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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:

It seemed that Marc had to ask his clothes back he had lent to the woman when she was cold a few days ago and she was complaining constantly about her heavy pack..., meanwhile the other couple still had to tie all the needed 8-nuts every morning as they didn't know how to do that themselves.

Marc has been a captain (at sea) for may years and the next few days he proved to be as valuable for a successful summit attempt as an ice axe: after looking at the skies above and below us he could give an exact forecast for the next few days, differing for the different altitudes. When the official weather report from the rangers warned it would storm 110 km/h that evening he took one look and said: "There will be storm, but no more than 50km/h and tomorrow the wind will be less". And everyday he was right! (And the official broadcasted ranger weather reports were mostly wrong!)


The next few days we also took a little hike to what is called 'the edge of the world'; you will know why it is named that way if you go there. After a short (20minute) walk on the base camp glacier, the ice suddenly ends, dropping over 1000m vertical. We anchored ourselves to one of the rocks at the edge and enjoyed the magnificent view of Mt Foraker, Mt Hunter and the West Rib of Denali. We also saw most of the way we took up the Kahiltna glacier, the weather was perfect and we really enjoyed our little day trip.


That day a few really tough Alaskan guys (2 meter each, grungy looks and cool voices) came down from high camp (5200m) after spending 3 days there, waiting for a nice day to summit. They had tried to make camp by building a snow wall, but every 40x40x40cm snow/ice block (these weigh about 15 kilos each there) they cut out and put on the ground just said: "whoooiessssjjj" and they were blown off the ridge. So they dug a snow hole but after a few days they had lost so much energy they had to come down.


On Day 11 our weather guru Marc told us that there might be a weather change (on the summit is was still storming) and we decided to bring up a few days of food and one of the tents the next day and see if we could stay at high camp and maybe push for the summit the next day. The two crazy Americans were running around nervously and were asking everybody about their plans but no-one would really talk to them.


So we weren't really surprised when we saw them leave hastily for the headwall early the next morning. We left a few hours later, packed with about 5 days of food & fuel, gear and a tent. This made the packs very heavy and we were going very slow. After about 100 vertical meters I felt sick to my stomach and weak in my legs, all within a few seconds. I called Jose, said I needed a rest, but was unable to stand on my feet and had to sit down on the snow feeling completely weak. One of the rangers passed and he gave me some water and radioed the camp doc. He advised me to go down and Jose and me decided that he would take the food and would try to cache it on the top of the fixed lines, at 4900m, so we wouldn't have to bring that up again. I would take his sleeping bag, mattress etc and go down.

When I went down I went to see the doc, who asked me all about my physical and mental situation, mountaineering and altitude experience. I said that this was not altitude disease (Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS), at least not as I knew it. He checked my oxygen saturation level with one of those new little machines, but that said 86, which meant I was at least acclimatized enough to the current altitude and therefore this 100m extra should have been no problem.

It seemed that I hade not been drinking and eating enough and he advised me to take some soup and some carbohydrates which seemed like a good idea to me. When I went into my tent to prepare some noodle soup I saw a large group of people standing at the base of the fixed lines. I heard that here was a little 'bergschrund' a 1,5 meter vertical piece of ice that you had to overcome, but it seemed that nobody was moving at all up there.

I drank my soup, ate some powerbars and rested for 30 minutes. When I came out again I felt a lot better and I asked the doc if it was ok to give it another try. He thought that would be ok, as I didn't seem to suffer from AMS. So I packed my bags and started up the big slope again. To my amazement the group at the fixed lines seemed to have grown, but still nobody was moving up the lines.

The headwall is about 600 m high, the first 400 is just a steep snowfield with little crevasse risk and but after the bergschrund it changes into 40-60 degrees steep ice, hence the fixed ropes. I went up slowly and about halfway I met the Austrian couple who were really pissed off. "Up there is a stupid woman who has been on the fixed lines several hours and she does not know how to move back or forth! She blocks the way and nobody can pass, so we are going down and will try again tomorrow...".

