Back in May 1995 a group of us, most of who happen to be members of OVMRO, decided on a trip to North America's highest peak Mount McKinley (or Denali as it is known to the native Alaskans) What follows is a short story of our trip and are some of the many shots we took. Hope you enjoy them.
The Denali Trip - 1996
We all gathered at Manchester airport on a dull May morning sporting brand new expedition hair cuts i.e. short, and much luggage. We first flew to Amsterdam Schipol where we had a slight (7 hr) delay due to a delayed incoming flight. We then flew to Minneapolis during which we had superb views of Southern Greenland and city sized icebergs. As we arrived late, we were given tokens for a meal and a bed at a local hotel. Unfortunately we arrived at the hotel after the restaurant closed so we sat in reception and ordered out for pizza and beer. We then flew to Seattle, walked off the plane, up the steps and down the steps on the other side of the pier onto another flight to Anchorage (After throwing off some people who had nabbed our seats) On picking up our luggage two bags did not arrive so while the rest of the team went into town to spend some money at REI, JohnH and I tried to locate his luggage. When the next plane came in a very relieved JohnH was reunited with his climbing gear. Even the mountains around Anchorage looked superb but after a short drive North we pulled into a lay-by and had out first view of the hills. Talkeetna is still some 60 miles away.
The three 'bumps' are (left to right) Foraker(17,004'), Hunter (14,570') and Denali (20,320')
We carried on into Talkeetna, unpacked our gear, had a quick look around town and went for a meal at 'The Latitude 62', of which more later. Four of us then retired to 'The Fairview' in the middle of town to sample the local brew.
We awoke to a fine morning in Talkeetna but reports of poor flying weather on the mountain. So we had another look around town with regular trips back to Talkeetna Air Taxi to check the weather conditions. The weather cleared and we played hammer/scissors/paper to see who would fly first. The two 'planes carried three passengers each and we were nine so three, including me, had to wait for the second flight. We watched as the rest disappeared in the direction of the mountain and sat down to wait. Just over an hour later we heard the drone of the 'planes and the adrenaline started to flow (Well it did for me anyway)
We were soon ensconced in the 'plane and flying over the tundra toward the mountains which seemed small, but then again they where over 60 miles away. The infamous 'One Shot Pass' soon appeared and as the plane passed through the pilot pulled a stomach churning dive down towards the glacier. An uneventful landing and here we were at 7000' on the South East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier with Mount Hunter rearing above us and Denali visible through a gap in the clouds.
Bill at the 7000' base camp below Mount Hunter
Whilst having our
dinner a large avalanche fell from nearly the summit of Hunter down the face
behind Bill in the above photo', crossed the glacier and flowed up and over
the wall on the other side. Annie, the base camp warden, said it was one of
the largest she had seen. After a good nights sleep we dug a hole, burying food
and fuel for the return trip, packed our sledges and we were off down 'Heartbreak
Hill' and out onto the main Kahiltna Glacier. Most of us had to get used to
pulling a sledge whilst carrying a (very) large rucksack but we made good time
to a camp at ~8000' at the entrance to the North East Fork of the Kahiltna.
Looking up the NE Fork. The snowy ridge slightly right of centre is the West Rib with the summit above
We had a windy night and awoke to almost buried tents but a fine morning. Unfortunately I also awoke to a bad dose of 'gut rot' so while the rest moved on up to 10,000 I stayed at 8000 and threw my guts up. The next day Al and Ian came down and dragged me up 'Ski Hill' to 11,300 with many a stop to empty my guts. We arrived shattered but happy to be there.
From 11,300' looking towards Foraker. Kahiltna Pass is down and right of picture
The rest made a carry
up to 13,000 whilst I had a rest day with a carry up to the top of Motorcycle
Hill. The next day was also a rest day.
We then made the long trek up to the 14,300' camp. After being told of how difficult it can be to get around Windy Corner we had a suprisingly easy passage being able to stop and take photos' back down onto the main Kahiltna
Looking down towards the top of Motorcycle Hill
The 11,300' camp is left and below the obvious ridge line centre
We had received a
bad weather warning and at the 14,300' camp we had to build a camp. If you are
lucky you can move straight into a pre built camp left by a departing party.
After cutting 'hundreds' of snow blocks we had a camp that could protect four
tents and provide shelter to cook in.
Our 'kitchen' at 14,300'. The person top right is just leaving the 'loo with a view'
Here we were introduced to the 'loo with a view'. A three sided wooden box sitting above a very large hole right in the middle of the campsite. Its funny but I never saw a queue for this one and it's free.
The view from our 'kitchen' towards Windy Corner
The next day the rest of the team did a carry up to 'Washburns Thumb' but my body had decided enough was enough. The next day John and Lou headed down to 8000' to make an attempt on The Cassin Ridge. Four of the team headed up to 17,000' and Paul, Bill and I headed down to 8000'. John and Lous story: They reached 8000' and the next day started to walk into the NE fork. Huge crevasses stopped them and they walked out to the South East fork and a plane to Talkeetna. Paul, Bill and myself: We reached the 11,300' camp, dug out a cache of gear which was now down a 7 foot hole. Packed as much as we could on a single sledge and buried the rest again. We walked down through soft snow into a whiteout. We arrived at 10,000' and decided to pitch camp. A tent pole broke but no real problem. The next day we walked down to 8000', dug out the cache, buried some of it again and walked on to the foot of Heartbreak Hill. I could have sworn this part of the trip was uphill on the way up to 8000', but there was very little downhill on the way to HH. After hearing no planes all day we started to hear them coming in. It was getting late and we did not fancy spending the night at base camp. So after passing the worst of the crevasses we unroped, Bill and sledge moved ahead rapidly, I followed slowly and Paul brought up the rear. As I rounded the last hill into camp I saw a plane leaving with a smiling, waving Bill aboard. I hardly had time to take my crampons off before being given a large container of fruit juice and being rushed into a plane by Annie, much to the disgust of the people collapsing there tents in a rush to get a flight out. They had had very few flights that day and we arrived just at the right time as the planes arrived. The same thing happened to Paul on the next flight and we all arrived at Talkeetna and stepped out of the plane in full winter gear to the surprise of the Japanese tourists walking around in shirt sleeves. We all had the best showers of our lives and a 16oz stake at The Latitude where we did not realise John and Lou were sitting in the next room. Much beer and whisky was consumed that night at the Fairview..
All we had to do was wait for the last four to get of the mountain. The Rest of the Team: They reached 17,000 and put the tent up. They then spent three days stuck in the tent with -40C and 100mph winds outside
We were finally all reunited and again, much beer was consumed and much food was eaten. On returning to our hired camper on the municipal camp site in Talkeetna we were greeted by the following view
Bill, JohnE and Lou with Foraker, Hunter and Denali in the background from Talkeetna
A most fitting end
to my most memorable trip so far.
Team members : Lou Costello, Bill Dean, John Evans, Paul Henshall, Russ Hore, John Hulse, Al Read, Owen Samuals, Dr. Ian Williams
Dates : 4th - 31st May 1996
Flights on to mountain booked through Talkeetna Air Taxi.