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A hug and a thought
Quest for Mount Denali, Alaska

By Yazdan Aghaghiri
August 2, 2002
The Iranian

Arash Sofla and I climbed Mt Denali in Alaska last month -- the first Iranians ever to do so. Mt Denali is the highest point in North America and reputed as the coldest mountain in world. This is our report. See photos

June 18, Tuesday
After meeting each other in the airport, we had a few spare hours before being picked up by the Talkeetna shuttle service so we decided to have a brief rest in the airport. Stephany picked us up at 8 am at the airport and drove us to Talkeetna. As she stopped at the market in Wassila, we heard the horrible news about the three Alaskan brothers who were killed on Mt Foraker on the previous Sunday.

Upon arriving at Talkeetna we went to the ranger station to check in. A ranger showed us some slides from the route and gave us detailed explanations about caching and other park regulation. He was very much surprised to realize that we have come from Iran.

There was a large hall in the ranger station where mountaineers hanged their home country flags; there was no Iranian flag Iran. There was also a world map with marks showing where mountaineers had come from for Denali expeditions. We put two marks -- one for Rasht and the other for Tehran. Records showed around 800 mountaineers attempted to climb Denali, about half of which had succeeded to reach the summit.

We were scheduled to fly around 5 pm, so we started final packing of the gear and food. We also met Wade Lumpert for the first time. He was supposed to fly with us. He was trying to solo the mountain. Later on, we realized that he is on a mission to solo all the seven continental summits (highest points in every continent).

The flight was absolutely amazing and adventurous. We were excited for the glacier landing, as it was really exciting. As we went up, we really enjoyed the scenery. It was so amazing. So many beautiful small and large lakes in the lowlands of the park made it a heaven for backpacking.

Then we could see the tail of the glaciers turning into rivers. Everything was so alluring and among the most spectacular mountains that I have ever seen in my life. Finally we were approaching the Kahiltna glacier and ready for landing. Landing was really awesome. Moments later we were on the 7,200-foot glacier.

For the rest of the day we pitched our tent, moved our loads and tried our snowshoes which both of us were using for the first time. We also got to know some of the people in the base camp and collected our fuel from the ranger.

June 19th, Wednesday
As we got up in the morning we realized that it was snowing. We decided to wait for the snow to stop and also we wanted to avoid the daytime heat. So we decided to depart early next day. During the day, we hanged out with some climbers, dug our cache, and watched many climbers come down from the mountain. We were among the last expeditions going up. The ranger told me that around 20 more expeditions were supposed to start after us.

June 20th, Thursday
After packing the gear into our backpacks and the sled, we set off for camp 1 around 2 am. The backpacks were extremely heavy. The route wasn't steep at all and we didn't gain much elevation but it had ups and downs and snow was relatively soft. It was one of the toughest days in the whole trip. We reached camp 1 around 10 am and pitched our tent immediately. Camp 1 is 7,800 feet high and located at the foot of the ski hill. We rested for the rest of the day.

June 21th, Friday
We started at 5 am but unlike yesterday we decided not to single-carry anymore. So we put some of our stuff in our backpacks and the sled and set for camp 2. We saw Wade a little later on the ski hill. But since he was using his telemark skis -- and also single-carrying all his gear -- we had a faster pace and passed him easily.

We reached camp 2 at 9,600 feet around 8 am and decided to go for camp 3. The route continued on a hill called Motorcycle Hill. We saw a couple of climbers coming down with skis but they seemed not to have enough fun as they also had heavy sleds which made the skiing rather difficult.
We reached camp 3 at 11,000 feet around 10 am and started to cache our stuff. We rode our sled on the way down which was really fun. We were back in camp 1 around 2 pm.

June 22th, Saturday
We started really late at 12 pm. The snow conditions were really soft and the sun was also out. It was a hot day and not a very good time for going up. I didn't feel very well on the way up and Arash helped a lot in carrying all the stuff. Anyway, we reached camp 3 at 10 pm and set up our camp immediately. We decided to rest on the next day and also do some cleaning.

June 23th, Sunday
We stayed in camp 3 on this day for cleaning and having a good rest.

June 24th, Monday
We set off for advanced camp 5 at 14,200 feet around 9 am. We weren't using the snowshoes anymore. Instead we started to use the crampons. The route continued on a sheer face, right up camp 3 which finally led to Windy Corner, famous for its strong storms.

After Windy Corner the way switched to the left where it finally ended at the advanced camp. This is the place where I first saw Mike. He was moving very slowly , close to the advanced camp. He stepped aside to allow us to pass. We greeted him.

Upon reaching the advanced camp we made our cache and headed down at 5 pm. It was a little foggy on the way down but at least we avoided the exhaustive heat of the sun. We were at 11,000 feet, about one hour later. Then we immediately went to our tent for food and rest.

