Planned Route up West Buttress

Planned Route up West Buttress

May 29th

Highpointers Up The Butt - what the heck is that? We're glad you asked. First the name: Highpointers Up The Butt is our team name and is derived from being members of the Highpointers Club and our route on Mount McKinley is the West Buttress. Our team consists of six individuals: Peter Anderson, team coordinator of New Windsor, N.Y., Thom Davis of Thornton, N.H., Garret Oswald of New Portland, ME, Robert Williams of Wilmington, MA, Ben Baranko of Downers Grove, IL, and John Christiana of San Francisco CA. Thom, Robert, and Garret are regular contributors to VFTT.

We came together through a HP Club inquiry that Peter posted about 2½ years ago; our climb dates are May 31 through June 18, 2004. The results of the advertisement lead to 12 interested individuals or groups. With time, the current team developed, a group of individuals who love mountain adventures and are hoping to become 50 state completers. Peter is working on visiting all state highpoints a second time.

What's wrong with these guys who want to climb Mount McKinley, spending 3 weeks on a block of ice, with temperatures plunging to -25° below zero, and gasping for air while carrying loads of more than 60 pounds? Hey, what's wrong with all of these guys! It's a life enhancing experience, one that excites the inner being, and takes you to places you'll always treasure. Friendships are made that can last a lifetime.

This explanation may not satisfy many people as to why we climb mountains, particularly a mountain with a summit of 20,320 feet. Friends have asked us about the climb: the preparation, such as training, gear, food, etc., the team members, and what the climb is like. We were asked if we would be posting trip reports on the internet. Originally no, because we had no way to communicate from the mountain. But we then decided to rent a satellite phone to communicate with friends and family. After some discussion, we pursued the obvious next step by asking Mohamed Ellozy if he would be willing to receive some calls from the mountain and post our trip reports on VFTT and the HP Club forum. We hope you will enjoy 'climbing the mountain' with us; sorry no pictures this time.

As a final thought, although the West Buttress route is considered technically easy as a mountaineering climb, there are plenty of hazards to engage our knowledge, skills, and experience. Our philosophy is: safety first, summit second. We hope the weather is in our favor, only -25° versus -40° and the winds top out at less than 50-60 mile per hour. If the summit is not attained for a variety of reasons, but all of us return with no injuries, the adventure is a success. For all of us, the summit is the bonus, one we all hope and climb for.

Stay tuned for our postings via sat phone and Mohamed Ellozy.

The first entry was emailed from Anchorage, all the others will be dictated to my (Mohamed Ellozy) answering machine and transcribed as accurately as possible (no warranties).

May 31st

On Sunday (May 30th) the weather was nice in Anchorage but the mountain was pretty much closed and the airstrip was closed. Later that day there was a break in the weather and three of the group (Bob, John and Ben) were allowed to fly in under beautiful skies. They got in at 9:30 PM and set up quick base camp on Kahiltna Glacier. Next day (Monday, May 31st) the other three (Garrett, Peter and Thom) flew in. Pretty nice day, but too warm (I think they were worried about crevasses, but message was not very clear) so they hung around in camp in the sun. Then clouds came in and temeratures dropped, snowy, so they headed out, each with over 100 pounds (half on back, half in sled). They went in about five miles and set up camp at 7,500 feet.

They were not quite sure what they would do next day, they expected that they would carry half their gear some way up and return for the night.

An interesting observation is the perpetual daylight; it is difficult to sleep with the sun shining through the tent at 3 AM!

Everything is going well!

June 1st-2nd

On Tuesday (June 1st) they stayed at the camp most of the day, it was a pleasant warm day. In the evening they left camp around 8:30 PM (remember the perpetual daylight!) and climbed 2,000 feet to set up camp at 9,500 feet. Bitterly cold! They found an old abandoned site, and spent about half an hour digging it out and improving it. Then Ben discovered a nearby site in excellent condition, complete with great snow walls. So they moved their tents there. Good views of the top of Denali.

They keep hearing avalanches coming down, pretty intense as Frodo put it! They also saw "beautiful" crevasses, but planned to keep out of them!

They spent Wednesday (June 2nd) there, and plan to move up to about 11,000 feet next day (Thursday), which will get them off the Kahiltna Glacier and onto the mountain proper. After that they will see how the weather develops (a storm is forecast for the weekend).

June 3rd

The day started with the leader, Peter Anderson, not feeling well (unrelated to altitude, bad head cold) and deciding to go down. That led to a couple of hours of decision making (who would go down with him, what to do with the storm approaching). Ultimately both Thom Davis and Garret Oswald decided to also leave, from what I was able to understand Thom had not been feeling well for a few days, Garret went down for "personal reasons". On his return to New England Thom posted a trip report with some further details about the decision to turn around.

