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EIGHT DAYS TO THE TOP

Before we set out from the 17,000-foot level on the eighth day of our climb, Ray Genet contacted Radio Anchorage for a weather forecast. We got word ...

2 Mar

EIGHT DAYS TO THE TOP


Before we set out from the 17,000-foot level on the eighth day of our climb, Ray Genet contacted Radio Anchorage for a weather forecast. We got word that we had only this day to reach the summit of Mount McKinley before bad weather would imprison us on the continent's highest peak.

It was this ominous warning that climaxed one of the fastest ascents of McKinley's South Peak ever recorded.

Ray Genet, operator of Alaska Mountain Guides of Anchorage, was largely responsible for the success of our ascent which began on May 28, 1970, at the 6,700 -foot level on Kahiltna Glacier and ended June 5 on the 20,300-foot South Peak.

The trip became reality when Richard Doege, 30, of Mexico City, hired Genet to guide him to the summit. A veteran of six successful ascents of the great mountain (with more expected during the summer of 1970), Genet is a true McKinley expert and the only Alaskan guide conducting climbs on its snow and ice slopes. Shortly after we completed our ascent, Ray started up again as leader of a 15-man expedition.

Assisting Genet in guiding Doege, a novice climber, were Craig Henderson, 23, an experienced mountaineer from Eugene, Oregon, and myself. Since my discharge from the West German Army's Alpine Mountain Rescue Corps, I have traveled in 50 countries and climbed mountains on three continents. My first Alaskan climb surpassed all the others combined in its test of endurance and the satisfaction that came on reaching the top.

Our four-member team was small -- the smallest allowed on the mountain by the National Park Service--but it made up in speed what it lacked in size.

Despite the burden of packs ranging from 60 to 90 pounds, we passed a 10-member Japanese team at the 8,000-foot level. Seven members of the Japanese expedition reached the summit several weeks after we did. They spent a total of 42 days on the mountain. The members of our party used only 12 days for the ascent and descent.

In capsule form here is my log of this climb:

First day--Landed at 6,700-foot level on Kahiltna Glacier by Don Sheldon of Talkeetna. Two trips each to relay food and supplies to first camp. We have a 15-day food supply, but with food Ray has cached from previous expeditions we can eat for 25 days.

Second day--Climbed to 8,000-foot level and established second camp.

Third day--Wind and snow made climb to 10,000-foot level very difficult, although climb not steep.

Fourth day--Turned east and weathered in for 12 hours midway between Kahiltna Pass and Windy Corner.

Fifth day--Moving around Windy Corner at 13,000 feet. On alert for crevasses. Late afternoon and evening sun casts shadows on depressions in snow which mark crevasses. Henderson and I suffering from altitude sickness when we reached base of West Buttress Wall at 14,000 feet. Had to camp for 15 hours.

Sixth day--Climbed buttress wall and alerted by Genet to watch for avalanches. Dug ice cave. One avalanche just missed us.

Seventh day--Climbed to 17,000 feet: on upper section of Peters Glacier. Spent 12 hours in ice cave resting for last assault on the South Peak.

Eighth day--We head for the summit. Rest stops more frequent. We have no oxygen, and as we near the peak we must rest after only 10 or 20 steps. Climb steep wall between Archdeacon's Tower and Kahiltna Horn. Henderson and I trail on a second rope. I looked up and saw that Genet and Doege had made it. Their shouts for us to come on were all we needed. We had been climbing for nearly 14 hours, and a last burst of energy carried us to the summit late in the evening on June 5. We estimated the temperature at 25 degrees below zero. The view and sensation of being on top are indescribable.

We descended the mountain to base camp in four days, our rapid descent spurred on by the bad weather forecast. Don Sheldon flew Genet, Doege and Henderson out on June 9, but the bad weather struck before he could return me to Talkeetna.

Most of the time during the next nine days of involuntary imprisonment in our tent, I cooked, slept and read labels on food tins.

I spent more time waiting to leave the great mountain than I did in climbing it.