We received something akin to a request for an update on the climbers from the April 22 team, who have been spending time at the 14,200′ camp, waiting on their fellow teammates to join them on the descent. The previous audio post, which is beautiful and inspiring, did not mention the climbers, but their friends and family are concerned, and we want everyone to rest assured that they are safely tucked into a well-fortified camp.
Climbing on an early season Denali expedition is a special undertaking, and requires that a team exercise a higher degree of self-sufficiency than might be required of a team later in the season. As Craig painted in his verbal picture, our crew was the first team to move high on the mountain. They had little in the way of back-up, as they were a full week ahead of the National Park Service and most other climbers this season. As such, they really needed to preserve their resources, which meant that each team member, whether they went up to high camp or not, needed to do their best to support the rest of the team.
Whilst the team up at high camp has been fighting high winds and broken tents, the two climbers at the 14,200′ camp have had their own struggle, which I expect evolved as the days passed. It can be incredibly challenging to wait, day after day, in very cold and windy conditions, when all you want is to get off the mountain and go home.
There is typically a cost to any decision we make in life, and the cost to sending the two climbers down with our guide Yoshiko in marginal weather conditions would have been to weaken the resources of the remaining climbers, while also exposing the already frost-nipped fingers of one climber to potential further cold damage. In our assessment up until speaking with the team at high camp late this afternoon, we felt that the prudent course of action was not to push a descent downhill in high winds and cold temperatures, where the potential for things not going smoothly could be assured.
After speaking with Michael Burmeister at high camp a couple of hours ago, he felt that, despite having been battered by storms at 17,200′ for many days, he and fellow guide Sebastian could manage descending the route with the climbers at high camp on their own. With this knowledge in hand, Yoshiko and the two climbers at 14,200′ will begin their descent when the weather permits. Getting down off the mountain a bit sooner is no call to compromise safety, and we sincerely appreciate the time that the two climbers at high camp have spent in an effort to best support the entire team.
Hopefully, this clarifies what has been going on with the climbers at 14,200′. We’ll update again when they begin to move.