It took me about a split second to realize who that woman was ... When I was about a 100m away from the group I saw Jose climb up the other rope, which is meant for descending only. I shouted at him, but he did not hear me. My stomach was better but I was still very tired, and it took me another 45 minutes to reach the stuck group. At that time it it turned out that Ivan and Marc actually had to rescue the 2 crazy Americans from the rope as they could not move up or down. First they lowered their backpacks down the steep part just before the fixed lines and then they helped the Americans down. The other couple was clearly embarrassed at this sight and Ivan and Marc were not happy either. I passed them to start on the fixed ropes by myself, but just as I was at the base of the bergschrund I heard Jose coming down. He was really amazed to see me up there: " I though you were sick?" he asked " I thought so to" I replied" but I feel a little better now and brought all the stuff we need to camp, should we go up?" " I can't, I really can't!" I could see that, he was looking very tired after taking up an extremely heavy load, containing the tent and 5 days of food. It wouldn't be a wise idea, as I was not feeling so good myself so we left some stuff we did not need in base camp and descended together, both really tired and dehydrated.

Down in camp we heard that many people had talked to the crazy Americans and that they had to see the rangers in the morning. Jose and I asked Marc about his weather forecast and after consulting our barometers and the skies he said that tomorrow and the day after might be without wind, so we should try again if we could.


That night we slept in one tent again but got up very late as our bodies were still exhausted. When making breakfast we saw the 2 Americans return from the ranger hut, and they were not looking very happy. Later we found out from the other couple that the rangers had literally forbid them to go up the mountain anymore and threatened them with arrest if they tried. Unfortunately the previous day had taken the fun out of Marc and Ivan's trip and they decided to go down the next day. They had driven all the way from the east coast of Canada to the Denali, not to go for the summit, but to enjoy the experience and the views. Many years before Ivan was there with 4 friends, but he had to descend before the summit attempt. His friends did go up, but got lost on the way down and fell to their death down the Messner couloir... Marc told me that they really liked meeting us, but that these crazy Americans had ruined it for them.

We wished them a good trip and headed up the headwall again. We had met another Dutch guy, Elio, in camp who had tried to summit the day before, right from base camp with his Swiss partner, but his partner had gotten sick at Denali pass, around 5500m and they had to return. His partner was still not feeling well and he had asked if he could join us.

But halfway up the headwall he suddenly changed his mind said he was unsure about the weather and that he would go down again, and try for the summit from base camp the next day. 3 years before he was on Denali as well, his tent got blown to pieces in a storm at high camp (5200m) and he had to find refuge in a Russian tent. Then he and a few Russians spend another few days, jus sitting in the tent with their backs to the wall, so the tent would not collapse, hoping that they would not blow off the mountain.

I assured him that Marc's forecast was always right, but he had made up his mind and went down; I asked him if it was our (slow) speed and he said that that had to do with it as well.

The rangers were just finishing with replacing part of the fixed roped that had to be cut by Marc the previous day to get the Americans off and Jose and I could start on a brand new rope. Crossing the bergschrund was interesting, it took one big swing of the ice axe, some front pointing of the crampons and a few rock climbing moves, but we passed it within a minute. The ice was steep and we were feeling the altitude effects and therefore it took us quite some time to get up this part of the route.

When we finally were at the end of the lines at 4900m it was already after 19.00 and we were in doubt about what to do. The weather was still nice and it would be light up here until at least midnight, but after loading the cached tent and the food the packs were so heavy that we could hardly stand, let alone climb the steep and narrow ridge to high camp. But we didn't feel like camping on this narrow ridge or digging a snowhole either so we decided to give it a try.

It was really step by step and we had to be very careful to stay on our feet. At one point I thought I stepped my crampons in another piece of packed snow, but just as I moved my balance on that foot, the snow came off and I started sliding down the steep slope. My reflexes still were ok and with one swing of my faithful ice axe I managed to stop the slide and got on my feet again. It took me a few minutes to get my heart rate and breathing back to normal and we continued up. We took a break at the big rock known as "Washburn's Thumb", named after the first man to climb Denali, about 50 years ago. It was getting late and we started again. This time Jose slipped but he performed self-arrest as well.

