All we could register on our anemometers (wind meters) was a wind speed of 0.8 miles per hour. A light snow blew on our cheeks as the clouds lowered to reveal the upper mountain. We had climbed up through the clouds in a mist of white to Windy Corner, the crux of the climb up the lower flanks of Denali.
"We named it 'Windy Corner' during our mapping expedition in 1951," Bradford Washburn told me in my office a few weeks before we left Boston for Denali. "We had a big blow there for two nights, and we measured 80 mph winds!" No major project on Denali can happen without first checking in with Bradford Washburn, Director of the Boston Museum of Science for 40 years. Washburn just turned 90 years old, and for those of us who have known him for years, his name is synonymous with this mountain. Washburn was three years old in 1913 when Walter Harper became the first known person to have climbed Denali. Washburn made his first photographic flights over Denali in 1936. In 1947 his wife Barbara became the first woman to climb Denali, the same year he became the first climber to summit Denali twice. In 1951 he pioneered the very route we're on, the West Buttress route, and named many of the prominent features on the mountain, including Windy Corner. Luckily for us, it did not live up to its name this time.
Yesterday we were finally climbing like true mountaineers, ice axes in hand and crampons strapped to our feet to cut through the steep inclines on our ascent from 11,000-foot Camp to Windy Corner at 13,200 feet. After two days of wind and snow, a long line of climbers had accumulated at camp, ready to move higher. When the winds finally stopped blowing, climbers lined up like ants on the route up Motorcycle Hill above camp.
We made a carry to 13,200 feet, hauling our extra supplies up to a point where we could bury them in the snow for retrieval once we've established our base of operations at 14,200 feet. The temperature was a balmy 40°F in the white light of the sun burning behind the clouds. On our descent back to 11,000 feet the clouds finally parted briefly to reveal Mount Foraker in the distance. One of Washburn's favorite quotes hung in the air as we stopped to film the magical moment. "It's like looking out the windows of heaven," Washburn has often reminded us, quoting Robert Tatum's description of the view from Denali's summit. As we packed our camera back in our packs for the last steep hill down to our tents, the clouds swirled back in, enveloping us once again.