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My Quest for The Seven Summits

Summit # 4, Mt McKinley / Denali.

One of the 7 Summits, Denali is the highest mountain in North America, with a height of 20320’. That makes it the 3rd highest of the 7 summits. It is located in Alaska, in the central part of the Alaska Mountain range, at a North latitude of 63º04′15 ” (only 3º to the south of the Arctic Circle). DENALI means “The High One” or “The Great One”. It is one of the coldest mountains in the world and a difficult expedition.

The native Eskimo people, “Athabascans ” gave it the name Denali by which it is known in Alaska and for many people of the world. The U.S. legally changed the name to Mt McKinley in 1896 in honor of President William McKinley. In 1980, however, McKinley National Park was re-named to Denali National Park. The state of Alaska also has officially changed the name of the mountain again to Denali. Today, negotiations continue for returning it officially to the native and original name of this magnificent mountain. Many Americans today still know it by Mt McKinley, even as the negotiations proceed to recognize Denali as its official name to the rest of the United States.

There are many routes on Denali, from relatively straightforward like the West Buttress, to extremely difficult and technical routes, but 80% of the climbers climb via the West Buttress route, which is considered the normal route. No matter which route is used, it is not the route which determines whether a climber summits, it is the weather. More than 100 mountaineers have died on Denali trying to reach its summit. Only 50% of those who try every year attain its summit. This year, 2006, it was even less.

The first person to reach the summit was Walter Harper, an Alaskan native, on June 7, 1913. Bradford Washburn first climbed the West Buttress route. He reached the top on July 10, 1951. Four years earlier, Washburn had climbed to the summit (via a different route) with his wife, Barbara. Barbara Washburn was the first woman to reach the summit of Denali.

Denali has a vertical ascent greater than Mt. Everest. Although the summit of Everest is 9,000’ higher above sea level, its base begins on the Tibetan plateau near 17,000’, giving it a true vertical ascent of a little more than 12,000’. Denali’s base starts on a plateau of about 2,000’, giving it a vertical ascent of about 18,000’.

I did a lot of training for this mountain, and I believe that all the other mountains I have climbed prepared me mentally and physically for this climb.

On June 22, I traveled to Alaska, joining a Mountain Trips 3-week expedition to climb Denali.

On June 23, I met the guides and the rest of the expedition team, as we had a team meeting and gear check. Our main guides were Ryan and Rob, with Sherry assisting. The group was 8 of us in the beginning, Jeff, Scott, David, Mike, Bernie, Andrew, Andrea and myself.

June 24 we traveled to Talkeetna, we stopped at the ranger station to obtain our climbing permits ($220) and watched a presentation by the rangers of the dangers and responsibilities when climbing Denali that there are to take into account. After that, we drove to K2 Air Taxi, where we weighed our gear. Our group’s gear weighed a total of 1300 pounds. The bush plane was to take us up onto the glacier, packed with all of our gear and us. The 45-minute flight was filled with spectacular views sometimes, although it was still a little bit of an overcast day. We landed on the glacier at the 7,000’ camp. We established our base camp for the night. Base camp is located on the Kahiltna glacier and offers awesome views of Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker and sometimes if weather permits, Denali. After pitching our tents, we rigged our sleds and prepared the ropes and gear for the next day. During the night, I could hear a lot of rockslides and also the glacier moving beneath me, it was quite an interesting night sleeping on a mountain which was alive! Plus, it never got dark.

Our first day, June 25, we moved to camp #2 at 7,800’. We decided to move all in one haul. We were carrying a lot of weight, between the sleds and our backpacks. Probably averaged over 100 pounds apiece. The route began by going a little downhill, over a very crevassed area, and then flattens out with a slow incline, making for a very long stretch to reach camp. It took us about 5 ½ hours to get there. It was another overcast day, and I could see nothing but white towards the peak. So we pitched our tents, just as it started to snow. We rested for the evening. During dinner, we learned that Bernie had decided to drop out of the expedition. He did not want to slow us down, and he had a lot of problems reaching this camp. It was tough news to hear the first day of somebody dropping out, but Denali was no easy climb. There were crevasses all around the camp, making it dangerous to walk around. We could only walk safely to our bathroom and kitchen areas, across from our tents. During the night as we slept, a group of climbers coming down the mountain had one of their climbers fall into a crevasse near our tent. The screaming woke me up and the noise continued for a while until they pulled him out. It snowed all night.

