April 17th Denali West Buttress- Recap

Hello everyone,
Thank you for following the blog and all of the support. We’re back in Anchorage where it is relatively warm. This was a very special trip and I already miss the mighty Alaska Range.

Flying in early and having the mountain all to ourselves made this a unique Denali expedition.  We had a very strong team; the sort of team that guides really get excited to work with, and the kind that makes one, at times, think that the summit is in the bag…But as we all know if the summit was always guaranteed, it wouldn’t make mountaineering much of a sport… Sometimes all of the stars don’t align and we found this high on the mountain with very cold temps that were compounded by a seemingly incessant wind.

View of Denali

Hiking back to the runway. With a view of the wind coming off of the summit of Denali

In the end, remaining at high camp was just not an option. After a nice move day to high camp, Zach Johnson and I capitalized on a team rest/acclimatization day to place some pickets on the long traverse above camp called “The Autobahn.” The rest of the team fortified camp building snow walls around our tents. Zach and I had a very difficult time staying warm, although we were wearing every stitch of clothes we had with us.

That night we got a weather report. It said that the temps were going to stay the same: -20 as the high, but the winds were going to increase to 40-60 miles an hour. To give you an idea of what this translates to, such conditions would result in a wind chill of roughly -45 to -60 degrees Fahrenheit.  We went to bed that night in hopes that we might get one more good day so we can summit; however, when we woke up it was blowing hard on the ridge above us.

Around 1:00pm we started down the mountain. We stopped by our two lower camps to retrieve the gear we cached. Later that night we stopped at Ski Hill to spend the night. The next day we made it to the airstrip and flew out by 3:00 pm. Back in Talkeetna we all enjoyed burgers and a well deserved beer. It was a good decision to go down when we did as most of the teams that were at 14,200′ have still not gotten a chance to move up and it is still blowing on the summit. Four days later, we’re pretty happy to be in Anchorage, as there is still more wind in the forecast.

Until next time,

Jacob Schmitz

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