Denali Expedition | Final Report | 1st June 2013

Climbing the West Rib / Part II

After many happy days in Alaska we are now back home in Germany.

With a lot of luck and support we are very pleased that we were able to come back safe and sound from our West Rib expedition.

It was as late as 11.30pm when the sun went down and stopped shining on our tent, which we had pitched on the so-called ‘balcony’ at 16,800 ft. The night had been completely calm, however, the wind started blowing when we were getting ready in the morning.

Visibility decreased and when we began our climb it started to snow. A few times, we were in thick cloud but often cleared again. We once had to wait for about half an hour as we had lost our sense of direction in the fog and visibility was so bad that we were contemplating going down.

However, luck together with a good gut feeling helped us find the route and right at the moment when we were coming out of the 60°-steep gully, the clouds opened up. On the summit plateau, the so-called Football Field at 19,700ft, we could see the tracks going up the West Buttress Route. This was the route we had climbed to the summit a few days ago. As the storm and visibility did not improve, we decided turn back and do without the last 200m to the summit.

At about 5,000m the weather started to improve offering us an amazing view of Mt Foraker and Mt Hunter while we were descending the West Buttress. At about 8pm we reached the 14,000-Camp safe and sound, and happy!

In hindsight, not climbing the Cassin Ridge was certainly the right decision. On our second day in the ridge, we would have got caught in the bad weather that we were experiencing in the upper part of the West Rib. In the Cassin Ridge, we certainly would not have been able to make any progress.

The next day we packed our stuff, loaded our two sledges and rucksacks and descended the remaining 20km and 2,000 metres of altitude via the normal route. I can’t even remember how many times the sledges were slamming into our heels or were overtaking us. When we got to base camp we were rewarded with the Tetra Pack wine, which we had left there three weeks ago. We quickly defrosted it and it still tasted great.

Back in Talkeetna, Tom and Lisa of ‘Talkeetna Air Taxi’ invited us to their little hut in the wilderness. After having dreamt about this for a long time, I was finally able to go climbing in the gigantic and magnificent Alaskan Range on Denali. I am sure I will go back there one day…

I wish you all a great and relaxed summer.

Warm Regards

Gerlinde and Ralf

© TEXT G. Kaltenbrunner; TRANSLATION: Billi Bierling

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Denali Expedition | 22-05-2013


Climbing the West Rib

The whole of last week, Ralf and Gerlinde spent waiting for better weather at the 14.000ft camp. Well, this is the waiting game that is a big part of expeditions…..

Finally, Karl Gabl forecast better but still very cold weather for Whitsun Monday, lasting for about 3 1/2 days. "At the moment the temperatures hover around -26 degrees, which is colder than at 8,000m in the Himalaya", he says in his weather forecast.

From the 14,000 ft camp, the couple climbed via the normal route to the west rib route to 4,900m in order to get to the start of the Japan Couloirs. After spending another night there they wanted to move to the beginning of the Cassin Ridge on Tuesday. However, they were faced with extremely hard and splintering ice that made any progress very cumbersome. As the weather forecast only allowed them to climb in the ridge until Wednesday, Ralf and Gerlinde decided to pull the pin on the Cassin Ridge. Their progress was too slow to make it to the summit and back down again in the given good weather window.

However, as they wanted to make the most of their time there, they started to tackle the West Rib Route on Tuesday. This line is west of the Cassin Ridge and covers mixed ground up to the so-called football field when it joins the normal route just below the summit.a nice alternative! In the evening, after 2,000m of climbing across blue ice, they were able to find a nice bivouac site at about 5,000m offering a magnificent view of the Alaska range. They were looking into the starry night, close to full moon, and were planning the last part and the descent for Wednesday. 

Warm Regards from the team around

Gerlinde & Ralf

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Denali Expedition | 12-05-2013


Acclimatisation rotation finished

On 12th May 2013, Ralf and Gerlinde summited Denali via the normal route, which means they have now finished their acclimatisation rotation for their actual goal, the Cassin Ridge. Due to heavy snowfall, the couple was unable to do the Mooses Tooth. It is still winter in Alaska and the weather is very changeable. For this reason, they packed up their base camp at Mooses Tooth and took a plane to Denali's base camp. They used the two high camps on the normal route to acclimatise and reached the summit last Sunday. Dr Karl Gabl from Innsbruck predicted a perfect summit window for that day (as opposed to the American weather forecast) and the two were completely alone on the summit. Despite being very cold, it was a perfect summit day with no cloud in the sky. 

The weather is supposed to be bad over the next few days and Ralf and Gerlinde are planning to stay at the camp at 14,000ft for a few more nights before they move over to Cassin Ridge base camp on the south side. Next week the weather is supposed to get warmer and they are expecting spring to move in. 

Warm regards from the team around Ralf and Gerlinde

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Dear Friends

On 26th April we are leaving for our next adventure in Alaska. We will fly via Anchorage to Talkeetna from where we will take a plane to our base camp at 2,100m. At first we are planning to do the Mooses Tooth route to train and acclimatise. In mid-May, we want to move over to Denali, where we want to climb the west rib to about 5,000m to finish our acclimatisation.

Our actual goal is to climb Denali via the Cassin Ridge in Alpine Style with only bivouac material. The central pillar of the 3,000m-high south west face leading to the west summit, the Kahiltna Horn, will be mixed climbing, meaning we will be moving over rock and ice.

We are sorry to tell you that we will not be able to write a regular newsletter as we have done on previous expeditions. Due to the extreme cold on the mountain and the limited power supply, we will be unable to take our technical equipment to the mountain. However, whenever possible we will send short updates to Kathrin and Nicola, who will then pass them on to you.

Warm regards

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner 

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