Getting up to 14 camp on Denali was a tough climb, but we had two weather days to recover after the load carry, and I was eager to finally get moving again. When we finally got to camp, I was then glad it was over nonetheless, even if only for that day.
The next day we went down to pick up our cache according to our routine. Compared to the previous day, it was a short and easy hike. But it was not over just yet.
It was time to load carry above the fixed ropes. It was my first time using my ascender in action, so I was really looking forward to it. It was much more fun and way less suffering than I expected. The weather was nice, the snow okay, though it was unpleasantly windy on the ridge.
After the load carry we had a planned rest day before the move to high camp. We spent the day off having a “sightseeing hike” to the “edge of the world”, the cliff at the edge of camp.
The next day it was time to move to high camp. One of my teammates couldn’t come along because of health reasons, but the rest of us started out well rested. Then shit hit the fan. Another teammate had a bad step or something and absolutely wrecked his knee about a third the way up. The other two of us returned to camp while the two guides lowered the injured teammate down in a makeshift sled back to camp. He was then taken off the mountain in a helicopter.
So we had to return to 14 camp and we had another day off, because the rescue totally drained our guides. Then weather hit. It wasn’t so bad in 14 camp, but up on the ridge and 17 camp stories say it was. We spent three days in 14 camp waiting for the weather to improve, but it never did. At that point it was clear the summit is out of reach this time and it was time to go down. But the weather…
Our guides decided they’d go up quick light to grab all our cache from the ridge early in the morning, then we’d all go down to 11 camp. We took down camp and started descending in a blizzard. At Windy Corner the wind was so bad that even with full load it lifted me off my feet (and my two remaining teammates had it even worse, being lighter and smaller than me) and small rocks from the cliffs above kept raining down on us (thanks, helmet).
It became clear that we couldn’t move on like that so the guides quickly dug a cave in the snow where we’d sheltered for a few hours until the storm calmed down somewhat. Then we’d leave all non-essential gear cached there with the sleds and “quickly” descend down to 11 camp. We spent the next day huddled up in the tent waiting for the weather. Then in the middle of the night another team arrived down from above, and our guides rushed up to pick up the gear we left behind.
Luckily descending from 11 camp the weather gradually improved and we got some nice views as consolation. We went all the way back to the landing strip in one go, picking up the gear and trash (and poo) we left behind on the way up.
Almost 9 hours later we set up camp at the landing strip (no more flights that day) that has moved higher up the glacier since we landed due to the snow melting. Once in camp it was time to celebrate being “back” alive and in one piece. Beers were popped and crackers were had. We spent the next day just lazing around camp, stomping the landing strip smooth(er), waiting for the clouds to clear so planes could come through. It was already evening by the time planes could, but we quickly took down camp and were off the mountain.
It’s sad I didn’t get to summit, but I got out alive meaning I can go back for seconds. Which I will, for sure. Maybe on splitboards the next time, who knows.