Bid for the Summit
Yesterday, the day started off at High Camp with constant winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour. From Fourteen Medical at 14,200 feet, the snow on the face of the mountain was being blown at such a force that entire slopes were avalanching down. We were still cold filming in the wind, even wearing our warmest clothes, but we knew that our team at High Camp had it worse. (To see the route from Base Camp to the summit, go to Climb.)
And then the wind stopped as suddenly as it began. A silence fell over camp before people dared crawl out of their tents. "This is NOVA 17,200," John Grunsfeld called down to us on the radio. After eight days of being at High Camp, having already made one summit attempt, Grunsfeld was ready to head back down the mountain. "Of course it's a disappointment not being a member of the summit team, but this expedition is about more than getting to the summit of the mountain," Grunsfeld pointed out. "It's about the search for information about the adaptation of humans in stressful and cold situations, and we've done some good work on that front. When the team goes to the summit, I'll feel that I'll be going with them."*
At 17,200 feet, climbers don't get stronger but slowly deteriorate over time, especially in the extreme cold. Cuts don't heal, coughs won't go away, and your appetite slowly wanes. Grunsfeld has developed an exercise-induced cough, and coming down is the best treatment. Accompanied by Caitlin Palmer, Grunsfeld climbed down into camp at 9:00 p.m. last night. They both looked strong and healthy, but there's no doubt that the waiting at High Camp for days took its toll. Keeping warm, reportedly, is a full time occupation.
In an ironic twist of fate, just a few hours after Grunsfeld and Palmer returned from High Camp, today has dawned clear, with no clouds in the sky. Colby Coombs, who is still up at High Camp with Sassan Mossanen, Johnny Soderstrom, and high-altitude cameraman Kent Harvey, radioed down to us at 8:00 a.m. "It's a bluebird day and we're going to give it a try."
Location: Fourteen Medical
Altitude: 14,200 feet
Air Temp: -5°F
Windspeed: 1 mph
*Editor's note: On June 7, 2004, John Grunsfeld summited Denali with three companions. Mission accomplished.