The walk from High Camp starts out superbly at 09:59;47, 13 seconds ahead of schedule! There is not much cloud and a strong sun keeps us warm and provides wonderful views.
|Back along the ridge from High Camp|
|Final section on the high ridge|
|Coming down Washburn's Thumb - this is actually much steeper and trickier than it looks.|
However the descent of the fixed ropes becomes tough as the sun climbs in the sky and the temperature soars. The slope is pretty protected and there is no wind at all so the place becomes like an oven with the sun's energy rebounding off all the snow and ice.
|Bit of a rest with ABC uphill from ABC where the slope finally opens up and there is a bit of a cool breeze.|
We set off again in the cooler evening and are treated yet again to wonderful views, this time with a sort of setting sun shortly followed by a beautiful sunrise. We are now walking downhill with fairly full packs and sleds and it is a real trial to keep the sleds going straight and not tripping either you or the person in front - dragging my polk over the pressure ridges at the North Pole was great preparation for this.
There is a lot less snow and ice than when we passed through here on the way up and there are a lot more crevasses as well. At times there is no option but to cross them where they appear the strongest and as we go over one, my right foot punches through the snow crust with my crotch being the next part to hit the snow. Whilst in the throes of agony I shout to the people either side of me to pull the rope tight in case the rest of me goes through the crust and into the crevasse. Our guide (helpful as ever) starts shouting at me to 'move forward' seemingly ignoring the fact that my leg is in a rather deep hole and I am struggling to work myself free. After a bit of wriggling and hampered in no small way by carrying a 25kg rucksack and being roped to a 30kg sled, I managed to get out smiling at another interesting close encounter that could so easily have gone horribly wrong!
There are still parts of the slope that are in the shade of the sun and these remain pretty chilly so, especially after cooling down while stopping to retrieve our caches, we have to dress up again.
This does not last for long as soon we encounter the heat and slush of the lower glacier. This makes the going very hard and following sunrise we are again in the sun which despite it being 5am is becoming very hot and the last stage is a bit of a struggle - this include the final slope up to the runway which is known as Heartbreak Hill.
We finally get back to Kahiltna Base Camp at about 6:30am to find a pretty full camp of people waiting to fly out. We get our names on the list for a flight which is likely to be in the late afternoon and then grab a bit of sleep. All of a sudden we are woken at 08:30 to be told that there is a spot at 9am and that if we can get to the top runway by then we can get on the plane. This seems great until we learn that the top runway is a good 30 mins walk and so we start trying to pack rapidly to head off there. The group next to us also seem to be getting ready but only a few of them seem to be in much of a hurry. Coming on top of walking through the night after summit day this is a real challenge and there is a lot of mutual encouragement as we kick our weary limbs into action and try to get our sleep deprived and just woken brains into gear. We just make it when the plans lands and organise our gear to fly out. The neighbouring group start to straggle in, although half there team are still a long way down the hill, and a bit of an argument briefly flares between the guides before we get onto the plane and take off.
It turns out that they had been in the camp for some time and that this was their reserved spot but that the organisers at the runway, on seeing their lack of preparedness had changed it to a first come first served basis as they needed to get as many people off the mountain today before the bad weather arrived. This is quite a coup for our guides as no one was looking forward to spending the rest of the day at Base Camp with the possibility of getting stuck there for days if the bad weather came in!
And then we were off back to Talkeetna, enjoying the view and thinking about showers, beer and food. We had a quick turnaround in the airport to get out of our rather appalling mountain gear and into something which would allow us into civilisation.
Talkeetna has a number of places that cater perfectly to hungry climbers and whist none of us chose to go for the eating challenge, the beer and very large (as opposed to ridiculously sized) burger we found were superb and combined with our recent exercise and lack of sleep had a rather predictable result on the trip back to Anchorage.
I had a few extra days before my flight out and spent them on some great mountain biking and the unexpectedly good food in Anchorage.
Next trip Elbrus in July and Angus now joins the fun!