McKinley. 30 Oct 2010.

KIA. Kahiltna International Airport. This tent runs radio communications, not only to the climbers on the mountain but to the bush pilots that fly in and out. More importantly, this is where rescue operations are coordinated for climbers on McKinley that are in trouble. The woman that occupied this tent (and coordinated the mountain communication) during the summer months was a cellist for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.

Japanese Couloir. These two photos are looking up and down the Japanese Couloir – approximately 2.000′ of near vertical space. The Japanese Couloir is how you gain access to the West Rib. The Great Icefall lies below it and can be seen, although the gain in height makes it looks like it has been miniaturised. This is taken from 12.800 feet on the mountain. In the Icefall, you always run the risk of having a hanging serac collapse on you or falling into a crevasse and pulling your rope team in behind you. The Icefall was as near as it gets to playing a very real game of Russian Roulette.

Summit. This is a photo of Michael Covington and myself on the South summit (20.320′) of Mt McKinley in May of 1981.

Gunnar Nasland. Gunnar was an attorney that gave up his practise in favour of climbing in Alaska. Super cool guy. Rare. His favorite range was the Wrangle-St Elias Range. We talked about doing a climb the following year, however, Gunnar was killed when a cornice in the Wrangles gave way. They renamed the peak that Gunnar perished on Mt Gunnar, in his honor. Huge loss. Mugs Stump was also at KIA the day we left for the West Rib. He had just completed the first ascent of Moose’s Tooth. I 1992, Mugs was guiding on the South Buttress when a crevasse bridge collapsed burying him.

McKinley, because of it’s latitude and the resulting barometric pressure is comparable to a 24.000′ mountain in the Himalaya. The base to summit vertical rise on McKinley is also greater than that of Everest. We were 30 days on the mountain to get to the summit. We spent five days pinned down at 16.100′ because of a violent snow and wind storm. It’s hard to properly relay what a 50mph wind feels like at a temperature of -20 degrees. Very difficult to inhale or exhale. One night we literally thought the tent was going to explode from the wind. That would have left us trying to dig a snow cave in a blizzard or make an extremely difficult decent to Camp VI below in a whiteout. Covington had summited 7 times and had never been up when the weather or the visibility was this good. So, the gods smiled. I’ve been re-reading a book that Bunker Sands had given me before I left to climb the West Rib on McKinley in 1981. It is entitled ‘Hall of The Mountain King’. It tells the story of the 1967 Wilcox expedition to McKinley. Twelve climbers started the climb at Kahiltna Glacier and five returned to tell about it. I’m revisiting these photos because we will likely shoot some climbing footage early next year. Most likely at Little Cottonwood, Utah.

Published by William Vaughan

filmmaker, artist

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