We were dropped off on the Kalhitna Glacier on Wednesday 8th June by Sheldon Air Service (who I'd recommend), and were due to be picked up on Tuesday 28th June. I will just describe the summit day for now, hopefully I’ll get a chance to write up the whole expedition.
We got up to high camp (5200m) late afternoon on Sunday 19th June and there were high winds. We were stuck there through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The radio weather report on Wednesday reported high winds predicted for Thursday up to 60 mph but reducing to around 25-35mph on the Friday so we thought it looks like Friday is our best chance as high winds were set to return over the weekend. With the ambient temperature at the summit easily reaching -30 degrees Celsius we didn’t like to think about the effect of wind chill.
I couldn’t sleep. I lay in the tent listening to the winds battering the tent all through Wednesday night until about 6am when they seemed to die down. I continued listening and eventually got up and had a look at Denali Pass. It looked good to go, this was our window. I woke everyone up, we took a while to get ready as we were expecting Thursday to be a sit it out day.
It was steady progress up until Denali Pass where the wind hit us solidly for about 2 hours. We trudged along. Jimmy’s crampon came off twice and at one point he dropped his ice axe about 60m down a slope. But he got through it, showing unbelievable determination. The climb, the wind, and the altitude was taking all of my strength and focus, to have to deal with kit issues would have been a real kick in the balls.
There were only 15 other people making a summit attempt that day - four rangers, a group of South Koreans, a commercial group from AMS and a solo turkish climber.
We got to Pig Hill, the final rise just before the summit ridge, it didn’t look that steep but at the time it really felt like a hill too far. It was hell, but cold. Once we got onto the summit ridge we re-focused and pushed on. We summited around 5pm on Thursday 23rd June. The altitude must have really affected Dave as he decided to propose to his girlfriend on top of North America. I started to get pretty cold whilst taking photos.
We got back to high camp around 11:30pm completely exhausted. To this day I have never been so tired. In the 10 days from Sunday 19th June to Tuesday 28th June our summit day was the only day anyone got to the top so we considered ourselves to be lucky. That said, we had put ourselves in a position to be lucky.
"Luck is when preparation meets opportunity" said someone.
With the summit success rate being pretty low (53% for the 2011 season, with 9 climbers dying on the mountain) people asked me did you ever think that you weren’t going to summit. With this team I knew that if it was possible, then we would do it.
Special thanks to David Cole for doing much of the planning leading up to the trip, and to Lee Farmer for asking me to join the team.