June 26, today Sherry and Rob took Bernie down. So we had a late, and big breakfast and readied our carry of supplies. We rested and waited for Rob and Sherry. Later, we got our ropes together, and began our climb. We climbed up a couple of big hills, in very overcast weather and reached 9,500’, where we dug a hole into the snow and buried our cache of supplies. We returned back down to camp 2 for the night.

June 27- Today we woke up early and packed up our camp. This was a very cold and windy day and the weather was completely a whiteout. We had heavy packs and heavy sleds, because today we were going to move all the way to camp 3, at 11,200’. It was a very hard day because of all the weight between the backpack and the sled. My back and neck hurt a lot. Finally we climbed the last hill and arrived at camp 3. The weather was clearing a little, so we could see a little of the beauty that surrounded us. We settled at the base of Motorcycle Hill where the camp is. There were no other teams going up at this time, only a team of 2 Spaniard guys, who were also going up. Around 11:00 o’clock Pm, I heard my name called outside my tent. “Is there a Gineth here?” So I went out to quite a surprise. David and Bill, my two friends who I had met back in 2004 climbing Elbrus, were coming down from successful summits. They were also on a Mountain Trips expedition, with Dave Marchi, also a friend and local Mt Shasta guide. So after a little catching up with them, I went back to sleep, as they continued their descent down the mountain through the night.

June 28, last night was very cold, everything froze, even some of my water. We woke up early, had breakfast, and then climbed back down to pick up our cache at 9,500’. After getting our cache, we climbed back up to 11,200’ camp, where we spent the rest of the day. We prepared our carry for the next day, which we knew was going to be a long day.

June 29, Today we rose early, we had breakfast and we got ready to carry our cache to Windy Corner at 13,500’. We put our crampons on, put our backpacks on, and then clipped into the ropes and climbed Motorcycle Hill. No sleds from here on, because of the dangerous drop around Windy Corner.

After reaching the top of Motorcycle Hill, we continued climbing up a couple of more hills, until we reached Windy Corner. We crossed Windy Corner as fast as we could go without stopping. Climbers have been killed before at Windy Corner because of rock fall caused by the wind. After crossing some more crevasses, we reached 13,500’ where we dug another hole and buried our cache. We had lunch and enjoyed the views of the upper mountain and the big crevasses around us. During the descent back to camp, the snow was very soft, and we were post-holing into the snow, down past our knees. The wind was also picking up, too. We got back to camp, and by the evening it was very windy outside, and we had to spend all our time inside the tent. Inside the tent was very hot, reaching 97 degrees. I had to put all my clothes on to go outside to use the bathroom because of the cold outside, then take almost everything off when I returned to the tent. A drastic day.

June 30, We woke up to bad weather. During the night the wind and the snow did not let me sleep. Everything was covered with the snow. We just rested, and spent almost the entire day in our tents, because of the wind and the snow. By the evening things got better, but the snow pack was very soft, so we stayed at 11,200’ had dinner and went to bed.

July 1, today we woke up early as usual, had breakfast, and packed up the camp so we could start climbing at 7:45. The weather was normal, no sun, no snow, and too much wind. We were forced to break the trail, as the heavy snow the day before had covered everything, making the going very dangerous, for fear of falling in crevasses covered up in snow. We passed Windy Corner and rested 15 minutes and finally the weather cleared up. We could see part of the upper mountain, passing by an area where the cracks where enormous and the views where divine.

After a couple of hours we finally arrived at the 14,200’ camp (camp 4), where we had spectacular views of Mt Foraker and the “headwall” and everything surrounding us. Camp 4 is at the base of the Headwall, and the Denali rangers have a main base here to monitor the climbers. Normally during the high season, there can be up to 300 climbers here, but this is the end of the season and there are only a couple of expeditions here. The rangers actually, were starting to pack up out of the mountain at this time.

