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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Descend to 14K Camp

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | July 14, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

Sunday, July 14th, 2013
Back at 14K.  A couple of long, hard, exhilarating days have come and gone.  When we left 14,200’ two days ago, we were happy to even have a chance at getting to 17,200’.  It wasn’t certain that we’d get there with the leftovers from that two-foot snowstorm.  And as we moved up, we were aware that teams were coming down from 17,200’ because of avalanche conditions between there and the summit.  But we had a perfect day for moving up and we weren’t used to perfect days on this trip… we took advantage.  The going was a little slow, what with trail-breaking, but it was better than we expected to find.  We were able to walk on avalanche debris for a good portion of the approach to the fixed ropes.  The climb up along the crest of the buttress was spectacular and difficult with our big packs, but all handled it well.  It took 8.5 hours to reach camp at 17,200’.  When we got there we were overwhelmed at the generosity of the teams who’d been waiting there for days.  They gave us water and helped to build our tents… And most importantly, they pointed out that recent winds had virtually eliminated the avalanche hazard on the route to Denali Pass.  They were going for the top in the morning and we were invited.  It was just a matter of whether we could get camp up, dinner down, and people in sleeping bags fast enough that the team would be rested for a try on the top.  The next day dawned cloudless and windless and our teams were all enthusiastic about a chance to climb.  We took off at 10:20 AM just behind Rob Galler with AMS and Dennis with AAI.  We’d discussed things extensively and were determined that the last guided parties of the season would work together to achieve this unexpected summit.  Rob did a lot of the hard work breaking trail on the steep slopes to Denali Pass.  We took over a little past the Football Field to make a route up to and along the summit ridge.  Throughout the day, it seemed nearly unbelievable that on a storm-plagued trip, we’d get such a perfect opportunity for the top.  The wind never blew and we were comfortable the entire day… no freezing hands, faces or feet.  We hit the summit at 6:40 PM and stayed there for an hour, taking pictures, shaking hands and marveling at our good fortune.  A few thousand careful steps later, we pulled into high camp at 11:30 PM.

Everyone worked to get some dinner down before turning in.  The guides were up for hours more, melting snow and filling water bottles.  It seemed a great gift that the good weather continued into this morning.  It is always rough packing up at 17K after a summit day, but it was made immeasurably easier by the calm, sunny morning.  We set out at 1:00 PM and climbed ever so carefully down the narrow ridge crest and the steep fixed ropes with our giant packs.  It was quite hot by the time we reached 14,200’ and it seemed a good idea to set camp rather than chancing rockfall around Windy Corner.  Tomorrow will be another big day as we’ll try to make it to 8000’, putting ourselves in position to go out the lower glacier early the following morning.  Probably too much to ask, to get another nice day, but we’ll ask anyway.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Climbing Teams on Windy Corner. Photo: Lindsay Mann

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Summit!

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | July 14, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 20,320'

Saturday, July 13th, 2013 2:30 am PST
Hey this is Dave Hahn with RMI’s Denali team, the last one of the season. I’m on the summit of Denali, 20,320’, on one of the more magical days that I can remember up here in 30 expeditions. It’s really worked out great. We teamed up with some of our good friends from Alaska Mountaineering School and Alpine Ascents International. Great to be up here with good climbers and, like I say, just the most spectacular day. We stepped onto the top at 6:40 PM, and we’ll stay up here for a while. It’s very comfortable. There is maybe a one and a half mile an hour breeze and massive sun. Clouds are probably about 10,000’ feet under us. We will get back to you when we get back to camp. We wanted to let you know that we got extremely lucky. Bye now.

Sunday, July 14th, 2013 8:00 pm PST
This is Dave Hahn calling from High Camp. We got back from the summit, no problem. We spent about an hour up there, altogether. I figure it took us about 13 hours and 15 minutes round trip. We left at 10:20 this morning and we got back about 11:35 this evening. Can’t do a written dispatch; it’s 1:30 now. After doing dinner and filling everybody’s water bottles and all the normal chores for getting us in the bed. But we’ll catch you up on the story in the next few days. The long days continue. This one was spotless weather but very long day. Tomorrow promises to be one as well going down the month. We’ll catch up, and let you know how things are going. Thanks.

RMI Guide Dave Hahn

The view from the top of Mt. McKinley. Photo: RMI Collection Summit ridge of Mt. McKinley. Photo: Seth Waterfall An RMI team descending from the summit. Photo: Seth Waterfall


Dave Hahn calls from the Mt. McKinley summit.


