June 1, 2004    Summit Day

The weather was windy this morning.  I poked my head out of the tent and saw an eerie glow above me as the wind and drifts of snow howled over the summit.  We were up around 8am and made some water that would accompany us up towards the summit.  We started our trek towards Denali Pass at 9:30 as the sun bumped its way into the sky.  There were several inches of new snow on the ground, and we took turns with two other small groups breaking trail.

A few hours later, we reached the Pass, where the winds were blowing 15-25 miles an hour.  After a brief rest and water break behind a rock sheltered somewhat from the wind, we continued up the rocky spine, past the weather station, and towards the Football Field.  As we trekked on, the wind started to gradually melt away.  Below us we gazed at heavy cloud cover draped across the horizon several thousand feet below us as we felt the effect of climbing at 19,000 feet.  The high elevation was taking a toll on bodies, and taking a toll on our minds.  I started to feel lethargic and every step was slow and tiring.  Fortunately, a little while later, my second wind kicked in, and the climb was a snap.  Off to our left was Archdeacon's Tower, marking the beginning of the Football Field.  There was virtually no wind and sunny skies.  Down below, there were heavy clouds and thunderstorms raging below us across the horizon.

On the other side of the Field, we began our climb up Kahiltna Horn.  Our pace slowed considerably, and each step was tiring.  I felt like three people were surrounding me.  One was smacking me in the head with an ice axe, another was putting a plastic bag over my head every few minutes, and the third was punching me in the back.  As we made our way around some switchbacks, our feet would posthole through some fresh snow.  The effort required to make the next step was exhausting.  We would pause briefly and then continue up towards the summit ridge.

As the ridge became closer and closer, our speed picked up a little as we saw the top.  Our breathing became heavy and labored, and we approached the top and followed the ridge towards the summit.  Off to one side was a 4,500 foot vertical wall, and down the other was an 800 foot drop down to the Football Field.  After a few false summits, we saw a small stomped out ledge straight ahead, and a small flat area to our left.  We knew this was it.  Denali!!  We clumsily congratulated each other as we tried to catch our breath at 20,320.  We took some pictures with the Mountain Rescue flag, some without and tried to take in the views.  Although I probably could have stayed up for a good half hour, Doug's fingertips were numb, so we darted off the summit.

Immediately off the summit, the winds relaxed to near zero and we paused to catch our breaths from our still fatigued bodies.  The winds remained zero to light and variable as we crossed back over the Football Field and continued down.  We paused several times for picture taking and snaked our way down the ridge to Denali Pass.

From the Pass, the hike down seemed to take forever.  The routine was the same with every step.  Axe plunge-step-step-axe plunge.  The sun was still strong and beating down on us at 10pm.  I was warm and very ready to reach our camp.  After what seemed like and eternity, we limped our way around the snow walls and reached our little home above the clouds at 17,300 camp.  My stove was frozen, the evening katabatic winds started up again, and we decided to call it a night.  We did it.
On top of North America!


After Summit Day:

The Denali climb was done as a fundraiser for our
: Vail Mountain Rescue Group