IntroductionThis trip report contains "real-time" dispatches from my expedition beginning May 17, 2008, which will be uploaded daily (hopefully) via satellite phone. Be sure to check back from time to time to gauge our progress! If a daily update is late, it may be due to any number of reasons, including bad weather and/or a lack of sun for charging the batteries.
Route: West Buttress
Team 1 (GAP): George, Peter, Paul
Team 2 (ORCA): Steve, Andy, Ben
|May 17||Day 01||Flight to Kahiltna Glacier (7200'). Move to 7800'.||5.5 miles / +600 ft elevation|
|May 18||Day 02||Move to 9800'.||2.5 miles / +2000 ft elevation|
|May 19||Day 03||Move to 11,000'.||2.5 miles / +1200 ft elevation|
|May 20||Day 04||Rest day.||-|
|May 21||Day 05||Carry gear cache to 13,500'. Return to 11,000'.||3.5 miles RT / +2500 ft elevation, -2500 ft elevation|
|May 22||Day 06||Move to 14,200'.||2.75 miles / +3200 ft elevation|
|May 23||Day 07||Retrieve cache from 13,500'. Return to 14,200'.||2 miles RT / -700 ft elevation, +700 ft elevation|
|May 24||Day 08||Rest day.||-|
|May 25||Day 09||Carry gear cache to 16,200'. Return to 14,200'.||2 miles RT / +2000 ft elevation, -2000 ft elevation|
|May 26||Day 10||Move to 17,200'.||1.75 miles / +3000 ft elevation|
|May 27||Day 11||Retrieve cache from 16,200'. Return to 17,200'.||1.5 miles RT / -1000 ft elevation, +1000 ft elevation|
|May 28||Day 12||Possible summit day.||5 miles RT / +3100 ft elevation, -3100 ft elevation|
|May 29||Day 13||" "||" "|
|May 30||Day 14||" "||" "|
|May 31||Day 15||" "||" "|
|Jun 01||Day 16||" "||" "|
|Jun 02||Day 17||" "||" "|
|Jun 03||Day 18||Descend to 11,000'.||4.5 miles / -6200 ft elevation|
|Jun 04||Day 19||Descend to 7200'.||9.5 miles / -3800 ft elevation|
|Jun 05||Day 20||Possible flight to Talkeetna.||-|
|Jun 06||Day 21||" "||-|
You can also monitor our team progress through the trip blogs from Andy and Paul below.
Weather: Click here for current weather conditions on Denali.
May 17, 2008 SaturdayChange of Plans
We finished our preparations early and flew to base camp yesterday evening. The extra night at 7200FT should help. We moved to camp 7.8K today under a cloudless sky. The ORCA team made it as well. We found a nice campsite with shallow snow walls.
May 18, 2008 SundayMade it to camp 9800 Today
It took us 5 hours with our full loads. The ORCA team did a carry to 10K and returned to 7800FT as planned. Conditions on the glacier and weather have both been perfect so far. Everyone having a great time! Tomorrow we move to 11K.
May 19, 2008 MondayCamp 11000 Today
After three straight days of carrying a 60LB pack and pulling a 60LB sled, we will take a well deserved rest day tomorrow.
May 20, 2008 TuesdayRest Day at 11000
One thing on our minds. Rest, rest, rest...
May 21, 2008 WednesdayClimate Better
Today we moved up the mountain via Squirrel Hill and an exposed traverse around Windy Corner to cache at 13.5K. The scenery is spectacular! We are all feeling great and climbing strong. Back to 11K for the night in one tent for the three of us.
May 22, 2008 ThursdayTeams at 14000
We received a foot of snow overnight at 11K. That slowed our ability to break camp and made it harder to pull sleds. Andy on the ORCA team has a swollen knee with back pain, but the two teams have pulled together to help him out. Once at 14K, we had to build snow walls and did not complete them until Friday morning. A storm is coming in and it looks like a few days of staying in place.
May 23, 2008 FridayRest at 14000
We are all very tired but feeling well. On Saturday we will take a rest, as planned, and wait out the high winds. There is a warming trend and temps should be above zero.
May 24, 2008 SaturdayMore Rest at 14000
We spent the day in camp waiting for the weather to clear up to the point we can move on.
May 25, 2008 SundayHigh Winds Holding US Back
We tried to cache some food at 16K, but we turned back by the high winds. High winds are forecast through Thursday, so the earliest we will move to 17K is Friday. Team spirit is high, but we are eager to move higher.
