At the point you step off the plane you are now fully in the grasp of Denali and its power and we saw that first hand. Day one left two of our party members back in Talkeetna waiting out the storm that split our two planes up. As the next day almost came and went the clouds broke and the buzzing of a incoming plane could be heard we knew it was time to head up and for my sleeping bag to arrive.
Denali is a long cold slog upward and with night time nonexistent we took advantage of every ounce of good weather we had. The days were long but broken up by the much needed breaks that usually were filled with talking with fellow climbers and getting much needed inspiration from the team and from deep within oneself.
As the camps got higher, the air got thinner and each step was a struggle. This is the point in which one must fight every urge the body has to just stop and give up, it becomes a constant battle to push onward but before you know it your at camp 17 and within striking distance of the summit.
Storms on Denali can be deal breakers, as we set up camp at 17 we made the decision that the following day would be a rest day. With the rest day consisting of checking the pulse oximeter, trying to eat all the while watching the building storm tighten mother natures grip on our summit bid. The one thing about storms at that altitude on Denali is that the ones that wont let you go up also wont let you get down.
Three days of sitting in a tent at 17,000 ft give you a lot of time to think not only about the climb but about your life, some thoughts silly and some life changing. When the storm broke we had a choice, to follow the teams that simply had enough down or dig deep and head for the summit. 14 hours later we were back at 17camp and with memories of standing atop the tallest mountain in North America forever imprinted into our mind body and soul the...we slept.
As you head down through the late summer minefield of crevasses and rotten snow its almost like a dream only to be awaken briefly from the pain an agony of the weight on your failing body and then only to slip back away into the dream world.
For us this Denali expedition was all the more sweet as upon our arrival to the NPS ranger station for check in we were given the coveted PRO PIN for our work with the NPS and our clean mountain ascent. See, along with climbing this mountain we also took in the task of doing it... not so dirty and with ten CMC's (clean mountain cans). The idea sounded simple we would be one of the first expeditions to successfully remove all of our human waste from the mountain but the task... a bit harder than expected.
In the end we accomplished all that we set out to do. With Denali's success rating at about 50% all five of our climbers made the summit and in a mere 14 days. But this year like the others did come with tragedy, our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the 9 climbers who left their lives on the mountain doing what they love.
In the end I have to say it was well worth it and now.... its time for the next project!