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Entries By cody doolan

Mt. McKinley: Dave Hahn Recaps His Team’s 2012 Denali Expedition

The last guided climb of the Denali 2012 season is done and down. Safe. But, without a summit, which happens sometimes. We got together in Talkeetna way back at the end of June—eight climbers and four guides—and we talked strategy and packed gear and we were issued permits. And, since the weather was a little sloppy, we didn’t fly immediately. Instead, we ate some more and drank some more and talked a bit more strategy. But on the 29th of June, we did get to fly into the Alaska Range and of course it was worth the wait.

As is always the case in late season, we’d been concerned as to how well put-together the lower glacier might be, but a few minutes flight over the Kahiltna in a de Havilland Otter convinced us it had been a good year for snow. Once on the ground (7,200 feet on the Southest Fork of the Kahiltna) we reviewed glacier travel techniques and waited for the middle of the night so as to allow the glacier surface to freeze solid. It did just that and we moved out early the next morning. We made pretty decent progress those first days… camp at 7,800 feet, move to 9,500 feet, migrate on up to 11,000 feet. As always, we started doing “carries” at 11,000 feet… climbing high and sleeping low so as to let our bodies catch up to the altitude. The gang was healthy and doing great and the weather was workable… if not stable. It was snowy and cloudy somewhere each and every day… just not exactly on top of us, and so we were able to make good use of the days.

The mountain got a lot more interesting as we left the valleys and ventured up onto the ridges on our move to Genet Basin at 14,200 feet. We “caught up” to about a dozen guide parties from other companies there and everybody was still optimistic about climbing high and making the top. We’d been on the mountain for a week at that point. But it started snowing. And then it seriously started snowing. Teams began to run out of food and fuel and quit the mountain. Then it snowed about two feet in 24 hours and we had an avalanche problem. The problem was that we believed there was instability on the steep slopes we needed to climb up in order to make any progress and there was no solution but to wait for stability. Which didn’t come.

We needed hot, sunny days to settle the problem and instead we got day after day of a little more cloud, snow and wind. Teams quit and descended… one after another. Finally, we teamed up with the last two guided parties on the hill to bust trail and evaluate hazard and perhaps find a way to the “fixed ropes” leading to the crest of the West Buttress. The mission took all day and required some dicey belays across “whumping” snow, but it resulted in a workable and safe track to the ropes… we were back in business. Until it snowed that night and the next morning.

Back at square one with a new hazard and no track. The other guided teams quit the mountain that day and we stayed another two days in a last attempt at getting some sort of good luck. But that didn’t come, just more snow and more clouds and more predictions for snow and clouds. We spent about 12 days at 14,200 feet and then we turned our backs on the summit and started busting trail down through the powder. Things got easier as we got lower on the mountain and we were at the SE Fork again by morning of our 19th day on the hill. And the weather cleared magnificently then… allowing a view of the summit we hadn’t reached, but also making the flight off possible.

Showers and dinners and drinks and beds in Talkeetna were pretty good, even without a summit. We’ll get it next time.

RMI Guide Dave Hahn

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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

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

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 7/19/2012 at 2:41 pm


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

Posted by: denise:, on 7/19/2012 at 7:49 am

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Descended 8,000’

Back down at 8,000 ft on the Kahiltna Glacier.  We packed things up at 14K this morning with the usual mix of clouds and clearing.  Nobody was looking upward any longer even though the peak was out.  Our focus became getting down safely.  We went into the clouds and murk as we came around Windy Corner.  Walking in fresh powder with big packs and sleds was a challenge, but we were able to find the remains of a packed trail under the powder for much of the day.  We took a good rest at 11k as we dug up our cache there and switched out crampons for snowshoes.  Travel on the upper Kahiltna was much less complicated than the steep hills we began the journey with.  We found excellent glacier conditions and even came out of the clouds a little below 10,000 ft.  At the base of Ski Hill we set a quick camp, had dinner and dove in the tents for a few hours of rest.  We’ll give the glacier surface a chance to freeze up hard before we aim for the airstrip in the morning. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Mark, well done to you and the entire team for this endurance test. Sometimes the weather wins in this business. Your team fortunately had the best leader out there to give it the best shot, and still get you back safely. Aconcagua on my radar, and would be proud to do that with you some time in the future. Bill

Posted by: Bill Hill on 7/18/2012 at 7:45 pm

Dr. K -
I guess this means we’ll get to see you in class next week! Sorry to hear the summit remains elusive, but that just means it would like to invite you back for another expedition :) May you have a safe journey back to the airstrip and to Santa Barbara, and we all look forward to seeing you next week.