Dave Hahn calls in from Mt. McKinley's High Camp.

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Move Up to 17K Camp

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | July 13, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 17,200'

Hey, this is Dave Hahn calling from 17,200 feet on Mount McKinley. We made it to High Camp. Huge day, beautiful day, great weather. One of the nice things that started off the day for us was we got to talk to Mike King. He and Will and Shawn had made it to Basecamp by this morning and they were looking to get picked up within a half an hour of our conversation. They reported good conditions down there and they had a smooth exit from the mountain. We were very happy to hear that. And a big happy birthday to Mike King and a thank you for all that hard work.  We set in with our hard work right after that. It did take a long time to get up here to 17,200’ because we had so much snow on the Headwall. 

If tomorrow is a decent day, we’re going try for the summit. And that’s it for tonight. Talk to you soon.

RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Making a Call from 17,200'. Photo: RMI Collection


RMI Guide Dave Hahn calls in from 17,200 ft on McKinley.

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Sit Tight at 14,200’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Mike King, Zeb Blais | July 12, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

Thursday, July 11, 2013
We couldn’t have asked for a much nicer day, but we’d have loved to have used it differently.  It was clear and sunny from start to finish at 14,200’ ft, just as we’d hoped it might be to settle the slopes above us.  But I’m sure every climber on the team would rather have used such sparkling and fine weather to climb, rather than for waiting to climb.  It was a bit of a tough day for the team as we had two climbers descend with Mike King, bound for base and Talkeetna.  Their problems, a head-cold and a sore foot, were relatively minor, but 14,200’ is not the best place for such issues to resolve and we had a golden chance to team Mike up with a descending team led by guides we know and trust.  But we are sorry to not finish the entire climb together.  It has been a great team.  We can’t say for sure that we ourselves won’t be headed down in a day or two, but we cling to a slim chance for getting to the summit.  Zeb and I went on a short recon mission on the suspect slopes and found things better than we’d expected.  Good enough that we will make an attempt on 17 camp in the morning if the weather cooperates.  We are still getting reports from those at 17,000’ that the route to Denali Pass (18,300 ft) is presumed to be avalanche prone and impassable at present, but we’ll just try to solve one set of problems at a time. 
The National Park Service rangers at 14,000’ used the fine day to remove their seasonal base.  A B3 helicopter flew laps for several hours to get the gear and personnel down.  Camp -and the mountain in general- is getting very quiet as we near the end of the climbing season. 

Best Regards
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

An RMI Expeditions tent at 14,000 ft on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Team Hahn Watching the Snow Fall at 14,200’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 11, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Last night’s snow shower turned into the “heavy fall of snow” that we’ve been promised on a daily basis by our forecasts these last ten days.  It snowed, it snowed and then it snowed some more here at 14,200 ft.  We estimated that it was coming down at a rate of 3 inches per hour.  Zeb got out at three to rally a shovel brigade in retaking the camp from the tent-bending powder deluge.  We could hear great avalanches roaring repeatedly down the steep and icy flanks of the West Buttress.  It didn’t ease until around nine in the morning, by which point we figured about 24 inches had fallen overnight.  Needless to say, today was not a climbing day for us.  The wind was still pulling huge streamers of snow off the route we’d hoped to trace along the crest of the Buttress.  And the slopes leading to the ridge were now all suspect in terms of snow stability.  So much snow falling so quickly doesn’t give the stuff a chance to settle.  One of the ways it settles on a mountainside is to avalanche.  There was plenty of visual evidence (when the clouds parted for a minute here and there) that a number of avalanches had already occurred on the route to the fixed ropes, but there were also still vast stretches of undisturbed deep new snow.  We needed a hot and sunny day to glue things in place and to make it all safe again.  But you can’t always get what you need.  Our day was mostly cloudy with light snow showers.  Zebulon gave a great lesson in basic snow science, demonstrating how to identify weak layers in the snow pack, how to compare the hardness of those layers, and in how to conduct a “compression test” on an isolated column of snow in a study pit.  Our climbers then dug their own pits and made their own observations as a way of understanding our challenge in these next few days.  We need to figure out the level of hazard that exists on the slopes above us without exposing ourselves to that very hazard.  And we don’t have much time to do it in.  We only have a couple more days of food available.  Our greater cache of food is now the one sitting above the suspect slopes… In perfect position for our summit bid, but out of our reach until we determine that the avalanche hazard has diminished.  Lots to figure out on Denali.  We aren’t alone though.  The other teams, mostly at 17 camp have similar dilemmas What we all need, first and foremost, is a break from continued bad weather.  As is normal, we need a little good luck.  Despite the challenges, the team is still in good spirits.  Today, we went over the blog comments together.  We can’t surf the web with our setup, but the RMI office was kind enough to cut and paste the comments into an email for us.  Thanks, from the entire team, for keeping us in your thoughts.

