Wednesday, June 27, 2012

American Alpine Institute Denali Team 5, 2012

I just got back from my second Denali trip of the year, and once again the weather ruled the trip.   This was my second trip of the season, and unlike the first was quite warm.  Unfortunately the high winds were still present, and were accompanied by lots of snow. 
With the strongest team I have had on the mountain I left Talkeetna fairly optimistic about our summit chances.  The first few days on the lower glacier were perfect.  Not too hot and not too stormy. 
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When we got to 11,200ft camp the weather changed, and as is typical for that area of the mountain we got a lot of snow overnight.  So much in fact that it collapsed our cook tent and broke all our poles.  This combined with a little stove accident pretty much ended the life of our cook tent.  We spent the next day repairing the tent.

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We did manage to carry a load up and around windy corner after a short delay. 
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The following day we moved to camp at 14,200ft.

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Once arriving at 14,200 the weather took a turn for the worse and the snow started falling. 

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We did manage to carry a load up to a cache spot of 16,700 ft.  Little did we know on this day that the weather would never improve enough for us to return and retrieve our cache. 
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After returning to camp a storm rolled in and dropped several feet of snow, which is fairly uncommon at 14k this time of year.  In addition to the heavy snow there were very strong winds which caused some very dangerous avalanche conditions all over the mountain.  See the previous post for some photos and a short movie. 
We had cached 4 days of food just below Washburn’s Thumb, and then sat at 14 camp day after day watching the winds hammer the upper mountain, and load the leeward slopes.  We were stuck at 14 camp unable to go up and get our cache, and unable to go down.  Below are some photos of some of our time at 14. 
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With only a single dinner left and no lunch to hand out until we got down to a cache at 11k camp we had to descend without ever returning to the upper mountain.   The only team that summited within a week of us leaving was a group that had been sitting at 17 camp for 11 days.  Each person in the group sustained serious frostbite injuries in what might be one of the worst pieces of decision making I heard of on the mountain this year. 
The move down from 14 camp was not a simple walk.  Thigh deep snow around windy corner made travel difficult. 
We walked through the night to get to basecamp for the flight out the following morning.  It was truly a beautiful night…
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