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Denali - West Buttress Expedition

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team - Down and Out in Talkeetna

I’d intended to wake the climbing team at 2 AM for their final day on Denali, but folks were snoring so hard at that hour that it seemed kinder to wait until three.  Besides, our camp at 7,800’ on the Kahiltna Glacier was blanketed with cloud and I didn’t figure the snow surface had frozen up.  But at three, the clouds began to flee and the snow got crusty, making sled-pulling and crevasse-crossing vastly easier and safer.  We ate a hot breakfast, knocked down the tents and hit the trail at 5:15.  There actually was a trail since a West Rib team had gone out the evening before, plowing an easy-to-follow groove in what had then been soft snow.  After weeks of telling the team how tricky it could be to get through the lower glacier in mid-July, I was almost embarrassed that our task had become so simple.  As we cruised along in the early morning shadows it was something of a surprise to realize that we were finding better bridges and fewer open crevasses than on our way in.  The constant snowstorms that kept us from climbing high had greatly improved conditions down low.  We made it to the Southeast Fork in just a couple of hours and began a slow walk up “Heartbreak Hill”. The last of the clouds seemed to evaporate, leaving us in bright sunshine and giving us excellent views of Mount Hunter and Mount Foraker.  By 9:30 AM we were unclipping our carabiners and shaking hands at the “upper strip”.  Since it was the first clear day over the Alaska Range in some time and there was a lot of flying to be done, we had to wait our turn for a pickup.  But waiting was pretty easy in such wonderful conditions… we rolled out sleeping pads and napped, threw snowballs, and nibbled at the last delicacies in what -until then- had been our carefully rationed lunch food.  K2 Aviation landed two beautiful DeHaviland Otters at precisely 4 PM.  Fifteen minutes later we slid down the runway and off the mountain that had been our home for 19 days.

The flight out in perfect summer weather -our first of the trip- was spectacular.  A million shades of green dazzled our eyes as we left the mountains and neared Talkeetna.  Then it was a few frenzied hours of drying and sorting gear in the hot sunshine.  With the chores done, we got to the pleasant and easy hours of celebrating over a fine dinner at the West Rib Pub.  And finally there was the obligatory visit to The Fairview where open mike night was already in progress.  Our Norwegian teammate, Frode, took the stage and had the big stuffed animal heads rocking off the walls with his thundering rendition of Hootchie Cootchie Man.  And that was how our Denali climb ended… Without a summit, but with a lot of laughter and twelve new friends.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

Comments (3)

Dave Hahn, thank you for the wonderful updates!  I could almost hear the “peft, peft, peft” of the team’s steps in the snow.  But thank you most of all for guiding the team home safely!

Posted by: Monica on


Safe journey, safe homecoming.
Thank you for your posts. This last one
was pretty as a painting.
SOUL, Denise:.

Posted by: denise:, on

thank you for sharing your experience; loved following your daily dispatches.

Posted by: michelle on

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