Denali Expedition: A Final Note from Bond & Team
June 25, 2023 10:00am PT
It seems surreal that just 24 hours ago we were sitting on the East Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier with our fingers crossed for flyable weather. Kahiltna International Airport (KIA) could have just as easily been our home for the next week but instead we slept easily and comfortably on real mattresses for the first time in nearly 3 weeks. Today and only today the weather cooperated for us to make our escape. How did we get here? Let me tell you...
24 hours prior to the 24 hours that we just experienced...
We woke up to a mix of clouds and sunshine at 14k Camp and casually dismantled camp and packed up all our things. The weather and clouds mostly stayed below us with an occasional surge of precip and wind at camp. The walk down to 11k Camp was uneventful other than a quick reunion with Dominic Cifelli and Dave Hahn's respective RMI climbing teams. High fives were had but we kept moving, we had a timeline to meet.
Once at a 11k Camp again we located our cache, set up tents, made water and ate dinner. The clouds rolled in and out of 11 Camp like the tide on the shore. Like the tide, what was in the clouds was wet and gross. After "napping" for around 3 hours, we "woke up" at 9:30pm to get moving again to catch the lower glacier in its most stable and frozen condition.
Sadly, the cloud we walked into below 11 Camp was hovering around 33 degrees and raining. The team was quickly covered in a layer of ice and rime. Everything - backpacks, trekking poles, goggles, jackets, pants, were incased in a 1/4 cm of ice. We trudged for several hours through this freezing rain. Eventually we got below the cloud, and everyone shed their icy armor that had accumulated. After a break at the bottom of Ski Hill to recover our cache (and thaw out), we resumed trudging on the lower Kahiltna.
A simple 3 more hours of trudging in what ended up being a fairly direct path across the Kahiltna glacier, we arrived at Heart Break Hill. It was time for the final hour of uphill that must be ascended to return to the airstrip. The team's morale stayed high, and hearts stayed unbroken. We made quick work of Heart Break Hill. Shortly after 5am, we were back at the airstrip; 19 days had elapsed since we were last here. It seemed surreal to be back. Even more surreal the weather continued to cooperate, the cloud ceiling stayed high, the sun showed itself briefly! Around 8:45am the drone of a K2 Turbo Otter was heard. 24 hours after leaving 14k Camp, we were picked up in the most wonderful red plane you've ever seen and whisked back to civilization, Talkeetna.
Everyone has been awake for 24-36 hours at the time of writing this. There is still much clean up and packing to do before we can sleep.
The trip is over, but our memories and experiences will last a lifetime. This is the final blog from The Bond Girls. If you want to know more, contact your loved ones, they have service now! Even if they're pretending they don't...