High Speed Denali

As the season begins to wind down on Denali, the glaciers warm-up and the snow continues to fall, the Denali Rangers at High Camp (17,200 feet, 5,243 metres) looked after an expedition attempting a one day’ flash’ climb from 14.2 Camp to the summit. The rangers reported that “in addition to intense fatigue, they had signs of HAPE and frostbite 21 hours into their summit day”.


Descending the summit ridge following a 1-day ascent of the West Buttress, 11 pm at night and a long ways to go to 14.2 Camp. Photo: R. Anderson


Completing 6,000 feet or almost 2,000 metres of climbing in a day, at altitude, and in the Arctic is never going to be easy. And comparing oneself to a Kilian Jornet who holds the current speed record (from all the way down at the Kahiltna Glacier Camp at 7,200 feet) to the summit, with a round trip time of 11 hours, 48 minutes, or to Katie Bono with the woman’s’ record for the same distance in 21 hours, 6 minutes, probably isn’t the best benchmark for most climbers.


However, on Denali, the lure of climbing light, going fast and skipping the 17.2 high camp load carries, and topping out in just a day from 14.2 Camp is very compelling.


The uncertainty of weather is reduced as you are up high for a much shorter time and assuming a level of confidence on the terrain, climbers can solo or move quickly and simultaneously up the slopes. With the options of taking the Upper West Rib, the Messner Couloir or simply short cutting the ridge via the Rescue Gully, as Jornet did, you can shorten the distance further and make it even quicker – perhaps.


Gill James acclimitizing in the Rescue Gully prior to a one day ascent of Denali. Photo: Paul Teare


Most of the things that make it fast though, can also add to the danger.  Moving fast means you are also probably going light and unprepared for a bivouac or the increasing cold and winds up high.  You won’t be taking much protection and will be moving quickly through exposed terrain, climbing simultaneously or solo. Most dangerous, the rapid ascent to altitude without proper acclimatization can quickly turn deadly.


The Denali Rangers are promising a blog post soon and we await their experienced take on this and insights from their many seasons of experience.


For those who are still looking to reach the top of North America in any time frame, or climbed in the clouds to the top, Jeffrey and Priti Wright, who just completed an ascent of the famed Cassin Ridge, were obviously feeling good at the summit and shared this great 360-degree Google Street View from the summit.


It has been a pretty varied season on Denali so far, some great weather early on then what the Rangers described as ‘The Great Typhoon of 2018’ arrived and put a big hole in many peoples plans as it fell right into when many wanted to summit.


393 people have Summited to date, 213 people are still on the mountain and the success rate a bit below the average of 50%, at 44%.


The Rangers are starting to pull Camps, though they report snow is still falling and the route is in more like mid-to-late May conditions. Some great skiing still to be enjoyed retreating back down the glacier should be in the offing.


Denali, summit, 7 summits solo, robert mads anderson
Denali summit, looking north, following a 9-hour solo ascent of the Messner Couloir. Humble shadow self-portrait, R. Anderson








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