Denali Photo Essay

Packing and loading up with Talkeetna Air Taxi.
Packing and loading up with Talkeetna Air Taxi.

June, 2014.

- Buster Jesik

After having some time to hang out in Anchorage while waiting for the weather to improve, we took a shuttle to Talkeetna and finished packing up for Denali. On June 2nd, we boarded an Otter ski plane and flew to base camp at 7,200 ft. We decided to “hit the ground running”, packing up our sleds and skiing to 8,000 ft camp the same day.

Camp at 8,200ft
Camp at 8,200ft

Our second day on the mountain we carried most of our supplies to the 11,000 ft camp, leaving behind some food and extra gear at 8,200 ft, which we retrieved the next day.

Howling the sled.
Howling the sled.

On June 6th we moved up to the 14,000 ft “advanced base camp” and settled in to our home for the next two weeks. After a rest day the whole group went for an acclimatization hike to 17,000 ft, which was a personal altitude record for Colin, Steven, and Marianne. The weather had been mostly stable to this point, but that gave way to consistent snow storms followed by days of cold and wind.

Climbing the West Buttress at 16,500 ft.
Climbing the West Buttress at 16,500 ft.

After 3 days of sitting in the tents, Steve, Raphael, Steven, Colin, and Buster set out on another acclimatization hike while Marianne rested in camp. Buster turned back at 16,000ft having not felt well that day, while the others continued. Around 11pm the climbers walked back into camp, and to Marianne and Buster’s surprise had gone all the way to the summit of Denali!

The next day, June 13th, Buster and Marianne set off at different times to try and make up for not summiting. Buster made it to 18,000 ft solo before being turned around by wind and bad visibility. Marianne and Buster met up just above the 17,000 camp and descended together back to 14 camp. Two more days of bad weather kept everyone in camp, and we we’re starting to wonder if we’d even get the chance to attempt our main objective, the Cassin Ridge. On June 15th the weather looked good enough to head out again - Colin, Steve, Buster, and Marianne set out for the main summit while Steven and Raphael decided to try the seldom visited north summit. Despite worsening weather, everyone summited there objective for the day.

Steve, Colin, Marianne, and Buster ran into a disoriented Polish climber on the descent who was separated from his team and lost in the white out. They helped the climber find the way down until he slipped and fell a couple hundred feet down Denali Pass. Steve went to rescue him as the rest went on to navigate through the storm. Part way across the Autobahn (a steep slope above 17 camp) the Polish man fell again, and luckily arrested him self in the fresh snow on the infamous slope that has killed several others in the past. Steve rescued the climber again, and anchored him to a fixed picket where he wanted to wait for the rest of his party. After making it down to 17 camp, the Alpine Mentors team alerted the NPS rangers to the situation before descending back to 14 camp.

Nothing can beat Colin's stoke!!!
Nothing can beat Colin's stoke!!!

More rest days and snow gave way to blue skies on the 17th. Raphael, Steven, Buster, and Colin left camp to enjoy the fresh powder on skis and got some epic turns in just above camp. By now we had realized that we wouldn’t get the weather window needed for the Cassin this year, and decided to have fun with our last few days on the mountain.

Go further, Front Rangers!
Go further, Front Rangers!

On June 18th Raphael, Buster, and Colin set off for “another lap” while Steve and Steven took their skis over to the West Rib to explore and play. Colin and Raphael were well acclimatized after two summits already, and went ahead to see how fast they could make it from 14 camp to the summit. Buster hung back and enjoyed climbing solo on what turned out to be the best weather day of the trip. The clouds parted, the wind stopped, and it got so warm that Raphael was able to take a nap near the summit while Colin waited for Buster on the top of North America.

At 17,200ft: Steven, Colin, Raph, Steve, Buster & Marianne.
At 17,200ft: Steven, Colin, Raph, Steve, Buster & Marianne.

The next day we packed camp into our sleds and packs and began the ski assisted descent back to base camp. After 6 hours of wrestling with the pesky sleds that had a mind of their own, we caught the last flight out of base camp and made it back to Talkeetna in time for hip hop night at the Fairview Inn. Going from the summit of Denali to an all night Alaskan party in just over 24 hours was a surreal and memorable journey…

Next for the Alpine Mentors team - an expedition to the Garhwal Himalaya in fall of 2014.