Soulful love,

Posted by: O-Track on 7/18/2012 at 7:05 pm

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Focus Changes

Another night, another snow storm.  This morning as we got the stoves fired and the POSH pit dug out once again, it was clear that our summit chances had slipped away.  That was all that was clear… the day was much like the night, clagged in and snowing.  We had a team meeting at breakfast and a retreat from 14,200 ft was proposed.  Rather than merely waiting for a break in the weather to head up onto the West Buttress, we are now back in the uncomfortable position of having loaded avalanche slopes blocking our ascent.  They’d need that tedious and time-consuming process of cooking in the (seldom seen) sun and stabilization and careful evaluation… all over again.  And we won’t have resources for that if we are to devote a little food and fuel to getting safely down and off the mountain.  Folks expressed their disappointment at not getting to see the mountaintop, but also their recognition that we simply hadn’t gotten a break from sloppy weather.  Something had to give.  We are going down, but we aren’t exactly finished climbing yet.  We still need an easing of the current snowstorm and then we’ll need a strong and focused team to negotiate the terrain that took a week of careful climbing on the way in.

Perhaps the night will pass without a new storm and we’ll be able to begin working toward the airstrip tomorrow. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Cathy: we know that you are disappointed not been able to go all the way!!!! We know you could have made it. But, we are happy that you had a great adventure!!!! Your little soon to be niece/nephew is excited too!!!!!!

Love, Kae and Caroline

Posted by: Kae on 7/17/2012 at 5:24 am

Brian and team, I can only imagine how disappointed y’all must be, but you accomplished far more than most people will ever get a chance at. The experiences and memories of your time on McKinley will last a life time.  Plant the flag and take the picture (still a great shot). We are looking forward to your safe return and beautiful pictures. We love you , RB, TB & CB

Posted by: Robin, Tristan and Connor on 7/16/2012 at 8:20 pm

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Weighing Their Options

We were up early… but that didn’t do much good.  The clouds snuck in again overnight and by morning it was socked in and starting to snow at 14,200 ft.  For a few hours, we held out the hope that conditions would improve, but we had no such luck.  The two other guided teams at 14 decided they’d seen enough and by late afternoon they packed up and took off for Windy Corner, the Kahiltna and the airstrip.  We bid them goodbye, wished them good luck and turned to look at a virtually empty camp.  Now, the only other team trying to climb is made up of three Danish guys in a tent about 100 ft away.  Our team is in surprisingly good spirits despite the roller coaster of yesterday’s fresh hopes and today’s bleak realities.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but we can’t wait for all that many more tomorrows.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

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I hope the weather allows for more progress for climbing today.  Stay safe, focus on the destination, but enjoy the journey!  We send our love! Inez and Ian

Posted by: Inez Bulatao on 7/16/2012 at 3:38 am

Dr. K.
We are awe inspired by your bravery and sense of adventure! Can’t wait to see you again, best of luck to you and your team. Hang in there, we know you will make it to the top, we are sending you light and love! Have fun in the tent! We love you and miss you! -Track A2 (the best track)

Posted by: Track A2 on 7/15/2012 at 6:53 pm

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team - Change is Good

It started out like Groundhog Day as we got out to start the stoves…. socked in with clouds and light falling snow… 14,200 camp was in the soup.  I joked to the gang at breakfast that there certainly wouldn’t be any climbing on this day (admittedly a lame joke on the heels of so many non-climbing days).  We took a few enjoyable extra minutes at breakfast since the weather was so poor outside the POSH tent.  It seemed a good time to read out the comments posted on the blog (and cut and pasted into a message for us by the RMI office). We all got laughing and forgot about the storm and then a funny thing happened.  We unzipped the tent, walked outside and the storm was gone.  There was the usual sea of clouds just below us, but only calm, blue skies above.  Within a few minutes, a plan was hatched to team up with the other guided teams at 14,200, to get the climb leaders up in the direction of those suspect slopes and to determine once again just how suspect they still were.  Mountain Trip sent two guides, Alaska Mountaineering School sent three, and Tim and I went to represent RMI.  Meanwhile Cody and Solveig conducted a course in ropework and belay techniques for the gang in camp.  Those of us on the survey mission found ways to keep getting higher without taking unreasonable risks.  It took all day long and a few mini-conferences as to the best way to proceed -we traded off the honor of being out front where trailbreaking and risk evaluation were both essential and intense jobs.  By late afternoon we felt we had a good understanding of the snowpack and where we could and couldn’t go.  We agreed that it was reasonable to try busting through the last couple hundred feet of snow to reach the fixed ropes.  We took a cautious approach, setting up good anchors and a protected belay station, since by this point we were dealing with a fairly steep slope, crevasses, and all that recent snow we’ve been moaning and groaning about for days.  It all paid off as we reached the security of the ropes without incident. 