June 25th, Tuesday
We broke camp 3 and headed to the advanced camp. We left the snow shows at 11,000 with some other gear and some food. We went up at 12 pm and we had a shorter trip compared to the previous day as the snow condition was harder.

June 26th, Wednesday
Most teams usually take one or two days rest at the advanced camp before proceeding further but since we were in a good condition of acclimatization, we decided to move on. We got up very early in the morning and set off for 16,000 at 6:45 am. Here is the most technical part of the West Buttress called The Headwall. Around 600 to 700 feet of sheer ice leading to the ridge.

Fixed rope should be used to climb it which is already done by the park service and used by all climbers. We didn't go further than 16,400 feet as I was feeling some altitude effects. We just cached and headed down immediately.

Total round trip travel time was a little more than 9 hours. I touched our thermos with bare hands up there. So I had some pain in my toes as I was feeling the flash freezing effect.

June 27th, Thursday
In the first place, we decided to rest on this day. But toward the afternoon we realized that we shouldn't miss the good weather. So we decided to go up. We set up for 17,200 camp or the high camp at 7 pm. We climbed the headwall much easier and faster and when we reached the ridge at 11 pm, we got to be warmed by the sun which felt really great.

We also saw the tent of lonely Mike who was camping here. Most of the climbers didn't camp at 16,200 as there was not enough space available and it's usually a windy place.

We dug out our cache from yesterday and put the extra stuff in our backpacks and headed for the high camp. The ridge was extremely exposed and dangerous and we had very heavy backpacks. Our pace was slowly and it was getting windy.

June 28th, Friday
We reached the camp at 1 am, under very cold and windy conditions. We couldn't find a decent place to pitch our tents.

To avoid frostbite or hypothermia, we just erected the tent in the first available place on soft snow, put all the gear in it and crawled in. We wore all our clothes and jumped into our bags, hoping for a warmer day.

As the sun come out, it got warmer and we got out of the tent. We first moved our tent to a nice camp and then rested for the rest of the day and did some photography.

June 29th, Saturday
We headed for the summit. Before us, 14 other climbers went up, 6 with Alpine Ascents, 7 with Alaska Mountaineering and the solo Mike. They were stuck in the Denali Pass morning ice very soon so we decided to depart a little later, avoiding the wait on Denali pass and in the cold shadow. We set off at 10:40. We frist passed Mike as he again gave us the way in the narrow Denali Pass. I realized that he is carrying neither an ice axe nor a backpack.

Before Football Field, we passed other climbers and were the first to the top at around 4:30. Upon reaching the top, immediately tears flowed from our face. We hugged and thought of all our Sharif University climbing friends. We stayed at the top for around half an hour and then we came down. See photos

On the way back, we saw Mike going up, even slower than before. I asked him if he had enough water and food. He said he had plenty. We reached the camp around 7 pm.

June 30th, Sunday
On this day, worried about Mike's fate, I realized that he has fallen over the Denali Pass. The rangers present in the camp rushed to his help, but by the time they got there he was dead. They just fixed his body to a picket to be later picked up. We headed down around 1 am and it took around 4 hours to get to 14,000 feet. We decided to stay at 14,000 for the night. I didn't use my sunglasses properly because of the foggy conditions.

July 1st through July3rd, Monday to wednesday
Upon getting up, I realized that I couldn't open my eyes, I got snow blindness. It was also snowing at 14,000 feet. Going down was out of the question for me. A storm hit that night. During the time, Arash took care of almost everything, going out in the storm to shovel around the tent.

A heavy snowfall together with snowdrift changed the appearance of the camp drastically. My eyes were getting better. But over all we weren't in a very good condition, especailly when we were told that the storm was going to continue until Sunday of the next week. Anyway, the ranger told us that there might be a window in the storm on Thursday.

July 4th, Thursday
Arash took his head out of the tent at 9 am. Seconds later he told me "Yazdan, we will go down today." Being the only group to decide to go down, we started to pack our stuff. the weather was kind of windy and cold and we had heavy backpacks. We went down at 12 pm. Arash did the exhaustive leading. As we got down, the weather started to got better.

Arash told me as we passed Windy Corner, "You know Yazdan, on that side of Windy Corner is Denali and on this side is the rest of the world." We were in Camp 3I some time later. As we reached Camp 3, we took out our snowshoes and our sled and the rest of the trip was much easier but still we had a lot to go. We reached base camp at 1 am the next day after 13 hours of walking.

July 5th, Friday
The weather didn't seem to be very good. A ranger told us that there might be no flights until next Tuesday. It was a very nice piece of news. However the snow stopped suddenly and we could see the blue sky through the clouds. We were informed that we should go to the landing strip as some airplanes might come. As we were reaching the top, I heard an engine roaring and then moments later I saw Kelly approaching us. It was really joyful as we were the first group.

An hour later, we were back in Talkeetna. We went to the ranger station and checked out the mountain. We signed the Iranian Iran flag and gave it to them to hang on the wall among other flags. The expedition officially ended. See photos

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