Denali from the Summit to Home - An Almost Unraveling

"Come back alive, come back friends and get to the top – in that order of importance “.  -  Roger Baxter Jones (Credit to Tony Yeary)

The next day, June 5, I woke us at the 17000 camp and made water and then coffee.  Dane and I got moving around 1200.  He was moving a bit slow, and though I was miserable, I felt I needed to be leading on getting us out of 17200 camp, especially because I was so miserable with the heartburn.  It was relentless and debilitating, and only worsened with exercise.  But, we had a job to do, and I knew getting down would alleviate my condition.  As it turned out, I suffered for another 3 days before I finally got my hands on some antacids.  Lesson learned.  

We ended up breaking camp and getting out around 1500 hours.  However, we were in a large traffic jam, and that delayed our descent by hours.  This allowed me to deposit my Mom and Dad's ashes on a ridge at 17000 feet, as I have done with all of the Seven Summits. 

Eventually we ended up on the fixed lines and we were doing a fireman descent.  This is a bit heady and if you screw it up you're going for a ride.  There were some nimrods behind us who almost caused a disaster by trying to jump on the up lines.  I get it, I'm impatient too, but you have to wait, or bad things can happen.

I made myself sick from the exertion and eventually convinced Dane to come off rope and get ahead of me to make camp and water.  After a while being apart, I vomited a bloody vile, is the only way I can describe it.  It was like dry heaves, water only, and tinted red.  That was pretty sucky, but just the action of purging my stomach, even though it had nothing in it, made me feel slightly better.  The way I felt before I through up was unlike any pain I had experienced before.  I made it to the tent, and Dane took charge and forced me to eat Ramen noodles with sausage and cheese.  I wasn’t happy to do so, but I ate it.  We sacked out.  Incidentally, the DIY boys descended in front of us, and they ended up off the mountain a bit faster than us.

The next day, Wednesday June 6, Dane and I broke from 14200 camp and had a hell of a time navigating the sleds down from 14200 camp to 11000 camp.  They simply would not cooperate, with me being the person who experienced more of the frustration for the first half of the day.  I snapped at Dane a couple of times, or at least had a condescending tone with him, which caused him to raise his voice with me.  We had done pretty damn good getting along to this point.  However, after all that time together, and being exhausted, it was inevitable we would butt heads.  Not horribly, but still memorable enough to comment on here. 

We eventually adopted a system that worked for us, after hours of trial and error, and finally arrived at 11000 camp, and dug up the poop load we had dropped.  At that point the weather changed and it began to snow.  We left 11000 camp and were in a white out from 110000 camp to 7800 camp. Also the snow was just a water snow it was miserable.  We stopped at 7800 camp and put up the tent.  This was a miserable descent.  It was dangerous, we were exhausted, and it took us a long time.  We were navigating blindly, over dangerous terrain.

On Thursday June 7, we broke camp and navigated to Base Camp.  At that point, Dane was in the lead, and we were in a complete white out.  At one point his GPS Device seemed to be navigating us to a wrong point, so we tried to go off memory.  This took us down a slope and into a hell of possible scary and deadly crevasses.  Dane almost punched through- I watched his snowshoe give, and his pole.  Fortunately nothing more dramatic happened.  We turned around.  We again had an exchange about what to do, but he took lead on what to do, and we backtracked for a while until we were almost back on track.  We then found the correct path.  I give Dane the most credit here for leadership.  I didn’t trust his GPS device, nor did I think it was necessary to ascend back up.  He held his ground, and he probably saved our lives.   Thanks Dane!  I owe you a beer!

We slowly finished our last 4 miles, and then, we began to hear airplanes.  We did a quick step march, and made base camp just in time to get put on a plane leaving in 1 hour.   Dane, always faster and stronger than me, was having to suffer through my pace, and stopping all the time.  And I was a moody bastard to boot!  At that point, I was having difficulty keeping up with Dane’s gargantuan steps, so I was leading from behind, barking at him about how many steps to take and what not.  Basically just being an asshole.  When we heard the planes, however, we went into quick step, and amazingly found more energy.   We quickly sorted our gear and were on the 1800 plane out of the base camp.  Many other people had waited for a while to have a weather clearing.  We got lucky in that regard.  Dane got the co-pilot seat.

We landed back in Talkeetna around 1900 on Thursday June 7.  We checked into the TAT bunkhouse, went to the Roadhouse and paid $5 for a shower.  We then went and wolfed down a ½ lb hamburger from the Pub House.   I met Vern Tejas and interacted with him.  On that occasion I didn’t learn much about him, but I subsequently learned his last name is not Tejas, he changed it as he butted heads with his Dad, his wife is a guide, he is 65, he had the guitar and did that for marketing, and he is a wonderful humble guy.

Dane and I had another smoke on the river, and watched the almost Summer Solstice sunset.  We then went to the Fairchild, where you can ring the bell to tell everyone you went to the summit of Denali but you half to buy a round.  We stayed there until 0230, had another hot dog, and then went to the Bunkhouse.  We then woke the next day June 8, and casually walked Talkeetna.  I bought a beautiful picture of the West Buttress that I cannot wait to frame, which shows all the detailed locations of our climb.  I bought a few other trinkets, etc., and Dane and I then sorted gear and left Talkeetna around 1900, with a kid Andy we had picked up.  We dropped him off and then arrived at Johnny Rafferty house around 2300.  We saw Jed’s wife again, and chatted her up.

Johnny put us up in his very nice house.  He had done well for himself, and I was proud to know him, his wife, and meet his kids.  We stayed up late, ate pizza, and drank beer.  The next day, Saturday 9 June, Dane and I went to Captain Hook and got a massage and I got a haircut.  We then went back to Johnny's place, I packed my gear, changed my flight to a red eye flight that left Anchorage Sunday around 0100, with a stop in Seattle.  We then went to a Nas concert.  It was funny to be there, I felt like an old white dude, and it was so surreal, we were pretty buzzed, and the sun was out in perpetuity.  And we had just come off Denali.  We saw Johnny’s place of business as well.  We went back to Johnny’s place and we hugged it out and I caught my flight.  I arrived LAX around 1200 Sunday, on one hell of a hangover, but got up and went to work promptly the next day, Monday June 10.

I tabled my training efforts for a month, engaging in shenanigans and otherwise enjoying myself.  As of the time of writing this, I leave for a solo climb up Mount Elbrus in two weeks!  

Anthony McClaren