Bart took the phone for the first part of this update. My language skills stop with the Romance Languages, so I cannot help translate, but expect that he was echoed by Paul and Chris, who spoke of tenacity. This team is digging their heels in deep and fighting the good fight, as they say. The weather broke a bit below high camp and the temperatures rose. It sounds like most, if not all the other teams up there made a break for it and descended out of camp. Our guys are continuing to wait for their shot at the top.
It’s really hard to explain how difficult it can be to wait out day after day after day of weather up at 17,200′ (5240m) on Denali. These guys have spent 15 days above 14,200′ (4328m). Some teams get good enough weather to climb up and down the mountain in 15 days. In the US, 15 days is sort of the general yearly vacation time for many adults, and the experience these guys have been having is not quite like hanging out at the beach for a couple of weeks. FIFTEEN DAYS!!!
The mental challenge of spending 15 days in one of the most inhospitable environments imaginable is something that I doubt I can put into words. When I think of extended stays high on the mountain, I think of one of my earliest trips, on which we spent 5 days at 14,200′ and then 8 days at high camp before we were able to summit on Day 9 of that stretch (only 14 total days above 14K). I have a photo from inside our tent of climbers sitting with their backs up against the wall of the tent, looking eager and excited about our recent arrival at camp that afternoon. Smiles pierce through the swirling fog of steam from whatever gruel I was cooking in the vestibule of the tent, and the anticipatory glint of a blue eye peering from under a thick purple fleece hat is my most vivid memory of the image. I have another slide (remember slide film!) from day 7, in which the same climbers are sitting in the same positions, with their backs against the wall of the same tent. The fog from the certainly now tasteless gruel swirls, but each climber is now slumped with their chin buried in the collar of their down parka, hoods up and eyes downcast.
Those are the images I have of enduring the mental erosion of will and motivation. When I heard the voices of Bart, Paul and Chris on this podcast, I could hear the glint of anticipation in their voices (I have no idea what Bart said, so if I’m way off, someone let me know!), and it resonated with me as a testament to their strength of will, which is one of the most important skills that any prospective Denali climber needs, yet is one that might not be something we can ever teach. It is easy to praise strength of will from the comfort of my home, on this bluebird day in Colorado, but they are in the midst of a daily, hourly challenge to stay focused while the altitude makes everything difficult. Each moment they remain up high, they increase their odds of attaining their goal, but each moment is an eternity in the frosty confines of a tent shaking, rattling and snapping nylon against nylon in the wind.
It does look like the wind is shifting up high in the coming days. Hang in there guys!