Today, a Korean climber died while coming down on the fixed lines, from an apparent heart attack. His body was lowered to our camp and taken off the mountain by helicopter. It was sad news, especially just getting into camp and more because tomorrow we were going to be heading up these same fixed lines. While we were having dinner, the wind arrived and didn’t calm down until the night.

July 2 - today we awoke a little behind schedule, and had breakfast. I did not know what was going to happen with the day, it was snowy, windy and cold. After about 9am, we went back down to Windy Corner to pick up our cache. It was snowing when we went down, but by the time we got there, the sun had come up. It took us only about 2 hours to go down and back up again.

Later in the day, we all practiced the use of the fixed lines, anchors and belays and other stuff that we would be using in climbing the Head Wall.

The Head Wall is a very steep ice wall; 2000’ up with an angle that sometimes is as much as 65 degrees. We would have to climb it in order to reach the ridge. Later on, we had to dig out our camp, due to the accumulation of snow of the last day. I took a little walk around camp afterward, and met some of the Park Rangers. Later they were doing some checking on the avalanche danger and snow pack from the last couple of days of snow. They were also waiting for good weather, so their helicopter could come pick them up and take them off the mountain for the season.

We had supper and knew that tomorrow was going to be a long day if the weather allowed it. We were supposed to be carrying our gear to 16,200’.

That night it got very cold and snowed. Everything of mine froze during the night, even my sun block, candies, and lip protection froze solid like a rock. Inside the tent, there was a layer of frost over all the inside of the tent roof and everything else inside. I could not go out at night, even to use the bathroom, so I had to use my pee bottle. Now I understood how come some people do not drink too much water here, which sometimes prevents them from reaching the top due to altitude sickness. Water is essential. But drinking a lot of water means you have to use the bathroom a lot, and its inconvenient because of the cold.

July 3

Today was the day that we were going to climb to cache a load to 16,200’. Unfortunately, it was another day of bad weather. The snow and wind continued all night. We had breakfast, and after we had to dig all the snow out from around our tents, which were halfway covered up. We also dug a moat around the outside of our protecting wall, so the windblown snow would not simply fall back down into our camp area. Today would be a rest day - because of the avalanche danger we were not going to climb. Everyday the weather was almost the same, snow, wind, and the sun only came up for a couple of hours at a time.

By the afternoon, it was too hot to be inside the tents, it even reached 106 degrees inside, but it was still very cold outside. That evening, I took another walk around camp and took more pictures. We had dinner and hoped that tomorrow we would be able to climb to 16200’.

There was another Mountain Trip expedition, who were waiting at 17’200’ camp for their chance to go for the summit. They had been there for a week already, and the weather had been too stormy for them to try. They had used up all their weather days and now would have to come down without summitting.

July 4, we woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning, had breakfast and packed our gear and started climbing. It was a little cold morning, we were climbing in the shadows. Finally the sun hit us and made things a little warmer. Today we were the first team climbing up and because of the new snow we had to break trail. The snow was soft and we post-holed even past our knees. After awhile we arrived at the “Eyebrow”, which is a big ice formation before the Headwall. Here we would rest before getting to the fixed lines. While we rested the guides went to try and dig out the fixed lines, which were completely buried in the snow. Behind us there were several groups climbing and finally they caught up to us.

The guides were not able to locate any of the cables. They tested to see if the avalanche danger was bad. Ryan our guide came back to us and said we were not going up and that we would be burying our cache of supplies here at 15,500’, and that we were going down as soon as possible. The danger was too great. While we were shoveling to bury our cache, we heard a roar on the mountain and we were all worried and didn’t know at the moment if it was a crack in the snow or just a movement of the glacier underneath us.

We went down as fast as we could. I was leading the rope team of myself, Sherry and Andrea. My heart was beating fast, dying in an avalanche is one of my greatest fears.

We got back to camp and had lunch. Sherry, Andrea, and I decided to go to see “The Edge of the World”. The Edge of the World is where there is a 4,000’ sheer drop-off right to the side of our camp. It’s in a very crevassed area, and I lead the girls there and back, roped up, of course, which was a very adventurous experience for me. We got there and took some pictures, as Sherry anchored us to a picket. We looked down the abyss, and were very impressed by the spectacular surroundings. It started to get a little windy, so we went back to camp, and a lead the way again back to camp without falling into any crevasses!