Best Regards
Dave Hahn

RMI Guide Dave Hahn in deep snow at 14,200 ft on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Excel At Resting

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 10, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Not too much to report on our scheduled rest day at 14,200’ on Mt. McKinley.  It was calm and sunny, despite the persistent storm forecasts, but it did seem to be getting progressively more cloudy as the day went on and it started snowing at a good clip while we ate dinner in our cozy POSH tent.  The team did an excellent job of taking it easy today.  We caught up on hydration and sleep, rested sore muscles and dried out boots and socks.  We pared down the personal gadgetry and entertainment systems for the hard move up to 17,200’ and tried to figure out any clothing or gear that would not be useful up above. 
The number of teams around or above us has been steadily diminishing and as is normal for this point in July, the National Park Service climbing rangers have been packing up their seasonal station at 14 and getting loads ready for helicoptering.  It has been fun visiting with the other teams, but it is also quite enjoyable to have the mountain in its natural state -quiet and uncrowded.
If it doesn’t snow too much tonight and we get a decent shot tomorrow, we’ll move to high camp.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

RMI Teams enjoy meals in the cozy POSH tent at 14,000 ft on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: Lindsay Mann

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Carry to 16,200’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 09, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 16,200'

Monday, July 8, 2013
One of our better weather days of the trip.  That said, it is snowing good and hard now at our 14,200 ft camp, but that isn’t so important (yet).  It was clear and calm this morning when we were interested in starting our carry up onto the West Buttress of Denali.  By far, this was our coldest morning.  We were guessing it was -10F or thereabouts.  We started climbing at a quarter to 10 this morning in bright sunshine.  The route goes uphill in a hurry out of 14 camp and we made steady progress toward the “fixed ropes”.  This steep and intimidating section of the climb was tough, as expected.  Hard ice, 45 degree angles, unrelentingly uphill and airy feeling… but it was also spectacular when one was able to look up from the hard work for a moment to see the lower Kahiltna Glacier or Foraker across the way or the clean granite of Denali all around us.  We reached the ridge crest (16,200 ft) at 2 PM and took a welcome break, gazing down at the Peters Glacier and the Northwest Buttress on the “other” side of our perch.  Thus we broke Max’s altitude record, which was momentous.  But his was the only one to fall as our other climbers had previously topped mountains like Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua.  All noted that 16,200 on Denali felt a little different than similar heights on other mountains.  We cached our supplies and descended in gathering cloud and murk.  We’d reached 14 camp by 4:30 and took a few hours to kick back and drink water before dinner.  Tomorrow is a rest day, and a welcome one after four hard days of moving and acclimating to uncomfortable new altitudes. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Ascending the fixed lines on Mt. McKinley above 14,000ft camp.  Photo: Katy Laveck Looking down to camp at 14,000 ft on Mt. McKinley. Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Retrieve Gear

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 08, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

This morning was the first in a while that we weren’t getting up early, desperate for conditions to be favorable.  We got the stoves started around nine, which sounds late and lazy, except in these parts, the sun doesn’t get around the mountain until 9:30.  It was socked in and cloudy for our breakfast, and then snowing again, but without any wind.  We were set to do our “back carry” -dropping down to pick up our cache from the other day, but we’d also been in touch with Pete VanDeventer and knew his team was descending and would pop out of the clouds any minute.  It made sense to greet his gang and to exchange notes at 14,200 before going to get our carry done.  It was fun to see their team, flush with success and excited to nearly be done with their climb.  In the early afternoon, although it was still snowing, we set off into the murk to find our 13,600 ft cache.  The cache was undisturbed, which was a relief.  Guess we’d buried it all too deeply for the Ravens.  It took just over an hour to make it back up to camp with the cargo.  People retreated to their tents for a snooze while a few of us built a new kitchen-dining complex.  The clouds began to drop and the sun got shining brightly for dinner and the few remaining hours of the day -it ducks behind the West Buttress at 9 PM and the temperature seems to drop about fifty degrees in a few minutes at that point.  But we were treated to great views of Mounts Foraker and Hunter sticking out from the solid base of clouds spread below us.  The forecasts still call for snow, but luckily they aren’t always right in just how much snow we’ll get and at which elevation it will fall.  A calm day tomorrow for our carry to 16,200 ft would be greatly appreciated. 

