Mt. McKinley: Mallory & Team Enjoy Unexpected Nice Weather
Despite a forecast last night calling for the arrival of a low pressure system blowing in from the Bering Sea, the unsettled weather finally swung in our favor this morning. The skies were mostly clear above us when we got out of the tents, and the bank of clouds hanging just to our west hung stationary, not quite reaching past Mt. Foraker and Kahiltna Dome. Seizing the first day of good weather we’ve seen since leaving Base Camp, we loaded up our packs with food, fuel, and a few extra supplies and headed up out of 11 Camp. To say it was an amazing morning for climbing is an understatement (although I realize we’re a bit jaded by the whiteout conditions of the past few days) - it was calm, crisp, and clear, the route was in perfect shape, much of the new snow blown away making for perfect cramponing, and the temperatures comfortable. By the time we reached the top of Motorcycle Hill, just above 11 Camp, we all had grins from ear to ear - we couldn’t believe how nice the conditions were especially because we were anticipating spending the day hunkered down in camp battling wind and snow.
We climbed all morning, making great time up to Windy Corner at over 13,000’, finally stopping just past Windy Corner at 13,600’. There we dug a big hole and dropped all of the gear we were carrying. Caching gear like that benefits us in two ways: it allows us to break down the massive amount of supplies we need to carry on this mountain and move them up in more manageable loads as well as helps us acclimatize and get used to the altitude. By climbing up higher during the day we expose our bodies to thinner air and help kick start the body’s acclimatization process before descending back to a lower camp where we can rest and recover - hence the climber’s adage “climb high, sleep low”.
After finishing our cache we turned back down our trail and motored back into camp, reaching our tents mid-afternoon. While the clear skies filled with clouds throughout the day the conditions remained warm and calm without even a breath of wind. The clouds are certainly building, indicating the arrival of a possible front, but they haven’t stacked up like we were anticipating so we are in a wait and see mode. If we are feeling up for it and the weather cooperates we would like to move up to our next camp at 14,200’ tomorrow but we need conditions, both weather and the group to align perfectly for that. If we aren’t able to make the move tomorrow we will stay here at 11 Camp and rest and recover from the past several days of travel. We will check in tomorrow and let you know how it goes.
RMI Guide Linden Mallory