We went back to camp and arrived as the other Mountain Trip group was getting in, all disappointed because of no summit. We had dinner and went to bed, hoping for good enough weather so tomorrow we could move to the 17,200’ camp, since the ridge is so dangerous in bad weather.

July 5, Today we moved up to camp #5(High camp) at 17,200’. When we woke up and had breakfast, the weather did not look so good. We broke camp, packing up everything, with very heavy packs today. We would also be picking up our cache at 15,500’ before reaching High Camp. Everything was frozen, perfect for cramponing. So we roped up and began to climb in the cold morning. After a couple of hours of climbing, we reached the Eyebrow at 15,500’ and finally the sunrays hit us around 10:30am.

We gathered our cache buried there and traversed to the left, where the fixed lines awaited us. It was very, very steep, with an angle in some areas at 65 degrees. Even though it was steep, it was thrilling. I felt like I was going up the Nuptse face on Mt. Everest, and that fired me up. I enjoy fixed lines. The weight of the backpack, combined with the steepness and the thin air, made this a very physically demanding section. We reached the ridge at 16,000’, where we took a small break because the weather was starting to change. It started to snow a little, and we heard some thunder. After 15 minutes, we started again up toward to our next obstacle, Washburn’s Thumb, a huge rock where there are more fixed lines.

We passed the camp at 16,200’, which is we would not be using because it is very exposed and dangerous and then we came to Washburn’s Thumb. It was difficult navigating through this section, fixed lines have a lot of anchors, and it was steep plus the weather. Also, another group of climbers were coming down and did not apply the Courtesy rule of climbing, where those climbing up go first. This forced us to stand still for long periods of time on steep slopes while they passed. There was a lot of mixed climbing here between rock and snow, which made cramponing harder. We continued our way up the ridge, negotiating the route, sometimes with sheer drops on either side of us. Finally after 9 hours we arrived at 17,200’ and our Camp.

High Camp is located on top of the ridge, and is a small, flat area with views of our next obstacle Denali Pass, or you can walk to the edge of the ridge and look down to the camp at 14,200.

Andrea and I set up our tent and changed into our down pants and jackets. We reinforced the existing ice wall around our tent, since this can be a very dangerous camp in bad weather, with high winds and little protection. Ice walls here must protect everything like our tents and kitchen. Before dinner, we talked to Cesar, a fellow climber and friend from Spain, who had gone for the summit today. He had climbed with his partner, Javier, but he had turned back and Javier had continued alone to the summit. Javier came down later, happy, tired, and with a big Summit Smile.

We had an early dinner, which I didn’t like very much, backpacker food. No luxuries here at the higher camp, though. We re-filled our empty water bottles got ready for the evening. Everybody was tired, and the planned schedule was that tomorrow we would have a rest day before going for the summit. The weather was good so far. We all went to our tents, since it gets very cold early here. I think that to this point, this was the hardest day of the entire climb. The night was extremely cold again, everything that wasn’t inside my sleeping bag froze. Another pee-bottle night.

July 6. We got up late, since there was no plan for today. We casually ate breakfast. During breakfast, we noticed all the other expedition teams preparing to go for the summit. This caused a lot of apprehension within our group, as maybe we should be going for the summit as well. The weather so far looked OK, and good weather on Denali should not be ignored or wasted.

So Ryan went to make a phone call to check on the weather. It was around 10 o’clock, which is considered a little late to leave for the summit. Usually, a group would leave around 8 to make a summit bid.

Of course, most of the other teams had already been waiting around 17-2 for a good weather window, where we had just arrived.

So after 10-15 minutes, Ryan our guide came back and said “TODAY, WE GO FOR THE SUMMIT. HURRY, GET READY, AND BRING ALL THE CLOTHES YOU BROUGHT.”

We got ready in a hurry, and around 11:30, we were roped up and beginning our push for the summit. Emotions were high, even after all our muscles were so tired.

