Denali, Alaska  •  June-July 2007

Nicki's Updates from Denali, Alaska

July 12, 2007  •  The Expedition is Over

Nicki called from Talkeetna to report that the team made it down and off McKinley safe and sound. They had a tough descent with extremely difficult crevasse conditions and had to pull rope members out of crevasses a few times, but all are well. The mood in base camp was sombre with all the other expeditions there having come down without summitting. Weather had prevented Laurie Bagley from flying out earlier, so she was still in base when the team arrived, and she said their group had 50 crevasse falls on the way down.

Nicki says they were especially happy to get back to their base camp cache of Coke and Pringles, eating way too many that night. They got a flight off the glacier late last night, and in the tradition of post-expedition excess, their first night's dinner back in town was an overabundance of ribeye, crab legs, and sundaes at Latitude 62.

They're heading for Anchorage this afternoon, and Nicki plans to be home Friday or Saturday. Everyone is happy to be done with this difficult climb and enjoying their hard-earned success.

July 10, 2007  •  Safely Back to Camp, and Heading Down

Sounding pretty tired, Nicki says they made it back to camp around 11pm last night. She says conditions for their descent were nearly white-out, and she took a fall on the rocky ridge where it's difficult to get good traction in crampons, but that they had set the right protection and she is alright. Their plan is to walk all the way down to the airstrip today, so it'll be another long day, but everyone is happy to be heading for home.

July 9, 2007  •  Summitted and Descending

Nicki called from the Football Field (just below 20,000') to say they had summitted at 4:45pm and were on their way down. She said the route was tough, wind blowing about 40mph, and it isn't clear out, but they're happy to be the first people to have summitted in the last eight or nine days, and are concentrating on getting down safely. Two Spaniards followed them up the route, also summitted and are working their way down to high camp.

July 8, 2007  •  Safe and Well in High Camp

High winds and serious avalanche conditions are keeping the team in camp to see if the situation improves. One of the other teams waiting in High Camp is choosing to end their expedition and go down. After a team meeting, Nicki says Laurie Bagley will go down with them to assure making her flight home. Scott Woolums, Chris Klinke and Nicki will wait it out another couple of days to see if conditions improve for a summit bid.

July 7, 2007  •  Waiting Out Winds in High Camp

Nicki reports that 50 mph winds kept them from attempting the summit today. Temperatures have plummeted as well, but they are safe and comfortable in high camp and prepared to wait a couple days for a break in the weather to attempt the summit.

July 6, 2007  •  High Camp at 17,500'

Nicki and team took advantage of improved weather to climb to high camp at 17,500' today where there are currently only two other teams. She says they had a close call with a nearby avalanche on the way to the fixed ropes and had to hustle out of the way. They got dusted by ice crystals, but everyone is alright.

They plan to leave for their summit bid at 9pm tonight, and rather than climb over the still snow-loaded Denali Pass, will go by the alternative West Ridge route. Stay tuned for updates.

July 5, 2007  •  Storms and Avalanche Risk Stalling Ascent

Nicki reports her team is still in the 14k camp today because storms moving through have dumped a lot of snow causing serious avalanche risks on the upper mountain. Temperatures have plummeted, and it was 5° at 14,000' yesterday. No teams have summitted in the last five days, and an Alpine Ascents team turned around from their summit bid at Denali Pass (just above 18,000') yesterday assessing the avalanche risk as too high to continue up.

Many teams currently at the 14k camp are choosing to end their expedition, and some trying to recover their cached supplies at 16,200' before going down. So Nicki says they spent part of the day helping to break trail through the new snow up the Headwall to assist the teams going to 16k.

Nicki's team have decided they have until Sunday (July 8th) to move up to high camp, before having to decide to end their climb, so they're hoping some warmer weather moves through to stabilize the new snow. Right now they're feeling good, listening to avalanches sloth off the upper mountain, and hoping for better weather soon.

July 2, 2007  •  The Headwall

Sounding a bit tired after a 6 hour round trip up the headwall to cache gear, Nicki says they are looking forward to a pizza dinner and a day off in the 14k camp. The headwall is a 2,500' steep, icy slope that requires clipping into a fixed line (a rope anchored to the ice) for safety. It's difficult climbing up the steep slope with a loaded pack, and slow going both up and down unclipping and re-clipping around the anchors on the fixed line.

Stormy weather and big winds kept the team from sleeping well the night before, and the guides were up making hot drinks for a team caught late in the weather coming down the headwall. Other climbers went up to assist in their descent.

Everyone is feeling good, happy to have a rest day, and looking forward to climbing the upper mountain. After a day off, they'll climb back up the headwall and on to the 17,000' camp. After a little rest and weather permitting, they'll try for the summit the next day.

