The seven summits, the highest peaks of the 7 continents: Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Vinson, Carstensz! Trips, Statistics & information!
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Denali

Summit of North America, 6194m

                 

 

On the new 7summits site we will place trip reports to the 7summits, so email them and we will add them!

Below is the report of 7summits' Harry Kikstra climbing the West Buttress route.

Happy reading :-)

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

 

Click the pictures below to enlarge:

Introduction: 

 

On May 16th, 20.00 hr local time, I reached the summit of Denali, 6194 m (20,320ft, the highest point in North America and therefore one of the 7 summits.) together with my climbing partner Jose, being the 18th person to reach this summit this millennium.

 

Just the day before the first person summited (one German man), we were the last climbers on the second 'summit day' of this season/millennium. The weather was great and that day about 17 people summited (but still the success rate was about 15%, normally about 50%).

 

I am glad that I could help raise $$ for Warchild, the organization that helps children in war-torn countries like Kosovo and Guatemala by building schools.

The following is my trip report; as you will notice I don't just talk about the climb itself, but also about the people I met on the mountain. The report is therefore written from my perspective.

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We left Seattle the evening of may2, slept one night in a youth hostel and left for Talkeetna (100km from Denali). That same day we had our talk with the rangers, and left with Talkeetna Air Taxi for the Glacier!

That was an exhilarating flight, which took about half an hour. The pilot took us through high mountain passes and put us down on the Lower Kahiltna glacier (2200m) around 19.00. We had to build camp immediately as the temperature was plummeting the moment the sun disappeared behind mount Foraker....

 

The next day the hard work begun: on touring skis we dragged about 50 kg each (25 on our back and 25 on a plastic sled) up the mountain. This first part was 9 km long but quite flat and we were happy when we finally reached a suitable camping spot in the evening. We had to make 1 meter high igloo walls first as the winds started to come up, so by the time we got to the cooking it was almost 'dark' again and the temperature outside the tent was already -16 the moment I ate (Jose was feeling sick and tired and didn't eat anything). Thank you The North Face, for these wonderful down pants ;-}

 

After a restless night we moved on the following day up a friendly slope called 'ski hill'. Well, the one who thought up that name certainly wasn't dragging a 25-kg sled behind his backpack as this part was really one big fight with gravity. Even the climbing skins under the skis and specialized ski-crampons couldn't stop me from sliding back down the hill many times and quite a few curses have been heard on the mountain that day...

We didn't get as far as we wanted and made camp on the middle of the glacier. First we had to probe the area for crevasses (with a 3-meter long pole) and then the melting of the water started, while temperature was dropping soon. But the view down the glacier was amazing and we really enjoyed that evening.

 

The next day our odyssey up the hill continued, but we managed to carry our stuff all the way up to just above 3100m (10,000ft) where we were the only ones to camp. Normally your tent gets blown away at this point (below Kahiltna pass) but we were lucky and were sleeping under a clear blue sky.

 

No resting day today, in the evening we took about 20 kg of gear and food we didn't need and brought that up to the base of Motorcycle hill, 3400m (11,000ft). This hill is named after the idiotic steep motor races up some hills around the world...

We cached our stuff in one of the old campsites/igloo walls and skied down. That is we tried to ski down, but the mixture of mountaineering boots instead of ski boots, tiredness and difficult snow made us crash quite a few times. But we were very satisfied when we arrived, this had been a good acclimatizing trip and already most of the food was at 3400m (almost another 3000m to go...).

That night the temperature inside the tent lowered to -16 C, (so outside it was probably -26 C) and we woke up because of the snow inside the tent! (Frozen condensation).

 

After wiping the condensation snow from our faces and sleeping bags (I love The North Face Dryloft!) we started our daily chores: get fresh snow and make a few liters of water for breakfast and the way up. While the snow was melting we packed our stuff and after breakfast we went up to Motorcycle hill camp where we left most of our food the day before.

We felt very strong and the trip took us only an hour and a half, which almost made it feel like a rest day. (It was only 400 meters up).

 

The next day we would have to cross the infamous "Windy Corner" which defends its reputation with pride... The plan is to take up most of our food to Windy Corner (4150m), travel the next day to Medical camp aka Base camp (4350m) and pick up the food the day after.

So we left with our heavy backpacks zigzagging up motorcycle hill. The day before we met a few Japanese climbers coming down who obviously though that this hill wasn't steep enough and they tried the route that has been named the "Japanese Direct" for this season. Direct into a big crevasse that is, and they lost so much gear and food that they had to abandon the climbing attempt for this season.