We began our climb divided into 3 different rope teams. Sherry, Andrea, and I made up one team and the guys made up the other 2 teams. First, you actually descend a little, and then begin the big steep, long, traverse of Denali Pass. It was kind of a slow climb, there were a lot of anchors to be utilized and some steep ice sections, where we had to front-point with our crampons and use our ice axes to pull ourselves up. This traverse took us 2 ½ hours without any breaks because stopping to rest is impossible, plus there were groups behind us, and we were forced to move forward. Denali Pass on the way up is dangerous, but everyone was full of energy and psyched to go for the summit. However, it is on the way down that Denali Pass becomes the most dangerous and fatal section of the route.

We finally reached the top of Denali Pass at 18,200’ and took a 15-minute break. We drank some water and ate some calories and got ready to start climbing again. The weather on the upper mountain still looked good, but on the horizon there was a storm forming, we just didn’t know how quick it was moving in, or if it were going to pass us.

We continued our way up over more hills, but these were not as steep as Denali Pass. After an hour and a half of more climbing, we took a break. Ate some calories and more water, and quickly we were up climbing again. The wind was beginning to pick up, and the visibility was no longer any good. After climbing for a while, the wind picked up a lot more, and I got very cold. So I had to stop and put my Gore-Tex jacket and big gloves on. We climbed some more hills and our pace started to slow down. Finally we reached the “Football Field”, which is a big, flat plateau before the next big hill and the summit ridge. Football Field is at 19,500’. Here, we stopped, took a break, and left our backpacks here before going for the summit. It was cold and windy, so we put on our big down jackets, which at this point was the only piece of clothes left that we had brought, everything else we were already wearing. I grabbed only my camera, my Costa Rica flag, some water and a couple of snacks.

So after eating and drinking some, we secured our backpacks and left for the summit. I was pretty excited, because at this point, I knew that I was strong enough to make it to the summit. It would be just one more push.

We started the slow process of trying to climb the last big hill. At times I could see the other groups and climbers ahead of us, and then they would disappear into the white. I was completely focused and psyched to make the summit. I was not feeling the altitude or any other kind of fatigue. I just kept making step after step. After awhile climbing this hill, I started noticing Andrea was slowing down a lot. At this altitude, however, I did not think that was too unusual. So we all pushed ahead.

Eventually, we reached the top of the hill, where it joined up with the Summit Ridge. Here, Andrea fell down and was obviously very tired. We met up with David and Ryan from our group, their rope team was coming down having already summitted. After checking on Andrea, Ryan decided that Sherry should descend with his team, and he would join Andrea and myself for our final summit push. We were only about 20 minutes or so away from the top. Ryan told me, “Gina, let’s go to the summit, but we will have to go fast, because Andrea needs to go down as soon as possible.” We climbed the summit ridge. I couldn’t see much, and the weather wasn’t helping.

Finally, we reached the summit! It was July 6, 2006 at 8 o’clock PM. I was extremely happy, but at the same time very worried for Andrea. I had my summit picture taken with my Costa Rican flag, and enjoyed less than 5 minutes on top of North America. Number 4 was done.

Ryan asked me to lead (be the person in the front of the rope team) and he short-roped Andrea down. Short roping is a technique that a stronger climber uses to help down another climber who may be a safety risk. We went down very carefully and slow, until at last we reached the Football Field, where our other guide Rob, and his rope team, were waiting for us. Ryan and Rob treated Andrea with some Dexamethasone, a drug that counteracts the effects of edema. Andrea tried to eat some and rest. I joined up with Rob’s team to go down, as Ryan and Andrea would come behind after.

We continued down through the wind and cold, with whiteout conditions. We finally reached the beginning of Denali Pass, where we took a little break. We started down Denali Pass very carefully and slowly. This is the last stretch of the summit day, but the most dangerous one.

We reached camp at midnight. It had been a 12 ½ hour day of climbing. We were tired, hungry, and cold, but we had our Big Summit Smiles. I saw Cesar, who came and offered to help me with my backpack. But I told him that I was OK, but that Andrea had a rough day. So he went to offer some help to her.

I got inside my tent and got in my sleeping bag to get warm. I waited for Ryan and Andrea to come. She finally got down, tired and exhausted, but it seemed like the medicine had helped her. We ate some soup and went to bed. I slept here and there, because at times I woke up worried and checked on Andrea to make sure she was OK.

