Now that they’ve caught their breath, defrosted, and rejoined society, they’re ready to tell us all about the last leg of their adventure…
“Hi everyone, here's our latest update from our Denali Expedition:
As expected, Wednesday's weather was true to the forecast, so we were forced to spend a day at high camp waiting for a summit window. It was very cold and windy with spectacular sunshine and views, but there was not a great deal to do other than sit and wait it out in the tents. We hadn’t even brought the cards up because we were trying to cut back on every bit of unnecessary weight. Fortunately for us, the weather changed for the better, so on Thursday June 16, the summit attempt was on. In preparation for summit day, we all made sure that every item of clothing and liquids was stowed inside our sleeping bags overnight, as anything left outside our bags would freeze overnight.
Summit day started with a wakeup call at 6:30 a.m. Food at this altitude is a very simple affair – basically whatever can be mixed with boiling water. We had porridge and coffee to start the day and it was -30c outside. In that temperature, it’s really difficult to get all our kit on and out of the tent without fingers and toes going numb and risking frostbite. For summit morning, we wore every layer of clothes we had as well as hand and feet warmers. The Three Amigos were in a single rope team led by our guide, Tyler.
The first part of the ascent is a steep section of exposed narrow ice track that climbs from high camp up to Denali pass. This section is called the Autobahn, which is a misleading title and actually comes from an accident where three German climbers sadly lost their lives in a fall quite a few years ago. They weren’t roped together correctly. There are various points on this section where the path is no more than one boot wide. At the top, it is a sheer drop into the valley.
Because of this, climbers now are roped and carabinered to various points on the path for safety. We were reminded of the dangers when five climbers in the group above us slipped in front of us, taking the whole team off the path and only saved by the running protection. The climbers were all shaken up but continued their attempt after recovering. This delayed us a little at the start.
When we finally reached Denali pass, we were able to take a short break before heading into a section called Zebra Rocks. It’s a spectacular section of black and white exposed rockface steeply rising out of the valley. Through the day, we were blessed with bright blue skies and sunshine which lifted our spirits. The winds had also dropped considerably. This actually became another challenge for us because we would go from freezing temperatures in the shade and wearing up to five layers to suddenly needing to strip down to one or two layers to avoid overheating when climbing.
The relentless climbing continued through the Zebra Rocks, up through a snowcapped dome and then down into an area called the “Football Field” which, unlike the “Polo Field,” was a relatively flat section. The welcome flatness of the "Football Field" gave us time to contemplate the task ahead. You could clearly see the summit, even though there was still two more hours of climbing before we would get there. There was also the looming presence of the aptly named "Pig Hill" separating us from the summit ridge. This is where our guide asked us one last time if we wanted to turn back as often this final steep hill breaks the will of many and contributes to the low success rate of summiting Denali. Clearly, we were not going to turn round after all we'd been through to get this far.
So onwards and upwards clipped into the running protection, we started our ascent.
At the top of Pig Hill, we had our first full view of the summit ridge – an absolutely spectacular but hugely daunting snow ridge leading up to the summit. The ridge took about 30 minutes to traverse with some sections only a foot wide and 1,000-foot drops to the left and 7,000-foot drops to the right. The only thing to do is to concentrate on the rope in front of you and keep moving at those times.
Finally, the Summit revealed itself to us and we'd done it, we'd reached the highest point in North America!
We were thrilled but exhausted. Zippy got his photo at the top, and then we started the long journey down. No mountain is complete until you're back at base camp!