We knew we finally had a safe route to take our teams climbing toward the West Buttress in the morning.  Which is just what we’ll do if the weather cooperates.  Having reached about 15,500 ft in elevation, it was a thrill to ramble down the “safe trail” at flank speed and spread the good news to our climbers.

We still need plenty of luck, and there still may be insurmountable obstacles between us and the summit, but at least we finally get to go looking for them.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Brian, sooo happy for you and the team, amazing the difference a couple of hours make. We are home safe and sound and anxiously awaiting your return. Remember the journey is the reward….We love you and miss you very much.

XOXOXOX, Robin, Tristan and Connor

Posted by: Robin Bulatao on 7/14/2012 at 7:38 pm

hiiii daddy!:)
we just got back from hilton head, i got tanner, yeee!:D
connor and i miss you alot, and i hope your climbing thing is going ah-mazinggg!! ive been keeping you in my prayers,
loveeeee youuuuuuu!!!

Posted by: Tristan Bulatao:) on 7/14/2012 at 7:22 pm

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team Stationary at 14K

Another day at 14,200 ft on Denali… waiting for the sun. For as ominous as things appeared when we turned in last night, things stayed relatively calm through morning.  We enjoyed a few hours of sunshine and the team made good use by cutting snow blocks and fortifying our dining tent.  Meanwhile, a couple of guides from each of three different teams (and three different guide companies) made forays onto the first hill en route to the fixed ropes.  Each made assessments of the snowpack independently, but then we compared notes and found all were in agreement… there were positive signs that stabilizing processes were ongoing, but these were still definitely outweighed by the signs that unstable conditions prevailed.  Too much chance of avalanche.  No climbing the West Buttress today.  Back together at 14 camp, Tim Hardin gave our assembled team a great lesson in snow science, explaining how a pit dug in suspect snow could reveal plenty about the layers within the pack and their ability to hold to one another… or slide.  The day turned cloudy as usual and light snow fell again.  There was some letup at dinner and we enjoyed views of the wind-sculpted cloud caps on Denali, Foraker and Hunter.  We were each challenged again to stay tough, patient and focused as we said goodbye to three more of the guided groups we’ve shared the hill with.  This once bustling and eager climbing camp is down to three guided teams and one small independent team.  We’re still getting good forecasts for the days ahead- of cloud and snow and more cloud, we are just hoping they turn out to be wrong. 

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Hoping your patience will be rewarded with good conditions soon and that you are not bored to tears :)

Posted by: Monica on 7/14/2012 at 2:54 pm

Mark:  I am following you from muggy AZ.  Now wouldn’t you prefer Kilimanjaro’s warm 14,000ft weather to yours?  Ha, ha.  You are trooper and I am proud of you.  The Wilson name of adventurers continues in you!
Love, Jan

Posted by: Jan on 7/14/2012 at 8:02 am

Mt. McKinley: Hahn & Team - Edge of the World Trip #2

This day started out fine.  We definitely felt like we’d dodged a bullet since forecasts had predicted 6 to 12 inches of new snow overnight at 14,200 ft.  We got nothing and liked it.  The morning seemed perfect as we ate breakfast in strong sunshine and calm conditions.  We had high hopes for the sun working its stabilizing magic on the avalanche slopes between us and our climbing goals.  Since the clouds were gone, the team geared up for another walk to the Edge of the World.  This trip would be pretty simple compared to yesterday’s as we now had a packed trail to follow.  It was a thrill to reach the rocks this time and to look down into the abyss.  We took hero shots, posing on the high points and basked in the sunshine.  The clouds began to form as we walked back toward camp.  Unfortunately, they kept building and by dinner there was a massive cap on the mountain and wind was scraping hard at the ridges around us.  We happen to be perfectly sheltered from this particular storm at the moment, but it is obviously nasty above and around us… not exactly the stabilizing influence we were seeking.  So we’ll go to bed and hope for better things in the morning.  We are still doing fine for food and fuel, but are aware that a few more of the teams around us have reached their limits and are now focused on descent.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Dr K
Marcel & I were doing our training hike this morning & thinking ” trudging the road to happy destiny ” takes on a new meaning in knee deep powder !

