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An expedition on Mt McKinley, Alaska

This is a summary photo-essay in 20 images.

The full photo-essay has 4 parts and 80 images.

The approach to the Alaska range from Talkeetna involves a one-hour flight on a skiplane, above very wild terrain. Here is a view of the partially frozen rivers which wander through the plain.

The base camp is at 7000 ft, shadowed by the north face of Mt Hunter. It is in the middle of a huge glacier system which sprawls to almost see level. There are 12000 ft (3700m) to climb to reach the summit of Mt Mc Kinley.

Worried about crevasse falls, I join a team of three Canadians for the lower altitude glacier travel. We move from base to 11000 ft (3340m) in two days and half, dragging heavy sleds and carrying heavy packs (total 80 lbs) over relatively flat terrain. The highest mountain seen in this picture is Mt Hunter, at the base of which we landed.

The route climbed by most is called the West Buttress. There are three important camps to reach the summit, at 11000ft, 14300ft, and 17000ft. This is a view of the first of these camps. Skis and sleds are usually left there, since the remaining of the route is steeper. Wands are used to mark the food and gear caches.

During the fierce Alaskan storms, winds over 100mph and temperatures of -40 are common. Tents have to be shielded by thick snow walls. However, the best protection is offered by igloos. Although the conditions in May 1993 were exceptionnally good with none of the nasty weather mentionned above, I had to wait out for a total of one week at the 14300ft camp. This camp has a very international social atmosphere.

This photograph shows the route up to the 14300ft camp. It goes from the upper left corner towards the Kahilna Pass, which is near the upper right corner. Then it goes through the pass (Windy corner) between the main buttress on the right and the little secondary pick. The 14300ft camp is quite well sheltered due to its situation in a bowl.

The meteo promises good weather for 3 days, the rangers say "Go for it, dudes". I move to the tiny 15900ft (4900m) camp on the West Rib, a steeper and more direct route. After a stormy night, I decide to back to the main camp.

On my second attempt, I move directly to Balcony Camp at 16900 (5200m) on West Rib. The view from this camp is incredible. The three tracks starting from the 14300 camp are visible: to Windy Corner, the West Buttress, and the West Rib. The 14300 camp would soon be in the shade, whereas I enjoyed the sun until after 11pm, and a most beautiful sunset on Mt Foraker.

After summiting, I came down through the West Buttress route. Although easy, the ridges are airy.

On lower elevations, since I was now by myself, I travelled at night to avoid the crevasse danger (snow bridges were frozen solid). At begining June, there is no more darkness at these latitudes, just a very pure lingering light. I reached the base camp right at sunrise, after 18 days spent on the montain.

All photos and text Copyright © QT Luong