to acclimating.
Tomorrow is the day, everyone. Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed.
Tuesday 6/1 - Updated!
- Updated -
Today was a long seven hour hike from 14,200 to the 17,000 camp. I've been chronicling this team's climbs now for two years and I have rarely heard such raving (as much as is possible at 17,000 ft) about the amazing views. Dazzling 1,000 ft drops and the Alaksa sun make for some gorgeous vistas. I am looking forward to seeing pictures.
The team sounded strong, healthy and enthusiastic. Joel Gratz, the team meterologist, has been on standby providing accurate forecasting about every twelve hours. This time his news was great. If the weather holds and the team is feeling strong, there will be a summit attempt made tomorrow (Weds) between about 830 and 1130 Alaska time. And if the team would like to rest up a bit and acclimate after today's long hike, the good news is that the weather window should last until Thursday. So...buckle up everyone! It looks like summit will either be tomorrow or Thursday. Stay tuned!
- Original -
These SPOT updates rock. Download the Google Earth plug-in (the "Earth" option in the left corner of the map) for some insanely cool views. It is the best way to track their progress. (Clicking on "Terrain" after you download the plug-in will help orient you to the location of the summit of McKinley.)
The team rested on Saturday - recharging and even finding some time to drop a quick podcast to update on their progress. I couldn't post the podcast here, but you can listen to it here.
Yesterday was a big day - the team decided to push forward and head up to the 17,200 camp. The section between 14,200 and 17,200 is the steepest part of the route called the "headwall." On their way up, they were slowed by one of the teams that is ahead of them. Apparently one of that team's climbers developed pretty serious pulmonary edema (high altitude edema) and everything stopped while the rescue team helped her down.
The delay would've meant arriving at the 17,200 camp fairly late in the evening and building the fortifying snow walls so the team dropped back to wait at 14,200. There is a small window of good weather approaching so the summit will be planned for sometime this week. Read here for a full explanation of the days events. Stay tuned...
Here is additional detail on the potential storms that are headed to the south and the north. Thank you to meterologist Joel Gratz at Colorado Powder Forecast for sending this information!
The team has had good, relatively calm weather on Denali for the last week. Looking ahead to early next week, there are two storms moving toward the mountain that make for a tricky weather forecast.
The first storm is coming from the south and is moving verrrrry slowly. The second storm is coming from the north and is moving a bit quicker. The trick is that Denali appears to sit comfortably between the storms, at least through Monday. This means that the mountain might experience some light-to-moderate snow at times on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but the winds should remain light (15-25mph). On Tuesday and Wednesday with the storms moving closer to Denali, winds will increase to 25-40mph and the chance for heavier snow will increase.
This is a tough forecast and things could change, but for now it looks like the team might be lucky and stay in between the two storms, at least through Monday. Joel created this picture of the storms "squeezing" Denali from the north and south.
Denali Forecast 5-31-10
Friday May 28 - Updated!
- Updated -
Climbing is definitely shorter but steeper. The team did 1,000 vertical roped feet today with their gear to cache at 16,300 (compare yesterday's SPOT map with today's to see what that means). The result was a magnificant view from nearly as high as you can get (already) in North America. The tricky part is the weather. I hear there is a storm passing to the north and south. I'll update with more info as I get that over the weekend.
- Original Post -
The team did another carry and cache up to 16,300 feet today. The snow stopped and it is looking as though the predicted storm might be headed slightly more south than where they are now. Whew. The team sounded strong and positive with the only real complaint being seriously sunburnt lips.
Tomorrow is a slated rest day at 14,000 with a push on Sunday to get the gear up 17,000. Check back over the weekend for any additional updates.
The gear successfully cached at 13,300 ft on Tuesday, the team took a rest day on Wednesday at the 11,200 camp. Resting is a loose term - the team spent the day charging batteries using the intense sun, eating, playing cards, eating, drinking water, acclimating and, did I mention eating?
Today, the team carried all their gear from 13,300 to the 14,000 camp. It was a physcial day that was made a bit easier by some light cloud cover which broke some of the intense sun. When I spoke to the team this evening, it was lightly snowing. Mike mentioned that they were considerin carrying to 16,300 tomorrow then huddling up with an eye to the sky.
From here on out, the route gets shorter, but the vertical feet distance increases. So steeper but shorter. The team will continue to progess but acclimating time will be spent brushing up on their fixed line skills and clipping the rope through fixed protection. Mountain Trip (the guiding company) offered a great summary of what this means on their site... "Fixed lines are put up by the National Park Service to safeguard a particular steep and icy slope, so the team will clip into the rope with ascenders which help safeguard any slips on the ascent or descent. Protection is gear placed in either rock, snow or ice that will allow the rope teams to move together but still stay connected to the mountain should someone take a fall. Learning to efficiently clip through the gear (we call it running pro) in a variety of conditions will help keep everyone safe, conserve movement and keep the move days to a reasonable amount of time." (Thank you Mountain Trip!)
The team sounded positive, strong and happy to be at the next level.They are slightly ahead of schedule, but the Alaska weather might have different ideas. How can you help? Send your best good weather thoughts to Denali.
(Also, feel free to leave a comment of support on the Climb7 blog. The team is always happy to hear the encouragement.)
The team completed a successful single carry and cached half their gear at Camp Three at 13,200 ft. They returned to the Camp Two to spend the night and rest/acclimate (and eat) on Wednesday. On Thursday, the plan is to move all the gear to the Camp Four at 14,000 ft where they will spend four days acclimating and climbing.
The weather has been holding steady in the same pattern of cold in the mornings and intensely hot on the glacier itself. Despite the inconvenience of adjusting layers (and climbing times to avoid the hottest spots), it is actually pretty ideal climbing weather. They are making good progress and the team is upbeat and excited. The SPOT update was taken at the 13,200 camp.
Today the team moved from Camp One at 7,800 feet to Camp Two at 11,200 feet, right below the West Buttress. The plan is to stay at Camp Two for two nights.
So far, the team has been doing single carries which means that the team has been only making one trip with all their gear to each camp. Tomorrow, they will do their first "cache." They will take most of their gear to Camp Three at 13,300 feet and drop it off and return back to Camp Two to spend the night. This will achieve the dual purpose of allowing for acclimitization and also make the trip back to Camp Three on Wednesday considerably easier.
The weather has been excellent staring at about zero degrees in the morning and reaching about 50 F on the glacier. The sun hitting the glacier makes for some intense heat so the team has been going back and forth between single and multiple layers. Sounds like a typical day in the Rockies for these seasoned Colorado climbers, albeit without quite the extreme jumps in temperature.
The team sounded quite upbeat and healthy. Matt is loving the candy bar diet - the calorie burn of these climbs warrants a steady munching of everything from Kit Kats to Baby Ruths. Even with the near constant light, the team is sleeping well.
The team has moved quickly. In about 36 hours, the team has traveled from Denver to Talkeetna, refueled with an enormous amount of calories (no diets for this trip), skied four hours to base camp at 7,800 feet and then single carried to First Camp at 9,800 camp. The speed allows team to take advantage of the natural acclimitization that living in Colorado provides. All the team members reside at at least 6,000 feet sea level or above so this is nearly like being at home.
The weather has been good. Lots of sun on the glacier makes for single layers and plenty of sunscreen during the day while getting pretty chilly at night. First Camp is mellow and pretty free of cravasses and is a short hop to the next camp at 11,000 feet. The team sounded strong and healthy.