The team tried to call in yesterday, but thick cloud cover prevented transmission via their satellite phone. They did reach our Alaska office late last night to report on their movements of the past couple of days.
On Wednesday, April 20th, the team carried gear and supplies to a point at about 10,200′ (3120m), just below a feature called Kahiltna Pass, essentially, the northernmost end of the 50+ mile (80km) long, Kahiltna Glacier. This is called “making a carry,” in mountaineering parlance. They basically took half of their total amount of supplies and carried it to the vicinity of their next camp. On Denali, we rarely plan to carry it all the way to the site of our intended next camps, but on other mountains we might carry all the way to the next camp. Upon arriving at their destination, they dug a deep pit in the snow and buried the pile under several feet of snow, marking the location with numerous long wands made of bamboo garden wands.
After making their cache, the team descended back to their Camp 1 at 7,800′ (2380m) to spend the night. This system of moving high during the day, yet returning to sleep at a lower elevation is called “double carrying” and follows the acclimatization principle of climbing high and sleeping low, which eases climbers’ bodies into new elevations.
Yesterday, April 21st, the team packed up camp and moved up glacier, heading for a protected camp at 11,200′ (3413m). The glacier steepens right out of camp, up a feature known as Ski Hill. Another smaller rise took the team to a long stretch of very featureless, broad glacier that ascends from 9,500′ (2900m) to Kahiltna Pass.
Kahiltna Pass is a low point in the long line of peaks stretching from the north to the southwest part of the Alaska range containing Denali, Kahiltna Dome, Mount Crosson and Mount Foraker. As such, it acts as a funnel of sorts for weather coming in from the north. This creates challenging weather at times, and our team encountered a full dose of it, traveling in whiteout conditions by GPS for a while before throwing in the towel and making camp near the site of their cache. While we have not heard a report this morning, I suspect they experienced some full-on Denali weather last night and will have some stories to tell when they get home about tents flapping and digging out snow that drifted up on their tent walls.
The weather looks pretty grim right now and the current storm looks like it might sit on them through Sunday. Fortunately, they have plenty of food, fuel and time.
We’ll update more when we hear from the team. Stay tuned…