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best of cc.com [TR] Denali - Denali Diamond 6/19/2007

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Trip: Denali - Denali Diamond


Date: 6/19/2007


Trip Report:

At Colin's and others' request, I'm posting as a trip report an email I already sent out to friends, with a few additional photos added. Enjoy.



We flew to Kahiltna base camp on June 2nd and over the next several days ascended the west buttress of Denali to the 14,300 foot basin. We arrived here with 3 days of food. We would leave 10 days later with at least 4 times that amount. On our 9th day on the mountain, we went from 14 to the summit on a nice day… joined by over 100 other folks who had camped up at 17,000'!


Here's the fixed lines two days earlier:




Although it was a surreal experience, it was actually the first time I had ever summitted Denali by this route, and I have to say I enjoyed it plenty despite the crowds. As always, Colin enjoyed himself too:




Two days later, Colin joined the extreme ski team and climbed the upper West Rib to the summit and skied the Orient Express in his mountaineering boots and miniature skis, while I gave an exertion cough I had developed some opportunity to recover. In ensuing days, the ski team went on to ski the Messner, Rescue, Orient, and numerous other steep chutes on both the north and south peaks of the mountain, taking advantage of some of the best ski conditions in many years on these features. A stretch of mostly good weather during this week also allowed our friends John (Jedi) and Evan to climb the Cassin Ridge in 3 days after they took a chance on an ambiguous forecast that yielded bomber high mountain weather. Their successes were contagious and fired us up.


On the evening of the 16th, we descended to our "basecamp" at 7,800' at the junction of the northeast fork, and the following evening left this camp for our planned route: the Denali Diamond, a 3500' granite wall left of the Cassin Ridge. The route then continues up an additional 4500 feet of steep snow terrain alongside, then on, the upper Cassin Ridge.




We made rapid progress up the northeast fork despite unfrozen snow conditions and reached the bivouac crevasse at the foot of the Cassin Ridge in 5 ½ hours from 7,800'. We spent the day resting as light snow fell and visibility remained limited, but a forecast for 2, possibly 3 days of sunny skies and high pressure kept us optimistic. At midnight that night, the clouds evaporated and we began climbing.


We simul climbed a half dozen easy pitches of snow and ice to where the wall steepened. I then led several easy to moderate mixed pitches with some simul climbing. The route unfolded beautifully, with astounding rock quality and well iced chimneys and grooves that provided continuously stellar climbing. Colin led a block of pitches up some wonderful mixed terrain that brought us to the "Diamond", an enormous block that dominates the wall. I then led a very steep squeeze chimney filled with ice, followed by a difficult mixed pitch.








Soon we found ourselves entering the final crux corner system that leads to the snowfields hanging above.




Colin led two very steep waterfall pitches (5+) which held sustained and continuous 90 degree sections. I thought these quite reminiscent in terms of difficulty and quality to the "Shaft" on the Moonflower of Mt. Hunter. The first of these leaned left and actually overhung in places, requiring some delicate and technical stemming:




The second pitch began with a short but technical M6 mixed step, followed by relentlessly vertical but excellent ice. As with everything we had climbed to this point, the protection and rock quality was absolutely superb, allowing us to focus entirely on the climbing, and maximizing our enjoyment. A short ramble above the second step led us to the infamous crux pitch. To the right, the FA party's notorious 25 foot, A3 roof loomed. This looked very intimidating.


Just left of this was an even worse looking chimney (unclimbed):




Just a bit further to the left, the main corner continued above as a 40 meter, vertical, inside corner, with no ice. This pitch, climbed by the 2nd and 3rd ascent parties, had never been freed, but was estimated at M7. The plentiful cracks assured us that it would go one way or another, but at this point in the day (15 hours) our primary goal was simply getting the rope up there.


We brewed up some water as the afternoon sun began to blaze upon us- our timing was working out as hoped, climbing the hardest part in the warm sun. Colin started up and the climbing proved quite hard.




After 20 meters of mixed free and aid, he belayed, to recover some pieces that would be needed above. I belayed from a fully hanging stance while Colin worked out more mixed free and aid climbing to another belay 30 meters higher. Following with both packs was a major pumpfest. Above, instead of the easy terrain we were now hoping for, we were treated to 2 more pitches of M5-ish climbing in icy, awkward chimneys, before we abruptly exited into the massive snowfield paralleling the upper Cassin Ridge, at about 16,000'. It was 9 PM, hour 21 since leaving the base. Although the Alaska Range was surrounded on all sides by enormous thunderheads, the weather up here was beautiful and windless, a perfect day to be on this huge face.




Finding only hard ice and thin snowcover, we were forced to climb another 600 feet to find snow deep enough to obtain a tent ledge without having to chop into ice. Both of us were now very dehydrated and therefore pretty much knackered; as such, this last section of "easy" climbing was, for me at least, the mental crux of the whole climb, and I had to dig deep. Once settled in the tent we could begin repairing the deficit we'd put ourselves in, brewing up much water and eating a good meal. We then slept soundly in Colin's custom 2 person sleeping bag; between this bag and the BD firstlight tent, our bivi setup weighed almost nothing yet allowed us enough comfort to get a good rest.


Day 2 was bright and sunny, so we slept in and did not begin climbing until 2 PM.




This day was like a whole different climb: all snow climbing, and at altitude.




We broke trail in variable snow conditions for over 3 hours before finally joining the Cassin around 17,500'.




Anticipating a cold, late evening summit, we stopped at 19,000' to brew up in the evening sun and prevent a repeat of the previous day's dehydration. Smoke from lightning caused fires began to infiltrate the mountains, but otherwise it was relatively warm and beautiful.




At 9:45 PM we stood alone on the summit in a cold stiff wind, happy it was now all downhill from here. Our time on the 8000 foot face was 45 hrs, 40 minutes, and this was the route's 5th ascent.






At just after midnight we reached the tent and food we'd left behind at 14,000 on the west buttress. The weather shut down the following afternoon. I love it when the timing is this perfect.


We remained on the mountain for another week: me at Kahiltna basecamp with Lisa, Colin at 14,000 in hopes of some further climbing; but, the weather would not allow it.


On the positive side, with the right connections, Mountain High Pizza Pie delivers to basecamp in 90 minutes or less:










Gear Notes:

Standard alpine rack to 3", 6 screws (mostly 13's), handful of pins of all types, lots of slings, a light pack, and a good weather forecast.


Approach Notes:

The Northeast fork of the Kahiltna is always a heads-up experience, but don't let rangers or British climbers tell you it's near-impossible. Go look for yourself, move fast, and use common sense.

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Mark and Colin, great TR, but sorry you guys failed to locate the elusive alpine Denali sheep again. She's up there somewhere, you'll find her eventually!

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Mark and Colin, great TR, but sorry you guys failed to locate the elusive alpine Denali sheep again. She's up there somewhere, you'll find her eventually!


Why do you think Colin stayed on the mountain for another week?

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Sweet action fellas. Colin, what's the deal with this 2-person bag? Estimated temperature rating, weight, material?


BTW, nice twin mustaches!

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Thanks for sharing Mark and a big congrat's to ya!!!! DD appears to be a stellar route. It looks like the Sony W90 took some nice pictures after all.


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Good to see the multiple trips/years in the ruth gorge, CAN rockies in the winter, and FWAs in the cascades allowed you guys to finally succeed on...


... the west butt. I can imagine the doubt and trepidation you two had before going for it :laf::grlaf::laf:;)


Seriously though... nice work boys! Year is only half over and you be killing!

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Wow, that is an amazing report! Thanks.


Was the hardest part about the climb having to tell your family your gay? That's what I always figured.

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