Approaching 11,000 ft.
Cortland and River at Base Camp 7,200
Loading the plane in Talkeetna
Mt. Hunter from Basecamp
Anchored in at 7,600
Camping at 7,600 feet
Bruce, Cortland, River in the snow cave
Mt. McKinley Climb
www.WillhiteWeb.com: Hiking, Climbing and Travel
1997 "Work Sucks" Expedition Members:
Eric Willhite: 22 yrs. old, works for R.E.I.
Cortland Shafer: 31 yrs old, lawyer.
River Joyner: 27 yrs old, Pizza deliver
Bruce Kittridge: 40 yrs old, retired Navy
How we met:
Both Cortland and Bruce tried to get on a trip organized by a Greg who worked at Marmot in Bellevue Washington. Greg formed his team but didnt choose Cortland or Bruce. Greg gave Bruce Cortland's phone #. Bruce and Cortland had names and numbers of others who wanted to climb the mountain. Everyone decided to meet together in Seattle. Just before the meeting, Bruce called the Federal Way R.E.I. where I answered the phone. Bruce said he was planning a trip to Denali and I asked if there was room for me. At the meeting in Seattle, there were around 8 or 9 of us. It was there that Cortland met Bruce and me. Over the next 2 weeks, a few wimped out, one decided to go with a guide, and another wanted to do a harder route. We ended up in 2 groups. Our group was Cortland, his friend River (who was climbing in Mexico), Bruce, and me. Our team met every other week to plan and we did several practice weekends at places such as Rainier. The irony was that when we arrived in Talkeetna, the party that rejected Cortland and Bruce was there. They only made it 9 days up to the 9,700 camp before quitting.
This is my journal. Understand that I wrote under difficult circumstances at the moment and if my climbing companions read this, please take no offence (in retrospect, our success is due to a slow ascent). Everything has been rewritten as wrote originally with the exception of a few sentences that made no sense or needed clarification.
May 14 Flew to Anchorage 9 p.m. flight
May 15 Flew to Base, a shuttle to 7,600
May 16 Moved camp to 7,600 camp
May 17 Rest Day
May 18 Double carry to 9,700 camp
May 19 Rest Day \ Bad Weather
May 20 Double carry to 11,000 camp
May 21 Placed cache at 12,500
May 22 Rest Day
May 23 Place cache at 14,200 camp
May 24 Rest Day \ High Winds
May 25 Move camp to 14,200 camp
May 26 Picked up cache at 12,500
May 27 Placed cache at 16,200
May 28 Placed cache at 17,200
May 29 Rest Day \ Bad Weather \ Death
May 30 Bad Weather
May 31 Bad Weather
June 1 Bad Weather
June 2 Moved camp to 17,200 camp
June 3 Rest Day
June 4 Summit Day
June 5 Move camp from 17,200 to 14,200
June 6 Move camp down to 9,600 ft.
June 7 Move camp to Base \ Bad Weather
June 8 Bad Weather
June 9 Flew out that night
June 10 Wait for gear in Talkeetna
June 11 Get River out of Jail in Palmer AK
Views after take-off
Views on route to basecamp
We flew from Sea-Tac to Anchorage where we met Bruce who had drove the Alaska Highway up. We loaded everything in his truck then looked for an all night pizza shop, being 1 a.m. in the morning. After this, we drove to Talkeetna and to our flight service at the airstrip. We spent the rest of the night in an airplane hanger among many other climbers.