The track led us over the very top of the narrow ridge and the views were amazing. Although is was nearly 23.00 the sun was still up and there was enough light to continue, but our energy levels were dropping with the temperature... The track went through several rocks, passed some steep parts and finally led us to a flat part known as high camp. There were 5 tents and we pitched our right next to them. It was now midnight, the sun had disappeared behind a ridge but the full moon was bright enough. The temperature dropped below -25 and I had to take care of my fingers when I was making some soup to hydrate. Tomorrow would be our summit day, but I had the feeling it would take at least a week before I could raise enough energy to get moving any higher; I still felt the exhaustion of yesterday's climbing and today I had only punished my body more. Well, let's get to sleep and see how we feel after one night at 5200m altitude, my personal overnight record so far....



Day 14

I had quite a restless sleep and woke up because of the heat in side the tent. When I opened up the rain fly I saw most of the other climbers walking around in harnesses already and I woke Jose up.

I was feeling really bad, no altitude headaches, but just total exhaustion (which has a lot to do with the altitude of course as the pressure and therefore the oxygen level was less than 50% of sea level pressure). I started the snow melting but had problems with my stove again. I used Jose's stove as well, but it took a long time until we had enough water for the trip. Jose had brought 3 cans of Spanish food (Potatoes, chorizo and veggies) that only had to warmed up, but the easy-opening of the cans broke off and our can openers wouldn't work either. So it was time for some extreme measures: get the ice axe! We finally managed to get the contents out, but they were frozen solid of course and this took a long wile to cook as well.

It was already 12.00 before we were anywhere near ready to go and I was feeling weaker and weaker. The weather was perfect: it was sunny, warm and there was no wind and no cloud in sight; but would I be able to punish my body for another 10 hours? I expressed my doubts to Jose, he was not feeling too strong either, but he kept on telling me that everything was between my ears and that we should try.

We left about 12.30 and started slowly to the first part of this day: the traverse to Denali pass. This is a 40 degrees ice and snow slope, which you cross diagonally towards Denali pass at 5550 meters altitude. This looks easier than it is and it is actually the place where the most accidents happen, so we roped up and went slowly. But the rope was more a nuisance than a help as it got stuck behind several little pieces of ice and I had to descend 3 times to get it loose. This got me even more tired and when we finally arrived at Denali pass, I had to stop for a while. The next part was less steep and we decided to continue without the rope; we were not the only ones as there were already 3 ropes on the pass.

Slowly we continued up the ridge toward the "football field" at 5800m. After an hour we met Elio, the Dutch guy and his Swiss partner. He had started from Base camp early in the morning, passed us and went to the summit where he met his Swiss friend. They were amazed that we were going up this late and said that we'd better return. as it would be midnight before we would reach the summit.

We were now at 5700m and we decided to see how long it would take to get to 6000m. If we could do that within 3 hours, we would be ok, if not we would have to think about returning to camp. Just when I was so tired that I had to start humming to get my rhythm going someone was coming down. It was an American guy who told us he returned at 5900m because he wasn't feeling well. I looked and him and this guy looked 10 times as strong as I felt at that moment and and that moment I was seriously in doubt about the climb to the summit.


But when we reached 6000 only 2 hours after leaving 5700m so at least our pace was still alright, albeit on the thin line between conscious and automatic. At 6000m we could see the real summit ridge for the first time and we noticed other climbers coming down from the summit. We rested for a while until they passed us and we shook hands to congratulate them. When they passed we were the only two persons above 6000m (on this continent) and we continued slowly to the base of the summit slope. Step by step, resting after every 5 steps we went higher. Jose was very tired as well and we had about the same speed. When we reached the top of the wall I saw on my Suunto watch that we were only at 6100m, so there were another 94 to go! We had to follow the narrow ridge for another kilometer or so. At this moment we would like to have our rope back as some of the track was actually ON the 25cm wide ridge, with drops of 200m to the left and over as far as we could see to the right...

 (continued) ----

Our route and Mt Foraker, seen from the edge of the world

View from 'the edge of the world', Foraker and the glacier route can be seen


Jose below a big corniche on the summit ridge

Jose traversing a giant cornice at the summit ridge


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3