AS SEEN IN THE 2012 FREESKIER BACKCOUNTRY ISSUE — WRITTEN AND SKIED BY INGRID BACKSTROM, PHOTOGRAPHED BY ADAM CLARK
SINCE LANDING AT 7,000 FEET ON THE KAHILTNA GLACIER, we had labored the past three nights, skinning with loads in excess of 100 pounds distributed between backpacks and plastic sleds to reach our camp at 11,000 feet. We traveled at night because the snow bridges stayed frozen. During the heat of the day the crevasse danger was too high for safe passage.
Our group of eleven brought mountaineering experience levels ranging from world-class (Conrad Anker, Hilaree O’Neill, Jimmy Chin, Jim Zellers, and Italians Emilio Previtali and Giulia Monego) to “mentees” or freeriders with less climbing experience (Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, snowboarder Lucas Debari and myself). Adam Clark and Matt Irving were along to document the action.
One day, while acclimatizing, a few guys hiked up a small hill beside camp to take advantage of the recent fresh snow and never-ending sunset light. I poked my head out of my tent just in time to see Sage point it towards a huge serac chunk and stomp a flatspin, framed by a massive rocky peak and glacial ice on all sides.
It took two days to reach the summit via the standard route, or West Buttress, sleeping at 17,000 feet and arriving at the 20,320 top of Alaska on June 16. From the summit, we skied four to six inches of pow atop a smooth, firm layer. The first 700-foot pitch was mellow, followed by a few flatter areas of traversing. Sage then led us down a wide-open slope above 17 Camp. I alternated between opening it up for a few glorious turns and stopping to breathe, while clutching my screaming legs and taking in the epic view.
After resting at 17 Camp for a night, Sage was the advance probe on the Rescue Gully, a steep narrow chute that opens up to a massive crevasse-sliced pow field above 14 camp. Sage radioed a cautionary report: “It’s really firm and kind of gnarly. It might not be for everyone.” Lucas, Hilaree, Emilio and Giulia scratched down the upper chute slowly, Whippets and axes out, before Jimmy and I took a hand-wrap belay from a guide friend who graciously offered a rope. The apron provided steep, smooth powder skiing right back to camp. Denali was a special trip because there was no pressure to do anything gnarly; we were just there to learn, be safe, and hopefully make it to the top.
*Stay tuned to the next Adventure, featuring Chris Benchetler and Nate Abbott at The Gauntlet, CO.