Base Camp & Mt. Foraker
Bruce at Base Camp 7,200 feet
Awoke around 1 p.m. Not leaving untill this evening. Some clouds have come in. It�s snowing a bit. If we only could have weather like yesterday everyday. Sleeping is tough since other climbers are all around us. There are also the airplanes landing and taking off. Well, we finally left around 7 p.m. with partly to mostly cloudy sky. We passed some Koreans (6) who will probably end up dead. They were having a hard time going down Heart Brake Hill, so they untied and all went solo. The clouds soon got thicker after some nice views of Kahiltna Pass. Once to the 7,600 camp the weather went all crappy. We set up camp, and then went over to dig up our cache. I can't believe the amount of crap we have. River cooked up another great meal, he's cooked his community meals the past 2 days and it�s like a Sherpa with us. Now its 4:30 am, our camp is set, our bellies full, and we�re going to sleep by the sounds of wind and snow hitting the tent. It was 18 degrees tonight during dinner, much warmer than the 0 temps during our first shuttle. We know today's weather is going to suck, so we will sleep all day and night so we will be back to the day shift. Last night (or 2 hrs. ago depending on your perspective) was extremely dark for Alaska. You could still walk outside but cooking was a bit tough. We met 2 guys from Hawaii on their way down. They say the Mountain whipped their butts. As of now only 2 have still summited.
We are the 8th party in line to fly out as soon as the weather clears. We checked in with the ranger, and then we went to lunch at the Roadhouse. I called home just before to let them know I was safe. While at lunch we got a call from our service saying, "Your plane is waiting". We canceled our order for lunch and minutes later were loading the plane. I was jammed into the back seat so tight it was hard to believe I paid $250 dollars for it. We took off and flew toward the Alaska Range. The closer we got to the mountains the better the weather got. The mountains were amazing. We landed on the Kahiltna glacier at Base camp. It was the most beautiful spot I had ever seen on earth. We set up camp under sunny, warm, blue sky. While setting up, a thundering avalanche (as big as any I've ever imagined) came down Mt. Hunter. After a nice spaghetti dinner by River, we started packing for a haul up to the next camp. A guide wanted to jump on our rope to go to the next camp, so we let him on. We left at 10 p.m. and got to camp 1 at 1 a.m. When we stopped it was very cold so we tried to keep moving. Being Alaska it didn't get dark but was more like dusk.
The Kahiltna glacier is huge, going forever below base. Everything is so far away, places look close but with people there you see just how far away it is. As we traveled we had to avoid crevasses going in all directions. We stashed our stuff as a cache and headed back with our sleds tied to our backs. It was the longest 5 miles back because we were all sleepy from lack of sleep. Coming back up Heart Break Hill was slow. Back at base camp, the sun was about to rise. We had hiked through the night.
Today was a complete waste. I got up around 1 or 2 p.m. and everyone in all the camps were gearing up to go. The weather was good, unexpectedly. You would think we need to go, but no. Bruce and Cortland wanted a rest day. River said we could do it but he didn't push like I. Well we didn't go and we just ate and prepared for tomorrow. We hope to do 2 carries from here 7,600 to 9,700. The route is
Ski Hill and it looks fun. One of the funniest things today was the Germans nearby. They left their camp and about 10 minutes later a ranger went over to their camp. He went by us asking if we had bags for crapping. He said the Germans crapped everywhere around their camp. He said they were going to be fined. He left to catch them. About 20 minutes later, the ranger had brought them back and made them clean it up. As the Germans went by they said "It sure costs a lot to sh.. here" I yelled back, " How much did they fine you?" He yells back $150 dollars a person. We all were in shock (laughing). Now its 9 p.m. and were going to sleep at a regular time.
Sunday I think? Today was the best day thus far. To make up for yesterday, we did a double carry. It was pure blue sky all day. Awoke to a temp. of 8 degrees. Who knows how cold it was during the night. We took the first load up ski hill passing everyone. Only 3 or so hours we went from 7,600 camp to 9,700 camp. We put our cash on a fortress some group built. Then we dropped down to do the second load. We ate dinner at mid day before taking down camp. After another good meal we headed up. I left my sled bag at 9700 so I had to load my pack heavy. We trudged back up ski hill in less than 3 hrs. We didn't stop the last half hour in order to hear the 8 o'clock weather broadcast from Base camp. The forecast was bad, calling for a storm the next 2 days. We could see it coming in so we all doubt we will be doing much tomorrow. We are once again camped next to the Koreans. We know they are going to get hurt some how, it�s just a matter of when. Some Brazilians came down today who had summited. They must have been the 2 summiters along with the 1 Russian making a total of only 3 summits so far. Today we also met an Italian, British and group from England. One group was going down from only 11,000 ft. because of the cold. After hearing the 8 o'clock radio broadcast, some guy near Anchorage was on channel 19 asking who he was picking up. So the climber talking replies, "You are talking to some climbers at 17,000 feet on Denali!"