The weather was actually quite nice but the hill steep and icy. It's a long way from 3400m to 4150 with a full pack and it took us several hours before we reached the cache site. We were both very tired, and were feeling the effects of the altitude and were very grumpy to each other. This led to our first big fight: at first we planned to continue to the next camp as the weather was still quite good (although even in this perfect weather, Windy Corner was the odd one out: it had been blowing like crazy a few hundred meters back...) I asked Jose if he could help me put my heavy pack back on and he absolutely refused. He said that it was his principle that every one should take care of his own luggage. I said I agreed, but that we both save energy if we just help each other with the packs, but he kept refusing to help and we got in to a endless discussion and ended up leaving our food at the spot as originally planned.

I was leading on the way down (we were always roped together with a 60 meter climbing rope) and the anger gave me a lot of energy. I almost raced down the steep slopes and after one hour and 10 minutes we arrived at our tent. After an hour of silent snow melting I asked Jose if he had anymore surprise principles I should know about before we went any higher, but he apologized and assured me that I could always count on him on the mountain; that was good to hear as a team without trust is no team…

 

The next day we took up the rest of our stuff, but just when we reached Windy Corner, she got very nasty. The winds were ferocious and the temperature was dropping fast. I had to take my inner gloves out of my overgloves every few minutes to warm my fingers up again. Jose was very tired and wanted to rest, but I had no desire to stop at all and decided to take over his tent so we could continue. When we reached our cache site it started snowing as well and we went into the snow walls for some protection. There was a tent pitched and the accompanying two climbers came out and advised us to pitch right besides them as they expected much worse storm in Base camp, about 1,5 hours up the mountain.

These two, Ivan & Marc were French Canadian, around forty and very friendly, they even helped us with our tent and snow walls.

Just when we were finished two Austrians we passed earlier arrived and together we build another snow wall. Just a few minutes later two other couples arrived, all Americans, living in Canada. One of the woman seemed to have frost bite on her hands, so Marc put her into his big tent and we started making hot soup and tea for her. It was amazing that she wasn't completely frozen as she was clearly underdressed for the situation; this turned out to be our first real encounter (we had spoken to hem before) with the climbers later referred as "the 2 crazy Americans".

We helped to build them a camp as well and after a few hours we had turned one snow wall into a perfect 6-tent camp!

 

The next morning the weather was much better and we started our food-carry up to base camp. I thought I had lost my overboots and made everybody looking for them, but finally I found them in one of my bags and was rightfully ridiculed...

We passed a few minor crevasses where almost every group had stepped in at least once (just to their knees or waist) and one really big crevasse. Just before Base camp the sky darkened and I saw Jose bend over; just when I was about to ask him what was wrong I found out for myself and I was almost blown of my feet by a sudden gust of cold wind. I had to use my ice axe and walking pole to stay on my feet and had to turn my face and hands away. After a few seconds the wind stopped just as abruptly a it had started and we continued to walk the last few hundred meters to camp. But then the wind came again and we hade to lean on our pole again. This game continued for about fifteen minutes and then Base camp suddenly appeared before us: about 7 climbers tents and a few big ranger tents, including a medical cabin, hence the nickname "medical Camp".

One group was just leaving and we could take their high walled spot. We pitched our extra tent and put the extra food inside. We talked to some climbers and they told us that the day before all snow walls had blown down and everybody had to rebuild and fortify them. We took a last look at our guy lines and ten stakes and left for our trip down to Windy Corner, hoping that my tent still would be there when we would return the next day...

When we returned back in Windy Corner camp we heard that the American woman with the minor frostbite had been crying; not because of her frozen finger but because of not being able to be on the summit today. Today? Was that a joke? Did these people have any idea what they were up against?

I soon found out that one of the couples had quite a lot of mountaineering experience, at least in technical rock, but the other two ("the 2 crazy Americans") had no experience whatsoever. They were excellent athletes (world class triathletes actually) and they had the accompanying mentality: get to the finish as soon as possible. They did not realize that the finish was getting off the mountain in one (breathing) piece; to them the finish was the 6194m high summit.

The fact that no-one of the experienced climbers on the mountain had come higher than 5200 meter on the mountain so far only got them more excited: "so we can still be the first on the summit!" Sigh....

 

Anyway, the next day we packed our stuff and walked up to Base camp. The weather was a little better and it took us little more than an hour. On the way we met several big groups who had spend over 3 weeks besieging the summit, but without success. A few people stepped into crevasses, but the snow bridges were still strong enough to keep them from falling in completely.

Yes! Our North Face Mountain tent was still standing proudly in the wind! We quickly pitched our other tent next to the two French Canadians tent and started organizing. With two tents available we finally had some private space again which was very liberating.

Ivan and Marc (the French-Canadians) wanted to talk to us: "We have seen that you are a good mountaineering team and you are nice guys, therefore we would like to warn you: watch out for these two crazy Americans! We talked to them, and they are getting more obsessed with the summit every day; they are very dangerous, not only to themselves, but to everybody near them as well!."

 (continued) ----»

Harry with his sled on the Kahiltna glacier, between basecamp and camp1

 

 

Sunset at motorcycle hill camp

 

 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3