May 21, 2012
We woke around 8:00 to find that the weather was not very good. It was windy and cold outside the tent and we could not even see Denali Pass. We decided to sleep for a bit longer and see if the weather improved. I still had a slight headache from the climb to high camp the day before.
At 10:00, the weather still had not improved. At high elevations, you tend to lose your appetite. Neither of us really felt much like eating but we boiled water and had some soup to make sure we were still getting some calories and fluids. At high elevations, your digestive system slows down. There is not as much oxygen so it takes longer for your body to digest food than at a lower elevation.
The weather did not improve until late in the afternoon. We spent most of the day relaxing and reading in the tent. In the afternoon, we chatted with fellow climbers about what the best plan of action would be for the following days. We had only brought food and fuel up to high camp for approximately four days and tomorrow would be day three. We decided that if we were unable to summit the next day, we would have to return to Basin Camp until the weather improved. This was not something I wanted to do but I knew that it was the right decision.
That night I prayed and prayed for the weather would improve to allow us to summit the next day. I really hoped that we would not have to do the fixed lines and the ridge to high camp more than once.
May 22, 2012
We woke to the sound of other climbers getting ready for the day. It was around 8:00 and when we looked outside of the tent, it was intermittent clouds and we could see Denali Pass. This was a good sign. I prayed that the weather would stay good for us. We started to get ready. Boiling water, eating and drinking. In our bags we packed the minimal, high elevation down suit or what we were not wearing from the beginning, goggles, balaclava, neck warmer and high elevation mitts. We also packed a few chocolate bars for energy.
The few days before, we had met three young climbers climbing together. One summited the day before us and the other two had asked to climb with us today. The one climber at the last minute decided not to climb that day so at around 1:00 the other climber Adam and I headed out of camp.
There is a short section that is mostly flat until you reach the base of the Autobahn. The Autobahn is a steep climb and traverse up to Denali Pass. Many people die on the Autobahn because it is very steep and if you fall there are large crevasse looming below it. To make this a little safer, there are anchors along the way for climbers to clip the rope into for safety in case they fall. With three people, the rope was just long enough to go in between the anchors so that we were always tied into one anchor as we climbed the Autobahn.
Part way up the Autobahn, the other climber that initially stayed behind caught up to us. Just after we had left camp, he had decided that today was the day to climb and quickly got ready. When he caught us, we tied him in to our rope and continued up.
As we approached Denali Pass, we started to feel the wind. It curled down the mountains and rushed through the pass where we were coming through. We wondered if it was too windy and if we should turn around but other climbers ahead of us had continued so we decided to see if the wind improved.
Just above Denali Pass, we stopped in a shelter around some rocks. The one climber who had started with us was not feeling good. He had not had a rest day at high camp like the rest of us and was feeling the effects of altitude and fatigue from the long climb to high camp. He was not sure if he should continue as he needed to go slower and if we went much slower the rest of us were at risk of frostbite. After several minutes of looking at options, the two climbers decided to turn around and try the next day. Since we only had one rope with us, we had to cut the rope in half and both teams continue with a smaller rope. This made for a challenge in some places as the anchors were farther apart than our rope. To keep ourselves safe, the back person, Adam, would stay anchored. The front person, me, would walk ahead until the rope was taut and I would use my ice axe to anchor us in. Adam would then climb towards me until we stood next to each other. He would then anchor and we would continue this way until we could clip into the next anchor. It made for a longer climb but there were a few sections that were very steep and we were worried about falling if we were not anchored in.
Above Denali Pass, the weather improved. The clouds cleared and the sun came out. It turned into a beautiful day. We followed the south, southeast ridge to the football field. This is a section that is fairly flat right before the last steep uphill before the summit ridge. This is where I started to feel unwell. I still do not know if it was from a head cold I was trying to fight off or if it was from the altitude, however just after the football field, I started coughing and could not stop. All the coughing made me nauseated and I became sick to my stomach. Since I had not been eating much from lack of appetite, it did not last long and then I felt much better.
The steep climb before the summit ridge seemed to take forever. It was getting harder and harder to move quickly and very easy to get short of breath. Finally we were looking at the summit ridge.
The ridge itself is quite narrow and has vertical drop offs on both sides. A wrong move on this ridge could easily cost you your life. Since it was so narrow, in sections you could not pass a climber and if you were coming down you had to wait at an area that was wider to pass. Most of the way, Adam and I used our ice axes as anchors, however there were a few fixed anchors on the ridge at the most difficult areas.
On May 22, 2012, at around 7:00 in the afternoon, we summited Mt McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. The view was stunning. The weather had cleared, leaving only a few clouds in the distance around us. We were able to have another team take a quick photo of the two of us before they headed down. It was a wonderful day. We did not stay long at the summit. It was very cold from the wind and it was getting late in the day. So we carefully made our way back across the ridge down the steep slope to the football field and down the south east ridge to Denali Pass.
From Denali Pass down the Autobahn took us some time. We were both tired now and with a short rope, most of the anchors were too far apart so we had to use our axes most of the way down. This took time and it was not until 1:00am in the morning when we finally made it back to camp. Cold, tired and in the dark, we boiled a small amount of water to drink and eat before crawling into our nice warm sleeping bags and falling into a very welcoming sleep.