Well its 2:10 in the afternoon, been here all day because of snow storm. There hasn't been much wind but visibility dropped. I wanted to do a carry this morning but nobody else did. I only think it will take about 2 hours to the next camp at 11,000 feet. One thing is for sure. I know what kind of team I will form if I come back next year. Our team will most likely make it because we have so much fuel, food, and patience. Right now Cortland's outside digging out tents and starting the stoves.
Well now its almost 10 p.m. River cooked a meal called Alaskan Glop tonight. It was great stuff. Now I'm in my tent again eating nuts. I'm eating everything heavy. The weather improved some this evening. Mt. Hunter came out and I watched this during a nice #2 dump into our waste basket. The 8 p.m. base camp weather announcement called for more of the same but better up high. Only partly cloudy at 14,000 while mostly cloudy at Kahiltna Base at 7200. Were going to make a carry tomorrow. If it�s really nice, we'll move camp also.
It�s almost 1:30 a.m. on the 21st but must write day down before they all blend together. There is only enough light in the tent to barely write this. We got up planning to do at least 1 cache. Ended up moving camp to 11,000 camp. A lot of people are up here. On our first shuttle we passed several groups. We were able to get a good spot because of it. The last hill into camp was a killer pulling a sled. We dropped back to our 9700 camp and ate dinner. Around 5 p.m. we took off with our camp on our backs and sleds and made the final push to 11,000 in a light snowfall. Unfortunately the weather report isn't so good for tomorrow so we plan to rest, hence why were up so late. We dug a large snow cave to eat and cook in. The Korean team next to us got a kick watching us dig it. We even let them film inside it with their video camera. We sat inside till 1 a.m. drinking fluids and filling water bottles. Well I feel 100% at 11,000 ft. Even with a heavy pack and sled the altitude didn't affect me like it might running up to Muir. We are now done with the sleds, thank gosh. Motorcycle Hill and the end of the West Buttress are above us. We still hear only 3 have summited. We met several people coming down who were at 17,200 forever.
It�s 11:15 p.m. Well since yesterday was a double carry, everyone (except maybe River) wanted to sit a day since the weather was bad. Around 12 or 1 p.m. the sun broke out and we were above the clouds in great weather. I kept nudging at a carry to at least the top of Motorcycle Hill. It finally worked with River's backup and around 5 we left. We heard it takes an hour up to the top so that seemed easy. Our plan is to depo a load up above Motorcycle hill today, tomorrow take half of camp to 14,200 and the next day take camp up. We started up the hill and got to the top in half an hour. Easy since we are all very acclimatized. We decided to go on, mainly because of no good place to cache our stuff. Blue Ice was everywhere or just underneath a layer of newer snow. We figured the higher we went the less we would have to come down from 14,200 when we pick up the cache 2 days from now. We climbed all the way to 12,600 ft. We could see up to Windy Corner and tons of people coming back from a carry. We finally found a place with sufficient snow to make a stash. It was very windy and cold and most of us didn't wear our full Gore-Tex because we thought we were only going to the top of Motorcycle Hill. Coming down we stopped at 8 p.m. to listen to the forecast. Great news, better weather tomorrow, and then clear weather for 5 days after. Perfect, this will allow us to move to 14,200 camp and get all supplies there, and then supplies up to the 16,000 and 17,200 levels. Today we climbed for the first real time using ice axes, crampons and full packs. No more snowshoes and sleds! Last night one of the serac's near this camp (11,000 ft) fell and rolled besides the camp about 80 yards over. The sound was amazing, crack-BOOM-blang-boom-boom-szz. Another smaller one fell right before I started writing. Yesterday, we built a snow cave in our camp that we cook and eat in. It�s the coolest place in camp.