I was extremely impressed by the job Ryan did to bring Andrea down safely, even through a very difficult section such as Denali Pass. His strength, courage, decision–making and great leadership really made a difference for us. The guide’s job is not to take you to the summit, but to make sure that you get back down safely so that you can return home.

July 7 - All tired and exhausted, I woke up early, since my back was hurting, as it had been the entire expedition, and I couldn’t sleep anymore. It was snowing a little and very overcast. So the decision to go for the summit yesterday had been the best one. Andrea woke up later, feeling better but with still a headache and a little nauseous. We ate some breakfast – I was hungry for soup, why I don’t know. Maybe because I was so cold coming down from the summit that all I could think about was getting some hot soup! We broke down our camp, packing everything, and prepared to go down. My backpack was huge and very heavy.

We started down the ridge under not so good whiteout conditions. It had also snowed so the trail was completely covered by the snow. Ryan had a very difficult time finding the way down, without us falling off the ridge. Coming down the ridge was very hard and challenging climbing, the heavy packs didn’t help and neither did the bad weather. Also it was a slow process because we had to set and pick up a lot of anchors and running belays. We reached the beginning of the fixed lines, which were also buried under the snow. But we found them and started going down. At the end of the fixed lines, we had to traverse and find the Eyebrow. David, who was ahead of everyone, was the one who had to lead the task. The snow was very soft, and he had tough going through it, at times sinking down all the way to his chest. We reached the Eyebrow, rested and drank some, then continued down to 14-2 camp.

Another long hard, cold snowy day finally ended when we reached camp at 8 o’clock pm. Now we had to put our tents up, eat dinner, and finally, happily, go to bed.

July 8, - Even after the last 3 hard and long days, today I woke up early again. Last night was very cold, and many of my things froze since I had just collapsed the night before and didn’t put everything inside my sleeping bag. Breakfast today was at 11:30am, and it was big and powerful. We ate so much. We were talking and everyone was real happy for our success since the entire team made the summit. Also, how fortunate we were to make the summit so quick, without using many weather days. Especially since this had been a bad year for Denali climbs. Many people did not make the summit that tried this year. A lot of teams had spent all their weather days at 17-2, waiting for one good weather day, which never came. We had so much to talk about and celebrate over our breakfast. After breakfast the plan was to rest and do nothing for the remainder of the day. But then at 10pm, we would start climbing down, all the way to our first camp, where the bush plane would be coming to pick us up and take us off the mountain. It would be a long, sleepless night with heavy packs and our sleds again. Since the lower part of the glacier is so dangerous with many crevasses, we needed to cross it when it was very frozen.

I spent the rest of the day sitting outside my tent, taking photos, talking to other climbers and expeditions on their way up and just enjoying the beauty of being on the mountain and all that was around me on my last day there. Everyone else slept, but I would get enough sleep when I get home. The mountain is too exciting for me and I wanted to remember this day.

Late in the day, Cesar and Javier came down from 17-2, with the great news that Cesar had made the summit. The day that we came down from 17-2, he had gone again for the summit, alone. We were very glad and happy to see them and to hear that.

We had been 15 days on the mountain, without bathing or deodorant, always having to use a pee-bottle in the night, drinking nothing but water and tea, and many things more. We all stank of sweat and dried sweat on top of dried sweat. Because we had not been able to talk to our loved ones, emotions for getting off the mountain were very high.

Dinnertime came, our last big dinner on the mountain. Conversations revolved around thoughts of many cold beers and a lot of kinds of food, which soon would be available. Of course, for the girls of the group, we talked of hot showers, shampoo and conditioner – and flush toilets!

So we broke down camp and packed everything. We started our way down at 10 o’clock at night. At this time of night it was very cold at 14-2 camp. I was leading my rope team again on the way down. We started descending fast, trying to warm up by moving quickly, and before we knew it we where at Windy Corner. Finally, at this time we started feeling a little warmth in our bodies. It was midnight, and the sun was setting – this was the first sunset I had seen in Alaska. The Aspen glow colors all around the mountain were unbelievable. It’s hard to describe so much beauty. I had never seen such precious illuminations of light and colors, playing on the mountain and crevasses. All around us, everything looked like a dream. There was no wind, it wasn’t snowing, nothing to disturb the perfect atmosphere, it was very quiet and spiritual. The only sounds we could hear where the sounds of our crampons crushing into the ice. I had been feeling before like I couldn’t wait to get off the mountain, but now I couldn’t stand the thought that I would be leaving it soon, and I wished that I could stop time.

