An Unforgiving Mountain
Being out of radio contact can be unnerving when you haven't pre-determined another time to make contact. The last we heard from Colby Coombs, Caitlin Palmer, and John Grunsfeld, almost 12 hours ago, they were preparing to depart High Camp for their summit attempt. After having waited out high winds for two days, the clouds dissolved and the winds died, leaving our summit team with a beautiful night for climbing. The temperatures will most likely drop between 20 and 30 degrees below zero. With a 20-mile-per-hour wind, the windchill will keep the climbers moving with few rest stops. The risk of frostbite is high.
"This mountain is unforgiving," commented a young climber from Aspen, Colorado, who had descended to Fourteen Medical at 14,200 feet after having reached the summit 24 hours earlier. His toes had frostbite, and his big toes were twice their normal size. On the summit, the temperature had been -40 °F with 40-mile-per-hour winds. "My toes felt like frozen blocks," the climber admitted as Dr. Howard Donner dressed his blistered toes with Betadyne and gauze.
"You should get out as soon as possible," Donner advised. "And you should go and see Dr. O'Malley in Anchorage." Dr. James O'Malley, a world expert on frostbite, has seen more than 200 victims with frostbite, many of whom have come off Denali.
We wait to hear from our team up high, radioing them every hour on the hour: "NOVA 17,200, this is NOVA 14,200. Do you copy?"
Location: Fourteen Medical
Altitude: 14,200 feet
Air Temp: -2°F
Windspeed: 1 mph