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Dispatches
by Liesl Clark


Deadly Ascent homepage

Summit Reached

For the first time in nine days, the air was still and only a few clouds lay suspended over the lesser peaks in the distance. Rivers, like silver ribbons against the dark tundra, could be seen: bold strokes of snowmelt flowing in indirect routes toward the Bering Sea.

Climbing conditions were finally perfect, and our summit team, led by Expedition Leader Colby Coombs, reached the summit and returned to High Camp at 17,200 feet in an astounding eight hours. Accompanying Coombs were our high-altitude cameraman, Kent Harvey, and assistant guides, Sassan Mossanen and Johnny Soderstrom. The team of four left High Camp at 10:30 a.m., reached Denali's 20,320-foot summit at 3:00 p.m., and returned to Camp at 6:00 p.m.

"In my mind, it was the first reasonable summit day in 20 days," said Coombs. "It was the first time a window opened up to climb Denali and safely return." The team had waited out marginal weather for nine days while other teams were attempting the summit with limited results. Only a few people reached the summit this past week and several climbers with frostbite came down to the medical tent at 14,200 feet. Another group waited for ten days and then decided to go down the mountain without a summit attempt.

"We've had unusually cold temperatures for June, which limited our window to daylight hours because once the sun goes down it's too cold," Coombs said this morning. The team made one summit attempt earlier this week but was turned around at 18,200-foot Denali Pass due to the extreme cold.

"I was really surprised how cold it was," Caitlin Palmer reported when she came down with astronaut John Grunsfeld. The two descended from High Camp the day before the weather cleared.

All of our climbers are safely down at 14,200 feet, and tomorrow we make our final move down to 7,000-foot Base Camp on the Kahiltna Glacier, where ski planes will be able to fly us out. We'll hike through the night to avoid crevasse falls. Colder night temperatures help to firm up the ice bridges over the ever-widening cracks on the lower glacier.

Voices drift across our campsite from the cook tent. It's the last night our team will gather together in warm down parkas to eat a meal before falling into our tents for much-needed sleep. The sun has drifted behind the West Buttress, and our toes and fingers begin to feel that familiar sense of creeping cold.

Location: Fourteen Medical
Altitude: 14,200 feet
Air Temp: 7°F
Windspeed: 0 mph

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Climbers at Denali's summit

Guide Johnny Soderstrom, Expedition Leader Colby Coombs, and Guide Sassan Mossanen on the summit of Denali, the tallest mountain in North America

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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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