Almost 2:30 p.m. (got to vent). I think I'm with the laziest people on this freakin mountain. The weather isn't perfect blue so the dorks don't want to go. The 14,200 camp is above the clouds, here at 11,000 we are mostly in the sun with a few clouds coming in every few minutes. The thing that ticks me off is how all 3 of them are sitting in the snow cave wasting time or outside of it. All are stalling till "oops, its too late to go now". Darn it�s ticking me off. We are going way to slow. We have fewer days to summit the more we sit here. Once we hit 14,000 and especially 17,200 I go alone. I can only imagine how freakin lazy they will be up there. The weather will never be good enough for them up their. Maybe River will go but Bruce and Cortland will be lazy. Now I'm frying in my tent. I know I could double carry and reach the summit myself. I somewhat understand why some groups split up. Unfortunately there are a lot of crevasses up at Windy Corner. I'm melting snow in my sled outside, it�s real hot now. I CAN'T GET IT OUT OF MY MIND "WHY ARN'T WE MOVING? You know, there hasn't been one day where we haven't had a large window of blue sky. I think I'll plan next year�s trip if these guys screw this one up for me. It�s in the back pages of this journal.
Well it�s now 10 p.m. on 5-22. We sat here all day with perfect weather. Only a few interesting things happened. A guy was taken by helicopter off the Northwest Buttress. The copter flew by with a rescuer hanging about 150 feet below on a rope. We talked to all the people in the camps around us. One solo guy from the Republic of Czech, the rest European, Swiss, etc. They all got a kick out of our snow cave, some even filmed it.
Today was a real day. Got up at 8:30 a.m. and ate breakfast. Still going without any oatmeal. I gave some of it to Bruce. The sky was clear except a bad cloud over the summit. We started with several other groups. Going up Motorcycle Hill, I talked to a guy behind me from New Hampshire. He attempted the mountain 2 years ago making it to the Football Field before turning back because his climbing partner had cramps in his legs. At the top of the hill we shot some pictures. We were way above the clouds. Then everyone was bottlenecked climbing a certain spot.
It got worse when Bruce (in the lead) wouldn't pass the slow group in front of us. Then all the others started passing us. It was a real mess. Finally we yelled to Bruce to pass and he did. We started passing everyone. Soon we passed our cash and got up to Windy Corner. It was windy, but not too bad. Beyond there, was a bunch of winding around crevasses. Then we ran into the Koreans camping about 700 feet below the 14,200 camp. Cortland called it yesterday when they left the 11,000 camp. He said they would only make 13,500. I believe they have set up camp twice as many times as us. Just before the 14,200 camp it started getting windy, very windy. At the 14,200 Advanced Base Camp or High Camp, it was rippin wind and snow blow. You could look and see blue sky for hundreds of miles but from 14,000 feet up was a Denali only storm. We dug a hole, placed our cache, and got out of there. Yesterday 30 people left to go up to 17,200 camp. They may have a shot on Sunday in 2 days. The winds and weather should be good. The people at 14 said it was a bad day and most weren't this bad. We dropped down 700 feet to the good weather and ate lunch. After lunch we continued down through Windy Corner. We hiked some of it with our friend from Czech who was solo climbing and just going up there to see what it was like. Back at 11,000 camp it was very hot. Also the view from Windy Corner was amazing. You can see down the Kahiltna, to the trail in the snow from climbers. The best was looking across mountains in the Alaska Range as far as the eye can see. The weather report called for good weather (10 deg.) tomorrow except 40 mph winds at 14,200. The day after clear, warmer (15 deg.) and only 20 mph. winds. Now its 9:39 p.m. in the tent, sun barely warming and jokes going between the tents.
Going up Ski Hill to the 9,700 camp
Looking south down the Kahiltna
Doing a carry at night
Looking up the Kahiltna from Basecamp
Mt. Hunter from 7,600 camp
Camp 3 at 11,000
View from 11,000 camp up Motorcycle Hill
Cortland enjoying the cave
Final preparations in the airplane hanger
On the Kahiltna