May 26, 2008 MondayBits and Pieces
The text messages from George are coming in all jumbled up, so I will attempt to translate and triangulate from the collective data that I have. The GAP team has become PP (Peter, Paul) and ORCA has morphed into GORCA (George, Steve, Ben). PP decide to go straight to 17K with full loads and skip the cache at 16.2K. GORCA appears to have cached at 16.2K with a return to 14K. They are exhausted and will wait for Wednesday or Thursday to make the push to 17K, or Friday if I have translated George's latest message correctly.
May 27, 2008 TuesdayWanted - Hot Shower
GORCA is still at 14K. Looks like Andy will wait here until the teams return due to his swollen knee. Last message from George was a Happy 70th birthday wish to his mother.
May 28, 2008 WednesdayWaiting, Waiting, Waiting...
Winds are still the limiting factor for both parties. PP at 17K and GORCA at 14K. Order of business for the day was to reinforce the snow walls. Everyone is doing well and hoping the insanity factor does not get out control!!!
May 29, 2008 ThursdayItching for Calm
Winds were in the 40mph range but the forecast is down to 20mph on Friday. GORCA plans to move to 17K with PP heading for the summit. There are some great pictures on Paul's blog if you click on the link just below the Planned Itinerary table above. Keep your fingers crossed.
May 30, 2008 FridayBig Move Today
Winds and weather cooperated and allowed the GORCA team to move up to 17K. The climb along the West Buttress was gorgeous and the team is doing well. Peter, from PP, made the summit today but Paul had to turn back as a precaution when his hands started to hurt and numb. Congratulations Peter!
May 31, 2008 SaturdayRest and Ready
The weather is holding and the GORCA team plus Paul have their eye on the prize for tomorrow. The 8 days at 14K has made a difference with acclimatization and the team is feeling strong. Good luck for Sunday!!! Peter is on his way down and will hike out with Andy.
June 1, 2008 SundayOn Top of North America
The GORCA team (Steve, Ben + George) made it today!!! Congratulations. They reached the summit at 7:30 PM after a 9 hour climb, stayed for a few minutes and decided that the below zero temps and +20 winds was enough and headed back to 17K. Good to be in the land of midnight sun for a long day of light and climbing. Paul decided to hold back given the near whiteout conditions in the morning. It was a 4 hour return trip and the team is tired and resting up.
June 2, 2008 MondayTime to Head Home
The GORCA team is planning to start the trek home today. They are looking forward to warmth, pizza and beer. It has been three weeks of zero-temps and tent-bound days and nights, time now to return to the comfort world. Update for the record- Team moved to 14K.
June 3, 2008 TuesdaySomewhere on the Mountain
The GORCA team + Paul headed down today, but it is not clear from what point to what point. The satellite phone has started to die and Sally only got 25 seconds of transmission from Steve. Update for the record- Team moved to 7.8K
Edit: Steve, Ben, Paul and I traveled down to 7800 Camp from 14K in white out conditions and fresh snow. We had hoped to hike the 13+ miles all the way out to base camp, but it proved a little too much for us.
June 4, 2008 WednesdayBack at Base Camp 7K
Another short phone call this morning confirms that the team is at base camp and waiting for the weather to clear. They are hoping to get to Anchorage and home on Thursday, but that will depend on mother nature! Update for the record- Team moved to 7.2K base camp and were picked up within 2 hours for the flight back to Talkeenta.
Edit: We hiked 5 miles from 7800 to base camp at 7200. Paul and I managed to catch a flight within 2 hours of arrival, whereas Steve and Ben had to wait for a couple more hours for a flight back to Talkeetna.
June 5, 2008 ThursdayBack to a Warm Bed
The team was able to get to Talkeenta last night, even though the plane ahead of them had to land on the Glacier lower down due to not enough altitude to take off! A round of showers and beer was in order. This will be the last entry, and once again congratulations to all the team members. And the last update for the record- George is at the airport this evening getting ready for his flight home.
SummaryBy most measures our expedition was pretty successful. Four out of our six member unguided team reached the summit, whereas the annual success rate is typically less than 50%. And more importantly, no one suffered any serious injury during the trip.
A special thanks to my teammates Peter, Paul, Steve, Andy and Ben for making this a very memorable and enjoyable adventure! In addition, many, many thanks to Zscapes for his time and help uploading my daily messages.
As a side note, uploading daily logs using SMS text messaging turned out to be quite crude. It was suppose to simplify things on the receiving end. (Simply copy and paste messages into the blog.) Unfortunately, the messages didn't come across reliably, and they were also very tedious to type into the sat phone. In addition, I couldn't upload photos during the trip. I'll definitely seek an alternative method to SMS in the future.
Slideshow Video on YouTube.