Best Regards
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

An RMI Team camped at 14,200 ft on Mt. McKinley.  Mt. Foraker is in the background.  Photo: RMI Collection

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team On The Move

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais | July 07, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 14,200'

Saturday, July 6, 2013
14 K at last!  But we had to fight our way up here, it didn’t come easy.
Back down at 11,000 ft in the early hours of the day, it looked as though we might get decent weather.  At least, if one was looking up at the West Buttress, there was good visibility and not much sign of wind, if one turned and looked West, however, there was still a massive flow of cloud, as there had been all week, often overflowing and engulfing camp.
We ate breakfast and packed, it seemed especially difficult to get going after having become so deeply dug in for the best part of a week, but we managed.  Naturally, as we roped up and and got ready to walk, the clouds swept in and the wind came up.  We came full on into strong, steady winds as we topped motorcycle hill and it seemed we found even stronger winds at the crest of squirrel hill.  All of this was while inside a big white freezing cloud, so we were getting rimed up and frosty as we leaned straight into the storm to climb higher.  On the polo field, we still had wind but we were getting occasional sun breaks.  Windy Corner lived up to its name today.  Getting past it was the key battle of the day, but we knew if we could pass the corner we could leave the wind and cloud behind.  Sure enough, as we reached our cache from yesterday, we’d found a calm and sunny glacier.  It took another ninety minutes to get into “Genet Basin” which we reached at 3:30 PM.  We were happy to rejoin the teams we’d shared 11 camp with.  There were plenty of empty camp sites with good walls, so building our nest at 14,200 ft was made slightly easier.  The team was a little weary after pushing through such harsh conditions, but all were excited to be back in the game, to have new and awesome views and to have beat the forecasted “next storm”.  Yes, that is right, we are in for another one.  The western sky was full of wind sculpted wave clouds, as if a fleet of flying saucers were attacking Mount Foraker.  By the time we finished dinner, Denali was cloud capped as well and the snow was starting to fall at 14,200.

Best Regards
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Camp walls at 14,200' on Mt. McKinley.  Photo: RMI Collection An RMI Team ascending Squirrel Hill on Mt.McKinley.  Photo: Brent Okita

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Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Carry to 13,600’

Posted by: Dave Hahn, Zeb Blais, Mike King | July 06, 2013
Categories: *Expedition Dispatches *Mount McKinley
Elevation: 11,200'

Friday, July 5th, 2013 10:57 p.m. PST
Finally a break in the weather.  Things calmed down during the night and the upper layer of clouds began to dissipate.  As we watched for an hour or two beginning at 5 AM, the weather went back and forth for a while, but once we committed to getting the team up and getting going, it all began to go our way.  We dealt with slightly cooler temperatures and steady breezes as we left camp at 9 AM for our carry, but we had big blue skies overhead which was great for everybody’s morale.  Snow conditions were perfect for walking, which was a little surprising after so many days of falling snow.  It seems that it had been such a long dry spell previously, that the surface had gotten firm from wind and sun.  When new snow landed on that surface, it just blew clean.  At any rate, it was perfect for our crampons today.  We got up Motorcycle Hill and halfway up Squirrel Hill in the first hour, which entitled us to enjoy grand views of The Northwest Buttress and the Peter’s Glacier.  The second hour took us into the “Polo Field” as folks now call the basin which the end of the West Buttress towers over.  We moved through this area without much visibility as another cloud had found us.  By the time we reached Windy Corner, we were walking out of the cloud and getting big views again.  Windy Corner has been a concern for several weeks now as the June heat wave had produced a rockfall hazard in the area.  But there had to be some benefit to the storm that was keeping us down, it froze things up nicely above the corner and our passage was fast and safe.  We cached food and fuel at 13,600’, just past the corner.  It had taken four and a half hours to reach our destination.  We buried things deep to thwart the cache robbing ravens, and then began an easy descent with light packs.  By 3:45, we were back in camp, basking in sunshine.  There is still plenty of cloud around, but for the moment it is below us.  We hope it stays that way as we want to move to 14,200’ tomorrow.  All were excited and energized to finally see beyond the corner.  Denali’s South Peak was no longer far away or on some horizon, it was front and center… and gigantic. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Motorcycle Hill on Mt. McKinley. Photo: RMI Collection An RMI team traveling across the Polo Fields back to 11K Camp. Photo: RMI Collection

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