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Dispatches
by Liesl Clark


Deadly Ascent homepage

Lull Before a Storm

At 8 p.m. the sun hangs high above the West Buttress and a wide wash of clouds rolls out below us as far as we can see. Mount Hunter and Mount Foraker rise above the cloud layer like ice islands afloat on a sea of moving white waves. Denali, "The High One," towers 3,000 feet above the surrounding peaks. The view changes by the minute, with boiling clouds drifting off Denali's high ridges above us, signifying strong winds. Today would not be a good summit day.

Tomorrow, John Grunsfeld, Colby Coombs, and Caitlin Palmer will leave Fourteen Medical to move up to High Camp at 17,200 feet. From there, if the winds die down, they will make an attempt on Denali's summit at 20,320 feet. We made a carry of extra food, fuel, and equipment to 16,200 feet yesterday, up the steepest part of the West Buttress route, where ropes are fixed to assist climbers on the difficult uphill push. (To see the route up Denali and the camps along the way, go to Climb.)

A 2,000-foot ascent, the Headwall is fixed with 800 feet of rope, and anchors are placed every 40 feet. We carried heavy loads up to the wind-battered ridge at 16,200 feet and buried our gear in the snow, to be retrieved tomorrow for the high camp. "The winds look strong up high, but they look like they could diminish in the upcoming days," said Sassan Mossanen, a Denali guide working with our film crew. So the time has come to have our summit team leave the comforts of Fourteen Medical at 14,200 feet and make their move. The High Definition camera and crew will continue filming down here for a couple of days and then will move higher with Howard Donner and Pete Athans.

More than 50 climbers moved up to High Camp today, their footsteps leaving a distinct impression on the snows of the Headwall. This may be one of the heaviest traffic days to High Camp this year. 1995 was the biggest year for Denali climbers, with 1,287 attempting the summit. Of those climbers, 968 were on the West Buttress Route, and 12 rescues were conducted that year.

"Base all your decisions on what you can do, not what I can do for you," Daryl Miller, South District Ranger for the National Park Service, once said to us. We hope the large number of climbers up at Denali's highest camp won't mean an increase in medical incidents and rescues. But experience on Denali tells Howard Donner that he should expect several cases to come in to his medical tent over the coming days.

"We're in a lull before a storm," Donner said, looking out over the still clouds, frozen in a thick layer below our tents. Just beyond lies a lookout called "The Edge of the World," where the mountain drops off 4,000 feet to the northeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. Some climbers know it as the Valley of Death, but we know it as a less traveled route, silent and magical, leading climbers up a technical climb toward Denali's summit.

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High Camp

High Camp at 17,200 feet

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Dispatches

On the Way (06.01.2000)
One Shot Pass (06.02.2000)
Midnight Rescue (06.04.2000)
Across a Glacier (06.05.2000)
Cold Toes (06.07.2000)
Cloud Walkers (06.09.2000)
Fourteen Medical (06.11.2000)
A Climber Saved (06.13.2000)
Lull Before a Storm (06.15.2000)
Frostbite (06.17.2000)
An Unforgiving Mountain (06.19.2000)
Stopped Short (06.20.2000)
A Great Loss (06.20.2000)
Bid for the Summit (06.23.2000)
Summit Reached (06.24.2000)


E-Mail

Set #1 (06.07.2000)
Set #2 (06.08.2000)
Set #3 (06.11.2000)
Set #4 (06.12.2000)
Set #5 (06.21.2000)


Meet the Team

Pete Athans
Colby Coombs
Dr. Howard Donner
John Grunsfeld
Dr. Peter Hackett
Caitlin Palmer



Liesl Clark directed "Deadly Ascent".



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