We went down Motorcycle Hill and stopped at 11-2 camp, where we picked up more gear and our sleds. We rested a bit, filled our sleds with gear and took off again. The night never got dark, just a kind of twilight.

Soon we reached 9500’, here we stopped and picked up another cache of gear. I continued admiring and enjoying all the beautiful mountains around us, since we had not seen them on the way up due to the weather. Finally on the last day, Denali was giving us an incredible surprise and showing us her beauty.

We crossed some crevasses and then reached 7800 camp. Here we stopped and rested for 15-20 minutes. There were more things to pick up and add to our load. Then once again, we were on our way. Our next stop would be our last, but it would be a long stretch.

Now we were watching the sunrise on Denali. Another spectacular event, since it had only been a couple of hours since we watched it set. We continued down, crossing a very crevassed area, I ran and jumped some big ones, because my legs are too small to just step over them. This long section went on for hours, nonstop crossing so many crevasses. This section can be very dangerous, so we had to stay alert and careful the whole time of where we were stepping.

Finally, we saw the last hill, and even though we were tired, it was just one last push and the expedition would be done. After 9 hours descending through the night, we reached camp 1. Ryan called the bush pilot for the plane, and we sat and waited for him to come. Everyone dozed off sitting on the backpacks, it took awhile for him to arrive. While we waited, we were awakened by the noise an avalanche coming down a nearby mountain, and I was lucky enough to snap a couple of pictures. After that, we continued dozing in and out of consciousness, waiting for the plane.

Soon I heard the buzz of the plane, and I jumped up and woke everyone, saying, “The plane is here!” They sent 2 planes to pick our group up. The pilot was very young and smelled very good. When he saw us climb in the plane and smelled us, his facial expression changed, and he rolled down the window a little. Before I knew it, the engines were roaring as the plane started to take off. Now finally, the expedition was over. I looked at Denali for the last time and the fact that I had reached the summit finally started to sink in. I was a little emotional, but happy. Getting off the mountain is never easy for me.

We arrived in Talkeetna and eventually checked into our hotel. I took a shower and called my husband, who I had been dying to tell him the news. To my surprise, he already knew (because he had been following the climb on the Mountain Trips website) and had already changed my plane ticket! I would be flying out the next day.

It was time for shopping, so Mike and I went to downtown Talkeetna and visited every single store for the best Denali stuff. We also made a stop at the Mt McKinley climber’s cemetery and paid our respects. We had a celebration dinner at night and after that we all went to the Fairview, a famous local spot, which is a Denali climber custom, to party there after the climb.

It had been an unforgettable and a once in a lifetime experience. I had seen some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. I had made some great new friends, as well as running into a couple of older ones.

Before I went to Denali, I had thought that this would be a mountain that if I summitted I would never want to go back or try again. Everything I had ever heard or read about Denali had said how hard, how brutal, how nasty the weather could be, how cold and yes, all the weight you have to carry. Some of these things were true, but it misses how striking the beauty of this mountain is. It changed my thinking, if ever I have the opportunity to do it all again, I would in a heartbeat.

I want to thank Ryan, Rob, and Sherry for a successful expedition, their hard work and for putting up with us for all those days, and for the amazing job Mountain Trips did. Also thanks to the people who supported and helped me make this trip possible. Please visit my sponsors and friends page.

I am very happy with my #4 summit of the 7. Now I have 3 left. A year and a half ago, I was so happy when I stood on top of Aconcagua, and could hardly believe I had #1. Now I already have 4. So, even though I do not yet have sponsorship to go to Everest, I believe it will happen soon, just as much as I could summit 4 of these mountains in a year and a half, it is possible. So maybe one of these days I will be on Everest. The summit of Everest is waiting for the flag of Costa Rica to wave on top for the first time.

Thanks for your support and taking the time to read my adventure.

Gineth Soto

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