Peter & Hollie descend the crest of the West Buttress by the light of the “midnight” sun at 1am, having broken camp at 17,200. (Photo by David Leonard)
Ian Bolliger, Peter McCarthy and Dave and Hollie Leonard flew into Kahilta Base camp this spring aiming to summit Denali and ski either the Orient Express or Messner Couloir.
Three of them summited the 20,237-foot peak, the highest in North American, and together, the team managed to gather snow samples from 17,000 feet for the
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Snow & Ice Collections research on high altitude glacial thinning, though not without significant toil.
“Gathering the data provided us with objectives outside of self-indulgent summit goals, and also gave us a meaningful activity to perform on rest days,” Bolliger said, explaining that they sampled during a break in a storm, with wind and snow blowing fiercely. They still had to return to 14k camp that evening, so digging the pit was a race against time.
“It was certainly as difficult, if not more so, than we had imagined… The flat field just outside of 17k camp where we took our samples is a depository for snow blown over the adjacent ridge, making the firm snowpack not entirely amenable to our shoveling,” he recalls.
These photos are a window into their adventure on Denali—you can check out more on
On our second day at Base Camp, we skied from the Cat’s Ears, which marks the end of the approach to the West Ridge route on Mt. Hunter. We made quick work booting up a steep headwall with some ominous hanging seracs to get to this point, where we grabbed a snack and took in the impressive view of Mt. Foraker. (Photo by Ian Bolliger)
On an acclimation trip to 17,000 feet, Hollie takes a quick break atop the 800 feet of fixed lines that lie above 14k. The small city that makes up 14-camp, along with the suburb consisting of the climbing ranger’s camp, is visible on the vast bench below. (Photo by David Leonard)
14k camp is where Denali climbers typically spend the most time acclimating and staging for their ascent of the upper mountain. On our last day of our weather window, shortly after arriving at 14k, I snapped this photo of some interesting cirrus clouds flying high above our neighbors’ camp. It wasn’t long before these peaceful clouds turned a little more menacing. (Photo by Ian Bolliger)
View of the Tooth Massif, Mt Barill, Mt Dickey and the Ruth Glacier from the Kahiltna Horn on Denali’s summit ridge. (Photo by David Leonard)
On our second trip to 17, the clouds cleared for just long enough to get a glimpse of the summit. As the clouds closed in, we were able to take our snow samples in the flat field seen in the foreground. Sadly, this was as close to the summit as I would get. (Photo by Ian Bolliger)
Peter and Hollie have the end in sight as they approach 20,237 feet. (Photo David Leonard)
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