June 30, 2007  •  14k Camp

Nicki reports they are safe and feeling good in the 14,000' camp today. They made a carry to cache some gear at 13,200' yesterday and faced blowing snow through Windy Corner, a notoriously tough spot to pass. Today they had calm, sunny weather on their climb to 14k. Since this is late in the spring climbing season, the 14k camp isn't the full-on international tent city it sometimes is, and they guess there are maybe 35 other expeditions camped there now.

Tomorrow they'll drop back to 13,200' to pick up their cached gear. The day after the team plans to make a carry up the steep headwall and cache gear at 16,500' at the top of the headwall. After a rest day back at 14k, they'll move up to the 17k high camp and hope for good weather to allow a summit bid the following day.

Everyone is feeling great, and Nicki says they've been eating well. Last night was chicken tortellini with pesto, tonight will be pizza, and the plan for breakfast is french toast with bacon.

Adding a sombre note to the expedition is that around them have been four rescues in the last five days. Partly because of the difficult crevasse conditions in the warm weather, and partly the usual big mountain issues.

June 28, 2007  •  All Well at 11,000'

Nicki reports they are at the 11,000' camp and doing well. It was tough going, but she is feeling good. They plan to do a carry to their next camp tonight and return for a day at 11k before moving higher.

June 27, 2007  •  Camp 2 After a Scary First Day

Nicki called from Camp 2 at 9000' on Mt. McKinley to report they are doing well but had a hairy night traveling to Camp 1 their first day on the mountain. Warm weather is making the crevasse conditions especially difficult this season, and after flying onto the mountain in the afternoon, they choose to climb to Camp 1 at night (it currently does not get dark in Alaska) when colder weather makes glacier travel safer. Still, guide Scott Woolums had to stop frequently to probe for crevasses, which made the traveling slow and scary.

They made it to Camp 1 at 8000' without incident, slept three hours, and moved on to Camp 2 where they are currently resting. They plan to carry half their gear up the steeper climb to Camp 3 at 11,000', return to Camp 2 for the night and move up to Camp 3 tomorrow.

Nicki says the weather is beautiful, if a little hot during the day, and that she is feeling good.

June 24, 2007  •  Off to Alaska

I'm starting my journey on the third of my seven summits and heading to Alaska. Scott called yesterday from there and wants us to possibly drive to Talkeetna tomorrow, and instead of spending the night, fly right from there onto the glacier. I'm assuming that means he's eager to get started and I know the entire team would like to get going earlier so hopefully we can get back earlier from Denali!

It was a little hectic leaving home for this trip. Last minute preparations were infused with three rescue horses coming in from another rescue yesterday so we could help them out, one of those being a non-halter broke mustang which had to be led to a stall. I also did some wild burro catching and doctoring and after an exciting day, got to pack late last night.

I feel ready though for Alaska, and Denali. I am thinking good thoughts and praying for good weather. While I'm slogging up the Kahiltna glacier, my thoughts, other than those of complete misery and the constant uphill question of OH WHY am I doing this again?, will be on the future, successes, good times with those that have supported me in this journey, and new adventures yet to come.

Our team is strong...heck, I'm going with three super human adventure racer types who would probably feel better if they could just put wheels on my feet so they can roll me up the mountain at the hyper speed they are fit enough to travel! But? I think it will be fun. While I'm sweating, or freezing, lugging heavy pack and towing sled behind me...I will be thinking about those friends and family I know who are at home, in warm nice places, relaxing....and mind-meld to pretend I'm there with them feeling warm and safe!

Ok, off to tackle the Big Mac (McKinley)!

Will call in for more dispatches from the mountain.

—Nicki Branch

June 21, 2007  •  Expedition Itinerary

Team: Scott Woolums, Laurie Bagley, Chris Klinke, Nicki Branch


June 22ndScott flies to Anchorage to start food packing and gear sorting
June 23rdFood Packing
June 24thLaurie arrives, Nicki arrives. We will do a gear check and go out for dinner.
June 25thDrive to Talkeetna in the morning; 4 hours or so. Spend night in Hotel or bunk house or tent.
June 26thFly to Kahiltna glacier 7200 ft.
June 27Climb to Camp 1, 7700 ft
June 28 Move to Camp 2, 9700 ft
June 29Move to Camp 3, 11000 ft
June 30Carry to Camp 4, 14,200 ft back down.
July 1Climb to Camp 4 ,14,200 ft.
July 2-4Rest at 14,200 ft camp
July 5Move to high camp, 17,000 ft
July 6Rest Day at high camp, 17,000 ft.
July 7First summit day attempt
July 8-14Extra weather days for summit attempts
July 14home from Anchorage.

These are aproximations only; actual days depend on weather conditions and people and illness!

—Nicki Branch

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