Posted by: Blackie on 7/12/2012 at 8:28 pm

Mark, now you can say that you’ve been to the “Edge of the World” twice.  I am really impressed with you and the team for patience, dedication and hard work. Hope the food and fuel hold up.

Posted by: Bob B on 7/12/2012 at 3:51 pm

Mt. McKinley: Hahn and Team to the Edge of the World

Another unwelcome pulse of moisture and wind came through in the night.  The wind was far more significant than the new snow as it worked to slab up the substantial snowfall we’d already gotten on the steep walls above.  While things died down and the sun showed up on time this morning, it didn’t take very long for folks to realize we’d suffered a setback in the snow stability department.  But there wasn’t so much that could be done to change that reality and so we made the best of things.  We geared up, roped up and took a hike to the edge of the world, which is what everybody calls the rocks a short distance from camp that mark the edge of the 14,200 ft basin we’re in.  From that edge one can look straight down thousands of vertical feet to the Northeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier.  Except we could not, due to clouds and murk, and plowing through above the knee powder made it feel like a little more than a short distance away.  We went for the workout and to keep our minds focused on climbing during this big delay.  And that seemed to work nicely for us.  One could sense the great drop-off and the immensity of Denali’s South Face lurking in the clouds. 
Back at camp, we did more of the things we’ve already been doing so well… eating, drinking, resting, chatting and watching the snowy slopes above when the clouds permit.  What we really need is a few hot, very sunny, stable days to settle the snow.
Several of the teams surrounding us in camp were running low on food and fuel and could wait no more.  They began their descent of the mountain as we were sitting down to dinner.  Things actually cleared up quite nicely about then with calm, blue skies above and a thick sea of clouds below us stretching to all horizons.  It may be a tricky situation but it remains beautiful.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

Hey Mark,
I am really enjoying your trip from sunny Denver!!! Mary and I have been walking everyday! I sure hope the weather cooperates with you. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip! ENJOY! Dorothy


Posted by: Dorothy on 7/12/2012 at 7:16 am

Will, I wish I could send you some heat from the glassblowing furnace…the campers are working in the 90’s ea. day. I am just a big salt lick for Nicki when I get home at night. Stay safe! Love you. Jenny and CaliRose

Posted by: Jennifer on 7/12/2012 at 6:47 am

Mt. McKinley: Hahn and Team Waiting for Stability

We all thought it was a little colder than predictions called for last night.  It might have been as low as 10 below zero Fahrenheit, but that is just a guess.  But that would have been because the sky finally cleared.  It was clear through much of the morning and early afternoon, but nobody went climbing.  There are perhaps eight or ten groups here at 14,200 ft, between guided and smaller non-guided teams, but all of us shared a great respect for the new fallen snow and its need to settle.  Neither the teams that are throwing in the towel and looking to go down, nor those of us that are looking to go up, want to get impatient and get avalanched.  So we took it easy today and hoped that the sun would shine hard enough to heat up the snow and settle the hazard.  We watched the last National Park Service Ranger Patrol of the season work with their B3 helicopter for a good chunk of the day to sling load all of their equipment and personnel out of camp and off the hill.  My gang practiced the techniques we plan to employ for getting up the “fixed ropes” on the steep terrain between 15,000 and 16,200 ft.  We also built a new walled latrine with all of the modern conveniences.  And we waited.  Patiently.  We received a bunch more great messages from the blog (they were relayed to us as we don’t actually surf the web up here) and those produced plenty of smiles and laughter.  Thank You.

Best Regards,
RMI Guide Dave Hahn

On The Map

Leave a Comment For the Team (2)

In this morning’s devotion..sending prayers & optimism
your way. Silver linings in the clouds are not hard
to find, on the way to dreams coming true. Warmth & perfect weather from
the center of the heart of a Santa Barbara girl is yours. One step at a time….
SOUL, Denise:.

Posted by: denise:. on 7/12/2012 at 7:17 am

Mark, what an adventure. So proud of you and the Team. Keep that sun tan lotion on. Stay safe. Bill

Posted by: Bill Hill on 7/11/2012 at 6:36 pm

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