The other three then proceded up to 11,200 feet and made camp. A storm is still forecast for Saturday, the Sunday weather is not yet clear. They plan to carry some stuff to around 13,500 feet on Friday and return to 11,200 and wait out the storm there.

They are stll on schedule, and feel sorry for their three comrades who have had to turn around but, as Frodo put it: "That's the way things go on expeditions".

June 6th

On Friday (June 4th) they climbed to 13,500 feet and dropped some gear, returning to 11,200. I seem to understand that they climbed to 14,200 feet on Saturday, the last message said that the forecast was for bad weather that day.

They are now at "high base camp" at 14,200 feet, lots of people, a very international group. Also lots of guided trips. Weather is beautiful. On Tuesday they plan to climb up to 16,200 or 17,200 feet for acclimatization. After that they are thinking of a summit attempt directly from 14,200 feet, which they figure is easier than establishing a high camp at 17,000 feet. That is a big climb: 6,000 vertical feet, 16 hours round trip.

June 9th

Bad connection, parts of the message were garbled.

Monday was a rest day. On Tuesday (June 8th) they climbed to over 17,000 feet for acclimatization. Up a headwall that is 2,000 vertical feet in one mile, very steep as Bob put it. This is the section which has fixed lines for the last 800 feet. Then they went up the less steep West Buttress. It is narrow, with tremendous falloff, as Bob said "You had better know what you are doing". Near a rock formation called "Washburn's Thumb" it is again steep, with fixed lines.

Feeling a little effect of altitude, not much. Wednesday was again a rest day, on Thursday they plan to repeat the acclimatization climb.

June 11th

Worst connection so far, most of message was garbled.

They are still at 14,200 feet (have been there for six nights), and climbed (I am not sure when) again to 16,200 feet for acclimatization. It seems that the weather is not good, Bob said something about having had bad weather for four days. It seems that they are waiting for better weather for a summit attempt directly from their camp at 14,200 feet.

June 12th

On Monday morning I found a brief and garbled message saying that they had summitted in bad weather and were on their way back. Many congratulations!

Bob's First Post After Returning

Just got back to Boston about 2 hours ago, and all I have to say is it's great to be home! It's also awesome to see the beautiful, beautiful night, which is something I haven't seen for 19 days. The Boston driving is something that I haven't missed though...

I just want to thank everyone for all of the support. It is somewhat overwhelming to read all of these posts. I know most of you and there might be more spectacular mountains outside of the Northeast, but the people here in the NE hiking community are top notch, and can not be surpassed. You people are fantastic!

Just a few more things before I head to bed;

I will try and post a trip report by the end of the weekend, which will likely be just summit day (the rest of the time we were either just pack animals hauling supplies and gear up and down the mountain, or stuck in our tents due to bad weather) . I will also post some pictures which will likely keep evolving once Ben, John, and I start sharing each others. AND, to answer the question.... yes I was wearing a Yankees cap on the summit. I had a lightweight balaclava under it, and a heavy balaclava over it along with a down hood and a gortex hood. (The summit was -20F with 20-25mph winds, brrrrr.....) It was also nice to come off of the glacier after 16 days to see that the Yanks were up by 5-1/2

Thank you Mohamed for doing such a fantastic job deciphering my messages, and for taking the time to post them. A few of the latter ones I either had reception problems or I was just sheer exhausted. As for the summit message, our summit attempt was in beautiful weather, but due to sheer bad timing (or maybe the spirit of Ted Williams had something to do with it), the clouds started rolling in off the N. Summit and headed towards us as we started ascended towards the S. summit ridge. Before we could make it to the ridge we found ourselves in a whiteout. The rest I will leave for the trip report...

I want to thank Peter Anderson for being the key organizer for this whole adventure. Without him, this wouldn't have happened. He also was Ben, John, and myself's inspiration for attempting the summit from 14,200' (99% of the people do not attempt the summit from here, and most people thought we were nuts, but it's good to be a little different). Peter did it in 97.

I also want to thank Thom Davis for all of the guidance and planning over the past 8 months. You were also key in making this trip happen. By the way, thanks for leaving that large cache of food at 7200' basecamp. We spent 17 hours there waiting for a flight off of the glacier, and ravaged the goodies out of your cache like 3 crazed wolverines...

I also want to thank GO for being another key part of this adventure, and for renting the Sat phone. You are like a big brother to me, and I was saddened to see you leave...

As for Ben and John, even though we suffered together, occasionally argued, spent many days roped together, and underwent a severe lack of hygiene that even thru hikers would have envied, I will never forget our experience together, ever... You two were fantastic partners to share this adventure with.

But the number one person to thank is my wife, who lets me keep living my dreams, and prevents my re-occurring nightmare from happening, which is me coming home and finding all of my stuff out by the curb... I am a lucky guy!