Denali - Trip Report - Part 16

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Friday, May 23:

Today was a scheduled rest day for us, part of the plan all along, since an extra day at 14,300' was very helpful for acclimatization. In any event, it was a crummy weather day anyway, and it was nice to know that we were not supposed to move when we couldn't move.

I was up and out of my tent at 8:30 AM, but it was incredibly windy, cold, and blizzardy, and once again the tent I shared with Bruno was horrendously drifted in, worse than all the others. I couldn't even find any shovels, since they, too, had mostly been buried, so I just went back into the tent and back to bed.

At 11 AM I emerged again and checked out what was going on. The cook tent had been set up, but a rip in it near the top was getting worse and worse. The area was busy, because Angela and Eli and their team were indeed camped right near us, partially in the fifth tent we temporarily had, and Angela had gone in to Steve and Mike's tent. They had been on the West Rib, a more challenging route that ours, for 22 days, and they were now in full retreat down the West Buttress route. They had not made the summit, having waited for a week in a precarious, exposed campsite on the Rib in high winds, and one of them even had some minor, but still worrisome, frostbite.

Angela hung out in the cook tent with us as we had our 11:30 AM breakfast, and it was refreshing to have a female presence in our otherwise all-male expedition, although she was as profane and wired as anyone else. Her group was anxious to get the hell off the mountain, though, and after more running around they got all packed up and left by early afternoon. I shoveled some more, in a futile attempt to totally uncover my tent, but the walls of our compound were now half-burying it, and I had to excavate huge sections of wall to uncover things. Somehow the shovels turned up, too.

I hung out in my tent for a while--I had finished reading my digest of the world's great books, and I borrowed a book from Bruno called Testament, a really bad novel by David Morrell, the author of Rambo. It was so bad, though, I stopped halfway through. The weather, as usual, had improved by afternoon and it was hot when the sun shone on the tent, but still windy outside.

We ate our cold lunch at 4 PM, and a little after that Vince's team arrived from the West Buttress. Yesterday they had made it to Denali Pass at 18,200' before turning back due to wind so strong they were literally being blown back down. Like Angela and Eli's group, they had been out for three weeks, they were utterly tired and beat, and they had not summited. Seeing this miserable parade of sapped souls that had been blown off the mountain was profoundly depressing for us, and we wondered if we were seeing a preview of ourselves in a week and a half. Up until now only 4 climbers had summited all year-- although we had been moving around, we were low on the mountain and protected from the worst of the storms and winds. Up high, ferocious winds had kept the summit out of reach for virtually everyone.

Steve and Mike cleared out their tent--Steve went in with Greg W and Luis, Mike with Bill and Andy--and gave it and our spare fifth tent to Vince and his crew, and they were off shortly afterwards. Like the other AAI team, they wanted to get the hell down. That was the last we saw of the other AAI expeditions and guides on the mountain.

Dinner was cooked up between 8 and 9 PM, and the weather deteriorated into a very windy ground blizzard, blowing snow through the door of the cook tent and through the rip in the roof. We retreated to our tents, Bruno and I thankful to be the only ones not in a triple, and slept as wind and snow buffeted the tents all night long.

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