Which is the more correct, Denali or Mount McKinley? Well, it depends on whom you ask. The official US name is Mount McKinley, but in Alaska it is Mount Denali, which is the name preferred by most climbers. Denali means ”The Great One” in the Athabaskan languages of the Alaskan natives. We have may names for the things we love …
Göran and I were planning to go to Denali in spring 2002 as part of my dream of accomplishing the Seven Summits, and were looking at a technically difficult route, the Cassin Ridge. However, at the last minute we decided to postpone Denali and instead focus on the kayaking project which we had initiated about a year earlier. At this time, in 2002, I did not know that it would be 12 years before I was able to realize my dream of climbing Mount McKinley. And even less could I have known then that one day I would climb the mountain on my own without Göran.
Denali is an unpredictable mountain where the weather conditions can change very rapidly. Of course, this is true of most mountains, but the risk of avalanches, extremely cold weather and low barometric pressures, means it can be both dangerous and difficult. In 2014, only some 36% of the expeditions were successful. I, together with Chad Chochran and Kai Girard were the last expedition to reach the top.
As I mentioned before, there are many tempting and technically challenging routes. However, I decided to minimize the risks and chose the most common route of West Buttress. I felt that this would be challenging enough considering my tight schedule, and the fact that I had not been climbing for a very long time.
It was already late in the season when I decided to go to Denali. Most of the Denali expeditions were already preparing to leave, when I was flying out from Stockholm on 3 July. I landed the same morning in Anchorage and was met by Chad and Kai. We went directly in a minivan to Talkeetna, and the same evening we flew to the Kahiltna Glacier. After a few hours rest and when the chill of the night had settled over the snow, we trekked up to Camp 1, at 2,400 metres, with our snowshoes on and our sledges well stocked with supplies. The great advantage at Denali is that it is light around the clock at this time of year, which means you can be very effective. We rested during the day, and the next night we continued to Camp 2 at 3,400 metres. Soon (in the morning of 6 July) I arrived at Camp 3 at 4,300 metres. Here we rested one day to become acclimatized, before packing up and proceeding to Camp 4 at 5,250 metres. Now we only had to wait for good weather… So we waited. And waited while it snowed more and more…. One expedition after the other gave up and went down again. At noon on 12 July the weather changed for the better, and I, Chad and Kai dared to cross the Autobahn. The fact that we were “only” a group of three was an advantage, and we were able to move rather quickly compared to the other, commercial expeditions, who were waiting on the mountain. However, after Autobahn there is still a long way to go. We finally reached the top at 8pm as the last expedition of the season.
Three days later we were back at Base Camp, and flew out from the glacier. I was extremely happy and satisfied to say that now there were ”only” four summits to go!